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Arturia KeyStep Review - Portable MIDI Keyboard & Sequencer

February 25, 2024

Today we are going to review Arturia KeyStep, and we will find out what this portable device can do. Arturia KeyStep is another interesting device presented by Arturia at the annual NAMM Show 2016 in Anaheim. The new product is a portable USB MIDI controller with a built-in hardware sequencer and arpeggiator for controlling Arturia analog synthesizers. For this purpose, KeyStep provides several connection options, along with traditional USB and MIDI ports, the device is equipped with CV outputs. But we will talk about all the features a little later, let's start our review with the specifications as usual.

Best Price on Arturia KeyStep MIDI Keyboard

The Arturia KeyStep MIDI Keyboard is a compact and versatile controller that packs a punch with its intuitive design, extensive feature set, and seamless integration with both hardware and software.

Arturia KeyStep Package Classic Package

Arturia KeyStep Specifications:

  • Proprietary keyboard with 32 slim, velocity-sensitive aftertouch keys
  • Arpeggiator with 8 modes and chord playback mode (Modes: Up, Down, Inclusive, Exclusive, Random, Walk, Pattern and Order)
  • Built-in 64-step, 8-note polyphonic sequencer with rest, tie, and legato note entry
  • REC, PLAY, and STOP buttons for performance control over the sequencer and arpeggiator
  • Octave controls for keyboard and arpeggiator
  • Chord Play mode, allowing you to take chords and play them across the entire keyboard
  • Pitch Bend and Modulation touch strips used in place of traditional wheels
  • SHIFT button selection: MIDI channel selection, GATE time, SWING values
  • Multiple connectivity options: CV/Gate outputs, micro-USB port, MIDI input and output on 5-pin DIN connectors, Sync I/O ports and a socket for a sustaining pedal
  • Sync I/O ports: supports 1 pulse per step, 2 PPQ (Korg Volca), 24 PPQ DIN sync, 48 PPQ DIN sync
  • CV/GATE outputs: CV supports 1Volt per octave, Volt>Hz modes, Gate output 5V or 12V for modern or vintage gear support; CV Velo/Aftertouch/Modwheel output
  • Ability to connect to iPad via Camera Connection Kit adapter
  • USB bus power when connected to a computer or AC adapter (sold separately) for standalone use
  • Dimensions (WxDxH): 485 x 145 x 36mm (19 x 5.7 x 1.4 inches)
  • Net Weight: 1.4 kg (3 lb)
  • Set Includes: Arturia KeyStep unit, quick start guide, USB cable + (Ableton Lite, Analog Lab Intro software)
  • Color options: Classic White / Black Edition

Overall Build, Design & Features

So let's get to the main part of our Arturia KeyStep review and see what this hybrid mini-beast is made of and what it can do. For creating various melodic sequences, the device is equipped with a 32-key keyboard. The controller uses a miniature Slimkey keyboard equipped with synthesizer mechanics, velocity sensitive and aftertouch function.

Arturia KeyStep 3d

A device like Arturia KeyStep was sorely lacking among Arturia's available controllers. Similar in concept, Arturia BeatStep and BeatStep Pro (you can check out our reviews on both of these devices at the links) do not have musical keys on board and are equipped only with pads, so they are designed mainly for creating rhythmic patterns. In contrast, the new Arturia KeyStep controller has an almost three-octave keyboard and a polyphonic sequencer that can be used to create full chord sequences, not to mention simple melodies or arpeggios.

Importantly, the KeyStep controller conveniently controls not only hardware synthesizers, but also works well with a computer as a traditional USB MIDI keyboard. When connected to a computer, the controller is visible in the system as a USB-compatible device, which does not require the installation of special drivers. The versatility of the device is also enhanced by the ability to work with Arturia iMini, iSem and iProphet mobile apps on iPad. In this case, KeyStep is connected via a camera connection kit adapter.

When working with a computer, power is taken from the USB bus. When using the controller autonomously, you need to connect a 9V power adapter, which is not included in the kit. However, you can use any standard USB device to charge your tablet or cell phone.

Traditionally, the Arturia device is enclosed in a durable plastic case with a metal plate in the base. Despite the rather low cost, the controller looks very reliable. In this respect, KeyStep does not differ from the manufacturer's previous devices and should last a long time.

Arturia KeyStep Connections

All connectors for connection are located on the back side of the device. Here you can find CV outputs MOD, GATE and PITCH for analog control of hardware synthesizers and their synchronization. As it is supposed to be, there are several synchronization modes, which can be switched by hardware, using a combination of toggle switches.

