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Arturia Minilab MK3: The Best Midi Yet? Or The MK2 Rebadged??

When will the Arturia Minilab Mk3 be released? Will this midi be worth the wait, or should you just buy the Mk2?

The Arturia Minilab Mk3 is the midi controller that we’re getting all giddy about. Why?

Well, it’s been close to 5 years since the legendary Minilab Mk2 hit the shelves and somehow made us forget the tragedy that was the Minilab Mk1 (Sorry Arturia, it wasn’t great). So as you can imagine, what with the likes of Novation and Akai releasing Mk3 versions of their 25-key midi keyboards back around 2020, Arturia fanboys like ourselves have started to get a bit twitchy.

So much so that if you hit up Reddit, it won’t be long before you come across midi nerds (like ourselves) fantasising over the next instalment of Arturia’s Minilab. And that’s because the Minilab Mk2 was hands-down a great midi keyboard – and still is we may add. Many even described it as perfection, despite its large curb-weight and rather subjective use of wood. A quirk of all Arturia boards that we’ve actually learned to love. And that’s exactly it – the main reason we suspect is behind this ever so slight ‘delay’.

If the Mk2 was really that good, then how is the Mk3 going to be better? What new features & functionality is it going to bring to the table that give it the edge over its predecessor? There needs to be something, otherwise all these Arturia fanboys aren’t going to feel the need to upgrade. Instead, you’re going to catch them, along with a horde of beginners swanning around the backend of eBay. Question is then, when will the Arturia Minilab Mk3 be released? And will Arturia be able to pull it off? Read on to find out.

After something specific about the Arturia Minilab Mk3? Or just curious as to how we think it’ll differ to the Mk2? Use the menu below to find the answers you need in 1 click…

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Disclaimer: The blog is in NO way sponsored by Arturia. Neither have we any ‘insider information’ on the Minilab Mk3 or written this blog to spread gossip. It’s purely the result of a few music nerds throwing ideas at digital paper. So, to kick things off then…

What is a Minilab keyboard?

For any of you who aren’t die-hard Arturia fanboys, this would be a good place to start.

In a nutshell, the Minilab is the most compact and affordable midi keyboard made by Arturia. A French electronics company that has been specialising in music hardware since 1999.

The name Minilab hints at the controller’s affiliation with the Keylab Series – one of the most popular collections of midi keyboards used for music production to date. Arturia gear is particularly popular amongst electronic producers, however in recent years has also wormed its way into the world of Hip Hop and Pop too.

To spot an Arturia Minilab is actually pretty easy. Out of all the midi controllers in the Keylab Series, it’s the smallest, with a footprint of just 35cm in length and 20cm in width. All of which means that with a Minilab you get just 25 mini-sized semi weighted keys (2 octaves), opposed to full-sized (& full weighted) keys like you’d get on a piano.

Going by the Mk2, the encoders are also a clear giveaway of any Minilab. There’s 16, which we think we’re right in saying is the most encoders ever fitted to any 25 key midi keyboard. Give them a twist and you’ll also realise that these encoders are endless. In short, they have no start/ end point, and instead spin for eternity, which makes them ideal for working with plugins.

You’ll also spot 8 drum pads that’re backlit, and arranged in one long strip, unlike the 2 rows of 4 you tend to see on other controllers. As for pitch and mod, these are controlled by two touch strips on the Minilab. A touch we really like, however some producers do prefer the wheels you get on larger Keylabs.

Lift up the latest Minilab and you’ll also find it has a metal base, as well as a nice set of feet to stop it ice-skating across your tabletop. So all-in-all then, an ideal midi controller for both the studio & the road.

However, the easiet way of spotting 99% of Keylabs is by their signature white colour as well as the strip of faux wood they have down the sides. Something that we really dig, as makes the Minilab a tad vintage & gives it a slightly retro alt vibes. However, there’s not just 1 version of the Minilab…

Arturia also recently introduced a black inverted model, which seems to be a significantly rarer find. Not to mention the Minilab with Orange encoders, which was a limited edition – one that we can’t even find for sale. Well, apart from on eBay for X times as much over the retail price.

SPOILER: Since writing this post, we’ve actually found a couple of Orange Minilabs + a couple of inverted black editions for sale. Tap those neon links above to check availability & get your hands on these collectors’ items while you still can!

Out of stock? There’s always the standard white edition…

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Arturia Minilab Mk3 release date: when will this midi keyboard drop?

Now while there’s been no release date published as of yet, we don’t the Mk3’s release is far off.

That’s because when you look at other 25 key midi keyboards, new releases roughly come about every 4-6 years. So for instance, the gap between Novation’s Launchkey Mk2 and their much-improved Mk3 was just 4 years (2016 – 2020). Then with the Akai MPK Mini, the gap between its Mk2 and Mk3 version was around-about 6 years (2014-2020). Hence why we’d say for the Minilab Mk3, a release during 2022 or sometime in 2023 is entirely possible.

The only thing to bear in mind of course is the effects of Covid 19. Hate to bring it up, but the fact Akai and Novation managed to get a release in 2020 probably meant that they’d done the majority of their R&D + product development before everyone started going AWOL. Whereas, with Arturia yet to release, it could well be due to the fact that the pandemic caused them to backbench the Minilab, opposed to pushing it out.

What’s more, with the Minilab being a good midi controller as it is, we wouldn’t be surprised if Arturia take their time with the Mk3. Reason being that, as we’re already hinted at, the Mk1 wasn’t what you’d call the best of controllers, so to design the Mk2 (especially with the larger budget they allocated), probably wasn’t that hard. Turning something not so good into something good is easy when compared to turning something that’s already good into something great.

And that’s exactly why we’re so excited for the Minilab Mk3. To be any sort of commercial success, it’ll have to be one hell of a midi keyboard. And that’s a midi keyboard we’d seriously want to own.

Our predications (wish list) for the Minilab Mk3

Yes, make itself worth the upgrade, the Minilab Mk3 really does need to pull something out of the hat. Question is – what? How will Arturia make this midi stand out from the crowd? What’s going to be its USP? Well, while we’re a certain as you, we do have a couple of idea hanging around in the back of head that could help distinguish the Mk3 from its predecessor. So to help you paint a picture of what could expect from the Minilab Mk3, we’ve spilled a collection of our ideas onto digital paper. Welcome to our Arturia Minilab Mk3 wish-list…

* If you get inspo off this Arturia, then we wouldn’t ask for much… just 1% of profits (giggles).

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01: The build quality remains top notch

The one thing that virtually all keyboard lovers praised the Mk2 on over the Mk1 was the quality of its build. The metal base you find on the Mk2 really does set it apart from virtually all the midi keyboards in the 25 key segment. And fact remains that the solid feel of the Mk2 became one of its major selling points, so if you ask us, Arturia would be crazy not to make the Mk3 as substantial.

Personally, we’d like to see the Minilab take this fascination with build one step further. So instead of trying to be the most portable midi controller, we’d like to see it focused on being the most premium. Let’s face it, Akai and Novation have more or less got you covered in terms of ‘on the go’ midis, although we’re yet to come across a 25 key controller with an all- aluminium body. A gap in the market, perhaps?

02: Arturia’s own DAW

When it comes to software, Arturia have you covered when it comes to sounds – two words: Analogue Lab. However, when it comes to DAWs, that’s a bit of a grey area. Well, for now at least. You see, buy an Arturia keyboard today and it’ll no doubt come bundled with Ableton Live or some other third party DAW. Hence why we feel it won’t be long before Arturia end up making their own. One that’s totally in-tune with their keyboards, much like Analogue Lab. Who knows, perhaps AL was their practice run? Maybe this is the reason the Minilab Mk3 is yet to be released?

03: Improved DAW integration

While for the most part, the Minilab Mk2 is still very capable in comparison to other midi keyboards on the market, there is one area where we’re almost certain Arturia will be putting a lot of time and energy. DAW Integration. And that’s because ever since the Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3 dropped back in 2020, the DAW functionality on the Mk2 has started to look a bit outdated.

Not that it’s bad – it’s not. It’s just that the Novation does so much more! Go into your DAW with the Launchkey and you’ll find that every pad/ button has close to 3 different functions. All of which almost eradicates those times you’re (annoyingly) reaching for the mouse. So we don’t think it takes a genius to see that with the Minilab Mk3, something similar will probably be the case.

04: RGB drum pads for days!

Compare the Minilab Mk2 to the Akai MPK Mini and one area where the Akai does tend to have the edge is with its pads. Compared to Akai, those on the Minilab Mk2 feel a bit less responsive, as if their velocity sensitivity has been dialled down ever so slightly. So for the Arturia Minilab Mk3, we wouldn’t be surprised if pads are ever so slightly more sensitive and double in quantity. 16 would put the Mk3 on par with the Novation Launchkey Mini.

