We’re taking a closer look at the Arturia KeyLab 49 Black Edition controller, a high quality mid-range MIDI keyboard aimed at electronic musicians, beat makers and music producers.
There are plenty of MIDI controllers out there, sharing a similar concept and offering slight variations on the same theme. Taking a somewhat different route, Arturia’s MIDI keyboards provide an experience that strongly resembles owning a hybrid synthesizer, although with added flexibility and the freedom of being able to connect the controller to any MIDI capable instrument or digital audio workstation.
Build Quality And Layout
Keylab 49 comes neatly packaged in a hefty cardboard box, weighing around 16 pounds. This amount of weight was a bit surprising for us, as most of the MIDI keyboards in this price range are much lighter due to the fact that they’re made out of plastic. The box contains a silver USB cable for connecting the controller to a computer, a set of manuals and quick start guides to help with the setup process, and one of the nicest looking MIDI controllers on today’s market. Seriously, with its slick design, sturdy metal body and wood panels on both sides, Keylab 49 Black Edition looks and feels more like a high quality synthesizer than a MIDI controller keyboard.
Due to its metal chassis, Keylab 49 Black Edition feels very solid and our general impression was that this is a piece of gear that was built to last. The controller definitely looks like it could withstand heavier usage, which is an important feature for those who would like to use their MIDI gear on a stage and not only in a studio environment. Despite its rugged build, though, Keylab 49 Black Edition is beautifully designed and its slim profile makes the controller highly portable and easy to integrate into almost any type of studio setup.
The synth action keyboard is just a tad bit on the lighter side, although this is mainly a matter of personal preference. The keys feel very responsive and the performance is quite precise. The monophonic aftertouch also works fine and the velocity curve settings allow the users to match the instrument’s velocity response completely to their liking.
The layout of the control elements is pretty standard, with the LCD screen and a set of ten rotary knobs on the left, nine faders in the center and sixteen touch sensitive drum pads on the right. The number of available knobs and faders is actually doubled, since the users can switch between two controller banks on the fly simply by pushing the Bank A or Bank B buttons. These are located to the right of the LCD screen and are easily accessible during a performance. The knobs and faders are precise and well calibrated, whereas the drum pads are quite sturdy and feel like they could withstand serious amounts of bashing. The controller also features six transport buttons and ten additional switches, all of which can be easily assigned to different MIDI parameters as we’ll explain below.
We really liked the fact that the pitch wheel and the modulation wheel are positioned in the bottom left corner and not above the keys, like on certain other 49 key MIDI controller models. Speaking of these two controls, they are a bit smaller in size than we’d like to see, but they are both extremely smooth and perfectly calibrated for precise and easy usage during a performance.
On the back, KeyLab 49 features an On/Off switch, a standard USB port, MIDI In/Out ports for connecting the controller to other MIDI gear, Aux, Expression Pedal, Sustain Pedal and Breath Controller inputs, and a 5V DC In connector. Sadly, a DC adapter unit is not included in the package, although it’s fair to assume that the controller will be used via USB in a vast majority of cases anyway (in which case a DC adapter is not required).
KeyLab 49 Black Edition is bundled with a nice selection of premium software, including Arturia’s nifty Analog Lab virtual instrument (sporting almost 6000 classic synthesizer presets), along with the full versions of Prophet V and Solina V virtual synthesizers, and UVI’s fantastic Grand Piano Model D sample-based virtual piano. The controller is fully integrated with the bundled instruments, meaning that the users can browse through the available presets and modify the parameters of each instrument without ever touching the mouse or keyboard. The three rotary knobs located to the left of the LCD screen are used for browsing and loading the presets, whereas the buttons below the screen can be used for quick loading of up to ten favorite patches.
The installation and activation of bundled software is pretty much hassle-free, since most of the hard work is handled by the Arturia Software Center application. The user area of Arturia’s website might seem a bit confusing at first, so make sure that you download the Arturia Software Center app first and use it do download and install additional software.
See also: Arturia V Collection Classics REVIEW
Our favorite part of the software package, though, is the fantastic MIDI Control Center application which can be used to fully customize all of the available MIDI encoders. The application is incredibly easy to use and allows the users to create MIDI channel splits, modify knob and fader behavior, assign different MIDI CC messages to buttons and switches, save and recall templates, and perform all sorts of other useful under the hood tweaks.
When used together with Analog Lab and other bundled software, KeyLab 49 Black Edition feels like a true hybrid synthesizer, as the level of integration and ease of use is among the best on today’s market. The controller also works great in tandem with most digital audio workstations and virtual instruments out there, making it a great choice for the centerpiece of a studio based setup. On the other hand, the combination of the KeyLab 49 controller and a Windows 10 based tablet running Analog Lab software is potentially a great portable music making solution, perfectly suitable for musicians on the go who are looking for a powerful virtual analog setup on a tighter budget.
Considering KeyLab 49’s exceptional build quality, useful selection of bundled virtual instruments and the product’s highly competitive price, this great looking MIDI controller is a solid choice for electronic music producers, beatmakers, as well as performing musicians. It is a piece of gear that was built to last, which is something that we rarely encounter in this price range.
More info: Arturia Keylab 49 Black Edition (product page)
Arturia KeyLab 49 Black Edition REVIEW
Considering KeyLab 49's exceptional build quality, useful selection of bundled virtual instruments and the product's highly competitive price, this great looking MIDI controller is a solid choice for electronic music producers, beatmakers, as well as performing musicians.