Arturia has been around for 20 years, and they’re a pretty great example of a music company that never stops evolving. Their software emulation packages of vintage gear remain highly underrated, and they’ve hit their stride with hardware like last year’s acclaimed MicroFreak and the DrumBrute Impact, the latest drum machine in their “Brute” line. The company just has great taste – their products (particularly the MicroFreak) are cutting-edge in design as well as function.
The Microlab on the other hand is something so simple that it feels like anyone could have made it, but Arturia did. The Microlab is technically a controller; in plain view it’s a USB keyboard; in practical use it looks like the perfect gift for the traveling producer that needs to compact their studio down to the size of a carry-on bag.
The Microlab’s design is exquisite: a solid colored rubberized case both protects and keeps the controller from moving around when being used on top of plastic surfaces (like airplane trays or cheap desks). The ports are recessed, which reduces the footprint by another inch or so. Moreover, the embedded cables disappear into the controller’s body when not in use – another simple but overlooked feature that will save musicians from scrambling for replacements left behind in hotels.
For the sake of portability, Arturia reduced the key count down to 25 keys – more would be nice but then again you do reach the point where a compromise has to be made between mini-keys wide enough to play comfortably and the overall width of the device. The physical controllers are likewise minimized to four buttons and a pair of touchstrips for pitch bending, modulation and navigating presets. On the whole, it’s a good compromise between functionality and portability.
And the price is pretty much unbeatable: $89. Both the price point and the bundled software (AnalogLab Lite, Bitwig Studio 8-Track) suggest Arturia is targeting the beginner’s market with this, but those who don’t have the luxury of an expansive home studio or long, undivided time in it owing to travel will find something useful here.