To cut through the noise these days, get your music heard, and land gigs as a musician, you need something that sets you apart from the millions of other artists doing the same thing. Luckily, there’s an infinite number of ways you could be different!

Your music could be more expressive and emotional than somebody else’s static and robot-sounding beats. You could add live elements to your DJ shows when most others are just spinning tracks. You could produce beats quickly in front of artists instead of just sending them a beat pack. Even a sleek and stylish instrument to play on stage instead of an old plastic Cassio the bar has for open mic nights can be enough…

But how far ahead of the curve would you be if you had a keyboard that could do all of that in one go? It’s a big claim, but it’s what Arturia’s AstroLab may have the potential to pull, judging from its landing page and tech specs.

I had the opportunity to give this keyboard a whirl to see just how well it pulled off all of the above and more, and I recorded everything that I loved (and that I didn’t) about Arturia’s new flagship keyboard. So let’s dive into what exactly this thing is before diving into the fun parts about everything I loved, where it could be improved, what it sounds like, and more. You’ll even hear my shoddy play skills (I’m just hoping my favorite presets are enough to overcompensate for keyboard playing).

So, let’s dive in!

What Is The Arturia AstroLab?

The Arturia AstroLab is a stage keyboard that integrates virtual instrumentation with the tactile requirements of live or studio performances. It features 61 semi-weighted keys and supports up to 48 voices of polyphony. The AstroLab allows users to utilize presets from Arturia’s Analog Lab, V Collection, and Pigments software instruments, offering extensive connectivity options such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and MIDI 2.0. It also includes footswitch support, aftertouch, and the ability to layer sounds for comprehensive sound design.

AstroLab includes over 1,000 preset sounds and eight 360-degree potentiometers for customizable macro controls. These macros can adjust instrument and effects parameters, providing hands-on control during performances. The keyboard also supports multi-part presets, allowing simultaneous control of multiple parameters. Additional features include color-coded controls for easy parameter adjustments and dual insert effects slots for flexible sound customization.

The AstroLab Connect app enhances the user experience by allowing users to browse, organize, and purchase new sounds from Arturia’s extensive library. This app is compatible with mobile and desktop platforms and supports Wi-Fi connectivity, enabling seamless integration with smart devices. You can manage presets, create playlists, and edit sounds directly from the app, making it a versatile tool for live performances and studio work.

The AstroLab offers various connectivity options, including MIDI, Bluetooth, USB, and XLR/TRS combination jacks. It has pitch and modulation wheels, an arpeggiator, a looper, a sequencer, and a vocoder. The keyboard also features customizable sustain and expression inputs and auxiliary jacks that can be assigned to different functions. These features make the AstroLab suitable for various performance and recording scenarios, providing musicians with a comprehensive and adaptable instrument.

Editor’s Choice Award

Last year, we rolled out the editor’s choice awards series to highlight some of the best and most innovative products to have hit the music production space. This is a hard bar to hit, seeing as you can only add so much to the hardware space of an industry predicated on the creativity of human beings.

That being said, Arturia surpassed this milestone by miles in a way that only a company that seeks to distill 25 years of learning, experience, and quality into a single flagship product can do. Throughout this comprehensive review, we’ll discuss some of the main reasons why this keyboard is a best-in-class studio, but predominantly on-stage, product. But for now, just know that it’s genuinely one of the best products to have hit the market in 2024.

Arturia AstroLab Review – The Pros

It’s Beautiful

Usually, I wouldn’t include the aesthetics of a product as the very first thing that caught my attention, typically preferring to dive into how the keyboard or synth sounds and functions before talking about how the thing looks. However, the big exception with the AstroLab is that it’s designed to be a premium product for use on both the stage and in the studio and anything that puts such an emphasis on live performance should look as good, if not better, than it sounds.

Months ago, I hailed the Roli Seaboard Rise 2 as a set piece in your live performances based on its novelty and expressive functionality. The same is true here with the AstroLab; but instead of feeling as novel as the Seaboard 2 did; with its flat profile and almost almost-alien-looking build, the AstroLab is a set piece for your live performance because it’s just that damn sexy.

From the woodgrain siding to the futuristic encoders with blue backlighting and the matte white casing with just a touch of gloss, the AstroLab is—and I don’t mean to belabor the point—sexy.

