Arturia’s KeyLab 25 is one of three controllers (Keylab 25, Keylab 49 & Keylab 61) in Arturia’s latest controller product line, the KeyLab Series. With a small foot print and loaded with features designed to make beat making and composing a lot more streamlined, the KeyLab 25 (which comes with Analog Lab and 5000 presets) is a good value, strong workhorse and a damn good looking compact hybrid synth.
The KeyLab 25 is billed as the best of the best in “COMPACT HYBRID SYNTHESIS”. Arturia comes right out of the gate in declaring “KeyLab 25 is small in size but big on features. It is designed to allow you the control you need, in a smaller, professionally built package.” I’d have to agree but it is worth noting that the Keylab 25, while touting a small footprint is not a really mobile hybrid synth / controller. It is small but it is so well built with its metal chassis, full size keys and wood sides (hmmm, wood composite with woodgrain laminate finish maybe? wood none-the-less though.) that it is sort of weighty for a controller. Thats not a complaint, it’s merely an observation. KeyLab 25 weighs in at just under 9lbs. I find it hard to imagine the Keylab 25 as a mobile (back pack it and bounce) controller. But for all intents and purposes in the lab (beat maker speak for studio proper) the Keylab 25 seems to be the perfect piece to pair with your MPC or Maschine. It fits perfectly beside any groove box and won’t hog up the sort of space that an equivalently well made premium controller “hybrid synth” would on anyones desk.
As the smaller of the three, the KeyLab 25 does not have 16 pads on its top panel. Although, I’d love to have seen pads on the KeyLab 25, I understand that space is limited on a 25 key controller. I don’t suspect I would have been happy to see those 16 pads or even 12 pads on top if it meant that the knobs and faders would have to be crammed up on there. As it stands the KeyLab 25‘s top panel and interface is nicely laid out.
To the top left next to the small but adequate 32 characters / 2 lines display there is the Category and Preset knobs. These two knobs are clicky/notched for selecting values. Those little clicks come in handy when scrolling thru the 5000 presets. They can be pressed in to select sounds and presets.
Beneath the display there are 3 buttons marked Sound, Multi & Edit. In the Analog Lab software these 3 buttons correspond directly those features in the program. Beneath those buttons are 10 programmable switches and the transport buttons.
To the right is the farm of knobs and sliders. More specifically, there are 2 banks of 9 sliders that can be programmed to precisely control a software organ’s drawbars. By default in the Analog Lab software the sliders serve as and are mapped to control the Filter – Attack, Delay, Sustain & Release (ADSR) and the Amp ADSR with the final slider left up to your desired parameter. There are 2 rows of 5 very smooth rotary encoder knobs. These 10 knobs are turn into 20 knobs when taking into consideration that they also correspond to the Bank 1 and Bank 2 buttons. 6 of them are pre-mapped in Analog Lab to control Cutoff, Resonance, LFO Rate, LFO Amount, Chorus Amount & Delay Amount.
Moving on down to the left again, we have the standard Pitch and Modulation wheels. May I add that they are nicely done? Well, they are indeed. I like a smooth but not too loose Modulation wheel and a stiff (within reason) Pitch wheel and thats exactly what Arturia achieved with these. Above the wheels are the Octave up and down buttons.
The key bed holds 25 keys which means KeyLab 25 is a two octave keyboard. The keys are full size and the synth action is nicer than many controllers that I’ve worked with previously. The keyed is described as “25 semi weighted keys with velocity and aftertouch.”
The back panel is complete with Midi in and Midi out. Next there is a hand full of control inputs, namely – expression pedal, sustain pedal, aux in, breath control. There is also the USB connection, 5V DC in and a power switch. Although it doesn’t come with a power cord, the KeyLab 25 is USB powered. So for most of our needs, as in use with a computer, we won’t find the lack of power cord to be an issue at all. Simply connect the USB cord and flip the power switch. Boom. Ready to go.
So what does it sound like? Nothing, its a controller. Well, scratch that. Arturia bills KeyLab 25 as a Compact Hybrid Synthesizer. When paired with the Analog Lab software synth, Keylab 25 transforms instantly into one really dope synth, or so called Hybrid Synth. In that sense, I can totally go with the idea of this being considered a Hybrid Synth because it is so nicely and tightly integrated with Analog Lab that its feels and plays like a synth in its own right. KeyLab 25 is a powerhouse with Analog Labs 5000 presets which were derived directly from “the Arturia Classic Synths (mini V, Modular V, CS-80V, ARP 2600 V, Prophet V, Prophet VS, SEM V and Jupiter-8V) and from Wurlitzer V.” That my friends is some serious fire power. So if the question is how does it sound? The answer would have to be “Damn Good!” Arturia does not disappoint with their collection of vintage synth emulations based on bonafied classics and modeled with Arturia’s proprietary TAE (“True Analog Emulation”) technology. TAE is described as “Arturia’s exclusive technology which accurately reproduces, tone, wave shape, tuning and other detailed characteristics of an analog synthesizer.” Simple put its a beast of a combination.
All in all, the KeyLab 25 is a good come up. If you are the type that needs your controller to have pads you may want to check out the big brothers Keylab 49 and Keylab 61. But if you are in the market for a smaller premium controller with full sized velocity sensitive keys and aftertouch and great looks, the KeyLab 25 is what you need. For its tight integration with the massively packed Analog Lab software its a perfect pairing. But as I am a beatmaker it would have been a perfect controller had it too come with pads. Still this is a great buy at $299. You could justify either the hardware or the software for that price but its a clear deal and a no brainer to cop it seeing as though you get both for that price.
It costs $299 and is available to now from Arturia’s online store.