The MiniLab 3 is the latest release in Arturia’s popular portable 25-key controller series. It replaces the MiniLab Mk2, and while it shares the same DNA, it comes with a few significant enhancements.
In this review, I’ll discuss what it has to offer, what those enhancements are, and if it’s worth upgrading from the MiniLab Mk2. Let’s get started.
About the author
Final verdict on the MiniLab 3
I love the MiniLab 3 even more than the previous model, which was already excellent. The assignable faders, MIDI out, and mini screen are impressive new additions. Arturia took something great and made it even better.
What I like
- Eco-friendly build.
- Extensive software bundle.
- Great production tools.
- Mini screen.
- MIDI out.
- Assignable controls, including faders.
What I don’t like
- Touch strips instead of wheels/joysticks.
Use these jump links to navigate to the desired section of the review.
I’m delighted to say that the already impressive range of assignable controls is now even more impressive. I was tempted to score five out of five here, but I decided to hold a little back to see if Arturia could surprise us again in the future.
The MinLab 3 has eight assignable rotary knobs, which might disappoint a few people since the previous model offered 16. But, realistically, eight is more than enough for a keyboard controller of this size.
At worst, if you need more than eight for a particular instrument or effect, you’d have to assign them in banks; it’s not a genuine inconvenience since you’d never use so many at once.
As before, the rotary knobs are very high-quality for the price point.
Now, here’s the bit that has me most excited: the eight missing rotary knobs have made space for four assignable faders. You can’t do anything with the faders that you couldn’t with rotary knobs, but they provide a different feel that works much better with specific tasks.
The example I like to use is working with orchestral sounds. For instance, when you’re recording automation/expression in string sounds, it feels far more intuitive with faders than it ever will with rotary knobs. It adds more finesse to your performance, and I hope to see more manufacturers do the same!
As touch strips go, they are great, and you can manipulate sound in a million ways when paired with different effects. I love to see touch strips on some controllers, but with so little space, it’s typically at the expense of pitch/mod wheels or a joystick, and I prefer the latter.
The previous model fell a little short in this area, so I’m glad to see the MiniLab 3 has made some improvements. Here are the main talking points.
Velocity sensitive pads
There are two banks of eight velocity and pressure-sensitive RGB backlit pads. Arturia is one of the best when it comes to performance pads and perhaps only falls behind Akai in this department. Having two banks means you can assign sounds to 16 pads by switching between two banks of eight.
The pads are great for triggering samples, and the responsiveness means the MiniLab 3 will capture all dynamics in your performance. In this case, the pads are also used to trigger various functions or as transport controls.
A built-in arpeggiator is always a useful production tool and another feature that I’d like to see on all portable keyboard controllers. An arpeggiator helps beginners play keyboard parts that they might struggle to play manually, and it’s a time-saver for more experienced players. Many successful tracks, especially sub-genres of electronic music, start with an arpeggiator pattern.
Chord mode allows users to trigger various chords, from simple to complex, using single notes or pads. Again, it’s an excellent way for beginners to improve their sound by using more advanced chords, and it saves more experienced players a lot of time and effort.
Workflow is where a keyboard controller lives or dies, and Arturia has got it right, yet again. You get a very similar workflow as you would with the MiniLab Mk2: lots of assignable controls provide a tactile, hands-on workflow.
In addition, the controls are pre-mapped to the included Arturia software, which almost turns the MiniLab into a hardware synth.
However, if there was one slight complaint, it was that navigating instruments and presets still relied heavily on using your mouse and looking at your computer screen. It’s a minor issue, but the less you have to get your head away from the controller, the better.
Arturia’s solution was to add a mini screen alongside a clickable browsing knob. The clickable knob was available in previous models, but the screen makes it easier to make selections, and it provides real-time feedback on parameter tweaks, which makes it even more like a hardware instrument.
It comes with the same options as the previous model: USB (Type-C this time) and a 1/4-inch pedal/footswitch input. But it also features a 5-pin MIDI output that might be a game changer for some users.
The MIDI out will open a world of creative possibilities by connecting to and controlling/triggering external gear.
The MiniLab 3 has an extensive software bundle that features Analog Lab Intro. Analog Lab Intro includes 28 instruments, and around 500 presets taken from flagship collections like Analog Lab V, V Collection, and Pigments.
In addition to Analog Lab Intro, you’ll get two excellent virtual piano instruments; The Gentleman from Native Instruments and UVI’s Model D.
You’ll also get a DAW to start recording immediately in the form of Ableton Live Lite, which is especially good for electronic music. Arturia throws in a two-month subscription to Loopcloud (sample library/store) and 40 lessons from Melodics.
As I always say, it’s difficult to be too positive or negative about the keyboard feel of a mini controller. In most cases, unless a particular controller is terrible, the keyboard feel is pretty similar from one manufacturer to the next.
I don’t see any significant difference in the feel between this model and the older MiniLab Mk2, but that’s enough to keep the MiniLab amongst the best in its class.
While the keyboard might not feel too different from others, its responsiveness keeps Arturia near the top of the pile. Whether you’re holding pad chords for entire bars or playing some funky/choppy clav grooves, every note will hit.
The MiniLab 3 is the world’s first eco-designed MIDI controller because it’s built using upwards of 50% recycled plastic and ships in fully-recyclable packaging.
The design is a little rounder around the edges than the previous model, making it seem more solid because everything seems more compact. You’d struggle to find a 25-key controller that felt more premium than this one.
Compared to other keyboard controllers
I love the improvements made in the MiniLab 3! It’s one of the best 25-key MIDI keyboards around. But it’s always worth checking out other options. Here are a few of my favorite alternatives.
Arturia MiniLab 3 vs Akai MPK Mini Mk3
In my opinion, the MPK Mini Mk3 is still the best small keyboard controller. But Arturia is closing the gap here, for sure.
Arturia MiniLab 3 vs Novation Launchkey 25 Mk3
The Launchkey 25 Mk3 is ideal for Ableton, and for some users, that makes it better than the MiniLab 3. My choice between the two is the MiniLab 3.
Arturia MiniLab 3 vs Akai APC Key 25 Mk2
Again, this controller might be ideal for Ableton users because it has a 5×8 clip-launch matrix. It depends on what you want more, the clip-launch matrix or performance pads and faders.
Who is the Arturia MiniLab 3 best suited for?
The MiniLab 3 suits beginners or professionals who have limited space or like to make music remotely on the go.