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Arturia Minilab MK2 Review: Still A Good Midi Keyboard In 2022?

The Arturia Minilab picked apart & unraveled! Why is this midi keyboard so special?

The Arturia Minilab MK2 is just one of the options you’ve got if you’re after a compact midi keyboard in 2022. And we say ‘just one’ because, well, since the Minilab MK2 launched back in 2016, the market has changed… substantially.

Manufacturers from every corner of the music industry, including the instrument boffins at both Donner and Alesis have managed to infiltrate the mainstream midi keyboard market. All with one aim – taking the Arturia’s crown by pitching themselves as cheaper, more value-focused options. And in the case of the Donner, even trying to beat the Minilab at its own game. Cheeky!

Then ontop of that, the Minilab has also had the likes of Akai and Novation – some of Arturia’s most fierce competitors – realising new and updated versions of their 25-key midi keyboards. Back in 2020, Akai dropped a revised version of it’s notorious MPK Mini. And only recently in 2021, Novation launched fired some more shots with the release of the Launchkey Mini – arguably the closest rival to the Minilab to date.

And yet, despite all these attempts to 1up the Minilab, we’re not entirely certain that they’ve worked. In fact, on the surface at least, the Arturia Minilab MK2 still seems to be a pretty good buy, all despite it now being over 4 years old! So with that in mind then, why is the Arturia Minilab still worth it in 2022? Read on and we’ll reveal all.

Interested to know why we still rate this old age pensioner of a keyboard? Or just curious to read our Arturia Minilab MK2 review? Use the menu below to get clued up on this iconic midi keyboard in record time…

Arturia Minilab MK2 specs

Before we set about pitting the Minilab against any of its midi rivals, or in fact it’s previous version (the MK1), we thought it’d be best to give you a quick overview of its features. Basically pick it apart right from the start of this review, so that you’re full aware of what’s been put to the test. So without further ado, here’s our rundown of the Arturia Minilab MK2 specs…

Key details

  • Weight: 1.5kg
  • Dimensions: 355 x 220 x 50mm
  • Sustain port for pedals: Yes
  • Drivers needed: No

Please note: The majority of midi controllers will require a firmware update on a regular basis. This has the ability to improve their functionality even further!

Additional features

  • The keyboard boasts 25 velocity-sensitive keys, which are not full-size, but do feel substantially more premium than those on other 25-key midis. Reason being that the keybed is actually taken for the Arturia Keystep – the step up from the Minilab that retails for a couple of hundred £££!
  • While there appears to be only 8 RGB pads, they do come in two banks, which can be accessed once the keyboard is plugged into your DAW. The pads themselves are quite stiff, but do respond well + the LED under-glow can be changed to a whole rainbow of colours. Easy for knowing what instrument is assigned to what pad.
  • Unlike a lot of midi controllers, the Minilab boasts a whopping 16 endless encoders, so essentially the knobs will spin forever – they have no start and end points. Ideal for controlling third party plugins! They also have a nice rubberised texture to them too.
  • Pitch bend and modulation is adjusted via touch strips, which actually work really well. In fact, we prefer them to a classic wheel + so must others, because newer keyboards have gone on to do the same.
  • The in-DAW integration with Ableton Live is outstanding – you’ll love it! And that’s because as long as you have this controller, there’s virtually no need for you to touch your computer’s mouse or keyboard. Saying that though, the Minilab MK2 is also integrated really well with other DAWs too!
  • The build quality is outstanding for a midi controller at this price point. And even in 4 years on in 2021, it’s yet to beaten in our opinion. The underside of the keyboard is made of metal!

What’s the Minilab’s software bundle look like?

The Minilab MK2 comes with a vast range of software, including Analogue Live Lite. A version of Arturia’s own software that comes with sounds from some of their most iconic synths. Plus, the UVI Grand Piano Model D sound pack too. Oh and also a copy of Ableton Live Lite – the DAW that the Arturia is specifically designed to work with (although it does work with other DAWs too).

How does the Arturia Minilab MK2 differ to the Minilab MK1?

