I am an absolute Arturia convert…. I cannot fucking believe how useful and fun all their products are. Like, seriously. More on that, in a little bit. Let me first tell you about Zzounds and American Musical Supply, and how they literally help me endlessly, with my home recording & educational life.
I have this line of credit through American Musical Supply (been a loyal/regular customer for a decade now) and Zzounds (loyal customer but not as long as AMS)… these two companies are absolutely my two favorite gear companies. And why? They offer ridiculously affordable payment plans on gear. AMS started everything with the 3-payments/no-interest thing (literally over 10 years ago, which is how I built my home studio stuff). Then Zzounds followed with a 4-month plan which was even better. Now, in 2019, they both offer 3-month and 5-month plans (no credit check up to $1,000), and then, 8-month/12-month plans (credit check, but they approve MOST people). Keep in mind this isn’t for all gear companies… but a lot of them. Such as Nord, Yamaha, Roland, Native Instruments, Arturia, etc. This also applies to music software, too!
Once you open up a 12-month payment plan on something (usually items $300 or $500 and over), you then are able to add a few grand to a line of credit, even if your credit sucks, in general (which mine does). I found this out when I, in late 2017, decided to take a chance on a 12-month payment plan on my dream keyboard— a Nord Stage 3 76HP. The first payment was $533 ($333 plus $199 down)… and I took a chance by ordering it, even though it was on backorder for a couple weeks. Miraculously, I got approved. And I finished paying off my Nord in January 2019. It is the most expensive piece of music gear I own, or will ever own.
I’m a broke dude, and I was able to play this gorgeous instrument for a solid year, while I made payments on it, with shit credit and literally no credit cards. Just an automatic debit from my debit/credit card each month.
Needless to say, this is an absolute godsend for any poor or near-poor musician (like me). Sure, pros can use their $25,000 credit cards to get all the gear they want from Sweetwater or something… and pay off their credit card balance in 60 days or less, but a lot of us aren’t pros, nor will we ever be able to get a credit limit that high. But we still love music (and Sweetwater, I still love you… it’s just that the only payment plan you offer is 3-month… even for really expensive gear, which doesn’t help a broke-ass dude like me).
Thank god for AMS and Zzounds, seriously. I cannot thank you guys enough, for helping me get everything I NEED (for teaching, recording AND music-making in general) and everything I WANT (for reviewing/having fun with new toys, etc).
That said…. I was able to get a handful of studio upgrades, since 2017 or so. And the past few months… I’ve gotten bit by the Arturia bug… in a big, big way…. HUGE.
It all started with this device:
32 keys (F to C). Built-in arpeggiator, polyphonic step sequencer (store up to 8 sequences in the keyboard at any time– back them up, switch them out, etc)… change the sync (1/4th, 1/8th, 16th, 32nd, and triplets) standard 5-pin MIDI in and out ports. Internal clock, or sync it up with other stuff. Control oldschool (and newschool) hardware synthesizers. Touch strips. Change MIDI channel quickly and easily. $119. If I had one “meh” thing to say about it, it might be that the key travel feels a little cheap. Minor complaint, all things considered. Biggest selling point for me: a tiny midi controller with STANDARD MIDI PORTS for the love of god…. (perfect match for the Roland Boutique series, and any of the Eurorack synth stuff). THANK YOU, ARTURIA.
So I was having a ton of fun with Keystep for a while… messing around with my Nord Stage 3’s “A and B” synth panels and the Nord’s effects section…… making random synth jams…. then I connected it to my computer and was controlling virtual instruments with it… keeping it in sync with Reaper, or just playing it freely with the internal clock… and then I was like, ok. This is dope. Then I discovered Beatstep.
I watched this video, and immediately ordered one of these. Not only is it ridiculously easy and fun, making music just by twisting knobs and pressing a few buttons (I can play keyboards just fine but sometimes you just want to experiment and have FUN without thinking much)… the Beatstep easily allows this. BUT, this thing also is a DOPE generic midi controller (16 pads, 16 endless encoders), and 16 “maps” (midi presets). For only $99? You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re not? Ha.
I found out how customizable this (and ALL Arturia gear) was, by installing Arturia’s MIDI Control Center software. Every device can be customized on-screen, even if you don’t own that device! ATTENTION OTHER MIDI GEAR COMPANIES– TAKE NOTE OF THIS!!!! You just select the gear, and you can see exactly which controls (encoders, knobs, faders, pads, buttons) can be controlled or mapped. Even long-discontinued gear. If I had one complaint it would be that some of Arturia’s BUTTONS aren’t midi-assignable…. such as on the Keylab MK2 or Keylab Essential… they’re exclusive to Mackie Control protocol, usually… or standard DAW functionality. But in general, everything is customizable…. and you can quickly CHANGE the “maps” (presets or banks) and have all the knobs/encoders/faders and pads assigned to something else… with the very quick hit of a pad, a turn of a big clickable encoder. Disgustingly awesome.
Arturia BEATSTEP PRO
edit: I wrote this post half-asleep last night… and forgot to include the Beatstep Pro! I loved the Beatstep when I got it, and then I had to put a Beatstep Pro on a 12-month payment plan, too.
