December 1982- remember this date. Why…? KEY WORD: ‘Prophet-600’- the first synth released to feature the standard. Year later Dave Smith, founder of the synthesizer company Sequential, anticipated the demand for a more powerful universal protocol and developed the first version of the MIDI standard, which was released in 1983. With the increasing complexity of synths, and as the music industry shifted towards digital technology and computer-based studios, the MIDI setup took off and became the standard for connecting equipment. Since then, a few more important updates happened worth mentioning: Roland MT-32 (1987), General MIDI (1991) and GM2 (1999), Roland GS (1991) and Yamaha XG (1997-99). 


Nowadays there’s a wide choice on offer for dedicated MIDI controller devices, but there is one French company which stole my heart - ARTURIA.  

Founded in 1999 and based in Grenoble, France. The first product they developed was Storm, a virtual instrument workstation The close emulation of classic analog synthesizers helped the company gain popularity in its market. In 2003, using the algorithms they had developed, Arturia worked with Robert Moog ( inventor of the first commercial modular voltage-controlled analog synthesizer systems), to create the Modular V softsynth. Arturia were one of the first music tech companies to embrace the concept of a paired virtual instrument player and hardware controller. In 2007, Arturia combined sounds from several of their softsynth titles into Analog Factory, which offered 2000 preset synthesizer. In recent times KeyLab controllers, alongside the Analog Lab software/plug-in have evolved. 


A complete keyboard production studio, KeyLab Essential comes in 49 and 61- key version. I am a happy owner of the 61- key beauty; hence I will focus on this version. 


In order to gain an access to the software that comes with Keylab Essential, ‘Arturia Software Centre’, ‘MIDI Control Centre’ I had to create an ARTURIA account which was straightforward and painless. Build quality is lightweight, but solid. I must admit, plastic finish was one of my concern at first, however once unpacked I was really impressed with its elegant design. The keyboard does retain the stylish Arturia look, with its rounded edges and ivory-white finish. 


You can all read tech spec reviews of KeyLab Essential online, so I won’t bore you with another one, instead I will focus on functionality which I believe is worth highlighting. 

Knobs and faders- ok, we all live in a digital world now, but who wouldn’t like this feeling of tweaking knobs and fader on analog stations in Abbey Road Studio for example...? Yeah, I guess all of us, hence having a little of that in your KeyLab Essential it’s a bonus. 

61 velocity- sensitive keys- as for musician & piano player who owns a Yamaha CLP 665 GP, key velocity it’s crucial. To find a fairly low budget keyboard (fairly low comparing to the Baby Grand mentioned above) which would not disappoint in this matter was essential. ARTURIA ticked my first box. 

Transport Section- perfectly arranged, offers exactly what you need. 

Analog Lab- this is Arturia’s virtual synth software (you can buy it separate as plug-in version) that collects 5000+ of the best and most amazing sounds from across its wide range of other synths. Analog Lab it’s a great addition and nicely complements the controller, especially given the integration work that’s been done. I have to confess that my first single ‘Smalltown Boy (feat. OlexSandra)’ was heavily build on ARTURIA plug-ins along with other 80’s synths plug -in giants. I absolutely love ARTURIA synths sounds, so it was inevitable to go further with the MIDI controller next. 

Performance Pads- the genre I am specialising in mostly focuses on dark synth-pop with some classical instrument’s element, hence my low end is also very specific. In ‘Smalltown Boy (feat. OlexSandra)’ heavy kick with it’s beautiful tiny high-end was basically driving the whole song. For someone who is focused on the 80’s sound and beats, ARTURIA KeyLab built in pads are more than enough to create something special. But for musician who are heavily beats focused, it might not be sufficient, then I guess Ableton launchpad would be the solution. As for me – 8 pads it’s all I need. 

Sustain pedal input- for classical educated musician (which is my background) it’s a ‘must have’, hence worth to mention that KeyLab have a physical MIDI output and a sustain pedal input. 

DAW Control- DAW control is handled by Mackie Control and HUI modes. I order to switch between the two you’ll need to install the Arturia MIDI Control Centre software utility. I am using Ableton Live, which recognised KeyLab Essential & set itself up automatically! Lovely… that’s all I need ? 


Unlike Akai’s VIP or NI’s Komplete Kontrol, Analog Lab does not try to be a host for all instrument plug-ins; it’s purely devoted to the Arturia V Collection. So, for other plug-ins and instruments you’ll need to look for more generic MIDI controller. The KeyLab Essential looks good in your studio, especially when all the onboard LED’s starting to dance while you creating your mix, solid build and enough controllers to keep almost any user happy. Analog Lab integration Arturia’s other recent instruments means it’s an even better deal if you happen to be ARTURIA’s products fan. 

Finishing my article, I would like to assure you, that I have not signed any ‘sell me to the world‘ deal with ARTURIA, I just simply love this brand! 

Here you can find more technical details:

KeyLab Essential 61 - Details



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