Now with the most current Minilab being known as the MK2, you might wonder what the Minilab MK1 was like. What were it’s key features? As well as what makes the MK2 so special? How was it an improvement? So just to assure you that the MK2 is a better keyboard (and for good reason), we’ve listed just a couple of the main differences between the Arturia Minilab MK2 & MK1…

  • The Minilab MK2 two is a testament to build quality whereas the MK1 wasn’t. Reason being that Arturia pumped way more money into developing the MK2 than the MK1… and it shows!
  • The Minilab MK2 is therefore heavier than the MK1 by close to 0.5kg!
  • Increased development costs do however mean that with the MK2 you only get Analogue Live Lite (500 sounds) in the software bundle, and not the whole of Analogue Lab (5000 sounds)! Although with that being said, you can upgrade for around £20 or so.
  • The pads are backlit with colours on the MK2. Something you didn’t find on the MK1. They are also pressure and velocity sensitive.
  • The key-bed on the MK2 is far more high end. It’s taken from Arturia’s Keystep range and really makes the difference in key feel.
  • A little easter egg that also wasn’t on the MK1 was the first two encoders, which on the MK2 also function as buttons to control your DAW. How cool is that?!
arturia minilab mk1
The Arturia Minilab MK1
arturia minilab mk2 review
The Arturia Minilab MK2

Types of the Arturia Minilab Mk2 keyboard

The Standard Edition

Ask us we’ve got a lot of respect for the standard version of the Arturia Minilab Mk2. Main reason being because, not only does it have the guts to incorporate wood into its design (balsy move), but it also takes itself seriously. Compared to its arch rival – the Akai MPK Mini MK3 – it looks far less like a toy that’s been plucked off the shelf at the local toy shop #JustSaying

The Inverted Edition

For those after a bit more of a stealthy experience, this blacked-out version of the Minilab is very much the way to go. All the controls zing out in white, bar perhaps the keys, which could prove an issue in dim light. But apart from that, this version of the Minilab is hard to fault.

The Limited Black & Orange Edition

Want to show you’re a proper production nerd? Cop this version (if you can). We say so because this orange model is actually a limited edition. As of now this is the ultimate form of exclusivity amongst Minilab owners. Something that we’d bet our left leg, would make a very wise investment (i.e. appreciate in value in time).

Arturia Minilab MK2: the good, the bad and the ugly

Okay, so it’s not secret that nothing, not even the Minilab MK2, is perfect. Put it this way, if it was this review would be very short. Pretty much 3 words: “buy this now!” But because no midi keyboard is really ‘the best’, as everyone works in different ways, it’s important you get to know the good, the bad and even the ugly.

Do so and buying the Arturia Minilab MK2 should be a stress-free purchase. One that you’re confident in and sure is right for you. Less something you have second thoughts about just as open the box. So to clear your conscience of doubt, here’s just a few pros and cons of the Minilab MK2 that we think you should have on your radar…

Pros of the Minilab MK2 (AKA the good)

  • The keybed is just amazing! To get such a premium bed (a donor from the Keystep) in a midi controller of this size + price range, is rare!
  • The 16 endless encoders are some of the best you’ll find on a midi keyboard, even in 2021. Aside from being rubberised, they also have a nice amount of resistance to them.
  • The pitch and modulation strips work surprisingly well. So much so that other manufacturers have gone onto copy… Donner & Novation to name but a few.
  • Yet again, that build quality really does stand out. Next to the Minilab most other midi controllers look like a toy.

Cons of the Minilab MK2 (AKA the bad)

  • The keys, while on a decent keybed, aren’t full-size like you’d get on a Nektar Impact LX25+ or M-Audio Oxygen Pro 25. Saying that though, the Arturia is a lot more portable because of it, so…
  • For anyone who’s a keen finger drummer, the pads being in a long line, opposed to 2 sets of 4 can take some getting used to.

The ugly?

  • Sorry Arturia, but while some may call those those fake wood sides a ‘retro twist’, they have us wanting to puke.

How does the Minilab compare to other midi keyboards in 2022?

Face it – no midi keyboard is created equal, especially in 2022 when there’s that many out there that it’s very easy to loose track. Even music geeks like us struggle to keep up! But if you fail to do so, there’s a solid chance that you’ll end up slipping up and making a major schoolboy error – buying the wrong midi keyboard, perhaps?

