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Arturia MiniLab 3 Review - Universal MIDI Keyboard & Controller

March 8, 2024

Today we are going to talk about Arturia MiniLab 3, and as always our editorial team has prepared a detailed review for you. Arturia MiniLab 3 is the third generation of the French manufacturer's successful compact MIDI controllers. Its predecessor is the Arturia MiniLab mkII, which was released in 2016 and has appeared hundreds of times in all sorts of lists of the best MIDI controllers. MiniLab mkII earned its popularity with its near-perfect price-performance ratio: for ~$100, the device offered a comfortable keyboard, equally comfortable pads, 16 assignable controls, and deep integration with DAWs and plug-ins to control everything you can.

In 2022, the MiniLab MKII hadn't lost its relevance - the device, as before, handled all tasks perfectly and didn't seem to require any upgrades. However, Arturia thought otherwise, and in October 2022 presented an updated version of the keyboard - MiniLab 3. The new version inherits from its predecessor a high-quality keyboard, illuminated pads and encoders, joined by faders and a tiny OLED screen. This makes MiniLab 3 an even more advanced controller, which can be used both in the studio and on stage with equal success. So, let's start our Arturia MiniLab 3 review with specifications as usual.

Best Price on Arturia Arturia MiniLab 3

The Arturia MiniLab 3 is a compact and versatile tool designed for musicians, producers & performers who demand portability without compromising on functionality.

Arturia MiniLab 3 Package Classic Package

Arturia MiniLab 3 Specifications

  • 25 high-quality note velocity-sensitive slim keyboard
  • 2 banks of 8 velocity & pressure sensitive pads with RGB backlighting
  • 8 rotary encoders / 4 sliders / 2 capacitive touch sensors for pitch bend and modulation wheel
  • Mini OLED display & clickable browsing knob (real-time feedback on tweaks and controls)
  • Smart Features: built-in arpeggiator, chord mode, hold function, octave up and down buttons, semitone transpose
  • 1 DAW preset for automatic integration with any major DAWs
  • DAW Transport Control with MIDI Control Center protocol for every other DAWs
  • Up to 5 user presets for a totally customizable experience
  • USB-C to USB-A cable connects to PC / MAC (and сonnects to iPad via adapters)
  • 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): 355 x 220 x 50mm (14 x 8.7 x 2 inches)
  • Net Weight: 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs.)
  • Set Includes: Arturia MiniLab 3 unit, registration card, USB cable + (software: Ableton Live Lite, UVI Model D, The Gentleman from Native Instruments, Analog Lab Intro, Loopcloud 2month subscription with 1 GB welcome pack, Melodics 40 lessons)
  • Color Options: Classic White / Alpine White / Black / Deep Black
The photo above shows all the MiniLab 3 controller colorways. The rarest of them Deep Black, the rightmost one in the photo, is not easily found on sale in online stores, although it is still found.

Overall Build, Design and Features

So let's start our Arturia MiniLab 3 review and look at the differences from the previous version. Outwardly, the MiniLab 3 does not differ much from its predecessor MKII. Arturia didn't radically change the design and limited themselves to small changes, which makes the second and third versions look very similar at a quick glance. Nevertheless, there are enough changes and they significantly change the perception of the controller. The weight and dimensions of the case are the same, the designers rounded the edges of the case and added small bevels on them, which makes MiniLab 3 seem more compact with the same size and weight.

The model demonstrates Arturia's move towards more environmentally friendly design, which means using recycled and recyclable materials in the manufacturing process, thus reducing waste and extending the life of the equipment. Half of the case is now made of recycled plastic, which has a more textured and slightly "rough" look - no gloss or smoothness. The unit's packaging is fully recyclable.

Decorative wood-style inserts on the sides have not gone anywhere, but have gotten bigger. The enlargement is achieved by replacing the company name on the ends with a compact logo with the letter "A". The Arturia manufacturer claims that the new "eco-friendly" materials are just as reliable as before, and as confirmation, they guarantee five years of reliable operation! It is almost impossible to verify these promises, but there is no doubt that the keyboard will last the claimed five years - the quality is absolutely fine.

