Arturia KeyStep Review – Compact MIDI Keyboard Controller & Sequencer

Arturia KeyStep is another interesting device presented by Arturia at the annual NAMM Show 2016 in Anaheim. A novelty is a portable USB MIDI controller with built-in hardware sequencer and arpeggiator to control analog synths Arturia. For this KeyStep provides several connectivity options, along with traditional USB and MIDI ports, the device has CV outputs and many other great features. So let’s look at this controller in more detailed way, starting from specs as usual.

Specifications

  • Self-designed keyboard of Arturia company, which has sensitive to velocity 32 slim-keys with “aftertouch” feature;
  • Pitch Bend and Modulation touch strips;
  • Tap Tempo & Transport buttons, Hold & Shift buttons (you’ll find detailed features of each button in this review);
  • 2 switching octave buttons;
  • Built-in 64-step 8-note polyphonic sequencer;
  • Arpeggiator with 8 modes and chords playback mode;
  • The ability to control any digital or analog synthesizer;
  • Set of connectivity options: CV Outputs (Mode / Gate / Pitch), micro-USB port, MIDI Input and MIDI Output on 5-pin DIN connector, I/O Sync ports and a jack for sustain pedal;
  • Powered via USB Cable or optional 9V 0.5A external power adapter. It is also possible to connect and power via iPad (Camera Connection Kit required);
  • Package bundle includes: Arturia KeyStep hardware, USB Cable, MIDI Control Center software, User Guide and Manual;
  • Compatible with Mac, Windows and iOS devices (iPad);
  • Dimensions: [W] 48 x [D] 15 x [H] 2.5 cm  (19 x 6 x 1.5 inches);
  • Weight: 1.36kg (3 pounds);

Overall Build, Features and Design of Arturia KeyStep

To create different melodic sequences, the device is equipped with a 32 key keyboard. The controller uses a miniature Slimkey keyboard, equipped with a synth mechanics, with sensitivity to velocity and aftertouch function.

Among the available controllers by Arturia, such device as KeyStep was really needed. Similar in concept with BeatStep and BeatStepPro do not have music keys on a board and they are equipped with only pads, thus they are designed primarily for a creation of rhythmic patterns. In contrast, a new controller Arturia KeyStep is equipped with almost a three-octave keyboard and polyphonic sequencer, which you can use to create full chord progressions, not to mention simple melodies or arpeggios.

It is important that the Arturia KeyStep controller conveniently manages not only hardware synthesizers, but works fine with a computer as a traditional USB MIDI keyboard. Connected to a computer, the controller is seen in the system as a USB compatible device that does not require an installation of special drivers. The versatility of the device also gives an opportunity to work with branded mobile apps Arturia iMini, iSem and iProphet for iPad. In this case, the connection of Arturia KeyStep is via an adapter camera connection kit.

While working with a computer, the power supply is taken from USB bus. During offline use of the controller, it requires a connection to the 9V power adapter, which is not included in the kit. However, you can use any standard USB charger for charging tablet or mobile phone.

Traditionally, the device has a firm plastic case with a metal plate in the base. Despite the relatively low cost of the controller looks very reliable. In this respect, KeyStep does not differ from the previous devices of the manufacturer and should last a long time. As an optional accessory for every keyboard controller which has sustain input, we recommend to buy M-Audio SP2 Universal sustain pedal. This pedal is best seller on amazon and has tones of positive reviews, which indicates the quality of product. Another useful accessory will be 9V 0.5A power adapter, in case if you do not want to connect KeyStep to your Laptop or PC via USB cable.

Arturia KeyStep

All connectors are located on the back side of the device. Here are the CV outputs MOD, GATE and PITCH for analog control of hardware synthesizers and their synchronization. As expected there are several modes of synchronization, a switching of which is implemented in hardware, with a combination of the provisions of the tumblers.

It is worth noting the use of the full MIDI connectors that do not require additional adapters. It is also important that you can connect a sustain pedal to the controller, to which you can always assign additional control functions.

