Meet Your New Portable MIDI Keyboard: iRig KEYS Review

 iRig KEYS Review

Within one minute of fooling around with the iRig Keys MINI ($79.99) and IK's Sample Tank app ($9.99), I was impressed. The MINI is a small portable 25-key MIDI instrument that you can plug into an iPad or iPhone and then start mixing hooks like a pro in minutes. Pair it up with the IK apps or Garage Band and you will be blown away at how quickly even a novice can start making quality music with this mini compact keyboard.

The iRig Keys is somewhat bulky for stuffing in a small suitcase or travel bag (it's a bit thicker than the lid on a shoebox), but it's quite light, so if you can make the room, it won't add much weight. It works right out of the box as long as you have an app made for translating signals from MIDI (and a compatible mobile device to power it). IK provides all the apps you need to get started (Android, PC, iOS, Mac), and many of the keys-related ones you can get free.

To get underway, first find your cable of choice—included in the kit are microUSB, USB, and Lightning cables—plug in, and open up your app of choice. Start noodling on your favorite tunes. It's that simple. In the case of Sample Tank on iOS, it's even easier as the app gives you a bunch of cool beats, instruments, and more when you register the iRig. 

 iRig KEYS Review

The keys themselves do not have the smooth and light tension of a full-sized keyboard, but the keyboard does include MIDI-controlled and tweakable velocity settings to mimic the action of using a real keyed instrument. Sample Tank on iOS is the shining star app to use with the iRig Keys MINI, but Garage Band will work as well. Not only do you get a ton of free instrument sounds, loops, and more in Sample Tank to play around with, but the app makes jamming to various background riffs a cinch, and of course, you can record your work in the app.

To experiment on the PC side I tested a freebie app I grabbed on Source Forge called Virtual Midi Piano Keyboard. Make sure to edit settings to Windows MM on the MIDI IN driver and select the iRig KEYS MINI for the input. Google search it if you are looking for a simple MIDI piano app for PC (I couldn't find anything decent on the Source Forge store). The MIDI capabilities (programming/switching patches and settings, etc.) are robust but somewhat difficult, particularly for noobs, because you must use the keys on the keyboard for most control changes. Only two buttons are provided at the top of the keyboard and they are for switching octaves and entering edit modes (when pressed together). 

Pros:

  • Light and compact
  • Great companion app in Sample Tank

Cons:

  • Controls not intuitive or easily accessible

Final Verdict

I have a full-sized Yamaha Keyboard; it's not a high-end model, but it has some of the features available with the iRig Keys MINI. However, it's the size of a full-sized keyboard, and can't really integrate with my iOS devices. I can't stuff it in a bag and jump on a bus. The iRig Keys probably wouldn't replace your full-sized keyboard, but if you want something light and portable with powerful features, it deserves major kudos. The Sample Tank app is pretty awesome in its own right. If you head over to IK before December 31, you can save 50 percent or more on full versions of IK's great apps.

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Nate Adcock's picture

Author Details

Nate Adcock

Nate Adcock is a system and integration engineer with experience managing and administering a variety of computing environments. He has worked extensively with mobile gadgets of all shapes and sizes for many years. He is also a former military weather forecaster. Nate is a regular contributor for the iphonelife.com and smartphonemag.com blogs and helps manage both websites. Read more from Nate at natestera.tumblr.com or e-mail him at nate@iphonelife.com.