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05: Layout changes

Sticking with the pads, one of the main niggles we had with the Mk2 was their layout. While being in one horizontal strip is different, we didn’t find it the best for finger drumming. And as far as we can tell, we weren’t the only ones. Therefore, we wouldn’t be surprised that with the Mk3, Arturia arrange the pads in a 4X4 or 8X2 formation – assuming of course there’s 16. As doing so would (in our opinion) make the Minilab Mk3 a real hit with finger drummers and may even see it worm its way onto the production desks of more beat-makers and Hip Hop producers.

06: More extravagant colour waves

While white is the classic Arturia colour, apart from the all blacked-out stealthy Mk2s or those with inverted keys (white keys are black & the black keys are white), to date there hasn’t been much colour variation with the Minilab. The loudest colour combo we found, was a limited edition black version with neon orange encoders that now is almost impossible to get your hands on.

Hence why for the Mk3, we don’t think a few more exciting colour waves would go a miss. Put the Minilab next to the Ruby Red version of the Akai MPK Mini and it can’t help but look a bit ‘vanilla’. We actually think a few pastel shades would be a nice touch, as they’d very much go with that vintage-looking wood. Speaking of which, changing that out for brushed stainless steel or even copper could work well too. Although that’s just us getting creative. Whether any of this will actually be the case remains to be seen.

* By the way if you;’re reading this Arturia, just promise us one thing – no piano black! Keyboards are meant to be finger magnets, yes, not fingerprint magnets. Comprende?

07: Slightly larger keys

Okay, so Arturia didn’t really give us much to complain about in terms of keys with the Mk2. If anything, they were some of the best semi weighted mini keys – period . But in light of what we said earlier regarding how we’d like to see the Minilab Mk3 putting a premium build over portability, we’d say sizing these up to full size keys wouldn’t be a bad move.

The Mk2 is proof that producers are willing to pay that bit extra for a better build, and that key feel, even on a 25 key midi controller, is important. So really, we wouldn’t be surprised if we see the keybed get that little bit larger. Personally, we think full size keys would be great, but whether Arturia will see the value in doing so, remains to be seen.

08: The inclusion of faders

Simple one this.

The Mk2 didn’t have any assignable faders and after getting our hands on the M-Audio Oxygen Pro Mini, we think they’d be a really valuable addition. Switch up the assignable controls from just being encoders and pads. Can’t go wrong with a bit of variation.

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09: More innovative features that other people copy

There’s no escaping the fact that Arturia is an innovative brand. Across all their lines of keyboards, they tend to have a habit of (in our opinion) doing everything just that little bit differently. That wood down the sides of the Minilab being proof in point. As is the build quality you find across the rest of the Keylab range. So much so that when it comes to new features, Arturia are more than often the brains behind them.

To the best of our knowledge, those touch strips for pitch and modulation that you see creeping their way onto every compact midi keyboard under the sun? They were an Arturia invention. Endless encoders? Arturia was also one of the first to use those on a 25 key midi controller. To be honest, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Mk3 turns out to be the most kooky midi controller yet. Question is, what will boffins at Arturia pull out of their beret this time? A Fatar keybed? Next gen DAW functionality? Or an even better way of handling pitch and mod?

Either way, we’re excited!

10: More banks of everything!

Yes, at the time of release, the amount of sound bankage that you find on the Minilab Mk2 was decent. However now, that number is starting to look slightly small. Take the Akai MPK 225 for instance. It has 3 sound banks for each of its 8 knobs, another 3 for its 5 assignable buttons and a whopping 4 for its 8 assignable pads. All of which equates to over 70 sounds slots. More than double that you get with the Mk2!

So we’d say larger a sound bank is pretty much a foregone conclusion for the Minilab Mk3. If for some reason this doesn’t happen then we’d bet our left limb on it being one of the major picking points for critics.

11: Analogue Lab expansion

Now, this is a long shot, however nothing’s impossible, so we thought we may as well bring it up anyway.

Analogue Lab (Arturia’s filing cabinet of over 6k vintage synth sounds) is something we’ve found to be a major perk owning any Arturia device. Just like Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol sound suite, it’s gives you so much in the way of variation when creating music. Take it from us, there’s some proper amazing sounds here. Although currently, if you buy the Minilab, you don’t get full access to this sound suite. You only get that privilege if you invest in one of the larger Keylab controllers.

Buy a Minilab and you get what’s known as Analogue Lab Lite. A watered-down piece of software that only gives you access to around 500 of these sounds. To unlock the other 5.5k, you’ll have to buy your way through a paywall. Now, don’t get us wrong, we see why they’ve done it. With the Minilab being a budget option, giving limited access allows them to keep overall cost low, so we don’t in a million years think they’d drop this whole ‘Lite’ness.

However we do think there’s a chance they’d expand that sound library. Do so and there’s a chance that more sounds could come packaged as part of Analogue Lab Lite. The access we assume you’ll get with the Minilab Mk3. Exciting! Or perhaps Arturia might even go one better and give away X amount of free passes for the full Analogue Lab suite, to encourage strong sales figures from Day 1? Either of which, we think would be a wise move.

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What we really hope Arturia DON’T do with the Minilab Mk3

Just as we’ve a whole wish list of perks we’d like to see on the Arturia Minilab Mk3, there’s also a good few that have us crossing our fingers in hope that they’ll be avoided. Let’s just say that these are things which we feel the current Minilab does really well. Characteristics that in our mind, Arturia would be foolish to scrap. So with that in mind, here’s just 3 things we hope don’t happen to the Arturia Minilab Mk3…

01: That vintage wood disappears

We know they’re quite Marmite (you love ’em or you hate ’em), but we have grown strangely fond of the wood-style strips you find down the side of the Minilab controllers. Now, we have to admit, the large chunks of wood-effect trim that you got on the first Minilab did look a bit 70s. However, the slight splash of wood you get with the Mk2 we feel adds a classy touch.

Put it this way, it’s a welcome change from plastic.

02: The build cheapens & becomes 100% plastic

As said above, we assume Arturia will learn from the success of the Mk2 and choose not to cheap out on the build. If they did, we’d be disappointed. Yes plastic is lightweight and good for portability, but it lacks the ruggedness and lux feel that you get with something that’s fabricated of metal.

Maybe it’s just us, but keyboards made of metal feel that bit more professional, like they’re a serious instrument. Whereas a keyboard that’s part of a plastic shell seems to have more in common with a children’s toy. The Akai MPK Mini being proof in point. Great midi controller, only it looks a bit ‘Toys R Us’. Hence why with the Minilab Mk3, we hope Arturia opt for quality over lightness. An all-plastic Minilab to us, would be a backwards step.

03: Those 16 encoders are no more

Although the 16 encoders you find on the Mk2 may not look all that special, they’re incredibly useful for when working in-DAW. The layout especially, being 8 abreast is ideal ,as it makes it 10 times easier for you to adjust the right channel. What’s more, with these encoders being endless (with no start/ end point), working with plugins is SO much easier.

Believe us, there’s nothing more annoying than sifting through X amount of thousand sounds, finding the one you want and assigning it to a encoder. Only to then find that the encoder wasn’t reset to its start point. Therefore meaning you have to go through the whole ordeal all over again. Hence why we hope these endless encoders also make an appearance on the Arturia Minilab Mk3. If not, we ain’t going to be happy.

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Will the Arturia Minilab Mk3 be worth it? Our editor’s view…

While we can’t say for sure whether the Arturia Minilab Mk3 is worth it (we have not crystal ball), we remain confident that it will be.

Now of course, we haven’t even seen a picture of this midi keyboard, let alone browsed the specs or had a chance to play with it. However we can be reasonably confident in one thing – it’ll be a decent step up from the Mk2. How Arturia will do this we’re not so sure, but if you scan their back catalogue, it doesn’t take long before you see a pattern emerge.

Arturia learn from their mistakes.

In other words, each generation of Arturia boards continues to improve upon the previous. In fact, we’re yet to come across any Arturia board that we’d label a flop. However that’s not to say that the Minilab Mk3 will be a guaranteed hit. Arturia could well take a different route, and perhaps change how much weight they give certain aspects of the design. So if the Mk2 was designed around quality, then the Mk3 could focus more or portability or functionality.

All of which will no doubt spark debate about whether the Minilab Mk3 is worth the upgrade. Ask us and it’ll end up playing out something like this…

In the event the Arturia Minilab Mk3 puts more emphasis on portability, it’s likely that those who favour quality, won’t be that impressed. Trading metal for plastic in their eyes would be a backwards step. Hate to say we agree. But then of course if more attention allocated to making the Mk3 higher quality, those who’re eager for more portability are just going to throw a strop and go off to buy the Launchkey Mini. And that’s the thing – in the end, it’s very much a Catch 22.

Whatever Arturia or in fact any midi manufacturer does, they’ll always be pedantic so-&-so ready to pick fault. So really, to say whether the Arturia Minilab Mk3 is worth it even after it’s released and tested, would be foolish. Why? Because just like any midi controller (or in fact anything), whatever Arturia comes out with will only be ‘worth it’ to a certain set of people – these being the ones who flash their credit card & buy it.

