Our MIDI controller and sequencer hybrid has taken on a whole new shape and form, and for those with a BeatStep Pro or even a previous KeyStep, don’t feel guilty for checking this new model out — it’s worth the look. Arturia is no stranger to flat out high-end gear, and in our opinion have been one of the biggest game changers in the music equipment industry in the past decade. Innovative is a nice word to use. They’re always impressing us when it comes to bringing new flavors to the gear game that actually standout and aren’t just a rehash of everything else that’s already available in the market. We had a chance to check out the Arturia KeyStep Pro at NAMM 2020 this year, and let’s just say we are impressed to say the least.
Highlights of the Arturia KeyStep Pro
- 37 slim keys with aftertouch and velocity-sensitivity
- LED above each key (feedback)
- Built-in step sequencer (four-tracks, polyphonic — up to 16 notes)
- 16 step buttons (with up to 64 steps each sequence)
- Real-time recording
- Step editing and recording
- Change velocity, gate length, pitch, time shift for notes
- Scale quantization (user scales)
- CV outputs (polyphonic)
- 24-part drum sequencing (poly-rhythm)
- Built-in arpeggiator (7 modes, 5 octave ranges)
- Outputs: CV, Gate, Mod and 8 drum gate outs
- One (1) MIDI in, two (2) MIDI out
- Clock sync, metronome
- Sustain pedal in
The Arturia KeyStep Pro as a MIDI controller
First and foremost and just like the previous splash in their original KeyStep made when first introduced, this here is a keyboard-based interface but includes both controller and sequencer capabilities. As a MIDI controller, we at a glance have 37 keys, but they’re thankfully both aftertouch and velocity-sensitive with a nice feel and build to them. They keys are not upgraded and are the same from the original KeyStep, but there weren’t any complaints about them originally — they’re the same smaller and a significantly thinner-than-normal size (the word ‘slim’ is used) as compared to other average MIDI controllers in the market but this is to allow the KeyStep Pro to take on it’s compact and thin form altogether. The sacrifice was fine with us as we don’t like big and bulky gear, and when it comes to controllers, smaller keys (and no, we’re not talking about compact MIDI keyboards), we’re fine with it and it is still very much playable.
It has MIDI in\out (full sized) as well as USB connection as options to use it with your computer and DAW, but most importantly what many musicians have loved about the KeyStep and now with the KeyStep Pro is the plethora of connections (not many MIDI keyboards out there have these at all) — there are tons of CV\Gate so if you have any synths or if you’re a live-player and you want to incorporate your outboard gear into your setup with the KeyStep Pro as the hub, you’re in luck. Heck, put an MPC in there and perform away. But even just hooking this thing up to your DAW software only, you’ll be good to go in terms of functionality.
The Arturia KeyStep Pro’s sequencer
Now that we’ve gotten a little overview on the KeyStep Pro’s ability to act as a MIDI controller, let’s check out it’s sequencer details. Fist and foremost — yes, it is polyphonic! We also have four tracks available here (all color encoded) with LED’s above the keys to light up when you playback your sequencer for some visual feedback of what’s happening in front of you. This is going to be needed because one thing about the KeyStep Pro is it’s lack of a big screen that we’ve seen on some other sequencers in the game. Their menu is more for project management or utility uses.
In regards to the sequencer’s editing, step recording, real-time recording (Thankfully there is real-time, non-quantized recording here), note editing (length, velocity, edit placement in real-time, randomize), and more. We watched it being used and want to reiterate to our readers that the sequencer isn’t just ‘recording your steps and move on’. You can really start to customize and tweak many factors of the sequence you’ve just laid down to get that perfect fit, whether it’s reshuffling the notes, rearranging the entire melody, change the lengths of or volume of some of the notes.
The KeyStep Pro’s design
Overall in our opinion when checking this controller and sequencer out, the layout appears to be very easy-to-use with user-friendly access to the buttons and keys. The keys again are velocity-sensitive with aftertouch so they not only feel great in your hands but will give you a natural-sounding soundscape if you’re into your DAW with the controller or even using the keys as the sequencer. In terms of design efficiency, we’re really digging the LED and color-coding above the keys. Setting your tracks, seeing your step and then viewing the actual notes themselves and being able to tweak away impresses us when it comes to overall workflow.
Arturia’s builds aren’t cheap at all so this is going to be an investment. Considering they made a BeatStep and stopped at a Pro model, we don’t foresee another KeyStep but hey, we can’t tell the future. It was about 3-4 years in between the releases of them all so we’ll see — however, we’d assume this is going to be a 4-5 year investment for those of you who grab one of these bad boys.
Concluding our KeyStep Pro controller review
In terms of some critiques? Sure, we can nitpick. As we scour the net for the music snobs’ thoughts, we’re seeing more excitement than not. However, there are definitely some opinions. Yes, we too would like to see the KeyStep Pro available in black! We know many of you aren’t fans of white gear especially when it comes to what the coloring looks like many years down the road. There are also differing opinions here and there on the keys. There have been some who have hit up Arturia asking for full-sized keys for this next Pro version, but beggars can’t be choosers here. If you’ve ever used their ‘slim’ keys, it’s completely fine for us. We don’t have any complaints when it comes to actually affecting our playing — albeit, we’re ones to produce and record some chords, a few solos here and there and edit the rest in a MIDI editor. For those who are full on piano players, you’re out of luck, but don’t worry — you get used to it pretty fast. Some would like more keys, such as a 49-key or 61-key version, and although there are no plans for a release of these, it wouldn’t hurt down the road. However, 37 is fine for most studios if you aren’t full on adding piano ensembles to your tracks.
We also know there are some complaints on the price, and of course we can all agree it can definitely be cheaper. Arturia is able to get away with it here because it really is a pretty innovative machine and they’re going to sell a lot of these. Or perhaps a more user-friendly screen (there are a lot of brands out there really focusing on putting touch-screen capabilities into their stuff, especially some sequencers and MIDI keyboards. And at the price people would probably ask for at least some type of interactive controls instead of the reliance on buttons). Others would also like to have a little bit more memory and have criticized Arturia for cutting a corner here, but we still think there’s plenty to be able to fully use the controller/sequencer.
All in all, it’s definitely a rarity in the game to find a well-made and reliable hybrid MIDI controller and sequencer. Typically we’ll just find one or the other, and we know a lot of musicians out there who just have one of each. If you’re in the mood for spending a decent chunk of cash for a piece of music production gear like this, you’re getting literally two huge types of equipment in one, saving you hundreds of dollars as well as time. In regards to upgrading your KeyStep all the way to the Pro, this is a rare time we’ll say we find it worth it! Typically brands come out with different versions and call them “Mk” and a number afterwards by simply upgrading a few features, adding some buttons and slapping some new software and effects into the bundle. With the Arturia KeyStep Pro however, there is more than enough upgrades to finally get into the territory of “being worth it”. Of course, it isn’t cheap with a street price of $450 MAP.