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Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 mk3 Review - MIDI Keyboard

March 10, 2024

Today we review Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 mk3, the updated version of the most famous line of MIDI keyboards and controllers. In 2023, Arturia introduced a new generation of KeyLab Essential MIDI keyboards. So far, only the KeyLab Essential 49 and KeyLab Essential 61 models have been updated to the third version MK3, but soon we will see the redesign of the older model KeyLab Essential 88 (the update has already been released and we already have a review on our website). It's worth remembering that the controllers of this series are the most affordable devices for working with Arturia's proprietary software, and not only. They offer similar functionality to the flagship Arturia KeyLab series keyboards but are more portable, lighter, and, most importantly, more affordable.

With the updated keyboards, the French manufacturer has given the devices a slightly fresher look and made the display more informative. In our opinion, the new display is the main difference in the current update. Of course, the redesigned interaction options look no less interesting, but a more comprehensive display of customizable parameters and operating modes seems more important and interesting. But we'll talk more about all the features later, let's start our Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 mk3 review with the specifications as usual.

Best Price on Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 mk3

The Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 MK3 MIDI Controller is a versatile and feature-rich tool for musicians, producers, and performers of all levels.

Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 MK3 Package Classic Package

Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 mk3 Specifications

  • 49-note velocity-sensitive keyboard with hybrid synth-piano feel
  • 1 clickable encoder
  • 9 rotary encoders
  • 9 x 30mm faders
  • 8 transport switches
  • 4 command switches
  • 1 modulation wheel & bend wheel
  • 8 touch & pressure-sensitive pads
  • 2.5” LCD display with contextual buttons (real-time feedback on tweaks and controls)
  • Smart Features: Multi-mode arpeggiator / Chord mode / Scale mode / Hold function / Semitone transpose
  • Seamless integration with all Arturia software instruments, including Analog Lab Intro: select sounds, browse presets, smart-assigned controls
  • Custom DAW scripts for FL Studio, Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Cubase, Bitwig Studio
  • Also compatible with MCU/HUI control
  • Up to 5 user presets for a totally customizable experience
  • USB-C connects to computers and MIDI Control Center
  • MIDI 5-pin DIN output for connection to external instruments, gear
  • Control input for pedal: sustain, expression, or footswitch
  • Powered by USB cable
  • K-Slot (Kensington Lock)
  • Dimensions (WxDxH): 790 x 240 x 70mm (31.1 x 9.45 x 2.76 inches)
  • Net Weight: 2.76 Kg (6.1 lbs.)
  • Set Includes: Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 Unit, registration card, USB-A to USB-C cable + (software: Ableton Live Lite, UVI Model D, The Gentleman from Native Instruments, Analog Lab V with 2000+ sounds, Loopcloud 2month subscription with 1 GB welcome pack, Melodics subscription)
  • Color Options: Classic White / Black

Overall Build, Design and Features

Let's start our Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 mk3 review with a look at the design and overall construction. As before, the KeyLab Essential MK3 keyboards come in two color variants. The basic and most common variant has a white case. The alternative version has a black finish. In both color schemes, the devices look great and modern.

The build is excellent. Arturia has never disappointed us in this regard. The materials are of high quality, the parts are dimensionally correct, and I didn't find any backlashes or irregularities. The buttons are plastic, backlit, and pleasant to press. The encoders are rubberized, your fingers stay in place when using them. The faders are smooth, with a long control stroke.

For those who have not been familiar with Arturia MIDI keyboards before, it is worth explaining. Arturia KeyLab Essential devices are designed primarily to work with Arturia's library of virtual instruments. A large number of controllers on board allows you to conveniently manage various settings of the collection via the Analog Lab interface app. At the same time, you can control some DAW parameters from the keyboard, as well as external synthesizers connected via MIDI output. Switching between modes is instantaneous, allowing you to control all of the above almost simultaneously.

Currently, KeyLab devices support the five most popular DAWs: Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Bitwig Studio, FL Studio and Cubase. For all other programs, there is a possibility of user assignment through standard MCU/HUI protocols.

Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 MK3 Front

For full-fledged work of MIDI keyboards with DAW, you need to download a script from the Arturia website, which allows the correct interaction of controllers in the program you are using. There are also detailed instructions on how to integrate scripts for each program. In the future, the Arturia KeyLab keyboard will automatically detect the type of sequencer used, so for correct operation, it is enough to simply switch the device to DAW mode.

The principle of operation of the new generation KeyLab Essential MK3 devices has not changed. As before, the memory of the MIDI keyboard provides 8 global presets with different settings of all dial controllers. The first of them is provided for working with Arturia virtual instruments. The second one allows you to control the sequencer. The others are used to create custom configurations using the proprietary MIDI Control Center utility.

