Reviews: iRig Keys Pro

Have you ever wished you could have one keyboard that worked on your iOS devices and your computer? IK Multimedia reckon they might have just the thing and Hollin Jones is on call to test it out.  

IK Multimedia seems to have an insatiable hunger to create iOS-compatible audio and MIDI devices, and we are seeing new stuff with astonishing frequency. The latest is the iRig Keys Pro, a bigger brother to the iRig Keys that has full-size piano keys and a few other tricks up its sleeve as well. It's one of a new wave of hardware products that span both the iOS and desktop worlds. Developers and manufacturers are realizing that musicians usually have a computer, an iPhone and an iPad, or some combination of the three, and that they want their devices to work with them all. 

The tricky part here hasn't been so much the software side of it: Core MIDI is built into OS X and iOS and generally means no drivers are required for external hardware. It's the physical ports, with computers using USB and iOS hardware using 30-pin Dock or Lightning connectors (depending on its age). IK deals with this in the Pro by providing all three, which few competitors are doing at present. 

iRig Keys Pro

What do you get?

In the box are three cables, though they're not exactly what you might be expecting. Two are for iOS devices and have a small MIDI / power connection at one end, and a 30-pin and Lightning plug on the other, respectively. The third is a micro USB to USB cable for connecting the keyboard to a computer. Micro USB has presumably been used as part of an overall aim of achieving minimal weight. Indeed, the Pro is extremely lightweight and portable while still feeling solid. 

pic connectors for iRig Keys Pro

It's great that IK is supplying all three cables since this should account for everyone's setups. If like me, for example, you have an iPhone 4S and an iPad 4 you'd need both connection types to use the iRig Keys Pro with the two devices. This is largely down to Apple's policy of never being afraid to ditch technologies in the name of progress, and support for both connections will likely have to continue until the most recent 30-pin devices eventually become obsolete. One small gripe is that the cables could do with being a bit longer. I know you're probably going to have your iPad nearby when playing, but the cables feel a little bit restrictive in length at the moment. 

iPad connected to iRig Keys Pro

Up and running

Once connected to an iOS device, the keyboard powers from its battery, though helpfully will only come alive when a Core MIDI-capable app is launched. So initially you wonder why nothing is working, but when you launch GarageBand or one of the free bundled apps'"iGrandPiano or SampleTank Free'"it all wakes up. This is useful since it shouldn't drain your battery when the keyboard is connected but a music app is not in the foreground. On your computer it is active the whole time, and you get SampleTank 2L for Mac or PC as a bonus.

MIDI control on iOS is something of a mixed bag, with the level of flexibility usually coming down to the design of whatever app you happen to be using. A couple of free piano apps I tried exhibited a little latency, but the vast majority of iOS music apps exhibited none at all, suggesting that it was poor coding of the free apps that was at fault. For the most part, the Pro is 'plug and play'

Hollin Jones was classically trained as a piano player but found the lure of blues and jazz too much to resist. Graduating from bands to composition then production, he relishes the chance to play anything with keys. A sometime lecturer in videographics, music production and photography post production, Hollin has been a freelance w... Read More

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