Arturia’s KeyLab Essential series is kind of the sweet spot in its lineup. It has most of the same core features as the company’s flagship KeyLab series, but with a less premium build and a few less hands-on controls. But it’s they’re also about half the price. The new KeyLab Essential mk3 delivers even better value with more controls, a bigger screen and a more eco-conscious build.
The mk3 will initially be available in 49- and 61-key varieties, in both black and white finishes. While there was no announcement of an upgraded 88-key model, I wouldn’t be surprised if Arturia added one down the line. On the surface the KeyLab Essential mk3 doesn’t look terribly different from its predecessor. There’s still nine knobs and nine faders on the right that provide immediate access to range of parameters in Arturia’s softsynths. But there are also control scripts for a number of popular DAWs, including Ableton Live that allow you to do think like mix tracks using the faders or stop and start recordings.
The one immediately noticeable difference is the much larger screen in the middle of the keyboard. It should make navigating presets in Analog lab and other Arturia instruments much easier. There’s also four contextual button below it allowing for more control over your plugins.
Arturia also expanded the controls at your disposal, including adding a second bank for the eight pads so, at least with a bit of work, you can take advantage of a full 16 pad drum rack in Live. There’s also new scale and chord modes with presets, as well as a hold function and an arpeggiator. The company also upgraded the pedal input to allow for use with an expression pedal instead of just sustain. The software bundle included (which was already pretty great) has been expanded to include Native Instruments The Gentleman, Loopcloud and Melodics, in addition to Ableton Live Lite, Analog Lab V and UVI Model D.
Lastly Arturia has committed to lessening its environmental impact by making the KeyLab Essential mk3 out of at least 40 percent recycled plastic and moving to 100 percent recyclable packaging. And despite all this, the keyboards are actually significantly cheaper than the mk2 models. The 61-key KeyLab Essential mk3 is $269 (down from $320 for the mk2), while the 49-key version of the mk3 is only $219 (down from $269).