LCD Display and Buttons

The first thing that catches your eye is the large display in the center of the device. Unlike MiniLab 3 with its micro-screen with pixels, KeyLab Essential line come with a full of 2.5 inch screen. The display shows information about the controller's status, notes being extracted, and active modes. It also shows you how and how much the faders and encoders change position, so you can fine-tune track settings and plug-ins.

Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 MK3 Display

When using Arturia plug-ins and libraries, the screen shows even more information. The controller picks up the preset library of the active plug-in, displays preset names, and lets you navigate through the collections using the small transport buttons below the display. It seems to be nothing special, but such visibility is convenient - you can work without distraction on the plug-in window.

On the sides of the display there are control blocks: one for DAW, the other for extended keyboard functions. On the left side there are buttons for starting and stopping recording and playback, activating and setting the metronome, as well as moving around the project. A separate line contains buttons for saving, quantizing, as well as canceling and returning the last actions.

Once connected to a computer, the buttons are inactive and are enabled only with the installation of drivers and scripts for the DAW. Instruction sets are available for Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase, Bitwig Studio, Logic Pro and Image-Line FL Studio, and are posted on the manufacturer's website, and their installation is traditionally done through the Arturia MIDI Control Center app.

Setting a set of commands transforms the controller overnight: everything inactive becomes active, everything uncontrollable becomes controllable. At first glance, it seems like a dabble, because it is somehow easier and clearer to manage the project with a mouse and shortcuts from the keyboard, but after a couple of hours you catch yourself thinking that you haven't touched a mouse for some time. User experience changes dramatically, and project management from the controller becomes the most convenient way of interaction. No moving around windows, no pressing keyboard shortcuts and all this: press a button to turn on recording, press another button to move to the next marker, press a third button to cancel the last action. Total convenience.

The keyboard itself also transforms and starts to glow like a Christmas fair, assigning a different backlight color to each key. Light coding can be reassigned and disabled in the same MIDI Control Center, as well as Arturia's traditional shimmering screensaver.

To the right of the display are the keys for activating additional controller functions: chord mode, scale and fret selection, arpeggiator, hold, and so on. The functions themselves are not unique to the keyboard, but calling them up is much more convenient: where the MiniLab 3 offers a walk to its software, the KeyLab Essential 49 MK3 keeps these functions at the musician's fingertips.

The keyboard's memory stores a database of basic chord types, a set of scales and rhythmic patterns, allowing you to press a single key to play selected triplets, stay within a chord progression or perform arpeggios of varying complexity. Information about the parameters is shown on the display, and the settings can be changed using the on-screen buttons.

The control scheme is convenient, if it were not for the duration of information display on the screen. The system was obviously designed by a person with a "stunningly fast thinking!", which is why the keyboard does not tolerate the user's thoughtfulness, and notifications disappear after a few seconds of display. If you don't have time to choose what you want within the allotted time, you have to start all over again - press the function activation button, choose its variety, chord or gamma type, and walk through the menu again. Didn't make it again? Do it again. Fail again? Well, you know what to do.

Hopefully Arturia will fix this in future updates.


The keyboard is connected to the computer via USB. As you can see, the Type C connector is now used for this purpose. The necessary cable for connection is included in the package. For full operation, the device is sufficiently powered from the USB bus, so no adapters are required. It is still possible to connect a pedal, which is a tangible advantage for multi-octave keyboards.

The rear panel also has a MIDI I/O port and a Kensington Lock hole.


As for the keyboard, KeyLab Essential keyboards use synthesizer action mechanics with velocity-sensitive keys. It looks good and is one of the most successful representatives of its class. The keys are light and fast enough, they don't ring when pressed, and they don't dangle when playing intensively. If you have tried the "MiniLabs" of the last generation, you can expect no revelations: Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 MK3 does not differ from other KeyLabs, Arturia MiniLab 3, or even Arturia MicroLab (we have reviews on both of these devices, you can check them out at the links).

How good or bad it is is a subjective question. If you are a fan of Arturia, you will get exactly what you love their devices for. If you don't like either the current or outdated controllers of the company, you're unlikely to like KeyLab Essential 49 MK3.

Except for the increased number of keys, there are several differences from the Arturia MiniLab 3. First of all, the keyboard size has changed: instead of compact shortened keys, their full-size versions are used here. The keyboard is sensitive to the pressure force, but it is not equipped with a hammer mechanism, instead of which it is offered to imitate the characteristic stroke of the keys of a real instrument.

The manufacturer calls its solution "hybrid synthesizer-piano feel", but there is no high technology behind these words. The keys slightly resist the pressure, which creates that very feeling of tight and slow movement of the keyboard of a real piano or grand piano. Of course, it's not a hammer action mechanism and not full-weighted, but even this imitation is much better than the complete absence of feedback from the keys, which is characteristic of budget controllers. As a verdict, the keys in Arturia KeyLab Essential are very well made for an inexpensive device but don't have any expectations that they will have a "wow" effect.


The keyboard has 8 large rubberized pads made of silicone. They are equipped with bright RGB backlighting and are sensitive to velocity and pressure. You can use the pads to switch modes, play notes, use them as triggers to start samples or control various DAW functions. By default, they duplicate the first eight notes in chromaticism from the E note of the minor octave. With the Bank button, you can switch to an additional mode that allows you to play another eight notes, from the C note of the first octave. Of course, you can reassign the pads to any other notes.

Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 mk3 Pads

In sequencer mode, depending on the DAW you're using, you can use the pads to control a wide variety of functions. For example, in Cubase pads allow you to create a new track, duplicate a selected fragment or render to a new track, freeze a track, etc. In Ableton and Bitwig programs, pads launch samples into the scene view and are assigned to control drum machine slots.

Overall, we were very pleased with the pads of this keyboard. Fingers do not slip when hitting, elasticity is enough, moderately soft. 8 pad pieces are more than enough for a beatmaker, but unfortunately, fans of finger-drumming prefer a more different 4 x 4 layout. It should be noted that the classic KeyLab Line has 16 pads with a 4-by-4 layout, which tells us that the classic KeyLab line is more premium compared to KeyLab Essential. Apparently, Arturia decided to make the KeyLab Essential MK3 Line more budget and cut the number of pads.

Faders and Encoders

The fader section remains unchanged, with nine fader controls and nine encoders. In Arturia mode, they are used to control the main parameters of the instrument loaded into Analog Lab.

Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 mk3 Faders Encoders

For convenience, the plug-in visually displays all adjustable parameters with virtual controls and faders. The parameters will vary slightly from plugin to plugin, but as a rule, these are the basic settings that change the sound the most. Therefore, the new KeyLab Essential MIDI keyboards no longer have any signatures under the controllers.

Arturia Analog Lab Encoder and fader ontrol

In DAW mode, there are now two control options - mixer and track. The parameters will vary slightly from DAW to DAW, but as a rule, when selecting mixer mode, the faders change the volume of the first eight channels and the controls change the panorama. In track mode, the focus of the encoders shifts to controlling the plug-in of the selected channel.

More Features

To finish off our Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 MK3 review, let's take a look at the remaining features. In the new generation keyboards, the manufacturer left the arpeggiator, chord, and scale modes. It is noteworthy that all these modes can be used simultaneously. And if previously the recorded chord or gamma remained until the device was changed or turned off, now everything remains in memory even after the power is turned off.

As before, to activate the chord mode, you need to hold down the Chord button and play the desired notes on the keyboard. Once the button is released, the recorded chord can be played with a single key. For convenience, there are ready-made standard chords recorded in different conversions. Gamma mode allows you to create euphonious sequences that exclude notes outside the selected fret. There are 16 different variations to choose from, from simple major and minor harmonies to rare Arabic harmonies. There is also a user option that allows you to create your own scale. The built-in arpeggiator has not undergone any changes. It is made in the classic form with traditional settings. These include changing the direction of arpeggio movement, its range, tempo, note duration, and note offset.

Final Verdict on Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 mk3

The new generation of Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 MK3 MIDI keyboards looks great. The new display has significantly increased interest in the younger Essential series controllers. It noticeably facilitates work with software and makes the control process more flexible and convenient. There is no doubt that the French manufacturer is well oriented in the needs of users and the new KeyLab Essential keyboards are a vivid confirmation of this.

It is also important that all the improvements have not led to an increase in the cost of devices. KeyLab Essential MK3 remains one of the most affordable MIDI keyboards on the market, equipped with a large number of different controllers. We should also note the rich set of accompanying software.

We hope you enjoyed our Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 MK3 review. Feel free to leave comments, questions and suggestions in the section below, we'll be happy to answer them all.

  • Good Price/Quality Ratio
  • Comprehensive Control Surface
  • Functional 2.5inch LCD Display
  • Smart Integration to DAWs
  • Expressive Performance Features
  • Extensive Software Bundle
  • Sturdy Build Quality
  • USB and MIDI Connectivity (USB-C connector)
  • Read the quote in the LCD Display and Buttons section. There is a small problem with the screen.
Our Score

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