Sonic LAB: Arturia Keystep 37 - With Added Strum

US more keys, controllers and chords      08/09/20

We're looking at the latest MIDI controller from Arturia, which takes the concept of the original and wildly successful Keystep and adds 5 extra keys and extra features.

The keys themselves are the same small keys with the same velocity and aftertouch - but also adds tri-colour LEDs above each key for showing currently playing notes (green) /keyboard notes (yellow), selected key (red) and settings (blue) while in shift mode - very handy.

Also new are  4  assignable MIDI control knobs (over 4 banks), giving up to 16 knobs - assignable CC number and MIDI channel. Finally we get a two character LED which really helps with step programming and other status messages.

There's also a new Chord function which  has a strum speed and direction, divisible by master tempo- this in practice is a nice feature and can be combined with the sequencer to "perform" extra note movements. 

Another new feature is the ability to channelize the 64 step Sequencer (same 8 sequence memory) separately from the keyboard, so when in play mode, you can play a separate external MIDI channel from the main sequence - this is pretty neat actually, though I would have liked to have seen a separate port for the CV/Gate via USB.

Speaking of USB, the Keystep 37 can be powered from external 12v 1.5 supply (included) or via USB - which many will be pleased to hear is of the larger more robust connection type - those mini USB are handy but not very tough. You also get the earth de-coupling splitter doo-da for simultaneous power and data over USB - to remove the potential ground loop when connecting MIDI and CV to the same computer.

The addition of extra control knobs is really handy for performances, with each of the four banks of four controllers being freely assignable to CC number and MIDI channels, you can control key functions of external gear as you like, though  you'll probably want to use the MIDI Control Centre Software for this.

I also liked the Chord Function, which when messing with the speed and direction (strum) of the notes - up to 16 in total, gives some interesting added dynamics. You can also assign the velocity depth to the number of notes to add even more dynamic control.

Note: the Strum feature only applies to MIDI and not to the CV/Gate/Mod connections - for hooking up to modular or analogue synth gear. This CV connectivity is essentially the same as with the Keystep.

I would really have liked to see the control knobs (or even the chord parameters) be recordable into the sequencer as well, this would really open up the applications and give a rudimentary type of parameter lock function - shame they couldn't do that.

Sequencing is more or less as simple as with the original, although the 2 character display helps a lot with counting the steps you are using. It is also possible to pre-define the number of steps in a sequence (while holding the rec button and choosing any of the 16 MIDI ch keys) 2x 16=32 etc, but what is also cool is that you could record a full 64 steps and then live switch the number of playback steps say from 64 to 16 or 5 or whatever, and back again without erasing any notes in the sequence.

I would still like to have a metronome though as I find step programming un-intuitive. But a single down beat and real-time record might get you there.

All in all the Keystep 37 has a nice extension to the original's feature set. And seems reasonably priced at €169/£149. I'm pretty sure  like the original, it's going to be everywhere.

Available in the stores soon.

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