Arturia Microlab by alexe
I've had the Arturia Microlab for about three months now and used it both at home and on the go. I like it so much that I thought it's time for a quick review of its most important features.
Let's start with the most important aspect of a keyboard, the keys. But first, let me get side-tracked on a quick rant (or skip the next paragraph):
It has annoyed me for years that both manufacturers and many music magazines always throw portable controllers and budget controllers in the same bucket. The thinking is that consumers who are looking for smaller keyboard controllers do so either because they are on a budget or because they are "beginners". The consequence is that smaller controllers (anything below 49 keys) usually have terrible keys in order reduce the price. But there are of course reasons other than saving money or being a beginner why you would want a small keyboard controller. Maybe you want to use it on the go to be able to make music wherever you are. Maybe you don't have a lot of space in your home studio and would rather have a small keyboard that can have a permanent spot on your desk rather than a large keyboard that you always have to stow away when you don't need it. If these are your motivations rather than saving money, then chances are you want the best possible keys you can get.
The Microlab really shines in this department, its 25 keys feel really great. Of course they could still be a lot better and I would gladly pay double or triple the price for even better keys, but compared the competition, this is as good as it gets currently. The keys feel relatively high-quality and are great to play. The build quality is also great here, the keys feel sturdy, there are no irregularities and no squeaking when you press them.
The rugged design
Whether or not the Microlab's rugged design appeals to you optically, it is brilliant in practice. The hard rubber shell makes the controller seem quite robust and shock-resistant. I must say "seem" because I haven't actually tried to drop it from larger heights, but this is the kind of controller that feels really good to use anywhere, even if it's outdoors on your lap. The rubber shell also has the very nice effect that the keyboard really sticks on your table top at home, so it doesn't slip while you play.
The integrated USB cable
It's really great that this controller always comes with its cable automatically. While coiled up, the cable is completely hidden in the rubber shell, which is great for portability. The cable really stays tightly where it should and the USB plug attaches with a magnet, really well done! I've read some magazine nag about the cable being a bit cumbersome to stow into its place, which is indeed true, but that's just the price of it sitting really firm and tight once it's coiled up. Minor nag: The plug is USB-A. This isn't the nineties, Arturia! By now you should really be selling USB-C plugs by default.
The size and form factor
The size is really great. The keyboard is just as large as it needs to be to house the 25 keys, with no unnecessary depth or width added by any pads, knobs, faders or displays. This controller is just about the keys, and that's what's so great about it. It fits easily in any backpack. The lack of any knobs and faders also means that no parts stick out and can break off while you transport the keyboard. Granted, there are even smaller 25-key keyboards out there, but this one is higher quality and feels sturdier than the competition.
The touch strips
A quick mention of the touch strips, which, as everything on this controller, feel high-quality. They work really well and register my finger movements accurately, and their surface provides just the right amount of friction for a good feel.
This is a really well-designed piece of hardware and the best 25-key controller I've had so far. Its keys and build quality are great and its small size and robustness make it the ideal keyboard to use on the go, or just if you have little space. I highly recommend it.