The Arturia MiniLab 3 is a compact, super-affordable yet well-designed controller that has already become an integral part of my music production and performance setup.
I especially appreciated its tight integration with the main DAWs, Analog Lab, the hands-on controls and the MIDI DIN port. Also, the recent 1.1.1 firmware update added a number of welcome improvements and features.
Unbeatable price point
Great software bundle
MIDI DIN port
Integration with Analog Lab and DAWs
UPDATED REVIEW 04/22/2023: the review has been updated after Arturia released the 1.1.1 firmware.
As a music producer and tech journalist, finding space-saving yet efficient items is always a priority. I was excited to get my hands on the Arturia MiniLab 3 controller keyboard (available in white and black) and see how it would fit my workflow. After spending some time with the unit, I have to say that I’m quite impressed with what it has to offer, especially considering its quality/price ratio (€/$99? I mean, come on). Also, Arturia has just released a free 1.1.1 firwmare update that brings more features, even better integration, and smarter functionality. You’ll find more about this below.
2-octave velocity-sensitive slim-key keyboard
9 continuous rotary encoders
4 fader controllers
2 touch-sensitive strips
USB-C, MIDI-out and footswitch/foot pedal connectors
DAW control mode and MCU support Custom controller mappings
Full suite of software:
Software Bundle Highlights
Analog Lab Intro is an easy-to-use plugin featuring 500 presets from Arturia’s V Collection instruments – combining their iconic sound with a simple interface.
This software is a perfect companion for those users who are just taking their first steps into the magic world of synths. The user-friendly interface allows you to start having fun immediately without needing to understand the ins and outs of synthesis (then I’d recommend upgrading to the full Analog Lab version, as it’s onbviously much more fun!).
The knobs, sliders, and functions of each legendary instrument have been distilled into a simple selection of controls that let you tweak quickly, intelligently, and creatively.
The Gentleman is a lovely-sounding piano library by Native Instruments, which I already experienced in my previous NI Komplete bundles. I frequently used it in my previous productions as it sits nicely in the mix. Definitely a nice bonus for MiniLab 3 users! As for Loopcloud (in the bundle you get a free 2-month Artist/Studio plan with 1 GB of sounds), it’s basically a must-have for modern producers, and I recommend checking out our Loopcloud 7 review.
The inclusion of Ableton Live Lite and UVI Grand Piano Model D is also a nice touch, and I found both to be useful additions to most people’s toolkit.
One of the things that immediately stood out to me was the compact yet smart design of the MiniLab 3. It’s small enough to easily throw in a backpack or gig bag, yet it still feels sturdy and well-built (and it looks good on my desk too). The slim keys reminded me of my Keystep, and I found them to be quite playable. The velocity-sensitive pads are also a nice touch. No repeat feature as the one on the AKAI MPK Mini MK3, but I found them to be quite responsive and useful for drum programming and other tasks. They in fact double as buttons (for features such as the arpeggiator, chord mode, DAW mode, program mode, DAW transport).
The arpeggiator has all the basics and then some – 6 different playback modes, swing and gate controls, as well as octave and time division options. It would be cool to see some of Arturia’s “freaky” sequencing features on their simpler controllers as well, but I guess they would rather keep their product lines quite distinct.
Worth knowing: the 1.1.1 firmware update added a very helpful to the arpeggiator mode. Using the new Auto Clock setting, MiniLab 3 will automatically use its internal clock if no DAW clock is detected, so you’re always in time whether an external device is sending a clock or not.
There’s also a Chord mode that lets you play full chords with a single finger (and arpeggiate those notes, combining the Chord and Arpeggiator modes).
Having become a heavy user of the Arturia’s Analog Lab (incredibly convenient when you need to access quality sounds without spending too much time), I’ve appreciated the tight integration between it and MiniLab 3. It was just a matter of setting the inputs in the Analog Lab preferences, and then I was able to browse presets and categories, and control the on-screen macro knobs and faders. A great improvement to my workflow! I just wish the display wasn’t that small, but I can live with it and at this price, I can’t really complain. There’s one that baffles me though: with my computer keyboard I can browse and load Analog Lab’s presets just going up and down with my cursor keys, while with the Minilab 3 I can go through the presets with the knob BUT I need to click on it to actually load one, so there’s an extra step. I’ll ask the Arturia team and report back if I find anything helpful about this.
Talking about software integration, MiniLab 3 also offers a DAW mode (supporting Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Bitwig, Cubase, FL Studio and Reason). Through some freely downloadable scripts, you get seamless control over your DAW of choice. You can tweak settings, create custom mappings, etc. all without ever leaving MiniLab 3’s controls. Just to give you an example, in Ableton Live the MiniLab instantly recognizes all Macro controls on instrument and effect racks, displaying the plugin and the device’s parameter values on the display.
I tested the Minilab 3 integration with the latest version of Logic Pro and I simply love it, to the point I stopped using some other controllers such as the always handy Korg NanoKontrol.
On top of the standard transport functions (including cycle), I can scroll through the tracks with the main black knob, with one click I can open and close the associated virtual instrument, the 8 knobs are already associated with key parameters in several plugins I’ve tried (I can always MIDI learn if needed), and the first fader controls the track volume. Plus holding Shift I can use the main knob to quickly move through the timeline. Brilliant!
FYI: make sure to check the version of your DAW, as these scripts may require the latest version of the software.
In any case, even if you are not running a supported version, you can still use the MiniLab 3 controls through your DAW’s control surface options. For instance, on an older Mac that doesn’t support the required Logic version, I had no problems manually setting up the MiniLab buttons, knobs and faders using the good old MIDI Learn process. Also worth knowing: with the newer 1.1.1 firmware update MiniLab 3 can now use HUI, MCU (or both), and its own scripts.
The only slightly annoying thing about the DAW support is that you need to press the Shift button (every time) in order to be able to play/stop/record/loop your tracks with the pads. I wonder if Arturia will find a workaround for this. I take this back. Arturia must have paid attention to our comment. The latest 1.1.1 firmware has also added a Transport Bank mode, which essentially allows users to lock MiniLab 3’s pads in Shift mode for instant access to transport controls at all times. MUCH better!
Connectivity-wise, I loved finding a classic MIDI Out/Thru plug in the back of the unit. Often these compact controllers offer only USB MIDI, making it impossible to plug them into pre-USB hardware synthesizers.
As with other Arturia devices, the excellent MIDI Control Center software will be your friend to manage the MiniLab 3 settings and options (including sleep mode, knob behaviour – with the newer firmware you can change it from absolute to relative!).
Worth knowing: MiniLab 3 can store up to five User Programs — custom control mappings that you can create in the MIDI Control Center app (i.e. so you can have up to five templates to control different synths, drum machines or effects).
Last but not least, MiniLab 3 is an eco-friendly device. According to Arturia it’s built to last longer, produce less waste, and reduce our carbon footprint for good. MiniLab 3 is made with minimum 50% recycled plastic, brand new fully-recyclable cardboard packaging, and a 5-year warranty.
Overall, I’m very happy with the Arturia MinLab 3 controller keyboard. It’s a versatile and capable tool that has already become an integral part of my music production and performance setup, especially thanks to its tight integration with Analog Lab, the hands-on controls and the MIDI DIN port. If you’re in the market for a compact and portable controller keyboard, I highly recommend giving the MiniLab 3 a closer look. At this price (and with a 5-year warranty), it’s basically a must-have!
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About The Author
Founder & main editor here at ANR, 'non-musician' and music-tinkerer. His first keyboard was a cheesy Yamaha PSS-270. He still loves it.
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