KeyBoard. The keyboard remains the same - 25 force-sensitive synthesizer-type keys. You can change the velocity curves and the mode with a fixed maximum value. Similar sensitivity settings are available for the pads. The keys are expensive and high quality, pleasantly elastic and well fixed - we got the most positive impressions while playing the keyboard. It's easy enough to control the volume and play with different strokes.

Pads. They are sensitive and have a little bit of cushioning, which we found comfortable while playing, as you can feel how much force you need to hit to get a loud or soft sound. The pads are made of silicone. The pads can be used as a drum machine to play different samples for live performances. Comparing the Novation LaunchKey Mini MK3 pads, we liked the pads and keys in Arturia MiniLab 3 better. If we add the Akai MPK Mini MK3 to the comparison, it definitely has the best pads of the trio.

Faders and Encoders. Also made of quality plastic, as are the keys (the keys are made of glossy plastic). In this model, we liked all the controls, both faders and encoders. They are large and quite tight, you can feel the control, which is good for live performances or studio work.

So, what about the connection ports? As you can see from the specifications, the USB connector has changed to the more modern USB-C. The kit comes with a good quality branded cable with the Arturia logo, which you can use to connect to any USB2 or USB3 port. Interestingly, the USB-C connector on the cable is L-shaped so that the cable doesn't bend in place where it connects. It looks very nice and aesthetically pleasing. Arturia MiniLab 3 also has MIDI 5-pin DIN output for connection to external instruments, gear + Control Input for pedal: sustain, expression, or footswitch. MiniLab 3 has K-Slot (Kensington Lock), we have no idea who's still using Kensington Lock, but keep in mind that this function is also present.

According to Arturia, the controller can be connected to the iPad, but the connection is not made directly, but through adapters such as Lightning to USB Camera Adapter for iPads with lightning connector or using USB-C to USB Adapter for more modern iPads with USB-C connector. Before writing the Arturia MiniLab 3 review, we studied the problems of users who had to connect the device to the iPad, and we want to warn you that this is not the best idea, as not all of the controller's controls work when connected to the iPad, it all depends on the application you are using.

Software Included:

For a small budget controller, Arturia MiniLab 3 is equipped with a generous set of software. In addition to its own Analog Lab Intro with a huge set of Arturia instrument sounds, which we will talk about separately, the kit includes:

  • Ableton Live Lite - the basic version of the most popular DAW for production and performances
  • UVI Model D grand piano instrument plug-in ($49 if purchased separately)
  • Native Instrument's The Gentleman piano plug-in (99$ if purchased separately)
  • Sample pack and two months subscription to the Loopcloud service
  • Starter subscription to Melodics learning platform (40 free lessons for keyboards and pads)

The MiniLab 3 controller is well suited for controlling Arturia's library of virtual instruments via the Analog Lab application. The controller comes with a light version of Analog Lab Intro, which can be upgraded to the full version at a significant discount.

Arturia Analog Lab V

Arturia has been involved in software synthesizers and emulation of classic equipment since 1999 and has reached great heights in this field. That's why the software is one of the competitive advantages of this model. Analog Lab Intro is a package of 500 presets for 28 Arturia V Collection instruments (17 classic analog synthesizers!) that can be used as a VST2, VST3, AU plug-in for DAW or as a standalone application. A 20-minute demo version of Analog Lab V is available on the official website.

For full control over instruments, you will need to purchase separate plug-ins, but the presets in Analog Lab Intro are not just a ready-made sound. Each has four separate parameters (top row of encoders) and a chain of four effects (bottom row of encoders) that can be modified. Layering (combining two presets) is also possible, and the faders can be used for equalization. In other words, out of the box (after installing the software on your computer) you do not get an "empty" MIDI controller, but a large package of sounds for sound design space.

The Arturia MiniLab 3 controller has everything you need to work intuitively in Analog Lab. You don't need to run a DAW. All the user needs to do before running Analog Lab in standalone mode is go into the Preferences, select MiniLab 3, and choose a low-latency audio playback device. The controller then turns into a hardware-controlled synthesizer by feel! All the controls are already assigned to the desired parameters of the virtual instruments. And the right-most fader is convenient for changing the volume. The rightmost fader is handy for adjusting the volume.

