IK Multimedia just keeps coming with their waves of new product releases for iOS musicians. The company's latest offering is a portable 3-octave keyboard that can be used as a physical manifestation of on-screen touch keys for programs like Garageband and IK's own software. Speaking of which, their iGrand Piano makes its debut to complement the iRig KEYS hardware. How do the two fair separately and together? Read on to find out.
iRig KEYS sports a number of features that make it an attractive option for both prosumer musicians practicing in their studios as well as lugging their gear on the road for gigs. Paired with an iOS device, it turns the minuscule on-screen keyboard of Garageband on the iPhone into a realistically usable application for recording more than two notes at a time. iRig KEYS has all the standard controllers you would expect on a full-sized MIDI keyboard, including modulation and pitch bend wheels, octave shifting (especially important considering the 3-octave/37-key physical hardware limit), foot pedal port for adding sustain, volume dial and a program feature that allows you to define keyboard keys as MIDI triggers for chained musical effects.
iRig KEYS pulls power from either a micro USB port, or more appropriately for iOS users, the traditional 30-pin iOS connector. Now that Apple is releasing their hardware with the new Lightning connector, it will be interesting to see how companies like IK Multimedia react. Will they release product only for the traditional 30-pin sync cable to keep long time customers happy, or will they move to the new Lightning plug to keep new customers happy? Or will they release two models of their hardware depending on which model of iOS device they are using? Whatever their decision, it's one that many third party hardware vendors basing their business on Apple hardware are faced with.
About the only issue I had with the keyboard were the size of the keys and the cheaper, slightly mushy feel I had when pressing them. Of course, I'll be the first to admit that I'm spoiled when it comes to playing keyboards. Anything less than the keys on a Yamaha grand piano feel inferior. Having also played on a variety of synthesizers and electric pianos, the iRig KEYS keyboard isn't nearly up to par with those on Korg, Ensoniq or Roland keyboards. But then again, IK Multimedia isn't reproducing the tactile aspects of a full-sized keyboard. Rather, they are targeting those who need the haptic feedback of a real key press while also having full MIDI control over iOS or desktop computers via a minimum fuss interface. From that perspective, iRig KEYS succeeds beyond expectation.
Overall, iRig KEYS is an attractive hardware option for musicians on the road, looking for a portable keyboard interface to craft their ideas. It also makes for an inexpensive MIDI controller for no-brainer on-stage performance music management. The fact that it connects to iPods, iPhones and iPads is just icing on the cake.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
iGrand Piano for iPad
While Apple's Garageband is an excellent app to use iRig KEYS with, the hardware works best with IK Multimedia's software such as SampleTank and their newest addition to their product lineup, iGrand Piano for iPad. In fact, after using iRig KEYS with this application, I simply cannot go back to using iGrand Piano using standard on-screen touch. iRig KEYS has spoiled me! And that's a good thing, considering how much I was struggling to work within the confines of a 10" tablet screen. iGrant Piano offers samples from nearly 20 different authentic piano sounds to choose from, ranging from traditional grands with deep, full-bodied timbres to bright rock and jazz upright pianos. There's even a saloon piano option if what you're looking for is a bit of honky tonk in your musical mix via a in-app purchase.
iGrand Piano let's you tweak the selected piano's ambience, brightness, tone, tuning and release, just as you might expect on an electric piano. The application also lets you record your pieces while using its on-screen metronome to keep time. Recordings can be quantized to smooth out botched timing areas, or completely overdubbed for a re-recording of portions of the piece. And the samples sound great! I didn't detect any sawtooth sustain audio artifacts, hiss or other problems often associated with less perfect sampled instruments.
The app is also less cluttered compared to other IK Multimedia apps, partly due to the subject matter (keyboards need to be easy to play and control, based on their nature) and partly due to the technical aspects of a piano. After all, there are only so many ways you can tweak a piano before it no longer sounds like a piano. And while the app was coincidentally released around the same time as the iRig KEYS hardware, iGrand Piano will in fact work with any modern digital piano or synth with a standard MIDI interface. This allows musicians to tap into the excellent, clean keyboard samples that are a part of iGrand Piano using their favorite MIDI-enabled keyboard.
The fact that iRig KEYS can be obtained for free to try out via a limited version (one grand with only 49 notes) makes it easy to sample if IK Multimedia's approach works with your MIDI-enabled keyboard of choice. Or you could simply combine the iRig KEYS and have a complete hardware-software solution.
If you're a keyboard player or are learning to become one, and you love making music as much as you love your iOS device, IK Mutlimedia just make your musical day with their killer combo iGrand Piano + iRig KEYS release. You will be rocking out some terrific musical bars moments after you plug in iRig KEYS into your iPad and fire up iGrand Piano. Not only does it sound as good as piano samplers costing hundreds of dollars more, but it's a lot of fun to play. Now I'd like to wrap up this review so I can get back to playing a few tunes with the iRig KEYS + iGrand Piano combo!
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars