In my opinion, a good MIDI keyboard is one of the most important purchases a producer or songwriter can make. Music production is all about getting ideas out of your head and into your recording software, and often times, your MIDI controller is the toll you’ll use. When I was on the hunt for a great MIDI keyboard, I wanted three things: great build quality, usable drum pads, and great user interface. The Arturia 49 key Keylab delivers on all three of these fronts.
If you’re not familiar with the role of a MIDI controller, it’s essentially a keyboard that connects to your computer. It doesn’t make its own sounds; instead, it lets you control the notes played by virtual instruments you have in your DAW. That means that sound quality is not a factor when it comes to choosing a MIDI keyboard. Typically, sound quality would be my number one criteria, but since a MIDI controller doesn’t make any sounds, things like aesthetics, build quality, and UI come into play.
After testing out several MIDI controllers, the Arturia Keylab 49 Essential was the clear winner.
What makes the Arturia Keylab 49 my top choice?
When it comes to desktop MIDI controllers, 49 keys is my preferred size. It fits on just about any recording desk without needing a pull-out drawer, and it’s portable enough to pick up and move around. The top controls of the Keylab 49 fit nicely into a smaller section of knobs, pads, and buttons, keeping everything close by and compact.
When compared with other 49-key MIDI controllers, the Keylab 49 has great aesthetics. The faux-wood paneling on the sides, the icy white color scheme, and the color changing drum pads look fantastic on my desk. It’s no secret that the aesthetic of a space can help influence your creativity, and the Keylab 49 has a retro-futuristic look that really fits my space.
Compare this with the AKAI MPK49, which has a gigantic control section (bigger than the keys). Yes, it has more pads, but the desk real estate it takes up is not worth the tradeoff for me.
The Keylab’s drum pads are very touch sensitive, making them a great choice for laying down MIDI drums in a snap! I love playing finger-drums on them to get my ideas down quickly.
Arturia Keylab 49 Build Quality
The Arturia Keylab 49 is an exceptionally well-built MIDI controller. It has rubber feet that keep it from sliding around on your desk, the knobs have a powder coated feel, and the keys are springy and responsive, and the pitch and mod wheels offer just the right level of resistance.. The Keylab really feels like a quality piece of hardware. It’s light enough to be portable without feeling flimsy. The Arturia keyboard feels noticeably more like a premium product compared to other choices in this price range.
After two years of heavy use, all of the lights, buttons, sliders, and keys on my Keylab still feel brand new. None of the LEDs have gone out, and all of the keys are still responsive and in tact.
Arturia Keylab Interface
The Keylab’s interface is by far the best I’ve used. The settings are easy to access using the buttons and scroll wheel under the screen. This keyboard’s screen fits lots of text, and it’s easy to navigate to whatever settings you need to change.
This is a big consideration, since you’ll probably be using this keyboard on almost every project you work on. You want a MIDI controller that is easy to operate.
Bonus – Included Software
As an added bonus, the Arturia Keylab comes with Analog Lab and Piano V instrument software, plus Ableton Live Lite. While I personally already have Pro Tools, making Ableton redundant for me, the included virtual instruments were a nice bonus. Analog Lab is a vintage synthesizer plugin, and it’s been nice to have as an option when creating retro sounding productions. While I wouldn’t purchase the Keylab just for this software, it’s nice that they’re included. Considering the Keylab is my #1 choice for a MIDI controller without the software, they’re a nice value-add to an otherwise already great purchase.
Is the Arturia 49 key Keylab right for you?
If you’re a producer, songwriter, or keyboardist looking to add a reliable and solid MIDI controller into your workflow, the Arturia Keylab 49 is the perfect choice. If you’re a pianist who needs weighted keys and 88 keys of range, this isn’t the keyboard for you. However, if you don’t mind un-weighted keys, this is still a great option for a pianist looking to lay down your ideas. The drum pads, easy to use interface, and free synth sounds make this a fantastic choice for anyone building a project studio.
Overall, the Arturia Keylab 49 Essential feels like a high quality keyboard, and it’s certainly worth the cost.
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