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IK Multimedia iRig Keys
Ok, we admit it. While we have enjoyed previously reviewing iRig, iRig MIDI, iRig Mic, and iRig Pre, we were very intrigued by iGrand Piano and in particular, iRig Keys. After all, being a keyboard player at heart, a portable hardware solution for the musician on the go (see our 2006 pre-tablet article about mobile recording at this link) is always appealing. Further, the technology for reproducing the sound of an acoustic piano has continued to improve, and has made it possible to get great sounds out of smaller and smaller devices. IK Multimedia has taken both of these concepts to new levels, and although neither the hardware (iRig Keys) nor software (iGrand Piano) are perfect, both do what IK Multimedia intended for them to do very well.
Of note, iRig Keys includes SampleTank Free iOS and iGrand Piano Free apps (downloadable from the App store), and also includes (with the Mac/PC virtual instrument) SampleTank 2L, downloadable from the IK Multimedia website.
iRig Keys accomplishes its multi-connectivity by sporting a universal connector that connects to various cables for your different devices. iOS and USB cables are included. Your iOS device provides power, but you can also simultaneously power it via the USB port. Obviously, when you connect it to a computer via the USB port, the USB port provides the power.
While iRig keys may not have all the bells and whistles as other larger controllers (i.e. drum pads, velocity sensitivity, etc.), the essentials are here: octave and program Up/Down buttons, pitch bend and modulation wheels, and a Set button. IK Multimedia has an interesting video demonstrating the iRig Keys and Sampletank:
At the end of the day, the big question is how does it feel? Well, all things considered, iRig Keys is very playable with not much adaptation needed from using full-sized keys. While perhaps not as easy to play as something like an M-Audio Oxygen 8 controller (full-sized), the iRig Keys offers twelve more keys to play than the Oxygen (37 vs. 25). Conversely, the keyboard is much easier to play (and has more keys) than Korg’s Nanokey, though the Nanokey is smaller and lighter. We don’t typically reference other products in reviews, but it’s useful in this case to see that each product fits a different niche for the right player. Certainly, for travelling and using on a plane or in a hotel room, the iRig Keys delivers a great balance of size, weight, and control. Given there is a dedicated Set button to allow predesigned setups (as well as program change buttons), there may even be a niche to use the iRig Keys as a second or third keyboard in your on-stage rig while taking up virtually no space in your rig.
The control knobs include volume, ambience, lid, brightness, transpose, tuning, and release), and there is an included metronome which allows for tap tempo, a nice touch. There is also a built in recorder that even lets you quantize and overdub. Finally, there is a settings button that allows you to set the MIDI channel, velocity curve level, latency level, MIDI controller settings, and even a dock compatibility mode selector, which allows you to optimize your sound if you are getting distortion (which we did not experience).
So how does it sound? That’s the real question. In short, the pianos sound great! While you may not find the extensive tweakability that is present in some host-based virtual instrument or DAW plug-ins (like pedal noise or individual note parameters, for example), the most important and expected parameters are here. For the most part, each piano has a fullness and character across both the low and high ends, although a few of the pianos did sound a little similar to each other until tweaked from their factory settings. Let us be clear on this point: despite the diminutive hardware when used with iRig Keys, iGrand Piano is a pro-sounding piano app that if you played on stage, you would not be embarrassed by it. Quite the contrary, really.
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