For the rest it’s either ‘meh’ or a heap of junk. So really, the question you need to ask yourself is not “is the Arturia Minilab Mk3 worth it?”, but instead “is the Arturia Minilab Mk3 worth at least checking out?”

In which case, we’d say 100% yes.

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I need a midi controller now! Should I hold out for the Mk3??

In the end that really all depends on when you mean by ‘now’.

If now is tomorrow or next week, then you’d probably benefit from buying the Mk2. That’s because while we’re confident the Minilab Mk3 will be dropping sometime in the near future, how near that is we’re not so sure. To be honest, its release date could still be years away, as there’s yet to be any sort of formal press release issued by Arturia.

So for all we know, they could have scrapped the Minilab altogether, and we could all be waiting on thin air. Hence why we’d say buy the Mk2 now and get used to using an Arturia midi. Doing so will allow you to get used to Analogue Lab, which should come in useful for when the Minilab Mk3 (hopefully) drops. Then when the time does come, we’d say if the Mk3 looks like something you’d be interested in, buy that too.

If it turns out it’s not what you’d thought, then you can always return it for a refund. And in the case it runs rings around the Mk2, then you can sell your old Mk2 to recoup a chunk of the cost. Do so and the upgrade to the Mk3 will only set you back around half its RRP.

A win-win if you ask us.

Enjoy this insight into the Arturia Minilab Mk3 and eager for more? Don’t miss out on all our latest Music Production Advice + all our recent Music Kit Reviews. Recently, we also did a full rundown of the 8 Best 25 key Midi Controllers, which you may also want to check out!

Or if you’d prefer to be even more nosey about the future of the Minilab, keep reading & we’ll do our best to answer any more of your burning questions…

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The lowdown on the Arturia Minilab Mk3, the future of 25 key midis & more…

While we can’t say for certain, we’d assume in terms of software that the Minilab Mk3 (like the Mk2) will come with access to Arturia’s Analogue Lab.

However the level of access you’ll be able to get we’re not entirely sure. At present, with a Minilab you get what’s known as Analogue Lab Lite, which give you access to around 500 of the 6k sounds. Saying that, we do think there’s a chance of Arturia upping this number if they add more sounds to AL. Or in fact giving away a set number of free full licences to Analogue Lab as a way to boost sales.

We’d hope so, as the Mk2 has an arpeggiator already built in, as as well as a sequencer. So not to have one in the Arturia Minilab Mk3 would be a bit of a backwards step.

Yep – we’re almost certain that the Arturia Minilab Mk3 will work with iPad.

The Mk2 recently got the upgrade and from our experience it works great. It can even power itself from the iPad, which is pretty darn amazing. And as for portability, being able to use an iPad opposed to a bulky laptop really does take your ‘on the go’ music production to another level.

Kudos Arturia!

Personally, we think the focus with 25 key midi controllers is going to shift.

So while up-to now, the main focus of virtually every brand has been portability, after getting hands on with the Launchkey Mini Mk3, we really don’t see how midi keyboards can get much smaller while still remaining practical. Make a midi any smaller and you won’t be able to fit your fingers on the keys. Hence why we think that now may actually be the start of a new era.

A time where manufacturers focus less on portability and more on enhancing the quality and functionality of their keyboards, while retaining this level of portability. This is where we think the Arturia Minilab Mk3 could have the edge.

Yes, Arturia isn’t just a good brand – they’re a great one.

A keyboard manufacturer that keeps on innovating. Not to mention pushing the boundaries of what is possible. In fact, that’s what the Minilab was back in 2016 and exactly what we hope the Minilab Mk3 will continue to do. Improve upon the idea of perfection.

You can usually tell if a keyboard brand is worth your time by the quality of their keys. And that is somewhere that the Minilab (and indeed all Arturia boards) excel. They have great key feel, especially as you progress up the Keystep & Keylab ranges. We’re particular fans of the hammer action keys on the Arturia Keylab 88.

Be sure to read our overview of the best 88 key midi controllers to get the lowdown on that Arturia board too. Believe us when we say that, its Fatar keybed is total bliss. Superb!

Aside from our satisfying our key fetish though, you also get a sense with Arturia that they want you something of real value. The vast majority of the products they make are some of the best in class. Never have we come across anything from Arturia that appears to be watered-down. Something companies often do purposefully as part of an extravagant commercial stunt in hope the public don’t notice. Only thing is, we do.

These are the companies who drown you in a ‘face-lifted’ models to keep you interested (and to make some extra cash out of you), before releasing their a new model. Vibes we’re yet to get from Arturia.

So as the French say, Merci Arturia.