It seems we are entering the season for MIDI control, not sure what it is that governs the timings of such things, but there are a lot of new products on the market in this area.
We’re looking at the Arturia Keylab MKII - which adds features to the original Keylab Essential in the form of extra pads - now 16 instead of 8 (pressure and velocity sensitive), a channel aftertouch enabled key bed - we are told this is the same as the MatrixBrute, additional control modes - ANALOG LAB/ DAW/USER
Add to that we also have the Analog Lab software package which includes player versions of Arturia’s V collection and over 6000 patches across many synth and keyboard models. Each of these have their own Macro sets for editing, which are directly addressed when in ANALOG LAB mode and can take you a long way from the initial preset even if you cant access all the parameters.
Additionally, the CV and Gate connections, allow for CV/Gate/MOD CV1/MOD CV2 outputs to address external analogue gear with the voltage range and scaling adjustable either by the MIDI Control Centre or directly from the Keylab itself.
One gotcha for me was that the CV Gate interface is not addressable from a DAW MIDI track, at present they can only be addressed from live playing in real time. This is a bit of a big deal I think, as the Keystep and Beatstep Pro both allow this. Arturia tell me that it's on the firmware update feature list - ASAP please!
A CV input is also available with the range from 1V-10V taking an external CV input (sub audio rates) and converting it into an assignable MIDI CC - quite useful.
DAW Mode features presets based on HUI and MCU modes with additional templates for Live, Cubase, Pro Tools, Logic, Studio One and Reaper. As well as the channel fader and pan, mute/solo/rec ready and automation arming you get various additional DAW specific controls such as Zoom/Save/Undo etc.
One thing I did miss was the ability to access FX sends.
USER Mode - highly programmable and configurable access to the 9 knobs, Faders, Pads, and multiple switches, most of what you ould require except SYSEX. There is also no Learn mode so it's a lot easier when using the MIDI Control Centre software. Additionally there are only 10 user memories which does seem a little stingy.
A single Keyboard split with variable split point, and channels is also useful for standalone or hybrid setups.
It should be noted that there is no arpeggiator or sequencer on board, but the Chord Memory mode which lets you program 6 note chords onto each of the pads (saved per preset), or Chord Transpose mode recalls via the pads up to 16 chords for single note trigger via the keyboard.
Pedals and some. As well as the Sustain and Expression pedal inputs, there are three Aux pedal inputs for those who need more floor action, when combined with some clever voltage attenuation routing (you’d need to be very careful) it is also possible that additional CV inputs can be set up instead of foot pedals.
I found the Keylab to be pretty intuitive for such a highly configurable device, preset and bank browsing and control of the Analog Lab makes sound surfing simple and I must say there are a number of great sounding presets in the Analog Lab software package, you are bound to find something inspiring - for me the Clavinets were a revelation - and not for cod funk either.
The Keylab MKII is a mid price controller, there are more affordable units available (from Arturia too) but this one feels sturdy and solid, available in 49 and 61 key versions priced at £389/$449 (49 key) and £429/$499 (61 Key)
I can often find these frustrating to program and setup, but Arturia have made it pretty straightforward to create complex and useful control configurations.