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19 Jun 2020

Review: De Arturia KeyLab Essential 88

producer Arturia KeyLab Essential 88

The French Arturia is working hard and so with the extensive range of keyboards. For example, they released the KeyLab Essential 88 at the NAMM in Anaheim California last January. This is the successor and cheaper variant of the KeyLab 88 MKII and as the name implies, with only the essential features.

Previously, Pierre van Arturia was at the office at Inside Audio to give a product demonstration, which can be seen below. So don't feel like reading? And hear the whole story directly with audio demonstrations? Just check the video below or read the article in collaboration with distributor Pro Media Connect.

The KeyLab Essential 88

The KeyLab Essential 88 is a MIDI controller, so no built-in sounds, but use it in combination with a computer and software such as Analog Lab. It is not just a simple MIDI keyboard, but with extensive functions, high quality material and smart integration with your DAW. In addition, you get close with the feeling of real piano keys through the semi-weighted keys. Sometimes they feel very cheap in this price range and even make noise, which is certainly not the case with the KeyLab 88 Essential! Thigh bigger brother the KeyLab MKII, these are hammer-action keys that feel better and more realistic, but semi-weighted keys are already very nice in this price range.

It is a real DAW controller and not just a MIDI keyboard in our view, which is very nice if you set up the keyboard centrally and include it in your workflow. Functions such as the chord button are great fun and work simple but effective, for example to trigger chords with a key. In addition, the keyboard has transpose functions per octave or per note.

As you can see directly in the photos, there are 8 drum pads, this is not only to trigger drums or keys, but also serve as the control of the keyboard, for example, to load different memories. The overall casing is plastic but doesn't feel cheap and is finished with wooden panels on the sides.

There is an option for DC power, if you want to send other equipment such as a rack synth power - but the keyboard itself has enough USB power.

The powerful combination of software and hardware

A MIDI keyboard that has been thought through very carefully from start to finish, that is important in our view to provide the user with a better experience. Offering a well-thought-out workflow, so that the musician can focus on making music - that is what Arturia does. The KeyLab is not only a very good keyboard, but has a perfect hardware software integration. There are various mappings for DAWs such as Ableton, but it works especially well with its own software such as Analog Lab, which is included for free with 6500+ sounds from synths and keyboards. In addition, you also get Ableton Live Lite and UVI Model D with the purchase.

Analog Lab is super cool, if you watch the video above you will hear some sounds included that are made with mods of vintage synths. By modeling the synths, the sounds sound very warm and realistic.

It is nice that when using Analog Lab, the most important parameters are already assigned to the software, making it a plug & play experience. This is also the case for the extensive Arturia V-Collection. A great feature is the layering of sounds in Analog Lab, for example, so that you can trigger multiple synths with one key.

Along with a small LCD screen and a large button to control your DAW that is Mackie / HUI compatible, which is a protocol for various DAWs such as Logic Pro, REAPER, Cakewalk, Ableton Live, Studio One, Cubase and Reason.

Quickly switch between different mappings, for example with DAW mode with which you can quickly control your DAW. This also for Analog Lab for quick control over the synths in it.

Without touching your computer, you can quickly record a jam from Keylab Essential. Yet you see deeper DAW integration options with the MK2, with settings standard for different DAWs - that is not the case with the Essential. You have automatic controls, but this is less.


Arturia has launched an incredibly good product with an interesting price-quality ratio. The KeyLab Essential 88 is well put together and is a high-quality keyboard. In addition, Arturia has supplied a nice package of software so that you immediately get the plug & play experience. Analog Lab alone costs € 200 and is definitely worth the money.

If you include all functions in your workflow you will notice that you use your mouse less often and can only make a full jam in your DAW from start to finish with the keyboard. All in all a very well thought out and elaborated Arturia keyboard with high quality, warm sounding software synths!

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