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Arturia KeyLab Essential: The Best MIDI Keyboard for $250?

No matter how small your studio may be, a MIDI keyboard or controller is arguably the most important part of the modern day electronic music producers arsenal. From the Ableton Push to the Seaboard Rise, there are a ton of options available to choose from- ranging from as low as fifty bucks to thousands. But is it really worth it to shell out the extra cash for a Seaboard or Push?

We’ve been asking ourselves this for years now, spending hours testing and using products like the Push, Keystep, QuNeo, and Seaboard. From our extensive testing, one keyboard rises to the top with valuable included software, ease-of-use, and build quality.

Arturia’s KeyLab Essential boasts MIDI ports, USB connectivity, 8 touch-sensitive pads, quality keyboard-style keys with a pleasant action, and comprehensive control of most DAWs and arguably most importantly, Analog Lab. Analog Lab gives you instant access to over 6500 of the best designer sounds from the 21 authentic legendary keyboards in their fantastic V Collection which we’ve reviewed twice we like it so much!

The KeyLab essential also comes in a black color scheme if that matches your studio or gear collection, perfect for tech house producers! (cred: Arturia.com)

In addition to the previously mentioned things, KeyLab Essential is also bundled with Ableton Live Lite and UVI Grand Piano, a fantastic digital instrument version of the legendary Steinway Model D grand piano.

Let’s get down to it: KeyLab has better keys than any other keyboard at this price point. Novation? Yes. Akai? Yes. Native Instruments? No, however you have to buy two controllers from NI to have pad and keyboard capability. As long as you’re not trying to play classical piano, the KeyLab is more than enough. The pads are also much more robust and work excellently for both drumming and sending MIDI messages. The layout is incredibly easy to use and program as you like, and the new placements of the mod and pitch wheels are comfortable.

The KeyLab Essential has tons more features that we haven’t mentioned- check those out on the Arturia website! A 61-key option is also available for $299.

What’s your go-to MIDI controller in the studio? Let us know in the comments below.