Arturia’s KeyLab series has produced some of the most popular keyboard controllers ever made. They offer a mix of versatile functionality and build quality that most competitors can’t.
We review the KeyLab 88 Mk2 to see how it lives up to the KeyLab reputation.
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Final verdict on the KeyLab 88 Mk2
We have to work really hard to find anything to complain about with the KeyLab 88 Mk2. Some other options may suit certain users more. But, in terms of overall quality and functionality, we think Arturia leads the way with this controller. It does just about everything and does it very well.
What we like
- Lots of assignable controls.
- CV connectivity.
- Laptop stand.
- Hammer-action keys.
- Great build quality.
- Great software bundle.
What we don’t like
- A larger display would be nice.
- Pretty heavy.
Not all full-size controllers have hammer-action keys; they don’t even all have weighted keys. So, the fact that you get hammer-action keys is excellent.
The original KeyLab 88 had hammer-action keys, but in truth, they weren’t the best. The keys were quite noisy and didn’t quite feel right.
The KeyLab 88 Mk2 has a much-improved Fatar hammer-action keyboard that is far more responsive and feels better. It comes with the added bonus of being much quieter than the previous keyboard, too.
Whether we are talking about this flagship controller or the cheaper Essential series, Arturia might be the best for assignable controls.
Faders and knobs
The KeyLab 88 Mk2 has nine assignable faders and nine assignable rotary knobs. These faders and knobs are perfect for recording automation on the fly. It’s not just about the selection of controls; it’s the typically excellent positioning.
Pitch and mod wheels
The pitch bend and modulation wheels might be the one example of Arturia’s positioning not being perfect, but it depends on who you ask.
Both wheels are positioned at the top left corner of the main panel, and that’s fine, but some players might want them to the side of the keyboard.
16 RGB backlit pads
Anytime you can get 16 pads on a keyboard controller, it’s a pretty good thing. The pads feel great to play, and they are responsive enough for most finger drummers.
While on the topic of finger drumming, it might have been better to have them placed on the right rather than the left. That way, it’s easier to finger drum while playing chords with your left hand. Although, if you’re left-handed, it won’t be an issue.
Anytime we try out pads, we compare them to MPC pads, which probably isn’t fair. So, what we can say is that Arturia does it as well as most.
It’s easy to see that the KeyLab 88 Mk2 has lots of potential for integration just by looking at it. But, having lots of assignable controls isn’t enough if the integration process is too tedious.
Luckily, the KeyLab 88 Mk2 auto-maps to popular DAWs, giving you instant access to transport controls without touching a mouse. Anything that doesn’t map automatically is easy to MIDI assign as you go.
All controls come pre-mapped to work perfectly with every instrument in the Analog Lab software. Once you get started, it almost feels like you are using a hardware synth; it’s fantastic.
Arturia even provides magnetic overlays to custom set up your controller for popular DAWs. Arturia supplies a removable music stand, and laptop stand as an extension of the controller.
Connectivity is one of the areas where the KeyLab 88 Mk2 shines. It has four CV outputs and a CV input, so for anyone who uses analog/modular gear, it’s an absolute dream.
Along with the CV ins/outs, there is a 5-pin MIDI in/out, sustain, expression, and three Aux pedal jacks. Very few controllers offer this kind of connectivity to your external hardware.
Arturia is one of the best when it comes to software bundles, but it’s not because you get a considerable amount. It’s because what you get is perfect for the KeyLab controller.
You’ll get a copy of Ableton Live Lite and a full copy of Arturia’s Analog Lab with the KeyLab 88. Ableton Live is one of the most popular DAWs, especially amongst electronic music producers. Once installed, it only takes a minute to integrate your KeyLab with Ableton fully, and you are good to go.
It’s important to note that you get a full copy of Analog Lab, as you only get the Lite version with some smaller Arturia products. It includes over 6,500 modern and vintage synth/keyboard sounds that are pre-mapped to the controller.
Analog Lab is genuinely one of the best collections you will ever get for free.
When you lift the KeyLab 88 Mk2, you’ll quickly realize that it’s heavier than some stage pianos. The weight tells us that the build quality goes beyond the average MIDI controller.
It has a solid aluminum chassis with wooden side panels, so it’s incredibly robust. It looks great, too.
Everything is pretty solid, from the inputs to the mod/pitch wheels, to the buttons and sliders.
Sliders on controller keyboards don’t always feel as sturdy as they could, and in transit, they could be the one potential weak spot. But, we would have to be pretty harsh to consider them below par.
Compared to other keyboard controllers
The KeyLab 88 Mk2 offers just about everything that you can fit on a keyboard controller. But, it’s always best to check out some alternatives before you buy.
KeyLab 88 Mk2 vs M-Audio Hammer 88 Pro
We think the Hammer 88 Pro might have the best-feeling keyboard of any full-size controller. It also offers many assignable controls, just not quite as much as the KeyLab 88.
KeyLab 88 Mk2 vs Komplete Kontrol S88
The simple answer here is that we prefer the KeyLab; it just has more to offer. But, if you rely heavily on Native Instruments software/plugins, the Komplete Kontrol will serve you better.
KeyLab 88 Mk2 vs KeyLab Essential 88
The KeyLab Essential 88 is a stripped-back version with slightly fewer features and a less premium feel. The catch is that it’s far cheaper, and it might be enough for your needs.
Who is the Arturia KeyLab 88 Mk2 best suited for?
It suits performers and producers who create regularly. It’s all about workflow, and if you spend a lot of time making or performing music, the KeyLab 88 Mk2 is for you.Buy from: SweetwaterAmazon