It’s Customizable On The Fly

When I’m in the studio, I don’t even like having to take my hands away from my synths and instruments to use my mouse to adjust ADSR envelopes and effect amounts, let the ALONE menu dive around other windows in the VST, or swap around synths. It takes me out of the creative flow.

What I was most impressed with about my Native Instruments S-Series keyboards was the fact that everything I needed for sound-designing in Diva, my favorite soft synth, was inches away from my keyboard and the encoders felt like I was adjusting an actual synth.

The AstroLab takes everything I love about the encoder-driven sound design on the NI keyboard and cranks it up to 11. And while I know this comparison isn’t exactly apples-to-apples, as the Native Instruments keyboard could sync with tons of popular VSTS like Diva and even some other Arturia plugins, the ease of navigation and the ability to completely disregard your DAW and computer when sculpting and shaping sounds was impressive.

None of this would be possible if the onboard effects were anything less than excellent.

So many devices I’ve reviewed spread their wings just a little too far, including tons of different effects that all sound 10% worse than stock effects on Ableton. And this is not a knock on any plugin. If, in the back of my head, I know something in my DAW could get a better sound than what’s coming out of my outboard gear, it’s impossible to ignore the nagging feeling that it COULD sound better in the box, even if the intention is to be solely outside it. But Arturia has learned something in its 25-year history, and it’s evident that this keyboard is a culmination of everything they’ve put into its hardware units and plugins over the past two and a half decades.

The most benefit of this comes when paired with the app and software, which allows you to do a little bit of prep work on your sounds and files ahead of time so that when you cue them on the keyboard, they are even quicker to fine-tune and more tailored to how you want to use them.

While I do admit I wish there was a bit more control over its ability to tweak things better like ADSR envelopes and other parameters, most of the broad strokes can be handled quickly, thus keeping you locked into the music and out of menus.

It’s Sounds Are Playable Right Away

Years ago, I reviewed a Roland all-in-one workstation that hailed itself as a true all-in-one keyboard for studio AND performance. Many of the sounds in it felt a little “pretty.” Sure, they could be shaped and sculpted with effects and other tweaks, and I was able to get them to sound “pro.”

But the AstroLab keyboard’s entire library of sounds are incredible right when you load up the presets, and if they sound off by small margins, the nearby encoders are just about six inches away so you can tweak them to your liking. This is great for studio work, especially for producers who make beats on demand for artists in their studio who need to be able to cycle through sounds quickly in hopes of catching their artists’ inspiration.

It’s equally as great for stage performances where you can sift through any number of unique presets and patches on the fly and trust that whatever preset is pulled up by default has a 90% chance of sounding awesome without even auditioning it. Below are a couple of audio examples of me noodling around with some of my favorite patches and presets so you get a feel for how some of these sound right out of the box (just cut me some slack for my rusty keyboard skills).

The Interface is INSANELY Easy To Navigate

There is a ton of stuff to play with in this keyboard – like, a ton – but it doesn’t feel menu-divey. In fact, it feels quite the opposite even compared to some of the other keyboards (like the NI S-Series) I’ve played. Here are a few quick features that make this all possible, in my opinion…

The Central Encoder

This is the central brain of the whole thing and is where you will do most of your navigation.

The option for a circular design here allows forward and backward navigation, which halves the time it would take compared to a more grid-based menu screen navigated via arrow keys or buttons. It also allows you to move around quickly and fluidly instead of repeatedly clicking navigation arrows on the instrument’s interface.

The Instrument Selector

Even in my research of this keyboard weeks before it arrived in my studio, I have no idea how I glossed over this design feature, as it’s easily one of my favorite things about the whole kaboodle.

It allows you to store different instruments’ presets and instantly arm them at the touch of a button. This is great not only for performing different songs in your setlist if you need a piano for one song and a set of strings for another, but it also makes looping and building up songs from scratch incredibly easy and even performative.

The Smaller Encoders

I’ve already talked about this at length in the section above, and I’m including these effects knobs here as the final line of accessible sound design and navigation that the AstroLab has. If you didn’t find the sounds you needed in seconds, this row of eight more miniature encoders will fine-tune the presets to what you’re looking for.

