Today's test report was created in cooperation with Avo. Avo is a house producer, audio engineer in a Hamburg recording studio and a former lecturer and has tested the MIDI master keyboard Arturia KeyLab 61 MK2. Is the Arturia KeyLab suitable as a keyboard for everyday studio use? Here you can find out all the details about the MIDI controller & our personal conclusion.
One word: Valuable. This is the term that comes with looking at the freshly unpacked master keyboard. On closer inspection, in addition to the high quality of workmanship, one or the other eye-catcher catches my eye:
The shiny silver pitch and modulation wheels (as with the AKAI MPK 261 positioned above and not next to the keyboard ) come first in the plan view. The color contrasts not only look good here, but could even be an advantage in dark lighting conditions or live situations.
When you look from the side, the wood-look side parts draw everyone's attention: "Arturia" lettering, also in silver chrome, adorns the wood-look finish of the controller on the left. I have not yet come across a master keyboard that could convince with such a noble look and workmanship. A corresponding product weight completes this first impression. Even before the device is switched on, it already seems to be scoring!
The keyboard of the Arturia KeyLab 61 MK2 is also qualitative. A thoroughly high-quality feeling accompanies the stroke of the semi-weighted keys. Particularly well done, since the actual keystroke is very quiet and therefore does not emit any disturbing noises.
Ports & Back
In addition to self-explanatory power supply and USB sockets as well as an on/off switch, there are other interfaces on the back:
MIDI In and Out ports count together with the 6.3 mm jack inputs (each for one sustain / expression pedal or three additional AUX inputs) to the standard repertoire of a master keyboard. I find the existing CV (Control Voltage) connections interesting here.
In addition to four outputs for the electrical control of external devices (synthesizers), there is also a CV input that makes it possible to assign hardware-controlled control signals to a software parameter. Pretty well thought out if you ask me, because you could, for example, manipulate and control a softsynth via the LFO of an included hardware synth.
Generally speaking, CV compatibility offers an interface to the analog world - what more could you want?
Arturia Keylab Essential 61 vs. Arturia Keylab 61 MKii (MK2) - The Difference
The Arturia KeyLab 61 MK2 has 16 instead of 8 drum pads and far more connections and operating functions.
Functions & operation
The buttons for changing octaves and transposing are located above the pitch and modulation wheels. In addition, there is a “Chord” button here, which can assign previously defined chords to a piano key.
To the right of the pitch and modulation wheels is the drum pad section, which is a bit small. In my opinion, the feel itself does not quite come close to that of the AKAI MPK 261, but it is still noticeably good and the RGB lighting of the pads is also freely configurable.
The three available pad modes are probably a unique selling point: “Pad”, “Chord-Memory” and “Chord-Transpose”:
- Pad mode: tap a pad to play a note or send a MIDI message. Behavior can be set via the user interface or the MIDI Control Center.
- Chord memory mode: Each pad can store a chord, which is then played by this pad.
- Chord Transpose mode: Each pad stores a chord that can be played from the keyboard. The Chord button must be lit to use Chord Transpose mode.
If only MIDI data is to be exchanged when a key is pressed, pressing the "Pad" button is sufficient. This mode is designed for conventional use.
If you want to play entire chords with just one drum pad, the "Chord Memory" mode is the right choice: Previously saved chords are distributed over the 16 velocity-sensitive pads and are now easy to get to.
But the “Chord-Transpose” mode goes one step further. You can easily assign your own “chord libraries” to the 16 pads. In connection with the currently pressed/selected pad, the stored chord can then be played transposed over the keyboard (quasi a refined extension of the previously described "Chord" button above the pitch wheel). This feature can definitely be beneficial for live operations.
The command/transport section to the right of the drum pads, like the keyboard, convinces with a high standard of workmanship. A solid construction brings qualitative pushbuttons to the fore, which support the valuable image of the master keyboard when pressed. Even when these keys are pressed harder (apart from the intended click), no annoying noises or even wobbly buttons can be found, everything is right here. Functionally, the command controls offer the following parameters:
- Track controls (top row)
- "Solo", "Mute", "Record", "Read", "Write"
- Global Controls (bottom row)
- "Save", "In", "Out", "Metro" and "Undo"
I don't need to explain the functions of the "Forward", "Rewind", "Stop" and "Play/Pause" buttons in the transport section below, but there is one more button at the end of this row that deserves a mention is worth: The “Loop” button! As simple as its function may be; I am personally convinced by the idea of being able to control this DAW function directly from a master keyboard. This was thought through to the end!