It is worth noting the use of full-fledged MIDI connectors, which do not require additional adapters. It is also noteworthy that you can connect a sustained pedal to the controller, which can always be assigned to additional control functions.

KeyStep is equipped with a hardware sequencer and arpeggiator. Before writing our Arturia Keystep review, we studied the whole MIDI keyboard market and concluded that there are not many hybrid devices on the market (combining MIDI controller, hardware sequencer and arpeggiator functionality), for the most part, this is one of Arturia's specialties.

The sequencer allows you to create eight different sequences consisting of 64 beats. In turn, the arpeggiator generates eight different arpeggiated patterns from the notes of the chord being played. Switching between these basic modes is accomplished with the Seq / Arp toggle switch. Depending on the selected mode, the controls control different settings. In Seq mode, the knob selects one of eight sequences; in Arp mode, it selects the corresponding arpeggiator pattern. The Time Div control selects the rhythmic structure of the sequences or arpeggiator concerning the overall tempo.

Arturia KeyStep Features

Use the Rate control to adjust the overall tempo between 30 and 240 beats per minute. Since the slider has fixed end positions, there are two options for triggering. Either immediately, at the slightest movement (Jump mode), or only after passing the current position (Pick-up mode). You can also quickly set the playback speed using the TAP button.

The transport panel buttons are used to start the sequencer and arpeggiator, as well as additional editing functions. The buttons are equipped with a bright backlight for easy operation. In the controller's software operation, they can be assigned to any necessary sequencer commands.

The Hold button makes it easy to play complex chords in arpeggiator mode. You can use it to add up to 32 notes to the current chord without holding down the keys.

It is also necessary to emphasize the curious Chord mode, which is activated by holding down Shift and the Hold button. In this mode, you can memorize one specific chord and play it later by pressing only one key. Such a chord can consist of 16 sounds and will be automatically transposed from any pressed note. The chord is memorized by holding down the Hold button, and you can also assign a sustain pedal to this function to free up both hands for playing.

Also worth mentioning are the Swing Offset settings. In sequences or arpeggios, the beginning of the weak part will be shifted relative to the strong part. Only nine fixed values are available from the controller (Off, 53%, 55%, 57%, 57%, 59%, 59%, 61%, 64%, 67%, 73%, and 75%), and any other value can be specified from the MIDI Control Center utility. The duration of Gate times is customized similarly. There are 5 presets (10%, 25%, 50%, 75%, and 90%).

We should also note the possibility of convenient editing of all controller sequences in the MIDI Control Center program. This is a universal utility for all Arturia devices, which allows you to fully configure the device for your needs by reassigning all available controllers.

When the MIDI Control Center works with the KeyStep device, something else interesting appears. All sequences stored in the controller's memory become available for editing in the graphical interface with the usual timeline and piano roll. This looks unexpected and is very convenient! Besides convenient and clear editing, the program allows you to create and store an unlimited number of projects and instantly load any of them into the device's memory.

Final Verdict on Arturia Keystep

Our editorial team had a lot of fun doing a review on the Arturia KeyStep and we can proudly say - SoundGale is a fan of this brand. Once again Arturia has come up with a great device with unique features that will be appreciated by musicians who actively use various MIDI modules and analog synthesizers. Arturia KeyStep fits perfectly into the general concept of Arturia devices with hardware control capabilities and perfectly complements the series of compact and inexpensive controllers. Of course, the main purpose of the KeyStep controller is to be used with external synthesizers via the built-in sequencer and arpeggiator. Meanwhile, the device can be freely used as a full-fledged MIDI keyboard. Built-in hardware features have little effect on the overall cost of the device.

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

Pros
  • Expressive Playing: 32-note slim keybed with velocity sensitivity and aftertouch for dynamic and expressive playing.
  • Extensive Control: Pitch and mod touch-strips, assignable encoders, and dedicated performance features for hands-on control over MIDI parameters.
  • Powerful Sequencing: Built-in sequencer with 64 steps per sequence for creating intricate musical patterns and arrangements.
  • Versatile Connectivity: MIDI, CV/Gate, and clock sync outputs, as well as USB and MIDI inputs, for integration with hardware and software devices.
  • Portability: Compact and lightweight design for on-the-go music-making.
  • Build Quality: Sleek design and robust construction for durability and reliability in various performance environments.
Cons
  • Limited Key Range: The KeyStep's 32-note keybed may be limiting for users who require a wider range of keys for playing complex compositions. On the other hand, we cannot consider this as a disadvantage since the Arturia KeyStep is positioned as portable.
8.5
/10
Our Score

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