Arturia KeyStep is equipped with a hardware sequencer and arpeggiator. The sequencer allows to create eight different sequences consisting of 64 beats. In its turn, the arpeggiator generates eight different arpeggiated patterns of notes of executable chord. A switch between these basic modes is made by Seq / Arp tumbler. Depending on a selected mode, the controllers manage different settings. In Seq mode, the controller selects one of the eight sequences; in Arp mode, matching pattern of arpeggiator. The Time Div controller chooses a rhythmic structure of the sequence or arpeggiator relative to overall tempo.

Arturia KeyStep

With the Rate controller, you can set the overall pace in the range of 30-240 beats per minute. As the regulator has a fixed far position, there are two options of operation. Either immediately at the slightest movement (Jump mode), or only after the passage of the current position (Pick-up mode). It is also possible to quickly set a playback speed using the TAP key.

The buttons of transport panel are used to start the sequencer and arpeggiator, as well as additional editing functions. For convenience of control, the buttons are equipped with a bright backlight. Working with software, you can assign the controllers any commands of sequencer.

The Hold button facilitates the performance of complex chords in the arpeggiator mode. With its help, you can add up to 32 notes in the current chord without holding the keys pressed.

We should also highlight a curious Chord mode, activated by holding Shift and Hold buttons. In this mode, there is a possibility to remember a certain chord and in the future to play it by pressing only one key. This chord may consist of 16 sounds and it will automatically transpose from any pressed key. Memorizing the chords is through holding the Hold button, but you can also assign this function to a sustain pedal to free both hands for performing.

It should also be said about the resulting offset settings Swing. In sound sequences or arpeggios, a beginning of a weak portion of relatively to strong one would be moving. With controller, it is available to choose only nine fixed values (Off, 53%, 55%, 57%, 59%, 61%, 64%, 67%, 73% and 75%); with utility of MIDI Control Center, you can specify any other. It is similarly set a duration of Gate times. Here are 5 presets (10%, 25%, 50%, 75%, and 90%).

We should also note a convenient editing of all sequences of the controller in the MIDI Control Center software. Recall you, this is a universal utility for all devices Arturia, which allow you to configure the device to suit your needs by reassigning all of the available controllers.

When MIDI Control Center cooperates with Arturia KeyStep, there comes something interesting. All sequences in the memory of the controller become available for editing in a graphical interface with a familiar timeline and pianoroll. It looks unexpectedly and very handy! In addition to the convenient and clear editing, the software allows you to create and store an unlimited number of projects and instantly download any of them in the device memory.

In Conclusion

Once again Arturia have created a wonderful device with unique features that will be appreciated by the musicians actively using various MIDI modules and analog synths. KeyStep fits perfectly into the overall concept of the Arturia devices with hardware control and perfectly complements the series of compact and affordable controllers. Of course, the main purpose of the Arturia KeyStep controller is the use with external synthesizers with a built-in sequencer and arpeggiator. Meanwhile, the device can be easily used as a full MIDI keyboard. The built-in hardware features do not have much effect on total cost of the device.

Pros

  • 32 dynamic slim-keys with aftertouch effect provide realistic feeling when you play and compose your stuff.
  • “Chord Play” mode, which allows to take chords and play them across the keyboard (good and rare feature for keyboard controllers).
  • The ability to manage any synthesizer via MIDI or CV.
  • The ability to connect Arturia KeyStep to the iPad via Camera Connection Kit adapter and use as midi keyboard controller in iOS apps.
  • Built-in 64-step polyphonic sequencer and arpeggiator with eight modes.
  • Mnimalistic and compact design of housing.

Cons

  • No Cons. The only thing that we would like to add in this device – are “pads or some rotary knobs”, to extend functionality of this controller.
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Global Arturia KeyStep Rating
  • Overall Build and Features - 9/10
    9/10
  • Versatility - 9.3/10
    9.3/10
  • Design - 8.4/10
    8.4/10
  • Value - 9/10
    9/10
  • Ease of Use - 7.7/10
    7.7/10
8.7/10