It Molds To You Over Time

What I’ve always loved about using Omnisphere for the last seven years of my career as a music producer is that, through its various organizational and tagging tools, the massive library of sounds, presets, and effects has molded itself to be unique to me.

The AstroLab is the same, with its ability to save presets, favorite patches, store sounds together, and more; I felt rewarded for using all the different aspects of this keyboard as it became more attuned to my personality throughout the last month or more in the studio.

The Cons

I Wish The “Loop” Function Were Easier To Get To

One of the coolest aspects of this keyboard is just how amazing it is for live performance; it’s really the best in show for this purpose. While all of its features make it one of the best in the game for shows with defined setlists or even playing with a group of people, many smaller shows and street performances have artists looping different layers together to create songs on the fly for their audience; almost every open mic night I go to these days has somebody with a looper pedal and their electric guitar.

And while the AstroLab does have looping functionality, it’s tucked away behind a menu to enable it. I feel it’s a missed opportunity not to have a “Loop On/Off” button readily available that could be hit with a finger without missing a beat or taking more than half of a hand off the keys. I wouldn’t even mind if the more robust loop settings like default loop length and count-in were hidden behind the menu if only there was a way to engage or disengage the loop, much like many looper pedals do these days.

Who Is The Arturia AstroLab For?

Performing Instrumentalists

Whether you’re a one-person operation who needs a premium performance keyboard for gigs, or you’re a keyboardist playing backing keys for stadium artists and need a massive suite of sounds for their setlists, this is an incredible option. It thrives off accessibility and ease of use, meaning you don’t need to menu dive or spend precious minutes dialing in the sound for your next song. Instead, you can focus on interacting with the crowd and working your magic on stage.

It’s lightweight for what it gives you and has all the standard inputs and outputs, meaning that you can quickly and easily set up the keyboard and break it down in a flash and not have to make too many trips between the tour van (or your car) and the stage during setup and soundcheck.

Live-Setup Electronic Producers

As the phrase “everyone is a DJ these days” becomes less cliche and more of a legitimate reality, artists constantly look to elevate their performances beyond just mixing tracks in and out. One way is for the artists to develop a live setup of different synths, sequencers, drum machines, and more, which is fantastic, albeit cumbersome and expensive.

But the AstroLab keyboard gives these artists so many options for sounds and patches to weave into your live sets. You can call on these sounds and FX so quickly that you don’t need to spend a minute of each song dialing in your Moog Sub37 just to get the right saw-tooth synth for the next song.

It even comes stocked with different drum hits and kits, meaning you can play loops off Ableton and your sequencer and still have the flexibility to play “live” drums on top of what clips Ableton is launching. All in all, it’s pretty cool!

Studio Musicians Who Like Tactile Productions

Some producers like to click in their melodies and adjust their synth parameters by hand; I will admit that oftentimes I am one of these exact producers, but countless other producers like to make and create music without having to even think about a mouse and computer screen. If you’re one of these producers, this is one of the best keyboards in the game as it allows for so much customization and functionality all within the unit (without ever having to look at your computer except maybe to hit the record button).

It’s smooth, tactile, and fluid—all qualities required to get into the flow state and lose yourself in the music.

Is The Arturia AstroLab Right For You?

The Arturia AstroLab fuses virtual and tactile musical worlds in a way that’s more than just marketing and industry buzzwords. Its thoughtful design and expansive connectivity options cater to the demands of live performers and studio producers. Integrating the best of Arturia’s software instruments with an intuitive, hands-on interface, the AstroLab transcends typical keyboard functionalities, becoming a vital tool for creativity.

The AstroLab Connect app further enriches the experience, allowing musicians to easily manage their sounds on stage or in the studio. This harmony between hardware and software highlights Arturia’s commitment to facilitating artistic expression and technical excellence.

The AstroLab is a testament to Arturia’s dedication to musical innovation, offering a platform where creativity can flourish. It combines the diverse elements of modern music production into a cohesive, user-friendly instrument, making it an indispensable asset for musicians seeking to explore new sonic frontiers.

The post Arturia AstroLab Review: 8 Things I Love About Arturias New Keyboard (…And One Thing It’s Missing) appeared first on Magnetic Magazine.