Hardware Features

And so let's finally get to the main part of our Arturia MiniLab 3 review. In our opinion, the built-in arpeggiator is outstanding feature. It has 8 useful settings. You can set the exact tempo in BPM, the duration of the notes, the type of musical pattern, the strokes from staccato to legato, the number of octaves to cover, and so on. It's important to note that none of these settings are made blindly. Both the type of setting and the current value are conveniently displayed in words and numbers on the small OLED screen. So the user doesn't have to remember what each knob means.

The OLED screen is small (just over a couple of inches), but informative - information is displayed not only in numbers but also as icons with text. The screen is moderately bright and virtually glare-free, making it comfortable to use in direct sunlight or artificial light, as well as in the dark. The image quality is decent considering the simplicity of the screen: characters are printed in white on a black background, and they look clear and clean.

When working in a DAW, the pads can be used not only to record rhythmic patterns but also as transport buttons. They become transport buttons by default when you press the Shift button. The assignments of the Play, Stop, Record, Loop, and Tempo pads are neatly drawn at the bottom of the pad and conveniently highlighted.

Hold mode is roughly similar to pressing the Sustain pedal. Holding Shift + Hold switches the controller to chord mode. If you play only one note, the corresponding chord will be built from it. You can also create your own chords, up to 16 notes. This feature will be useful for both beginners and advanced users.

Press Oct to transpose the keyboard up or down an octave, Shift + Oct to transpose the keyboard half a tone.

Shift + Pad2 toggles the value of Banks A and B. Shift + Pad3 toggles between Arturia and DAW mode. In Arturia mode, the controller will automatically connect to the Arturia software. The numerical knob below the screen toggles through the preset list. Selection is made by pressing the button. Custom presets can also be created.

The two capacitive, touch-sensitive pitch bend and modulation bars are just as good as standard wheels. In fact, they are even more sensitive. The exact current value is displayed on the screen, which is nice. By the way, the bars can be reassigned to something more interesting than their standard mundane functions.

As with previous models, the MIDI Control Center software allows you to flexibly adjust all controller values and conveniently set pad colors.

Who is Arturia MiniLab 3 for?

Let's start with the opposite - who Arturia MiniLab 3 is not for. Those who are looking for a more complex MIDI keyboard (with aftertouch effect, weighted or semi-weighted keys) and those who simply don't need a two-octave instrument.

This is a device for those who are looking for compactness and an optimal set of different controllers along with a large library of available sounds, regardless of whether you are a beginner or a pro. It's also for those who create without being tied to a place, whose "studio" has to fit in a backpack with a laptop. We also have a review on the Arturia MicroLab - one of the most compact controllers in the world, yes the Arturia MiniLab 3 has larger dimensions, but if you're an on the go musician the MicroLab may be more useful.

Final Verdict on Arturia MiniLab 3

The Arturia MiniLab 3 controller has made a very positive impression on us. MiniLab gets better and better with each version. You have to realize that despite its compact size, it is a full-fledged professional product that can be used on stage as well as in the studio. We really liked all the new features. The new faders complement the knobs perfectly. The OLED screen and arpeggiator make the controller much more useful. The inscriptions on the screen make it easier to navigate through the switchable presets and changeable parameters. The keyboard mechanics are beyond reproach. The new USB-C port can facilitate connection to modern laptops. The included proprietary cable allows you to connect to any standard USB port. A useful software bundle is included, allowing beginners to get started right away and advanced users to save money when upgrading to full versions.

Should those currently using the previous generation upgrade? A good question, but one that is difficult to answer unequivocally. On the one hand, MiniLab 3 differs favorably from its predecessor with faders, informative display, and full MIDI output. On the other hand, these changes are not so necessary - MiniLab MKII is still relevant, so you can continue to use it without any problems.

We hope you enjoyed our Arturia MiniLab 3 review. Feel free to leave comments and questions in the section below and we'll be happy to answer them all.

Pros
  • Perfect Price/Quality Ratio
  • Compact and Portable
  • Responsive Keybed
  • Comprehensive Control
  • Extensive Software Bundle
  • Sturdy Build Quality
  • USB and MIDI Connectivity (USB-C connector)
Cons
  • No Aftertouch Effect
9.3
/10
Our Score

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