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Three octaves, still portable, and easy to connect to an iPad or iPhone.
Several attempts have been made to design a tiny keyboard for laptop-toting musicians. Generally, the results haven’t proven all that impressive: either the unit boasts too few keys, or the keys are too small for comfortable playing, or both. The iRig Keys aims to combat the former (and more musically compromising) complaint by shoehorning in three full octaves worth of keys, one more than the two-octave standard for this general form factor. As a result, of course, the unit ends up considerably larger than its most direct competitor; at about 20 inches long it’s small enough to fit in some backpacks and maybe large messenger bags, but only just.
But the iRig packs in one feature no competitor can boast: a 30-pin connector that allows it to plug directly into earlier iPads and iPhones. This allows the unit to control most serious iOS music-creation tools, most especially GarageBand. And that makes a substantial difference. Being able to ditch a full-sized laptop in favor of an iPad or even an iPhone easily counterbalances the unit’s larger size, and takes the tech-savvy musician one step closer to play-anything-anywhere portability. Plus, you can connect to a Mac or PC, too.
In spite of the miniature keys, the unit plays surprisingly well. It would never be mistaken for a full-sized keyboard, but the firm touch and excellent velocity sensitivity allow for a surprisingly robust range of expression. The addition of programmable buttons, as well as adequately sized pitch and modulation wheels, adds further power.
Make no mistake, though: this is not a pro-level product. Its build quality seems shoddy; our review unit arrived with a noticeable bow in the center, and the alarming flex under moderate pressure doesn’t bode well for its longevity. The “included” software (actually a handful of downloads for OS X and iOS) ranges from adequate to god-awful. And the absence of a MIDI-out prevents it from integrating with larger setups.
The bottom line. Nevertheless, for just under a hundred bucks, it’s a solid choice for musicians for whom portability is an absolute must. It won’t take the place of any professional hardware, but for on-the-go fiddling, it hits a smart middle ground.
iPhone 4S or earlier, iPad 3rd Generation or earlier, Mac, or PC
Three full octaves. Excellent velocity sensitivity. iOS connectivity.
Shoddy build quality. Crappy software. No MIDI connectivity.