review

Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 Key Note Full Size MIDI Keyboard

Monday, September 11, 2017

A MIDI keyboard controller is an awesome gadget to have for creating synth effects, recording basslines and controlling software instruments. A MIDI controller is that much more intuitive, making the workflow of making beats easier as you can create a beat one sample at a time in real time.

If you are looking to own your first MIDI controller, a full size MIDI controller like the KeyLab Essential 49 by Arturia is a good choice for a beginner as you get 49 key notes, as well as a full software package (Ableton Live Lite, Analog Lab 2 and UVI Grand Piano Model D) and Automap which automatically maps the software to the controller, making the set up process that much easier.
Along with drum pads for recording/playing drum synths, the KeyLab Essential 49 MIDI controller also features sliders, knobs, DAW/Transport control buttons, auto-chords, full version of Analog 2, DIN MIDI out and plenty of good synth and piano sounds so you can make music straight out of the box.
Inside the box, you get easy to follow instructions on how to register KeyLab Essential and how to download all of the included software titles. If you already have an Arturia account, you won't need to register again so it's just a matter of login in and registering the KeyLab Essential 49. If you don't have an account, you will need to set up an Arturia account

While there is no CV output like in Arturia's KeyStep, the KeyLab Essential 49 does have a MIDI channel button so it's equally easy to swap channels as on the KeyStep by simply holding the MIDI CH button and pushing the corresponding key on the keybed (for instance, if you wanted to output to MIDI channel 1, you simply hold the MIDI CH button and hit the note A0 on the keyboard).
As mentioned earlier, the KeyLab Essential 49 is a 49-note normal size MIDI controller keyboard with spring loaded semi-weighted keys that sound out louder the harder you hit them. The pitch bend and modulation wheel have a nice resistance to them and are located right at the bottom left corner. 

The chord/transpose buttons and octave up/down buttons are located just above the pitch/mod wheel, which can also be used to factory reset the keyboard (to factory reset, disconnect the USB cable, hold down both octave buttons and connect the USB cable). The range of the Transpose function is -11 to +11 notes but you can extend this range by using it in conjunction with the Octave function (both Octave and Transpose settings can be saved as map presets).
The transport panel consists of six buttons (play, stop, pause, loop, forward, back), while the DAW panel has four buttons (save, punch, metro and undo). All of these buttons are located next to the pads, which are velocity and pressure-sensitive.
recessed USB port. USB connection is used for both power and MIDI
If you are planning to play old MIDI modules that use 5-pin MIDI cables, you'll be glad to know that the KeyLab Essential 49 controller features a 9V 500 mAh (0.5A) power socket to power the MIDI out port. The external power adapter required is one with 2.1 mm input diameter and 5.5 mm output diameter.
There is also a Preset command center that consists of two buttons (backward and forward), two switches (cat/char and preset), LCD display and clickable jog wheel that lets you navigate and choose presets within Analog Lab 2.
rubber feet on the bottom
You can also narrow down presets from type, characteristics, and instrument, and try lots of presets in a sequence so, you don't even have to look to the computer screen.
nine rotary encoders and nine 30mm faders
The faders and encoders come handy for controlling the mixer (in DAW map), or for controlling certain software parameters and synths using the Analog Lab map. Using the faders in DAW map, allows faders 1 to 8 to control the volume of 8 channels within your DAW, while allowing fader 9 to control your master volume.
The encoder knobs and faders can be assigned to any MIDI CC parameter using the Arturia MIDI Control Center, which is available for download on Apple MAC and Windows.
With the pads, you can play drums, as well as use them as individually programmable user banks to create your own custom maps. As you can see on the image above, two of the banks are already occupied by Analog Lab and DAW. To select each pad, you hold down the Map Select button while pressing a pad (the corresponding pad will light up to show the Map currently in use). 
The pads can also be disabled or reassigned to any MIDI CC parameter or note from the Arturia MIDI Control Center.
Both the performance of the pads and keys can also be altered from the Device Settings of the MIDI Control Center. You can change both keys and pads from Lin (linear), Log (logarithmic), Exp (exponential) and Full, which forces the MIDI velocity to always output at 127, which is the maximum value
The three buttons you see on the above picture are used to switch the functions of the encoders and faders, so you can control different channels while using the DAW map, and control Part 1 and Part 2
of Analog Lab’s Multi Mode, as well as the Live to control the Macro parameters, levels, panning, Send A & Send B controls.
In DAW map, the Part control buttons allow you to shift the focus of the encoders and faders in your DAW by 8 channels (Bank On) or 1 channel (Bank Off). The Bank button toggles the function of the Next/Prev buttons. The Part control buttons can also be remapped using the MIDI Control Center.
The DAW command center is another practical and neat feature you get with the KeyLab Essential 49 controller that allows you to easily control the recording functionality of your DAW. While the buttons in the DAW command center aren't configurable, the output of the DAW command center can be toggled between MCU and HUI protocols within the MIDI Control Center interface.
After setting up the Keylab Essentials 49 MIDI controller and installing Ableton Live 9.7.4 software, the controller automatically maps the DAW command center controls as well as buttons, track pan, faders and knobs. If you are using an Ableton Live version below 9.7.4, the controller won't automatically map the controls because of the KeyLab Essential remote script, which only comes bundled on Ableton Live version 9.7.4.
Some features in the DAW command center in KeyLab Essential (like track pan and volume) will work with most DAWs and other features won't and that is because KeyLab Essential uses generic protocals (MCU and HUI protocols), while each DAW program uses specific button mapping. DAW programs like Reason and FL Studio 12 aren't fully supported so features like the Save button will not work in Ableton Live API.
The Keylab Essential works pretty well with Reaper (aside from Punch feature) and you can easily set the Fader Mode in Jump in the Midi Control Center. Cubase works also great with the DAW command center (aside from metronome ON/OFF messages) in KeyLab Essential 49 via the HUI protocol, which you set it in HUI Mode from the Midi Control Center. 
Arturia's KeyLab Essential 49 controller is a nice all-rounder for anyone looking for a MIDI controller  with a piano feel. If space is an issue, you should consider the KeyLab 49's little brother, the MiniLab MK2.

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