** VOTRE ATTENTION, S'il Vous Plait!
This review is lengthy and quite broad in scope. The Producer Pack 61 has so much "packed" into it that in order to do it justice, our report is split into four individual segments.
Bundled with the FULL version of “Bitwig Studio”, Arturia’s own “Mini V” (Minimoog emulation) soft synth, and luxuriously complemented with “Analog Lab”, the Producer Pack is a heaping portion of quality and value. Toting their “KeyLab” series of controllers as being Hybrid synthesizers, Arturia have successfully produced a line of well-built, well appointed midi keyboards that contend favourably with offerings from their competitors.
Available in key configurations of 25 keys, 49 keys, and 61 keys, these sturdy, tactile-friendly keyboards boast full-sized, *semi-weighted keys with velocity and aftertouch response. During inspection, here on the reviewer’s bench, I couldn’t help but develop an appreciation for the notable strides that Arturia have taken to ensure a seamless, functional integration of hardware and software. A KeyLab controller operating in tandem with Arturia’s “Analog Lab” software truly does result in a rewarding Hybrid synth experience. The savoir-faire is enhanced all the more whilst being hosted within the BitWig DAW.
It’s clear from the onset that these collaborative Arturia/BitWig Producer Packs dish up a palatable plateful of production-ready abundance at very attractive price points. In all fairness, the MSRP is a substantial value considering that “BitWig” lists for $299, “Mini V” retails at $99, and a “KeyLab 61” controller costs $499 when purchased individually. This review concentrates on the KeyLab 61 Producer Pack, which at the time of this publication, sees its list price marked at $549 (USD).
The KeyLab controller presents itself with an air of both sophistication and hardiness. Housed in a hefty aluminum chassis, it maintains an affable carriage due to its sleek constructive lines and slightly rounded edges. A refreshing change from the common darkly-hued variety, the KeyLab’s off-white chassis is decked out with pleasantly contrasting, dark gray appointments. This board’s body is sized-just-right and comfortably houses an ample array of deftly-arranged rotary knobs, sliders, switches and pads. Veneered wooden side panels add a refined, finished touch. The overall appearance of a “KeyLab 61” immediately conveys quality construction, poise and elegance. The KeyLab’s sumptuous good looks beckon a player to come closer.
While this suave, USB bus-powered midi controller is switched on, the user is greeted with tasteful visual charms a-plenty. Subtle, indigo-blue backlighting discreetly massages one’s ocular senses and invites more than a casual glance. All of the user-adjustable controls are intelligently laid out and clutter-free. A satisfactorily-sized, 32-digit LCD screen displays pertinent patch and/or parameter information statically, and it also shows real time readouts when any control has been ‘touched’. Although I would prefer that the LCD screen were a bit larger, it is effective and gets the job done.
Neatly arranged from left to right on the top panel of the KeyLab 61, we find the following array of controls:
- A pair of octave/semi-tone transposition push buttons
- Tactility-smooth pitch bend and modulation wheels
- Volume, Parameter and Value dials (clickable endless rotary encoders)
- Small LCD panel and a row of three function buttons (Sound, Multi and Edit)
- 10 (endless rotary encoder) knobs and two bank selector buttons
- 10 assignable push button switches
- 9 medium throw sliders
- 6 Transport push-switches
- 16 Backlit pressure-sensitive, rubberized pads arranged in a 4x4 matrix
All of the KeyLab’s physical controls are pre-mapped to corresponding parameters within the “Analog Lab” software *and BitWig. Once the Arturia controller is USB connected to a computer running the “Analog Lab” software, the device is instantly detected, control mapped, and ready to go - no muss, no fuss. Of course, the KeyLab can be used as a full-featured midi controller for most nearly any 3rd party midi-driven software instrument, but user-defined midi control mapping may be necessary.
