Although Arturia doesn’t have as long of a history as the good old Akai and M-Audio, its MIDI controllers, such as Keystep, have been getting more and more popular in the music community. Only recently Arturia got into the hardware sequencer market when they introduced Beatstep, followed by Beatstep Pro. The products have taken the hearts of many producers due to their simplistic and compact design and a lot of neat features that other manufacturers have overlooked.
Coming with one of the best features of both MIDI control and sequencing and a good dose of CV/Gate outputs, Keystep MIDI keyboard is an excellent addition to your studio that combines the features of a Eurorack system and a compact MIDI controller. While truly fascinating MIDI devices with a ton of drum pads, knobs, and encoders, they didn’t cover every aspect of step sequencing.
And that’s when the Arturia Keystep was released…
Arturia Keystep (32-key MIDI Controller)
This bad boy is nothing short of a charming, with all its design features such as polyphonic sequencing, aggregation, and chord memory. Keystep is famous not only for its sequencing capabilities, but also MIDI, USB, and CV support – the features only a handful of controllers out there offer. While the MIDI keyboard is not as innovative as its siblings (which were a huge hit), it still has a good number of interesting and even unique attributes – let’s look over them now! (Keystep overview at the bottom of the page)
- Fantastic keybed, especially considering its size
- Weighted keys
- Built-in sequencer / arpeggiator
- Easy to use
- CV support
- Works without a computer
- Quality-built, compact design
- Great application support (MIDI Control Center)
- Key may be too small for some
- Doesn’t have any drum pads
So what’s Arturia Keystep is? It’s a compact 32-key MIDI controller that weighs only 3 pounds. The device is quite robust – with a hard type plastic upper and metal bottom casings. The keys inspire confidence and feel quite sturdy, but not clunky at all – you can tell the quality is top-notch. Both buttons and knobs feel solid, with former made of quality rubber and the latter coming with a sweet rubberized finish.
I’ve never used the Kensington lock port that Arturia Keystep Is equipped with, but it’s a nice feature to secure the device if needed. Similar to many other MIDI controllers, it lacks the on/off switch, which would be handy, especially if the keyboard is plugged into your computer all the time. Overall, Keystep is a lovely unit that’s polished and well-built. More importantly, it’s compact and durable, which ensures the device survives many gigs in its lifetime.
Arturia Keystep comes with 32 velocity sensitive keys with mechanical springs (famous Arturia’s “slimkey” keybed). The key size is somewhat unique, as they are neither full-sized nor mini. In fact, the closest approximation is probably Arturia Microbrute synth, but there are still differences. Our Keystep comes with longer and wider keys that are full-weighted, while the Microbrute’s keys are semi-weighted and are slightly smaller.
While I prefer larger keys, which are easier to use if you have large fingers, but you get used to them in no time, especially if you only play simple melodies and chord progressions. In terms of action and feel, the keybed is surprisingly good for a small controller in the price range, probably one of the best. Key response is straight-up impressive, and nothing feels neither too stiff nor too loose. Velocity and aftertouch are also on point.
While their resolution isn’t the greatest, it’s a good fit for most seasoned music producers out there. The only time when you should doubt Arturia Keystep 32 is if you are a serious keyboard enthusiast who needs a bigger keyboard with all the octaves available. Switching between the octaves back and worth is easy but can become annoying if you are used to playing more complex melodies. No matter what your setup looks like, Keystep will be a great addition to it, even as an accessory that’s compact and portable to be carried around easily.
Transport Controls / Tap Tempo / Synchronization
Keystep comes with a transport section with the record, play / pause, and stop buttons (a pretty basic setup). Next to it, you’ll see a tap tempo button and BPM knob, which come in handy, especially if you are a DJ or a beatmaker.
Also, Keystep can send/receive clocks through various inputs – MIDI, USB, and analog – and the sync source is determined by two switches on the back of the unit. This means the MIDI controller doesn’t only rely on a computer, and you can change your settings on the go. The only issue here is the size of the opening, which is tiny.
Besides the above-mentioned MIDI and USB clocks, our Arturia Keystep can also work with many analog sync formats. For instance, 1 pulse for Korg MIDI controllers, and 1 step for gate or clock. You can set the analog sync to start from either clock or gate, which is a nice perk. Lastly, transport buttons can send MIDI CC – a gem of a feature if you know what you are doing.
Hold and Shift
“Hold” function keeps notes pressed on the arpeggiator, so they can be entered while running. Alternatively, “Hold” can be used as a sustain pedal. “Shift” function lets the keyboard access the MIDI channel selection, gate time, and swing for arpeggiator, so you can skip the knobs positions and move to the desired position – quite a smart move by the MIDI controller developers.
For those who don’t know, the arpeggiator is a basic real-time sequencer that turns a chord into an arpeggio. It’s an incredible function to come up with interesting melodies that sound unique and pleasing to the ear. Alright, let’s talk about the arpeggiator that Arturia Keystep comes with.
