AR­TURIA MINILAB MKII

With a re­duced li­brary of bun­dled sounds, can the sec­ond ver­sion of this minia­ture key­board make up for soft­ware losses with hard­ware gains?

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It’s been over three years since Ar­turia re­leased the orig­i­nal MiniLab (8/10, 196), com­bin­ing a two-oc­tave MIDI key­board con­troller with the Ana­log Lab soft­ware sound li­brary. The key­board it­self im­pressed us with its stel­lar build qual­ity, while Ana­log Lab gave it 5000 pre­sets culled from the com­pany’s V range of vin­tage synth em­u­la­tions, each with per­ti­nent pa­ram­e­ters auto-mapped to the hard­ware’s ro­tary en­coders.

It’s with some dis­may, then, that we have to kick off our re­view of MiniLab MkII with the be­wil­der­ing rev­e­la­tion that one of its most no­table new fea­tures is the ditch­ing of 4500 of those pre­sets in the tran­si­tion to the new Ana­log Lab Lite, based on the also-new Ana­log Lab 2. You can up­grade to Ana­log Lab 2 from Ana­log Lab Lite for €89 (or the full-on V Col­lec­tion 5 for €399), but this is cer­tainly a very un­com­fort­able down­grade. You do also get li­censes for Able­ton Live Lite and UVI’s Grand Pi­ano Model D Stein­way pi­ano ROM­pler, the lat­ter worth €79; but while both are wel­come in­clu­sions, we don’t think they make up for the wan­ton slash­ing of Ana­log Lab. Live Lite is bun­dled with all man­ner of hard­ware these days and the pi­ano, al­beit ex­cel­lent, doesn’t feel par­tic­u­larly at home in such an ob­vi­ously synth-ori­en­tated pack­age.

With that un­der­stood and taken into ac­count, let’s see take a look at MiniLab MkII on its own terms…

Solid as a rock

A bus-pow­ered USB de­vice for Mac, PC and iOS, MiniLab’s ar­ray of keys and con­trols re­main un­changed with MkII. It’s still a 25-key ’board with pitch and mod touch­strips in place of wheels, 16 ro­tary en­coders and eight trig­ger pads. It also still fea­tures ded­i­cated but­tons for shift­ing oc­taves up/down and switch­ing the pads be­tween two banks (1-8 and 9-16), and a Shift mod­i­fier for us­ing the pads to flit be­tween eight MIDI maps in in­ter­nal mem­ory, and the first 16 keys for MIDI chan­nel se­lec­tion.

The lay­out has changed slightly, though, in that the touch­strips are now lo­cated above the left-hand end of the key­board rather than next to it. This makes the unit al­most 2cm

“The touch­strips are now lo­cated above the left-hand end of the key­board rather than next to it”

nar­rower, but a 29mm in­crease in depth coun­ter­acts that shrink­age by in­creas­ing the foot­print from 373x191mm to 355x220. With the pro­file re­main­ing at an ac­cept­able 50mm, how­ever, it’s still a pleas­ingly com­pact pack­age, slip­ping com­fort­ably into the av­er­age lap­top bag.

Ar­turia state that MiniLab MkII has been com­pre­hen­sively beefed up in ev­ery ma­te­rial de­part­ment, and we can con­firm that its al­ready ad­mirable so­lid­ity has only been im­proved. It might be all-plas­tic apart from the base, but there’s none of the creak and flex that con­trollers in this price range all too fre­quently ex­hibit – this is the level of qual­ity we gen­er­ally ex­pect in key­boards cost­ing three times as much. The up­grade has brought with it a 50% in­crease in weight (up to 1.5kg from 1.03kg), but we’re quite happy to trade a bit of shoul­der ache for such tank-like con­struc­tion.

The unit as a whole also looks a bit more mod­ern, mostly thanks to the switch from ‘div­ing board’- to pi­ano-style mini-keys, the switch from black to white touch­strips, and the dra­matic re­duc­tion of the faux wooden end cheeks down to in­lays (they might as well just get rid of them al­to­gether, when it comes to the crunch). It all comes to­gether to give the whole thing a more con­cise, air­tight, aes­thet­i­cally co­her­ent ap­pear­ance.

Bet­ter but­tons

MiniLab MkII’s func­tional en­hance­ments are few but sig­nif­i­cant. The pads are now pres­sureas well as ve­loc­ity-sen­si­tive and RGB back­lit, with colours ed­itable in the free MIDI Con­trol Cen­ter map­ping ed­i­tor; and ro­tary en­coders 1 and 9 dou­ble as push but­tons and serve a dif­fer­ent role in Ana­log Lab Lite. While ro­tary 1 con­trolled the master vol­ume and knob 9 scrolled through pre­sets in the orig­i­nal Ana­log Lab, load­ing your se­lec­tion af­ter a brief pause, in Ana­log Lab Lite (and, in­deed, the full Ana­log Lab 2) both are in­stead used to nav­i­gate the browser. 9 rolls through the fil­ters on the left, while 1 scrolls through the fil­tered list on the right, and press­ing them ac­ti­vates the cur­rently se­lected fil­ter or loads the cur­rently se­lected pre­set.

The sen­si­tiv­ity of the touch­strips has been boosted, too, and we didn’t en­counter any of the cut-off note is­sues re­ported in our MiniLab re­view last time around.

Lab re­port

While there are smaller, lighter MIDI key­boards out there at the same price point, MiniLab MkII’s brawn, fit, fin­ish, playa­bil­ity and gen­eral air of con­fi­dence put it in a phys­i­cally su­pe­rior class of its own with­out com­pro­mis­ing too much on porta­bil­ity. We’re not at all happy about the soft­ware sit­u­a­tion, clearly, but if you put that to one side and ap­proach MiniLab MkII as a supremely af­ford­able MIDI con­troller for stu­dio and mo­bile use that hap­pens to come with what amounts to a demo of the full Ana­log Lab, it’s an ab­so­lute bel­ter.

“MiniLab MkII’s brawn, fit, fin­ish, playa­bil­ity and gen­eral air of con­fi­dence put it in a class of its own with­out com­pro­mis­ing too much”

De­sign MIDI con­troller maps in MIDI Con­trol Cen­ter, then store up to seven of them within the MiniLab MkII

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