Look, there’s no shortage of affordable MIDI controllers out there. And if you stick to the big brands, it’s kinda hard to go wrong. Arturia itself even has multiple budget offerings that are all pretty solid in their own right. One of its most popular, the MiniLab is getting a pretty major update that includes changes to the controls, an arpeggiator, and the addition of a MIDI port – and full-sized one at that.
The MiniLab 3 doesn’t look terribly different from its MKII predecessor. Its corners are slightly more rounded and it ditched eight of its 16 encoders for four sliders. But otherwise, it keeps the same general setup. You still get 25 velocity sensitive keys, eight velocity sensitive RGB pads, as well as mod and pitch touch strips above the keyboard. And there’s still faux wood panels on the side that give it a little bit of a unique flair.
The hardware itself is what you’d expect for $109. It’s plasticky, but not cheap feeling. The knobs and sliders have a decent amount of resistance and the keybed is slightly springy. All of this is basically par for the course, and other similarly priced controllers have their own pros and cons. The pads and keys on the MiniLab are better than the LaunchKey Mini MK3, but its arpeggiator isn’t as unique and its integration with Ableton Live isn’t as tight. While the Akai MPK Mini MK3 has far and away the best pads of the bunch, its keybed is nothing to write home about and its integration with DAWs is extremely basic.
The integration with DAWs has been improved on the MiniLab 3, though. Arturia has put additional effort into improving this over the last couple of years and we’re starting to see some of the fruits of that labor. The available controls have been greatly expanded for many apps with scripts that are customized for specific DAWs like Ableton Live or FL Studio.
The arpeggiator is pretty solid. I don’t think it’s quite as interesting as the one on the LaunchKey Mini MK3, but it’s hardly barebones. It has six different playback modes, swing and gate controls, as well as your standard octave and time division options. There’s also a chord mode that lets you play full rich chords with a single finger.
If you’re tight on space and don’t plan to drag your controller out and about with you, the MiniLab 3 is an excellent option. While Arturia calls it portable, it’s just big enough to be a little unwieldy in a bag. And I have some concerns about how those faders would hold up getting jostled around with other stuff. If portability is your primary concern either Novation’s LaunchKey Mini or Arturia’s MicroLab are probably better bets. But if you just want the most controls in the smallest amount of space while also getting solid software integration – especially with Arturia’s Analog Lab – then the MiniLab is the way to go.