First of all, it’s not complex, with up to 32 notes, 8 play notes, and 8 time divisions from ¼ notes to 32T. It includes all the standard modes, such as up / down / order / random, and some cool ones like include / exclude modes. Gate values available are 10, 25, 50, 70, and 90%, with the swing going up or down by 2-3% increments from 53 to 75%. It’s a handy feature for EDM musicians and great for Eurorack users who want to save a few HP and use a standalone modular synthesizer loaded in Arturia Keystep.
The sequencer in Arturia Keystep is polyphonic with up to 64 steps, 8 notes of polyphone, variable swing, and gate. You can store up to 8 various sequences, which can be recorded in real time. Alternatively, notes can be placed individually while the sequencer isn’t operating. Sequences can either be altered immediately or after the current sequence is over, so everything can be kept in sync. Unfortunately, the visual reference is lacking, so sequencing can get a little harder for some producers.
“Chord Play” mode lets you assign a chord to a single key. That’s a lovely perk for EDM producers who rarely use complex or numerous chords. While it’s not the most flexible tool, as you can only use one chord at a time, it’s still a nice feature that can be used for simple hip hop and trap beats where the emphasis is put on the drums rather than on the melody.
Pitch / Modulation Strips
Once again, you can only expect so much from a tiny unit Arturia Keystep is – you have to fit a lot of stuff in a small body of the device. While that reflects the resolution quality, the strip’s sensitivity is quite good. It’s also a nice add-on if you have a modular synth, but that’s a topic for another article.
With Keystep, connectivity is the last thing you should worry about. While most MIDI controllers out there only come with USB connections (MIDI input / output), our bad boy also has 2 jacks for analog clock send / receive, and 3 CV outputs (for the gate, pitch, and modulation strip). If you prefer using a sustain pedal when playing the keyboard, you can connect one using a ¼ in jack.
MIDI Control Center (Application)
Lately, Arturia has combined its software for MIDI controllers and synths into one – MIDI Control Center app, that only displays settings for the hardware units you are using. That’s a smart move by Arturia (one of many) to keep everything in one place. With the MIDI Control Center app, you can also install firmware updates without any hassle once released.
Keystep settings in the application are pretty straightforward, but with a few tweaks here and there. You can control tons of things, such as MIDI thru and MIDI output options, 3 velocity curves, CV and gate outputs, various sync formats (as mentioned above), pattern editor, and more. It can even get overwhelming if you don’t have much experience.
I suggest taking a few minutes to understand each parameter and how it affects the soundwave – then you’ll be all set. A few hours will get the fundamentals set, and you can build upon them later. Overall, the MIDI Control Center is a smart solution to put all Arturia devices in one place that adds more depth to our compact MIDI controller.
As you may have noticed already, the price tag is rather low for such a powerhouse. Well, the thing is – it’s a bare-bones package with only a micro USB cable included to connect the controller to your computer for music production. If you want more accessories, you’ll have to purchase them separately, but the basic package is more than enough to start all the ins-and-outs of Arturia Keystep.
That’s a lot to comprehend, so I’ll summarize the main key features and points that you should keep in mind when shopping for a MIDI keyboard, let’s take a look.
Keystep is a well-made piece of gear, that feels solid. The best thing about using it is the feeling that the MIDI controller is going to last. It comes with a ton of features you wouldn’t expect at this price range. The keybed is top-notch, the weighted keys aren’t common in small MIDI keyboards, and that’s a huge plus. While a few switches may seem fragile at times, every element is sturdy and future-proof, for a few years at least.
Keystep is a powerhouse when it comes to features, especially in the price range. It’s clearly more appealing for the modular crowd, but synth lovers will find it appealing too. Of course, the keys take the majority of the unit, and Arturia managed to also fit an aggregator and step sequencer into such a small body of the keyboard. That’s a whole lot for the price you are paying, and Keystep will be a great addition to anyone’s studio setup.
Ease Of Use
The unit doesn’t have an overwhelming amount of settings, which is a good thing. It’ll take some time to get the hang of the aggregator and sequencer, but everything else in the setup is straightforward. Keystep is bus-powered, which makes production on the go pretty incredibly easy. Another cool feature is the 9V power adapter option which lets you use the device without having a computer handy. In order to do that, you’ll have to purchase a power adapter, so keep that in mind.
Keystep uses a micro USB port like a lot of other electronic devices, so it’s the most hassle-free process to power the unit up, as you can find them at any gas station if you want. Lastly, it’s a perfect fit for smaller studio setups or traveling, being incredibly compact and light – you can even carry it around in your backpack.
Bang For The Buck
What can I say here – Arturia Keystep is one of the best bangs for the buck if you are looking for a portable 32-key MIDI controller. It’s especially appealing if you are a part of the synth enthusiasts’ community, due to its CV connectivity. Keystep has a hard time competing with similar MIDI controllers like Akai MPK Mini MK2, Nektar Impact 25+, and others. In fact, the market for small USB MIDI keyboards is one of the most populated ones, due to the demand. However, it has a handful of features that make it stand out among others.
The MIDI device is recommended for EDM and other electronic music producers. Keystep is also suitable for those with little desk space who try to get the most out of it. Lastly, it’s a must-have for Eurorack users.
Best MIDI Keyboards For Beginners
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Last update on 2020-01-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API