The LC display is well illuminated, legible and clearly shows all current parameter changes. The knob positioned below allows intuitive control through the easy-to-overview menu. The rasterized encoder only makes noises during faster movements. The operating levels for the included software Analog Lab Lite (smaller version of Arturia Analog Lab V), the DAW or for presets configured by the user (user) that can be reached at the push of a button ensure a clear and intuitive division. Backlit buttons tell you at first glance which of the levels you are on.
The Arturia keyboard can also score with its fader section. Unlike the MPK 261, instead of eight, there are new "channel strips". Some people might be wondering why nine and not eight faders were chosen.The reason for this is as simple as it is well thought out: The ninth fader has so far been a unique selling point, as it takes on the function of the master fader! In concrete terms, you get eight channel faders and one master fader. In my opinion, this is a very nice addition.
The black text below the sliders indicates their function in DAW mode:
- Slider 1 controls the volume of the first track in the selected bank
- Slider 2 controls the volume of the second track in the selected bank
- Slider 3 controls the volume of the third track in the selected bank
...and so on up to slider 8, which controls the level of the eighth track in the selected
- Slider 9 works differently: it controls the master volume of the entire song or project
The various buttons and controls are labeled twice. The first position, highlighted in cyan blue, refers to the Analog Lab's operating level and appears to contain fixed parameters such as amplitude and filter envelope functions (e.g. "Attack", "Decay", "Sustain", "Release") or to control filter frequencies and LFO proportions.
The second term, written in white, stands for the DAW level and offers more general descriptions such as e.g. B. “Pan” for the encoders above the faders. The faders themselves are simply labeled “CH 1” (CH=Channel) to “CH 8”. The Keylab also offers the option of assigning the eight "channel strips" to several switchable banks.
Contrary to all surprises, the feeling of use of the potentiometers and sliders is once again of high quality. Pleasant resistances simply ensure a very good feel and successfully continue the qualitative image of the Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII.
Scope of delivery, accessories & free software
Anyone who would prefer to opt for the French MIDI controller from Arturia will find a rich software package. In addition to a supplied USB cable with an anti-ground loop adapter and various templates for identifying the functions of individual buttons and controls on the keyboard, there is the Arturia Analog Lab, the Piano V and Ableton Live Lite. This already provides basic software equipment that is quite sufficient for production. In addition, Arturia's software is known for being easy to control with appropriate controllers!
My conclusion on the Arturia KeyLab 61 MK2
For those who have always had a soft spot for individualistic products, the Arturia is definitely worth considering. As a combination of a solid master keyboard and nice features and software extras, the Arturia KeyLab 61 MK2 serves the needs of every synthesizer fan in addition to excellent workmanship. The CV compatibility promises a lot of fun and, above all, problem-free connectivity to analog external devices. So if you are already surrounded by several synthesizers or other hardware devices that you would like to conveniently control from one place, then the KeyLab 61 MK2 is particularly recommended.
Specifications & dimensions of the Arturia KeyLab MKII 61 Black:
- 61 velocity sensitive keys with aftertouch
- 16 color-lit performance pads
- 9 faders
- 9 dial
- LCD display
- category function
- Pitch and modulation wheel
- Chord and transpose function
- Transport button
- 5 x expression control inputs
- 4 x CV outputs
- 1 x CV input
- MIDI input and output
- USB port
- Input for external power pack
- Aluminum body
- incl Analog Lab software with over 6500 sounds, Piano V and Ableton Live Lite
- Dimensions (W x D x H): 875 x 297 x 53 mm
- Weight: 7 kg
About the manufacturer Arturia
Would you like to learn more about Arturia and the products? Click here for the manufacturer's full introduction: Arturia - Hardware & Software
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