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Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 mk3 Review - MIDI Keyboard

March 10, 2024

Today we have the Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 MK3 for review. The Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 MK3 MIDI keyboard is a representative of the third generation of MIDI controllers, which appeared in 2023. Just recently we reviewed the KeyLab Essential 49 MK3 four-octave keyboard of this series. Today, let's get acquainted with the KeyLab Essential 61 MK3 model, equipped with five octaves.

We would like to note that we will not review KeyLab Essential 61 MK3 in detail, as we already have a full review of Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 MK3. You can read it at the link. The devices differ only in the number of keys and dimensions while retaining the same functionality and all features. Although, we will run through all the main features presented in Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 MK3!

Once again we remind you that KeyLab Essential series controllers are the most affordable devices for working with Arturia proprietary software. They have similar functionality to the flagship KeyLab series, but are more portable and look more attractive for the price. It is important to note that Arturia devices are interesting not only because of their deep integration with proprietary software but also because they are good MIDI keyboards in their own right. So regardless of the use of Analog Lab virtual instruments, Arturia controllers will be a great option when choosing an inexpensive general-purpose keyboard.

So let's start our brief review of the Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 mk3 with the specs as usual.

Best Price on Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 mk3

The Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 MK3 MIDI Controller is a versatile and feature-rich tool for musicians, producers, and performers of all levels.

Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 mk3 package Classic Package

Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 mk3 Specifications

  • 61-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): 890 x 240 x 70mm (35 x 9.45 x 2.76 inches)
  • Net Weight: 3 Kg (6.8 lbs.)
  • Set Includes: Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 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

So, what's new in the third-generation KeyLab Essential devices? First of all, it's a new display. It has increased in size, got a higher resolution, and has become more informative. Now the display shows not only numbers but also context menus with a graphic image. The appearance of the device and the design of controls have also undergone slight changes. The case has received rounded edges, and the buttons have become more comfortable and easy to read, compared to the MK2 version. As before, KeyLab Essential keyboards are presented in two color options. Depending on your preferences, you can choose either white or black color. We have no complaints about the build quality, the device is perfectly assembled, without backlashes and gaps, Arturia keeps the bar as always.

Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 mk 3

USB Type C connector (USB-C to USB-A cable) is now used to connect the device to the computer. We hope that in future versions the controller will get a more modern USB-C to USB-C cable. As for the interaction with the software, the control options of the new generation keyboards have been slightly redesigned, but the principle of operation hasn't changed. The keyboards, as before, allow you to control Analog Lab instruments, DAW parameters, as well as external synthesizers connected via MIDI output almost simultaneously. At the moment of review publication KeyLab Essential devices support the five most popular programs: Ableton Live; Logic Pro; Bitwig Studio; FL Studio and Cubase. For all other DAWs, it is possible to create custom configurations working via MCU/HUI protocol.

For the MIDI keyboard to fully work with one or another DAW, drivers and a script must be installed in the system to allow the controllers to interact correctly with the software being used. Arturia's website has detailed installation instructions for each of the supporting DAWs. After performing these simple procedures, the KeyLab keyboard will automatically detect the type of sequencer you are using, all you need to do is switch Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 to DAW mode.

There is no additional setup required to control Arturia's virtual instruments. When you load an Analog Lab instrument on a track or use it in standalone mode, all controllers on the keyboard interact with the basic parameters of the instrument. Searching for the desired tone from Analog Lab's large collection of presets with KeyLab Essential is very convenient right from the box.

Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 mk3 LCD Display

The large, high-resolution display shows the name of the preset with an icon of the corresponding type and selected category. Navigation through the preset list is made very convenient by the large knob below the screen. Pressing it loads the highlighted preset. It is also possible to load presets one by one within a selected category, making it much faster to find the most suitable tone. Moreover, the whole process takes place only from the device, without using a computer.

We should also note the additional context buttons under the screen, which greatly facilitate work and switching in different modes. As before, when adjusting any parameter, the screen immediately displays the name of the parameter being changed and the range of its adjustment. After adjustment, the screen returns to the previous display of the active mode or menu after a while.

