The MiniLab Mk2 is a two-octave (25-key) MIDI keyboard controller with mini keys. Despite being a relatively cheap bit of gear, it’s loved by amateur and professional musicians alike. It comes in Arturia’s familiar white casing with black controls and blue highlights.
Our verdict on the MiniLab Mk2
We absolutely love the MiniLab Mk2. It looks and feels more expensive than it is, and the Analog Lab sounds are stunning. It’s a fantastic buy for anyone with a home studio or who likes to make music on the go. Well done, Arturia.
Note: Arturia has released the MiniLab 3, which will replace the MiniLab Mk2; it shares the same core qualities, and offers new features and functions. Please check out our full MiniLab 3 review for the latest information.
We have said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Arturia is amongst the best when it comes to assignable controls.
Quite amazingly, this tiny little keyboard controller comes with a whopping 16 fully-assignable rotary knobs. Even more impressive is that the panel doesn’t seem overcrowded with controls.
Whether you are tweaking virtual instruments or effect parameters, you’ll never run out of knobs to assign.
The touch strips are one of the only things about the MiniLab Mk2 that we don’t like. Many users might love them and even prefer them over pitch bend and modulation wheels. In our opinion, we’d rather see wheels or a joystick.
We would have liked to see more features, perhaps with some dedicated buttons. But, it seems limited features is the trade-off for so many assignable encoders.
Velocity sensitive pads
There are eight velocity-sensitive backlit pads with two banks. So, in total, you have 16 useable pads, but only eight at a time.
We consistently like Arturia pads because they are bigger than most, making them more suitable for finger drumming. We would encourage users to use them for finger drumming because they are among the most responsive pads, too. Basic functions like triggering loops or samples are straightforward.
Sixteen encoders is a considerable amount for such a small controller, encoders one and nine double as push-buttons, making them multi-function. The encoders are already pre-mapped to the included software, and the push encoders make browsing and selecting presets quick and easy.
Although the encoders clearly speed up your workflow, taking up so much space means there are no transport controls. If you aren’t used to using transport controls on a keyboard, it won’t seem like a big deal, but if you are, reaching for the mouse each time you want to start or stop might get tedious.
Given a choice, as much as we love so many encoders, we might choose to eliminate some in exchange for transport controls and a couple of function buttons. However, we are sure that not everyone will agree with that, and it’s very much a matter of personal opinion.
Connectivity is pretty limited. It’s not unusual for a controller of this size, but it’s not the most impressive either. It comes with a 1/4″ sustain pedal input and USB Type-B.
Depending on your experience with Arturia controllers, the software bundle will either blow you away or be a little underwhelming.
Let’s be clear first of all, it comes with Analog Lab Lite, and under any circumstances, that’s outstanding. The sounds come from Arturia’s flagship V Collection of stunning virtual analog synths. Analog Lab Lite is a collection of 500 presets, which sounds pretty huge, and the sound quality is utterly outstanding.
If you knew about the original MiniLab, you might know that it came with a full version of Analog Lab and around 5000 presets. So, in that sense, it’s a little disappointing that it’s been downsized. However, in terms of quality, it’s stunning, and there are some reasonable upgrade offers.
It’s perhaps a little unfair to be critical of the keyboard feel with any 25-key controller, especially one with mini keys. But, we will get the negative out of the way first and say that it doesn’t feel as good as the Akai MPK Mini Mk3. You should also note that the keys are slim keys and might be trickier for anyone with larger hands.
However, we would still place the Arturia MiniLab Mk2 somewhere near the top of its class in this area. The keys are synth-action, and they are surprisingly responsive.
Build quality is an area where you have to come and go a little with keyboard controllers this size. They are small and relatively cheap, so it makes no sense to manufacture them with heavy-duty materials. Plastic is pretty standard, but there’s still a significant improvement from the first generation MiniLab.
The structure feels rigid enough and doesn’t creak and crack as much as most when moving it around. All of the buttons, pads, and encoders feel premium for the price range, too.
The MiniLab Mk2 is about 50% heavier than the previous model, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s still light and portable, but the extra weight gives it the presence of a serious bit of gear.
Compared to other keyboard controllers
The MiniLab Mk2 is undoubtedly one of the best small keyboard controllers we have ever seen. But, it has some stiff competition; here are a few alternatives.
Arturia MiniLab Mk2 vs. Akai MPK Mini Mk3
The MPK Mini Mk3 is still the king of the small keyboard controllers, but the MiniLab runs it close. The MPK Mini Mk3 has better pads, better keys, an LCD screen, and a long history of success.
Check out our Akai MPK Mini Mk3 review
Arturia MiniLab Mk2 vs. Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3
The Novation Launchkey Mini is a very popular keyboard controller, especially with Ableton users. But, for us, it doesn’t match the MiniLab Mk2 in many areas; buy Arturia.
Arturia MiniLab Mk2 vs. Alesis V25
Alesis are masters of making budget instruments and controllers, and the V25 is a good example. Overall, it’s not as good as any others we mention in this review, but it has full-size keys, and that’s worth a lot.
For more great options, check out our picks of the best all-around MIDI controllers and the best budget MIDI keyboards you can buy under $100 and $200.
Who is the Arturia MiniLab Mk2 best suited for?
It suits anyone who wants a portable keyboard controller for small home setup and likes hands-on controls over plugin parameters.
- Good build quality.
- Outstanding sounds from Analog Lab.
- Great pads.
- 16 assignable encoders.
- Touch strips instead of wheels/joystick.