So now that you’re clued up on the Minilab MK2, it makes sense to get an equally thorough overview of its main competition. That way you can be confident that the Minilab is still the right choice for you in 2022. With that in mind then, here’s how the Minilab compares to both the Akai MPK Mini MK3 & the Novation Launchkey Mini MK3…

Akai MPK Mini MK3 VS Arturia MInilab MK2

Similarities

  • Both the Akai and the Arturia boast 25 mini-sized keys. Although the Arturia’s set are ever so slightly wider.
  • These midi keyboards both feature 8 RGB pads + an extra bank of 8 pads, which you can access through your DAW.
  • On both keyboards, the assignable encoders are endless.

Differences

  • The Akai has far larger pads + as you’d expect from Akai the feel on them does exceed that of the Minilab. However, the Minilab’s can be backlit in multiple colours, whereas the Akai’s only light up red when pressed.
  • The keybed of the Arturia runs rings around that of the MPK Mini MK3. In fact, there’s rumours that the MPK Min’s keybed is just a bunch of plastic. Hardly a symbol of quality…
  • On the subject of quality, the Akai is made of 100% plastic, whereas the Minilab has an all-metal bottom!
  • The Arturia boasts 16 endless encoders, whereas the Akai only has 8.
  • Akai have build in an arpeggiator, as well as a note repeat function to the MPK Mini. Both things the Minilab doesn’t have. We’ll leave you to decide whether that’s of any use, or just a gimmick.
  • The Minilab comes with a far stronger software package. You get a lot with the Akai, but not a whole lot that the average producer would actually use. How many hits do you hear that’ve been produced with MPC Beats? Exactly. Whereas, with the Arturia you get access to don that is Ableton Live Lite + Analogue Live Lite, which features some proper nice sounds!

Novation Launchkey Mini MK3 VS Arturia Minilab MK2

Similarities

  • Both have 25-keys mini-sized keys, although the Arturia has a far superior keybed.
  • Ableton users rejoice! Both these controllers are designed to work with Ableton Live… and they do!

Differences

  • The Minilab boasts 16 endless encoders, whereas the Novation Launchkey Mini MK3 merely makes do with knobs. so that means the knobs on the Launchkey have a start/ end point, unlike those on the Arturia, which will just continue to spin. Plus, two of the knobs on the Arturia also function as buttons!
  • The Arturia is virtually ‘plug in and play’ as it auto-maps with most DAWs. However, the Launchkey Mini does take significantly longer to set up, especially with DAWs like Cubase, Pro Tools and Reason.
  • Navigating your DAW using these controllers differs too. On the Minilab, you do so using the encoders. Whereas on the Launchkey DAW navigation is done by a combination of the ‘track’ button and the RGB pads.
  • The Launchkey Mini is significantly smaller & lighter too, although you could argue that being built like a tank (in case of the Arturia) is no bad thing.
  • Back to the pads, the Novation has a whopping 16, whereas the Arturia has to make do with 8.
  • In terms of keys, those on the Launchkey Mini have significantly less travel time , whereas those on the Minilab feel heavier and take more pressure to play a note.

Is the Arturia Minilab MK2 really worth it in 2022?

Even though we may get a few funny glances for saying this – “yes!” Despite the gap of over 4 years since the Minilab was released, we’d say that it’s still a worthy contender when it comes to tracking down the best midi keyboard.

Fact remains that while the market for midis has widened as well as seen some fresh faces join the party, the Arturia Minilab MK2 hasn’t exactly lagged behind. We’re yet to find a more modern keyboard in this price range that offers such good build quality. It’s built like a tank! And it’s gets much the same praise when it comes to compatibility with DAWs too.

While newer midi may be slightly more ‘in-tune’ with Ableton Live, the Minilab hardly fails to impress – navigating Ableton always has been a piece of cake with this controller. Plus, unlike a lot of its rivals, this compatibility stretches across a wide range of DAWs including Logic, Pro Tools and even Cakewalk.

What’s more, even in 2022, the software bundle is hard to beat, as is the way the Minilab interacts with plugins, thanks to those endless encoder knobs. Something even the most modern midis fail to integrate into their design. Don’t ask us why – it perplexes us too.

Saying that though, if gimmicks like arpeggiators or note repeat functions are what you’re after, then you and this midi keyboard aren’t perhaps the perfect match. Its sounds like the Akai MPK Mini is more up your street. However, if a quality set of keys and an intelligent midi setup is No1 on your agenda, then the Autoria Minilab should be high up on your list of contenders, even now, in 2022.

