Having established itself as a company trading in high-quality emulations of some of the most coveted synths in history, it's been intriguing to watch Arturia move into the hardware market with products such as the Origin synth and Analogue Experiences.
In many ways, hybrid solutions of Arturia's twin product lines makes perfect sense and, previously, we've had a chance to spend some time with Analog Experience: The Factory that combines a huge number of presets with a hardware controller keyboard.
We really liked The Factory but certainly found that, while the presets were engaging, limited control over their parameters was a frustration.
Meanwhile the keyboard didn't contain enough real-time tweakability. This time round, we're looking at the top-of-the-range hybrid. So let's get busy in the laboratory…
Immediately upon shedding the keyboard's plastic wrapper, it's certainly clear that the hardware side of Laboratory is several stages further developed than its less-comprehensive next of kin.
With a 49-key playing surface, four drum pads, nine sliders, 10 rotary encoders, 10 snapshot buttons for preset 'scene' recall, transport controls, preset recall and real-time manipulation options in the form of pitch-bend and mod wheels, this screams of a more professional solution.
Round the back of the keyboard, you'll find the USB connection that supplies the dual purpose of transmitting MIDI data and supplying bus-power, alongside regular MIDI In and Out ports and inputs for Expression and Sustain pedals.
During our experiments with Factory, we found ourselves happy to leave the keyboard while exploring the software but the extended parameter control on Laboratory's keyboard left us reaching for it time and again as we edited sounds - the hybrid nature of this package is much more successful.
However, the real power of this hybrid solution resides in the software.
As with Factory, Laboratory ships with over 3,500 presets that are taken directly from Arturia's leading software synths, with sounds from the ARP 2600V, CS-80V, Jupiter-8V, Minimoog V, Modular V, Prophet V and Prophet VS instruments.
Laboratory provides a matrix through which sounds can be selected, either via the synths within Arturia's own collection, or via different sound categories including Bass, EFX, Pad, Strings and so on.
Alternatively, you can browse again via specific 'Characteristics', such as Ambient, Aggressive, Soft, Soundtrack or other musically relevant data. The functions of the keyboard are mapped to the software, so you'll find an exact replica of this surface via which you can edit as freely.
The only concession, to save space, is that the drum pads are arranged in a 2x2 matrix in software form, whereas they're in a 4x1 row on the keyboard.
As you'd expect with Arturia's pedigree, the sounds are wonderful. One of the main differences between Laboratory and its brothers, which is represented by 'Scene' mode.
This allows you to load two sounds at once, separated by a user-definable keyboard split point, a separate 'Melody' part using the Arpeggiator and provision of drum beats and one-shot effects which can be triggered from the pads.
With Scene Edit mode, it's extremely easy to assign sounds to all of these different categories, as each has its own pane within the Edit window.
Clicking the Edit button for either the upper or lower sound launches the main sound Matrix while a separate menu of Arpeggiation patterns exist from which you can choose your 'Melody' part, which can then be assigned to either the upper or lower sound.
The rhythmic elements are also available in list form and you can simply drag and drop those that appeal to you to the pads of your choice. The great thing here is that you can select one of 'Gate', 'Trigger' or 'Loop' modes for each pad, determining whether a single pad hit will loop forever, or simply fire off one-shot effects.
All of this makes Laboratory a more creative tool for ideas creation and a potential live instrument as sound combinations can be set up easily.
The only downside of this package is that the software isn't without niggles, particularly in Scene Mode where the software will demand more from your CPU, resulting in a few audible hiccups. It didn't happen often but Arturia do need to address the glitches here in this in their next update.
That aside, if you're a semi-pro or pro user who's seen the 'Analog Experience' range and haven't quite felt tempted enough, Laboratory could change your mind.
Certainly if you're a V-Collection owner it makes a fine front end to your full-size plugs. Alternatively Laboratory is an ideal introduction to the superb sound of their CS-80 or JP8V and we envisage many users springing for the full plugs soon after!
The sound set is as good as ever and 'Scene Mode' will inspire new ideas for studiophiles and live performers alike. The keyboard is now a worthwhile addition with greatly extended control for both Laboratory and full-plugs too.
Without question, this is the most must-have Analog Experience to date.