When iRig Keys was introduced last year I knew that it would be a great option for both studio and the on the go beat maker. If I’m not mistaken it may actually be the first keyboard controller to allow control over both iOS devices and Mac without additional connection kits. Without doubt this made iRig Keys a wish listed item for me.

Recently I had the opportunity to give iRig Keys a try and I am as pleased as I thought I would be with it. Lets dig deeper to see why.

Esthetically, the iRig Keys is well designed. It’s a sleek little keyboard that looks as comfy sitting on top of my vintage synth as it does in front of my laptop or beside my MPC. The key bed on the iRig Keys has a pretty decent synth action. Unlike some controllers of this size the iRig Keys actually feels like a synth when playing. Albeit a smaller form factor synth, but a synth none the less. I think IK Multimedia made the size of the keys as compact as they could with keeping its playability in tact. Smaller keyboard controllers usually require that you compromise the ability to play with two hands comfortably. Not the case with iRig Keys‘ 37 velocity-sensitive mini-keys with a range of 3 full octaves.

The build itself is, of course, plastic. Is that a bad thing? Not really. Is it built like a tank? No, but do you plan to fight a war with it? Most likely not. All things considered, is the iRig Keys well built? Yes indeed. It is light weight at approximately 23 oz. With that in mind it is undoubtedly travel friendly. It is made of plastic but it does not seem to be fragile. Considering cost, features, playability, mobility and versatility the iRig Keys sits in a good place when bearing in mind the “bang for your buck” factor.

The front panel of iRig Keys is well laid out with loads of functionality without compromising it’s sleek look. Most apparent are the Volume / Data knob, iOS / USB indicator leds, Set button, Oct up and down buttons and Prog up and down buttons. The lay out is pretty straight forward. The volume knob obviously controls the volume by default but because it is assignable to any CC message number it can become almost anything you need it to be. I enjoyed mapping it to filter cut off when I used it with the Arctic keys app (which is listed as an iRig Keys compatible app on IK Multimedia’s site by the way). The iOS / USB indicator leds simply indicates which type of connection is currently in use. The Set button is a cool feature that we haven’t seen much of on other small form factor controllers. It allows you to store up to 4 separate and specific set configurations for easy recall which is invaluable to a live performer. The Oct up and down buttons allows you to expand the octave range of the controller from it’s default C2 – C5 by simply pressing either of the up or down octave buttons. Lastly, the Prog up and down buttons allow you to switch between presets. This works particularly well with iGrand and iLectric as it not only switches the preset but it has a cool visual representation that changes from one piano image to the next. Admittedly, I realize the animation may not be as important as the ability to change presets but it was worth mentioning anyway.

Going further into the iRig Keys , there is a bit more info on the front panel. Directly above a few of the keys there are words like Midi CH, Vel, Knob etc and so on. These are indications that the particular key has a deeper function when iRig Keys is in Edit mode. Edit mode allows you to customize certain parameters to meet your playing needs. In edit mode you can set everything from the midi channel to transposing the keyboard by semitones.

The back of iRig Keys is not only home to the connection for iOS use but there is a port for an optional pedal as well. The left side of iRig Keys houses the micro USB connection for use with Mac. Rounding out the top of iRig Keys is the mod and pitch wheels. Nice touch.

In use, iRig Keys made it so easy to pop open a synth app on my iOS device and just play. With iGrand it works as seamlessly as one would expect. I can say that I have not heard better pianos thus far in an iOS app. With Other iOS synths, such as Sunriser, it was a blast to scroll thru presets with the Prog buttons while tweaking the filter cut off with the assignable knob. I literally played for hours. Funny to think about it now because i didn’t record any of it (opportunity missed). But still it was a good time to play that way on an iOS synth app without hindrance. This was largely due to iRig Keys ‘ ease of use and playability.

It is worth noting that I don’t think the iRig Keys‘ 19.8″ body will fit in my more compact backpack which does fit my 15″ Macbook Pro. If I had to make any suggestions for additions to the line I would say we could use an iRig Keys, jr. perhaps, that is the width of a 15″ or 17″ laptop for easier stow away into our favorite laptop back packs. Also, I wish there were a couple more assignable knobs to “tweak out” on. That would be such a huge bonus.

Overall, iRig Keys is a masterful piece of kit. If you need to be mobile for gigs and/or collabos, iRig Keys is a really good option. The ability to use iRig Keys with iOS devices and Mac is huge. Even more so, is the fact that it comes with all of the necessary connection cables (both iOS Dock Cable & Micro USB Cable). The under the hood features available in Edit mode are a great addition to an already feature rich front panel. Not to mention it’s all packed neatly and stylishly into a nice little package. I’d say that iRig Keys is indeed a job well done. At $99, its a bit more pricey than other small form factor controllers but it also brings a bit more to the table. All in all, the iRig Keys is a viable controller for the mobile beat maker. I think it’s worth checking out but if you plan to travel with it be sure your bag can fit a nearly 20″ long controller.
Pros & Cons
  • Pro – Compact and easy enough to travel with
  • Pro – easy to use
  • Pro – use with iOS app synths and / or on Mac with soft synths
  • Pro – core midi compliant
  • Pro – Great look and feel
  • Con – needs more knobs for tweaking
  • Con – a bit plasticy
  • Con – maybe a bit longer than desired for travel

For more info head over to IK Multimedia’s website

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