The redesigned buttons have brighter backlighting and are much easier to read thanks to the high-contrast design. An additional TAP button has been added to the transport panel section, allowing you to tap a rhythm. Among the control functions, you can now save a project (Save), enable quantization (Quant), and undo and restore the last action (Undo and Redo).

Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 mk3 Pads

The pads in the new keyboards have also been redesigned. They are slightly larger and more comfortable to play. The pads are equipped with bright RGB lighting and are sensitive to velocity and pressure. You can use them to play notes, switch modes, use them as triggers to start samples, or control various DAW functions. By default, they play the first eight notes chromatically from the note of the E minor octave. An alternate mode allows you to quickly switch to the other eight notes, from the C note of the first octave. You can reassign the pads to play any other notes in the menu.

When you switch the keyboard to sequencer mode, depending on the DAW you're using, you can use the pads to control various functions. For example, in Cubase, the pads allow you to create a new track, duplicate a selected fragment or render a selected area, freeze a track, etc. For Ableton and Bitwig programs there is a mode for launching samples in Scene View, as well as playing notes in the standard drum machine.

Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 mk3 Faders and Encoders

The faders and encoders have remained practically unchanged. Except that the lettering has completely disappeared and the color of the faders now matches the color of the case. As before, the keyboards use nine non-stop encoders and nine short-stroke faders. There are several modes of operation for them as well. In the instrument mode, they are used to control macros in the Analog Lab.

Arturia Analog Lab Keylab Essential Controls

For convenience, the Analog Lab plug-in has a macro panel at the bottom, which visually replicates the controllers on a MIDI keyboard. The parameters will vary slightly from preset to preset, but as a rule, these are the basic settings that most dramatically change the character of the sound. Therefore, there is no need for captions on KeyLab Essential MIDI keyboards. The second mode of fader operation - DAW - involves mixer and track control. The settings vary slightly from DAW to DAW, but, most commonly, it's the volume and pan of the first eight channels of the mixer. Alternate track mode shifts the control focus to the plug-in of the selected channel.

Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 mk3 Features

The arpeggiator and creative chord and scale modes are unchanged. You can still use them simultaneously. However, while previously a recorded chord or scale was only stored until the power was turned off, now it remains in memory even after the unit is turned off. For your convenience, the device already provides ready-made standard chords recorded in different conversions.

Gamma mode allows you to create euphonious sequences that exclude playing notes outside the selected fret. Conveniently, when you select a fret, the display clearly shows the notes that make up the fret. There are 16 presets to choose from, ranging from simple major and minor harmonies to rare Arabic harmonies. There is also a user preset that allows you to create a customized fret.

The device is powered by the USB bus, so no additional adapters are required. USB Type C connector is used for connection to a computer. A suitable cable is included in the package. There is a full-featured MIDI output for interaction with hardware synthesizers. The TRS connector is used to connect various types of pedals.

As for the keys, KeyLab Essential 49 MK3 and KeyLab Essential 61 MK3 use the same synthesizer-type mechanics with velocity-sensitive keys. As we wrote earlier in our review of the Arturia Keylab Essential 49 the keyboard looks pretty good. The keys are light and fast, they don't dangle and don't make noise when playing intensively. In its segment of inexpensive and most accessible devices, KeyLab Essential keys should be recognized as one of the best solutions.

Final Verdict on Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 mk3

The new generation of Arturia KeyLab Essential MK3 MIDI keyboards looks great. The updated devices are still some of the most affordable MIDI keyboards on the market, equipped with a wide variety of controllers. Now with a fuller screen and slightly redesigned control options. The KeyLab Essential 61 MK3 model reviewed today differs from the younger KeyLab Essential 49 MK3 model only in the number of keys. So choosing the right MIDI keyboard will depend only on whether you need an extra octave.

We hope you enjoyed our Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 mk3 review. Feel free to leave your comments, questions and suggestions in the section below. We will be happy to answer all of them.

  • One of the best MIDI controllers in the budget price range
  • 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 of our Arturia KeyLab Essential 49 mk3 review. There is a small problem with the screen.
Our Score

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