The Beatstep Pro is a 3-part step sequencer (two monophonic melodic sequencers, and a polyphonic drum sequencer, or polyphonic synth sequencer, if you wish to use it that way). 16 patterns per part. It has a randomness and probability knobs which are ridiculously fun to use (and work great), a swing knob, 64 steps instead of the Beatstep’s 16… transport and preset links… several LCD displays showing you the pattern you’re on or the note you’re assigning… or, tempo… and, of course, like all Arturia gear, you can use it as a standard midi controller and assign those 16 encoders to whatever you want (such as reverb or delay sends), as well as the 16 step buttons (immensely useful, at least for me) AND the 16 pads can all do something random, or just be used as drum pads for your favorite drum plugin. And you can easily switch between generic midi mode (aka “Control Mode”) and the Step Sequencer (regular mode) at the push of a button. This is how everything should always be. This easy, and this fun. Plus, this thing is HEAVY. Like the Beatstep, too. Metal base and solid construction, overall. When you beat the crap out of the pads, this thing will not move a millimeter on your desk. Neither will the Beatstep. They just feel good.
helpful tip: I picked up one of those magnetic breakaway USB micro cables, as I read the Beatstep Pro’s USB port can die on people if not used with caution, so people recommended the magnetic dongle thing which keeps the port safe with the magnetic connection.
I got a 3-pack of these “NetDot” cables for $15:
Arturia Keylab Essential 49 or 61
Ok, now we’re getting serious. This is a $199 / $249 midi keyboard controller (49-key cheaper obviously)… with insane customization options. “Daw Mode”, “User Mode” (6 total User Presets or Maps), and… the best part…. 5,000 presets with their Analog Lab 3 software. Five thousand. Basically all of the sounds are fantastic. Browse them easily with “Analog Lab Mode”… and then tweak the sounds with the encoders and faders. All at the push of a button or turn of a knob. Disgusting. I bought a white AND black Keylab Essential 49. I couldn’t resist. I got the white one brand new, and the black one used in mint condition for half price ($100).
Minor gripe- the keys feel a LITTLE cheap… but… considering how amazing this thing is, and how perfectly you can customize it…. not a big deal, at all. Did I mention the 5,000 presets from their critically-acclaimed V-Collection software?
I love the Essential series, but… this beast….
Arturia Keylab MK2
I’m a huge fan of Sanjay’s YouTube videos, as he makes electronic/chillout music very similar to me (which I will eventually release), and he’s a very likable youtube personality. After watching this video, I was like… “Do I NEED another Keylab? Do I need this top-of-the-line Arturia controller?” I thought about it for a long, long time. And then I pulled the plug. Just watch the video, and be convinced, like I was.
What I love: 16 pads in the top left corner (brilliant) and much-needed. Chord Memory, Chord Mode, Daw Mode and Control (not just transport but tons more), 3 banks of 9 encoders/9 faders/9 buttons (multiplied by 10 User Presets or Maps)…. much-better feeling keys (similar to the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-series)… standard MIDI ports, and CV outputs for hardware synths. OH, and FIVE footswitch inputs… sustain, expression, and 3 extras to be whatever you want. Ridiculous. And, you get the FULL Analog Lab 3 software… with 6,500 presets.
So yeah, I picked up the Keylab MK2 49, in white. And it’s only costing me $37.50 a month for a year. Not bad. I spend over $100 a week in groceries and fresh food. To me, this is a fucking bargain. This is probably my all-time favorite MIDI controller keyboard. Period.
Just like Sanjay C said in the video above… the only thing missing from this damn board is a built-in step sequencer and/or arpeggiator. People are excited for the possibility of a Keystep Pro, which might be a Keylab MK2 on steroids… time will tell.
And lastly… this perfect little guy:
Arturia Minilab MKII
Basically a Beatstep with 25 mini-keys. 8 pads (two banks). Touch strips. This is insanely out of stock at the moment (won’t be in stock anywhere at least until late April, or mid-May)… but gottDAMN… this could be the ultimate mini midi controller. The far left encoders in each row are clickable. 7 User Presets (aka Maps), and of course, Analog Lab Mode. The Minilab MK2 comes with a very stripped-down version of Analog Lab called Analog Lab Lite, and only includes 500 presets. But still, some excellent sounds in those 500 presets. Sustain pedal jack (much-appreciated). Fully customizable MIDI, of course… as seen in the video above, the guy’s got it brilliantly controlling Ableton, to do whatever he wants. Fantastic.
I luckily found a white one on ebay recently, for cheap, and the more rare black version is coming soon.
Random thought– I haven’t been this inspired in a long time. Something about Arturia’s hardware and especially their sounds, that just invites inspiration and joy. I just love you, Arturia. You are all geniuses. Thank you for including what people WANT and NEED, midi-wise. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I’m officially an Arturia Fanboy.
And I never thought I would be one. I’ve always written Arturia off… “eh… white keyboards? I’ll pass.” Nope. They’re basically doing everything right, with all of their current (2019) product line.
Even though I don’t (yet) have a Spark LE (aka “Sparkle”), I’ve got my eye on THAT, too….
Check out this absolutely immersive ambient performance, with Beatstep Pro and Keystep, and tons of Korg Volcas… and… yeah. NO. COMPUTER. AT. ALL. These two guys are my favorite synth people on YouTube right now. Headphones. Headphones. And watch/listen, and LOVE.
The brilliance of Beatstep, demonstrated by my man, SaintJoe at SoundsAndGear.com, and MaschineTutorials.com:
I LOVE the original Beatstep. Perfect, tiny controller. Ugh. Arturia. “Your Experience. Your Sound”. Indeed.
I could write 50 more paragraphs about Arturia. But, I’ll stop here.
Arturia, if you guys ever find this article, please, feel free to let me test/review your new products… maybe that Keystep Pro, if and when? 🙂