Arturia KeyStep – review of portable controller with hardware sequencer and arpeggiator

Arturia KeyStep is another interesting device presented by Arturia at the annual NAMM Show 2016 in Anaheim. Novelty is a portable USB MIDI controller with built-in hardware sequencer and arpeggiator for controlling analog synthesizers Arturia. To do this, KeyStep provides several connection options, along with traditional USB and MIDI ports, the device is equipped with CV outputs.

Arturia KeyStep Video review

To create various melodic sequences, the device is equipped with a 32-key keyboard. The controller uses a miniature Slimkey keyboard, equipped with synthesizer mechanics, with sensitivity to the speed of pressing and the aftertouch function.

Arturia KeyStep – price. Where is the best place to buy?

The Arturia KeyStep recommended retail price in the US is $ 119. At this cost, you can order it on Amazon. I would not recommend ordering anywhere else except on Amazon. Since you are less likely to find cheaper, and if you do not take into account the fact that Amazon is probably the most reliable online store, it still very often provides free shipping.

Arturia KeyStep Among the available controllers of the manufacturer, Arturia, there was a lack of such a device as KeyStep. Similar in concept to BeatStep and BeatStepPro do not have musical keys on board and are equipped with only pads, so they are mainly designed for creating rhythmic drawings. In contrast, the new controller Arturia KeyStep is equipped with almost a keyboard for 3 octaves and a polyphonic sequencer, with which you can create full chord progressions, not to mention simple melodies or arpeggios.
It is important that the KeyStep controller conveniently manages not only hardware synthesizers, but also works perfectly with the computer as a traditional USB MIDI keyboard. When connected to a computer, the controller in the system is recognized as a USB compatible device that does not require the installation of special drivers. The versatility of the device also gives the opportunity to work with the branded mobile applications Arturia iMini, iSem and iProphet on the iPad. In this case, the KeyStep connection is made via the camera connection kit.
When working with a computer, the device is powered by a USB bus. If the controller is used autonomously, a 9V power adapter is required, which is not included. However, you can use any standard USB device to charge the tablet or mobile phone.
Traditionally, the Arturia has a solid plastic case with a metal plate in the base. Despite the fairly low cost controller feels very reliable. In this respect, KeyStep does not differ from previous devices of the manufacturer and should last a long time.
Arturia KeyStep

All connectors are located on the back of the device. Here are the CV outputs MOD, GATE and PITCH for analog control of hardware synthesizers and their synchronization. As it is supposed, there are several synchronization modes, switching of which is carried out by hardware, by a combination of positions of toggle switches.
It is worth noting the use of full MIDI connectors, which do not require additional adapters. It is also remarkable that a sustain pedal can be connected to the controller, which can always be assigned to additional control functions.
KeyStep is equipped with a hardware sequencer and an arpeggiator. The sequencer allows you to create eight different sequences, consisting of 64 strokes. The arpeggiator generates eight different arpeggiated patterns from the notes of the chord being played. Switching between these basic modes is performed by the Seq / Arp toggle switch. Depending on the selected mode, the controls control different settings. In Seq mode, the controller selects one of eight sequences, in Arp mode, the corresponding arpeggiator pattern. The Time Div control selects the rhythmic structure of the sequence or arpeggiator relative to the overall tempo.
Arturia KeyStep

With the Rate knob, you can adjust the overall tempo in the range of 30-240 beats per minute. Since the regulator has fixed end positions, two variants of operation are provided. Either immediately, with the slightest movement (Jump mode), or only after passing the current position (Pick-up mode). Also, you can quickly set the playback speed with the TAP button.
The transport panel buttons are used to start the sequencer and arpeggiator, and also additional editing functions. For ease of operation, the buttons are equipped with a bright backlight. They can be assigned to any necessary sequencer commands in the controller’s operation with the software.
The Hold button makes it easier to play complex chords in arpeggiator mode. With it, you can add up to 32 notes to the current chord, without holding the keys down.
I also want to note an interesting Chord mode, which is activated by holding Shift and the Hold button. In this mode, it becomes possible to memorize one particular chord and then play it by pressing just one key. This chord can consist of 16 sounds and will be automatically transposed from any note you press. Remembering the chord is through holding the Hold button, you can also assign a pedal to this function to release both hands for execution.
Also it should be said about the output settings of Swing displacement. The beginning of a weak beat of relatively strong will shift in the sound of sequencing or arpeggios. Only nine fixed values are available from the controller (Off, 53%, 55%, 57%, 59%, 61%, 64%, 67%, 73% and 75%), and from the MIDI Control Center utility you can specify any other . Similarly, the Gate times are adjusted. Here there are 5 presets (10%, 25%, 50%, 75%, and 90%).
I also note the ability to easily edit all the controller sequences in the MIDI Control Center program. Let me remind you that this is a universal utility for all Arturia devices, which allows you to fully configure the device for your needs, reassigning all available controllers.
With the MIDI Control Center program running with the KeyStep device, there is something else interesting. All the sequences stored in the controller memory are available for editing in the graphical interface with the usual timeline and pianorol. It looks unexpected and really very convenient! In addition to convenient and intuitive editing, the program allows you to create and store an unlimited number of projects and instantly download any of them to the device’s memory.

Conclusion

Arturia once again created a remarkable device with unique capabilities. Musicians who actively use various MIDI modules and analog synthesizers will appreciate them. KeyStep fits perfectly into the general concept of Arturia devices with hardware management capabilities and perfectly complements a series of compact and low-cost controllers. Undoubtedly, the main purpose of the KeyStep controller is to use external synthesizers with the built-in sequencer and arpeggiator. Meanwhile, the device can be easily used as a full-fledged MIDI keyboard. For the total cost of the device, the built-in hardware functions have practically no effect.



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