Yes, the Minilab MK2 may not be a spring chicken. But as far as we can tell, it’s certainly got a lot of life left in it.

Latest Price!

Enjoy this Arturia Minilab MK2 review and eager for more? Don’t miss out on all our latest Music Kit Reviews, as well as the lowdown on all things Music Production. Recently we’ve also reviewed the Minilab MK2 as part of our guides to the Best Midi Controller For Logic Pro X, + the Best 25 Key Midi Keyboards too!

Or if your heart’s set on the Minilab, keep reading to discover even more about this impressive midi controller…

The lowdown on the Arturia Minilab + midi keyboards in general

As a brand, we really admire Arturia and do consider them to be good brand. While they have only been around since the late 90s, which is not long at all compared to some of the industry giants, you can’t get around the fact that they’re a highly innovative company.

We’re particular fans of the ideas that go into anything by Arturia, as they always seem focused on innovating and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. So much so that we’d label them pioneers of the music industry, opposed to just a company. We can’t help but admire those who dare to be different, as it’s new ideas that keep midi (and the tech behind it) fresh and innovative.

Think we’re talking rubbish?

Take those touch strips used for pitch and modulation that have since gone on to feature on countless other midi keyboards. They were an Arturia first. The company were also one of the first to feature endless encoder knobs into their 25-key midi controllers. Plus, we’re yet to come across another 25-key midi keyboard that has 16 of them, as well as any that use encoders as buttons! See what we mean…

Now to claim that one midi keyboard is the best doesn’t really work, as everyone uses controllers differently. However, if you’re the type that values key-feel and impressive software integration, then we’d say that the Minilab MK2 isn’t exactly a bad choice.

It’s innovative, multifunctional and works well with a variety of DAWs. Although, if the Minilab wasn’t an option, then we’d also suggest checking out keyboards like the Novation Launckey Mini. However, considering that the Launchkey is reasonably new, we’d expect to see Arturia come back with a BANG with the Minilab MK3. But until then, we’d say the Minilab MK2 more that suffices.

Indeed it does.

The Arturia Minilab MK2 works seamlessly with Garageband, as it does with its bigger brother, Logic Pro X. Something that not all midi controllers in this price point can boast. Providing you’re on Garageband 10.0 or above, you should have no issues.

A midi keyboard is in essence a keyboard without the speakers. And that’s because unlike a traditional keyboard, which just plays piano and a few other effects, a midi controller is designed to play what instrument you programme it to. Something you choose via your DAW, and install through VST plugins.

So for instance, one minute your mid controller could be helping you to play an edgy style of synth, when the next it could be a traditional piano, electric guitar or even a vocal sample. The only time that this is likely to change is if you opt for a controller like the Akai MPK Mini Play. A midi controller with sounds and a speaker built in – so basically a keyboard then.

Of course it will depend on which controller you opt for, but yes. Midi controllers are a great way to induct beginners into the world of music + a practical way for a newbie producer to find their sound.

Some controllers even take this ‘beginner-friendliness’ to the extreme, by integrating chord asist functions into their controllers. All of which means that you can actually make some pretty sick sounding music as a beginner with little knowledge of music theory!

Okay, so while the keyboard on the Arturia Minilab is dang awesome, the one thing it doesn’t have is aftertouch. A feature that since the Arturia was launched, has slowly started to creep its way into keyboards in this price range.

As of now, if you’re after an Arturia with aftertouch, then you’ll have to upgrade to the more expensive Keystep series – the series with which the Minilab shares its keybed.

In terms of physical stuff, not much comes with a Minilab MK2; the box merely contains the midi controller, a usb cable and a set of instructions. However in terms of software the midi keyboard comes with Ableton Live Lite, Analogue Live Lite + a third party Grand Piano plugin that we’re not entirely sure why they included… you’d think they’d want you to use their own piano sounds.

But anyway, in short Ableton Live Lite is the beginner version of Ableton Live. On eof the best and most popular DAWs on the market. And as for Analogue Live Lite, that’s essentially a kit of some of Arturia’s best sounds. Lite gets you access to 500 of these.