Arturia KeyStep Pro Review

Arturia-Keystep Pro Front

 

I recently acquired the Arturia Keystep Pro, a MIDI keyboard controller with a robust 4-channel sequencer and advanced arrangement capabilities. This versatile piece of gear seamlessly integrates with your DAW and external hardware, making it an ideal companion for various production approaches.

With its CV and Gate connectivity, the Keystep Pro caters especially well to those immersed in the world of modular synthesizers. While it does offer solid playability and control over your virtual and hardware instruments, its true strength lies in its ability to construct sequences, arpeggiators, drum grooves, and complete arrangements directly from the controller itself. It’s a versatile tool that also caters to live performers.

In this article, I’ll delve into the features of this performance controller, providing insights to help you determine whether the Arturia Keystep Pro is the right fit for your needs.

Build Quality

The keyboard itself boasts 37 slim keys. Slim, but don’t let that fool you – they’ve got this nice, springy action that lets you dial in velocity and aftertouch with precision. It’s the kind of responsiveness that makes playing a pleasure and, dare I say, adds a touch of finesse to your musical expressions.

The Keystep Pro’s (KSP) build quality gets a nod from me. Weighing in at 2.7Kg, it sits solidly on my desk, refusing to budge during intense jam sessions. The buttons and knobs are impressively responsive and feel robust, adding a tactile satisfaction to every tweak.

Arturia-Keystep Pro Front closeup left

Workflow Overview

Now, let’s dissect the KSP workflow. The top-left half of this musical command center is like the cockpit of a spaceship – playback controls, a sleek OLED display in the Control section, and a neatly arranged colour-coded tracks area.

Tucked to the keyboard’s left are cool touch-sensitive strips, handling pitch bend, modulation, and a handy looper. Right in the middle, you’ve got these buttons for taking charge of note input – everything is right there where you need it.

On the flip side, the top-right half is where the magic of recording, inputting, and editing sequences unfolds. Now, many buttons wear dual hats in this area (and a few others), triggered by the Shift key conveniently positioned to the right of the playback buttons.

Sure, there are menus to navigate when you go deep into the Project sub-menus menu in the Control section, but here’s the beauty – most of the performance control is right at your fingertips.

Some features might require getting familiar with the KSP’s dual functionality with the Shift key, but trust me, once you’ve got those key combinations down, the workflow is a breeze. From that spark of an idea to a full-blown arrangement, the KSP gets you there in record time.

Controls

Tempo Section

First up, top left corner, we’ve got the Tempo Section – the heartbeat of your musical journey. Twist the knob to dial in the Tempo or, if you’re feeling rhythmic, tap it in using the dedicated button. Plus, you’ve got the power to add some Swing globally or tailor it per track.

Don’t forget the Metronome, your trusty timekeeper. There’s a built-in speaker to audition the metronome, which is surprisingly useful when getting started with a groove. There is also an independent audio output for the metronome. Perfect if you need to focus more on the tempo, listen to it in isolation, or even send it to other musicians.

Control Section 

Moving over to the Control Section – the brain of the operation. Here’s where you get project management and global settings under control. Copy, Paste, Save, Erase – these buttons are used to manage projects but also your arrangment.

And guess what? There’s a software App mirroring these controls, making project management a breeze. The archive and restore feature is essential, considering the KSP’s limited storage of 16 projects at a time.

Tracks Section

Enter the Tracks Section, home to your 4 sequencer tracks. Tracks 2-4 are identical in operation, they feature an arpeggiator and a melodic sequencer. Now, Track 1 offers something cool, a drum sequencer as well as a melodic sequencer, allowing you to add those essential grooves to the mix.

Speaking of mix, you can record up to 16 64-step sequences (patterns) on each track. Flip between patterns using the arrow keys and the top of each track section or use and let the Pattern feature handle the playback order.

And here’s the useful part – each track comes with its own mute and solo buttons, giving you full control over the arrangement process. I find this very handy in both arrangement creation and performance.

Arturia-Keystep Pro Front closeup right

Scene, Chain, and Pattern Buttons

Now, let’s look at the Scene, Chain, and Pattern Buttons – the architects of your sonic landscape. Patterns are your building blocks, easily organized and stitched together with Chains. Scenes, borrowing a page from Ableton Live, let you craft arrangements seamlessly across multiple tracks.

These three buttons are your direct path to crafting intricate arrangements without drowning in the details, letting you savor the creative process and stay in the musical moment.

Encoders

Enter the Encoders – the versatile sculptors and controllers of your sequence and MIDI. When the Control button in the Control section is active, these knobs send out MIDI CCs (control change messages), letting you shape your software or hardware with finesse.

When in their default state (Control inactive), they become your hands-on tools for tweaking Pitch, Gate, Velocity, Time Shift, and Randomness in your sequences. What’s also cool, these controls aren’t just responsive; they’re touch-sensitive. Touch one, and voilà – the OLED display shows its current value.

Sequence Length Section

Now, let’s dive into the Sequence Length Section. This is where you set and adjust your sequence length from a tight 16 steps to an expansive 64. You only ever see 16 steps at a time, but don’t worry. Toggle on the Follow option and those Step Buttons keep pace with your current 16 steps.

