Review: Arturia Minilab Mk II

A leader among the pack of low-cost MIDI controllers
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When it was first introduced in 2013, Arturia’s MiniLab made quite a splash, thanks to its solid construction, great feeling drum pads, and generous complement of knobs. The company’s latest release, the MiniLab Mk II retains those features, but improves on them in subtle yet important ways, making the update worthy of a closer look.

For starters, the controller is a tad more compact, due to Arturia’s repositioning of the mod and pitch-bend touch-strips to the upper panel of the keyboard. Whereas some traditionalists may prefer their original location on the left, I didn’t have a problem with the new position, and the improved footprint is a space saver for those who like to keep their rig small enough to fit into a backpack. It’s also worth mentioning that the unit’s metal chassis inspires confidence, though it is heavier than a plastic-cased controller.

Where the Action Is

The keyboard action is another standout. As a reviewer, I’ve played more than my share of portable controllers, and the MiniLab Mk II’s mini keyboard feels better than most of its competitors. I was immediately impressed by the action, as well as the velocity behavior, especially in conjunction with the included UVI Model D Grand Piano. There is even a footswitch jack for adding a sustain pedal.

While many portable controllers offer eight rotary controls, Arturia ups that count to 16 and has made two of them clickable, which is nice for toggling synth parameters. This is particularly evident when using the MiniLab Mk II in conjunction with the bundled Analog Lab suite of vintage synths. Granted, it’s the lite version, but even the slimmed down selection of patches hits all of the sweet spots. It includes intelligent macros for customizing your patches, and it sounds wonderful thanks to its basis in Arturia’s topnotch V Collection.

The eight drum pads have a great feel and serve a few purposes beyond simple velocity control of drums and percussion. When the Shift button is held down, the pads serve as preset selectors for the MiniLab Mk II. Additionally, the pads integrate tightly with the Analog Lab software. Here, a selector switch labeled 1-8/9-16 alternates the function of the pads between MIDI notes and additional macros that control the software in specific ways. For example, when 9-16 is active, you can advance through presets, clear the preset search filters, or switch the behavior of the encoders.

In addition to the Analog Lab integration, the pads also work well with the included lite version of Ableton Live, allowing you to launch clips and scenes. In practice, these pads offer a surprisingly intuitive way to access the controller’s various features and are quite handy for live performance.

Table That

While the portable controller market is incredibly competitive, Arturia’s MiniLab Mk II offers a wealth of compelling features at a very affordable price. The mini keyboard feels great, it is covered in knobs, and the pads do more than just trigger drums in a colorful fashion. It also comes with a truly useful selection of bundled software that includes Arturia’s impressive Analog Lab Lite, which integrates beautifully with the Mk II’s array of control options. UVI’s Model D Grand Piano is no slouch either.

All in all, if you’re looking for a versatile controller for your home studio that won’t break the bank and fits nicely into a gig bag, the MiniLab Mk II truly stands out from the pack.

Snap Judgment

Pros Enhanced portability. 16 rotary controllers, including two clickable pots. Eight velocity-sensitive drum pads (with RGB lighting) double as integrated controls for the bundled software. Roadworthy construction. Includes Analog Lab Lite, UVI Grand Piano, and Ableton Live Lite.
Cons Touch strip controllers may not suit some players.

Bottom Line

A leader among the pack of lowcost MIDI controllers.