The rotary encoders and sliders operate smoothly, are responsive, and yield just enough ‘well-oiled’ resistance to give them higher quality tactility. The controls are solid; nonetheless, they don’t impress me as being heavy duty and should probably be used with some care. When the second control bank is toggled, the ten rotary encoders actually perform ‘double duty’, effectively giving us an additional set of mapped controls. In other words, there are a total of 20 onboard rotary encoders available. * It’s worth noting that this dual set of banks becomes particularly convenient within BitWig. Huge thanks to the good folks at BitWig for the extensive auto mapping they’ve masterfully done for us.
A group of 16 rubberized pads works as expected, and they (the pads) feel solid. Their pressure/velocity sensitivity is quite good, but perhaps an updated firmware revision could coax a bit more dynamic range out of them. These pads can be easily configured, via the “Analog Lab” software, to trigger pre-assigned chords (Maj., Min., 7th, and etcetera). This is an especially cool feature that empowers a user to tap out tonal rhythm parts fluidly, with a percussive tactility. Again, the pads open up additional workflow streams within “BitWig”.
The keys are reasonably solid, but perhaps a little bit thin. That’s not to say that aren’t acceptably durable, though I wouldn’t categorize them as ‘industrial grade’. I’ve deliberately played forcefully on my demo unit here, and the keybed handled it all with flying colors. In a studio environment, I wouldn’t anticipate keybed failure. I’m not as confident that the “KeyLab 61” would fare so well on a 6 month tour of adrenaline-pumped, ‘Deep Purple-esque’ stage performances. Mind you, we aren’t talking about a $2800 Nord “Electro 4” . . .
The keyboard's velocity sensitivity is quite good and it provides an obliging range of playing dynamics. I do find that its somewhat light keybed action takes some getting used to. That said, after getting accustomed to the KeyLab 61's 'feel', dynamic performances can be achieved.
Compared to many of the competition’s offerings, the Keylab 61 comes away as a clear winner in terms of functionality, build-quality, visual appeal, and software integration. This ‘feels’ like a “pro” device and thankfully, lacks that cheap, ‘plastiky’ feel that some other controllers in its general price range suffer from.
“. . . Have I anything to bemoan about?”
I did have occasion to scowl a couple of times about the KeyLab’s part in the “Producer Pack”.
Firstly, I’m disappointed that Arturia hasn’t *included* an appropriate 5V power adapter for the keyboard. While USB bus-powered connectivity is simple and convenient, the KeyLab-61 *does* require a dedicated USB port (ie: no passive USB hubs, if you please). This also poses a pain-in-the-noodle if a user relies on good ol’ fashioned midi din-port connectivity; after all, the keyboard will need to be powered on.
Arturia have officially bid farewell to eLicensed copy protection in the most recent versions of their software products. For many, this is cause for merriment and elation. If you already own older Arturia products, which have been licensed via a USB eLicenser, you can, of course, carry on. However, if you want to update your product to the latest revision, you have no choice but to embrace Arturia’s newest form of copy protection:
Regretably, one foreseeable glitch is that activations cannot be managed in a user’s “My Arturia” area of the company’s web site. This suggests that a crashed hard drive or faulty computer may result in an unrecoverable licence demerit. Perhaps Arturia could be encouraged to reconsider their licence management process and allow their customers to conveniently manage activations online. For example, PreSonus and ToonTrack facilitate this kind of online license management model.
4 out of 5 Stars
- Solid, durable build quality.
- Perfect integration with Analog Lab software & BitWig DAW.
- Impressive, sleek appearance.
- Generous number of tactile-friendly controls.
- Good midi dynamics control.
- Well provisioned with all necessary I/O connectivity.
- USB Bus-powered - Conservative power requirements.
- Keybed action is a little bit light.
- It would be better if Arturia included an external 5v power adapter.
- A longer, more sturdy USB cable is needed.
Brother Charles is a freelance writer, Gospel music artist and minister. Charles had been a professional touring musician during the nineties; working primarily as a lead guitarist in the Canadian country music industry. Brother Charles is also involved with music production and quality home recording.
Intellectual Copyright - 2015 - All rights Reserved. This review may not be copied or reproduced in whole, nor in part, without express written permission from the author.
Listen to Brother Charles' music here: Charles Trax