You can also turn off Follow and navigate manually with the buttons, focusing on the beats, melodies, and chords that matter.

Shift Button

Now, let’s look at the all-important Shift Button – the magic button that unlocks a world of possibilities. Many buttons have double functions, and the second function is right there, labeled below or above.

This means tons of instant control, no menu-diving distractions. It’s like having your own command center, allowing you to dive into arranging without losing focus.

With this level of control, sure, there’s a bit of a learning curve, but fear not – Arturia’s got your back with a handy cheatsheet to guide you through whats what.

Transport Controls

Meet the Transport Controls – the conductors of your arrangement. Record, Stop, Play/Continue – these buttons drive the KSP’s internal transport and the playback of any external MIDI devices synced to it. It’s the straightforward, no-nonsense command center you need.

The record button’s Shift function is to turn Quantize on and off, so your sloppy input can be locked to grid or keep the human groove in all its glory.

Arturia-Keystep Pro Pitch Modulation Loop Strips

Pitch Modulation and Looper Strips

Move below to get to the Pitch, Modulation, and Looper Strips beneath the Octave transpose buttons – the touch-sensitive playground for sonic exploration. These strips are add life and movement to your sequences, offering a new spin on controlling pitch and modulation.

Yeah, they’re sensitive, but that sensitivity is where the magic happens. It takes a beat to get used to, but once you’re in the groove, you can tap, hold, and bend your way to creative bliss.

Now, the Looper strip is a party on its own. Inspired by DJ mixers and beat-repeat plugins, it lets you catch and loop 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, or 1/32 bar sections of your sequence. Mix and match lengths for breakdowns, subtle sequence twists, or just to keep things lively and dynamic. It’s your ticket to a performative groove.

Keyboard and Sequencer buttons

Now, let’s look into the Keyboard and Sequencer buttons – the heart of your melodic adventure. This area boasts buttons like Hold, Trans, Tie/Rest, and Overdub, each with its own unique magic.

The Hold button, a lifesaver in arpeggio land, lets you set your fingers free while the arpeggio keeps doing its thing – a game-changer for making on-the-fly adjustments.

Transpose, on the other hand, gives you the keys (pun intended) to raise or lower the pitch of active sequences, patterns, and arpeggios, letting you fine-tune your sonic journey.

The Tie/Rest button adds rests or connects two notes. But here’s where it gets interesting – pair it with Shift, and welcome to Chord mode. Perfect for those of us still decoding the mysteries of music theory, Chord mode lets you play a chord by pressing a single root key.

Scale and Root key functionality keep you on the musical straight and narrow. Trust me; it’s a game-changer.

And then there’s Overdub mode, your ticket to extending or replacing notes within a sequence – a handy tool for fine-tuning your sonic masterpiece.

Keyboard Shift Functionality

Above and beyond (literally, the highest note on the keyboard), you’ll find text that unlocks the Keyboard Shift Functionality. Hold down that Shift Button, and you’re in control of sequence and arpeggio playback, scales, root keys, and CV routing. It’s like having a secret passage to order and consistency during musical experimentation.

Pro & Cons

The Keystep Pro is a game-changer, bundling an unparalleled level of control, creativity, and sheer fun into a single device. Among the sea of music tech out there, it carves its own niche, delivering a unique workflow that caters flawlessly to the needs of live performers and studio maestros alike.

Its connectivity is a dream, although, if you’re like me, you might find yourself yearning for even more CV/Gate I/O – it’s hard not to get greedy when you’re having so much fun!

Now, let’s talk about the flip side. Since its debut in 2020, the Keystep Pro has seen minimal firmware updates. For a device this potent and widely embraced, it’s a bit surprising that Arturia has kept quiet despite the clamor for bug fixes and improvements being asked for. The silence is almost deafening.

Fingers crossed that behind the scenes, they’re cooking up a substantial update that will keep this performance powerhouse not just relevant but downright essential in the evolving world of music tech.

Also, Consider checking our video:

Arturia KeyStep Pro Review (Compact MIDI Controller/Sequencer)

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Arturia Keystep Pro stands out for its innovative design and versatile functionality in the music technology landscape. With an intuitive layout, responsive controls, and dedicated sections for tempo, control, tracks, and sequencer, it provides an organized and fluid approach to music creation.

Noteworthy features include the Scene, Chain, and Pattern buttons, acting as facilitators for seamless organization and playback of patterns. The Shift Button adds an extra layer of control, making adjustments immediate without navigating through menus. Transport Controls serve as conductors, offering straightforward command over internal transport and external MIDI devices.

The Pitch Modulation and Looper Strips offer a tactile approach to pitch and modulation control, bringing spontaneity to performances. In the keyboard and sequencer realm, features like Hold, Trans, Tie/Rest, and Overdub contribute to expressive possibilities. The Keyboard Shift Functionality, paired with the Shift Button, enhances user experience by providing consistency across controls.

While the Keystep Pro has received praise for its remarkable features, considerations include a desire for additional connectivity options, and users await potential firmware updates for further enhancements. Despite these considerations, the Keystep Pro remains a valuable tool for musicians seeking a performance controller that balances control, creativity, and musical enjoyment.

It continues to be a compelling choice in the dynamic landscape of music production.

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