Arturia MiniLab 3 review: Compact controller for your entire studio
With its combo of keyboard, pads and controllers, Arturia’s MiniLab 3 packs a lot of pro studio control options into a small and stylish package.
⊕ Responsive, robust keys and pads
⊕ Custom pad backlighting
⊕ Quality rotaries and faders
⊕ Tight integration with Analog Lab and supported DAWs
⊕ Excellent value
⊖ No configuration app for iOS, iPadOS or Android
Like its predecessors, the MiniLab 3 combines a two-octave, velocity-sensitive, slim-key keyboard with a set of eight backlit pad triggers and a bank of assignable parameter controllers. In this latest iteration, those controllers consist of eight rotary controls, two touch-sensitive strips (ostensibly for pitch bend and modulation), and four faders. There’s also an additional rotary encoder whose primary purpose is interacting with the new mini high-res display but that can also operate as a generic controller if desired.
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All the rotaries are continuous encoders, which is impressive given the MiniLab 3’s price. The benefits these bring, however – that is, no parameter jumps when the control position does not match the value of the parameter being controlled – are only available when the hardware is closely tied to the software it’s controlling.
For example, when using the MiniLab 3 with Arturia’s Analog Lab software – MiniLab 3 comes with Analog Lab’s Intro edition – tight integration between hardware and software ensures seamless, out-of-the-box, parameter-jump-free control over the loaded synth or preset, as well as the ability to browse and load presets directly on the MiniLab’s display.
The MiniLab 3 can also integrate tightly with many DAWs thanks to custom scripts that link software and hardware. At the time of writing, Arturia provides integration scripts for Ableton Live, Bitwig Studio, Logic Pro, FL Studio and Reason, and will add scripts for other DAWs in the future. Even in the absence of such a script, the MiniLab can use the MCU (Mackie Control Universal) protocol to control your DAW’s transport, while custom controller mappings will allow it to control your DAW’s plugins and instruments.
Such custom templates are created and transferred to the hardware – which can store five of them – using the included MIDI Control Center software. This also allows access to the hardware’s global settings, some of which – such as low-power mode – are essential if you’re using the MiniLab with a phone or tablet. However, the software is only available for Windows and macOS, so you’ll still need a laptop/desktop with which to configure the hardware no matter what type of device you plan to use it with.
It’s when operating as a generic controller, without tight integration, that the risk of parameter jumps returns. This is unavoidable though: one-way MIDI-style comms leaves the hardware with no way of knowing if and when a controlled parameter is changed in software.
As a nice extra, the MiniLab 3 has a built-in arpeggiator that offers the usual patterns (up, down, up and down, random, etc), control over tempo, timing and note-gate length, and a three-octave range.
The MiniLab 3 comes with a solid selection of software to get you going out of the box. Alongside Analog Lab Intro, there’s Ableton Live Lite, UVI’s gorgeous Model D German Concert Grand piano, NI’s The Gentleman upright piano, a two-month subscription to Loopcloud, and a subscription to the Melodics keyboard training app.
This compact controller looks smart and feels robust – the keys, pads and controls all exude quality. The hardware is at its best when operating in tandem with Analog Lab, and works well with fully integrated DAWs. Used with other DAWs or as a generic controller, the MiniLab 3 is as capable as similar-spec controllers but boasts a better build quality than many of them.
- Two-octave velocity-sensitive slim-key keyboard
- Nine continuous rotary encoders
- Four fader controllers
- Two touch-sensitive strips
- Hi-res display
- USB-C, MIDI-out and footswitch/foot pedal connectors
- DAW control mode and MCU support
- Custom controller mappings
- Full suite of software
- Contact Arturia
- Buy: Gear4music, Andertons
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