If there’s one thing that all gear heads can agree on, it’s that size absolutely matters
In a world where creators are required to uproot their setup at a moment’s notice to attend a session, it’s crucial for musicians to ensure their studios are as portable as possible.
For maestros of small and mighty, it’s hard to go past the catalogue offered by Arturia. Formed at the turn of the millennium with a mission to create software synths that went the distance, the French company has since asserted itself as one of the biggest names in musical manufacturing thanks to wildly popular products like the KeyStep, MiniBrute, and the omnipresent V Suite of plugins.
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A must-have for any portable studio is a malleable MIDI controller, and for this, Arturia’s MiniLab 3 is a surefire solution. It’s tactile, stylish, and incredibly practical, with this latest iteration boasting just the right amount of features to let your creativity shine.
While the MiniLab 3 doesn’t stray too far from the blueprint of its predecessors, there’s a few noteworthy new features. Firstly, there’s the addition of a mini display that visualises parameter changes and helps you navigate sound banks from the confines of the controller, meaning you don’t even need to look up from the keyboard to browse for that perfect snare.
This new unit also features four assignable faders, which work in tandem with eight rotary encoders to allow users to customise various parameters such as filters and envelopes. Previous models only made use of rotary encoders, so the addition of such a malleable feature as a slider is a nice touch.
There’s also the inclusion of an inbuilt arpeggiator as well as a full-sized MIDI out port, meaning you can hook up any other piece of gear and use the MiniLab 3 as a master controller – perfect for compact onstage setups.
Aside from these new features, the MiniLab 3 offers everything that made previous models great, with 25 velocity-sensitive mini keys, eight trigger pads, touch strips for tweaking pitch and modulation, and those sweet faux wooden sides.
Of course, there’s also a massive software suite bundled in to get you started, and if that’s not enough, it’s also made from a minimum of 50 per cent recycled plastics.
Need a solid, lightweight sound card that you can easily bring to sessions? Arturia’s MiniFuse 2 is screaming your name. This 2i/2o, 192kHz USB-powered interface delivers in spades, packing in all the essentials into an incredibly compact package while also offering some powerful software add-ons to boot.
Two combination TRS/XLR jacks on the front panel allow you to plug a microphone or keyboard straight in to record, while each channel also offers a hi-Z switch to suit for DI guitar and bass recordings.
Phantom power ensures the MiniFuse 2 can handle condenser mics for crisp vocal recordings, while the addition of MIDI I/O on the rear makes it all the more versatile.
Elsewhere, backlit controls and LED level monitoring on the front panel let you keep track of all the action, while a USB hub on the back even lets you hook up a MIDI controller or other device.
As with most Arturia products, the MiniFuse 2 is also packaged with a mighty software suite, with the MiniFuse Control Centre offering excellent plugins and allowing extensive control over the unit.
If portability is front of mind but you tend to operate in the hardware domain, you’d be bereft in your duty to not check out the MiniFreak.
A revised take on Arturia’s MicroFreak – perhaps one of the most inspired synths of the 2010s – it’s a forward-thinking, multi-mode digital device that’s abundant in whacky features to broaden your sonic horizons.
Eschewing the controversial touchstrips of the Micro for a 37-key velocity sensitive keybed, the MiniFreak offers six voices of polyphony, plus three analogue filter types, envelopes, LFO, and a vast array of modulation possibilities.
It’s powered by two different engines that offer 22 different algorithms, including open-source oscillators that take cues from modular legends Mutable Instruments, letting you traverse virtual analogue, freaky FM, formant waveshaping, and just about everything in between.
Such a wide sonic palate allows seasoned synthesists to program mutant sounds of every kind: from pianos and soaring strings pads through to metallic chimes and bizarre contorted howls, there’s nothing this beast can’t handle.
There’s a stack of useful and unique presets to get you started on your journey, while inbuilt effects, LFO shapers, and a cycling envelope help you add further spice to your patches along the way.
The side touch strips to tweak modulation and other parameters are nifty, and the depth of the modulation matrix ensures that you’ll never get bored of programming the MiniFreak.
From audio interfaces to MIDI controllers and beyond, no manufacturer does small and mighty better than Arturia. The MiniFuse 2 is a no-fuss solution to all your soundcard needs, while the MiniLab 3 is about as comprehensive as a compact MIDI controller gets in this day in age.
On the other hand, the MiniFreak is a portable behemoth of a synth that could easily serve as the centrepiece of any cunning producer’s setup. They might be mini in name and stature, but there’s nothing else that’s little about these offerings from Arturia.