ONCE UPON A TIME
If this were a bedtime story, it would be similar to Goldilocks finding herself lost in the woods. In this version, however, Goldilocks is a keyboard artist lost in her local music store.
Lost and surrounded by so many confusing and overwhelming selections, what will she do? Suddenly she sees a display in the distance with the large letters “I K”, could she be saved at last? Let’s find out.
BACK TO REALITY
Being a musician is not quite a fairy-tale. We are put in similar situations where we feel lost trying to find a solution for a specific problem, in this case finding the right keyboard controller.
At times it’s not possible to travel with a full size 88 note weighted keyboard, even 61 notes could still be too large. On the other end of the spectrum, smaller 25 note controllers might be too small for your particular application. This is where the iRig Keys I/O 49 from IK Multimedia comes in and “spoiler alert”, it might be “just right“.
49 IS A MAGIC NUMBER
At first glance the iRig Keys 49 is deceptively small. It features a full-sized keyboard but in a very sleek form factor. The IK Multimedia designers really made the most of the space and struck a wonderful balance in proportioning the keys with the rest of the enclosure. 88 keys would have been too many and in my case, 25 keys were not enough so 49 seems to be “just right”.
The keys are the full length and width you would expect in a much larger keyboard. I find many of the smaller keyboard controllers feel mushy and light but the iRig Keys I/O 49 had enough resistance while being very responsive. I have an inside joke that it could keep up with Jordan Rudess very nicely.
JUMPING IN WITH BOTH HANDS
Another significant reason I am loving the number 49 is that unlike smaller keyboards, I feel comfortable playing using “both” hands. This makes it a gamechanger for me as far as the usability in certain situations. My hands naturally fall where they are supposed to be without a feeling of being limited. Of course, I am not going to be doing anything too fancy but who knows what inspiration might strike?
SENSITIVE BUT IN A GOOD WAY
The iRig Keys I/O 49 takes a novel approach in the type of controls provided. Departing from traditional “physical” wheels and levers, they have presented the user with “touch-sensitive” controls which by default are set for Pitch Bend and Modulation.
Next, you have a touch control for shifting the keyboard octave (up or down) and lastly a touch control to cycle through program changes (up or down).
One way to use the touch style of controller is to approach it like a very small “ribbon” controller. This allows you to just “tap” (as well as slide) an area on the touch strip to send a control value. It is great for “hammer-on” type of effects when using the pitch control. This can also serve as a sort of rocker switch emulation when using the modulation strip (ie. enabling a fast/slow speed on a virtual tonewheel organ).
I think the reasoning behind going with touch-sensitive controls instead of physical ones might be that they would more roadworthy and less likely to fail.
Moving on you have a nice transport section that can be used to control functions in your DAW of choice as well as control some virtual instrument workstations starting and stopping loop and arpeggiators, etc.. You also have buttons for editing and entering different modes for the controls.
Next, you have the main display which provides information regarding the status of presets and rotary controls when setting up and using the iRig Keys I/O. The small LED indicator below the main display serves as an input meter of sorts when you have an external audio source connected to the iRig Keys I/O; did I just say “audio”?
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
So this far we have a very capable and portable keyboard MIDI controller but if you look a little closer you will be surprised to see a Mic/Instrument combo jack on the back panel. Yes, that’s right the iRig Keys I/O also includes an AUDIO interface. This is ample enough for most purposes which could include using a vocal mic or plugging in your guitar or other audio sources. In fact, one of the accessories IK Multimedia offers is an ingenious “gooseneck” microphone that integrates right into the XLR connector.
PADS AND CONTROLS TO SPARE
The iRig Keys I/O provide 4 dedicated rotary controls you can use to control various MIDI parameters. Out of the box they are pre-mapped to the Macro controls in SampleTank and Miroslav Philharmonik 2 for instance.
So you have keys, touch sliders, rotary controls, and last but not least PADS. The iRig Keys I/O provide 8 velocity-sensitive RGB (multicolor) pads that respond to velocity with the pads color indicating the relative velocity value. Out of the box they are mapped to comply with most drum layouts.
You have the ability to adjust the velocity sensitivity scaling to adapt to your particular style of playing. Being a finger drummer myself I find the pads to be a nice addition as it helps you to think a little differently when triggering drums. You can also customize the pads channel, note, and controller assignments to give an added layer of flexibility.
WHEN 4 IS MORE
I am amazed at how engineers and developers come up with these amazing tools. Bringing a balance in features and keeping things as streamlined as possible can be challenging to say the least. How could they give us even more control; it is through the power of “ALT”.
As you can see in the images above there is additional “reversed” text below the main control labels, these are the functions accessed when engaging the ALT control. Four rotary controls become eight, transport controls are doubled in functionality. This is a simple way to provide more with less.
You will also notice numbers above some of the keys in the upper range of the keyboard. These serve as data entry keys to enter values for certain parameter functions and program changes. Once again instead of adding more overhead by adding a numeric keypad they leverage what we already have available.
MAKE IT YOUR OWN
Just like our fingerprints, we sometimes require different setups to meet specific performance situations. iRig Keys I/O gives you the flexibility to make that happen.
Starting with 5 factory presets (pre-configured for GarageBand, Logic, MainStage, Ableton Live) the iRig Keys I/O give you an additional 99 presets. You can customize the rotary controls, pad, touch sliders and the pedal input (sustain, switch or pedal (expression/volume).
THE BEST OF 3 WORLDS
Another feature of the iRig Keys I/O series of controllers is the ability to use it with Windows, Mac and even iOS (iPads and iPhones) platforms. This is done by the special connector on the iRig Keys I/O which by using one of the included cables can connect the keyboard to USB/A (Windows/Mac) or the Lightning connector found on iPads and iPhones.
THERE’S EVEN MORE
IK Multimedia has provided a great package of applications to get you started or to add to your existing roundup of music applications.
If you are using an iPhone or iPad you have licenses for SampleTank, Miroslav Philharmonik 2 (with over 2gb of content), and a sampling of a couple of Syntronik Pro-V (Prophet-5 and Prophet-10). For Mac and PC users, they include SampleTank 3, Miroslav Philharmonik 2 CE, T-RackS Deluxe and Ableton® Live 10 Lite™
YES YOU CAN TAKE IT WITH YOU
Being a fully certified Apple MFi keyboard controller (“Made for iPod, iPhone, iPad,”) you can be assured of a complete plug and play experience.
There is a power adapter available that not only powers the iRig Keys but also provides power to and charges you iPad or iPhone. iRig Keys I/O can even be powered by 4xAA batteries when you really have to rough it. You can then pack everything into the iRig Keys I/O carrying case that is available and off you go.
If you are using an iPad or iPhone there is an included stand. The only drawback is that you must remove your device in order to use it. IK Multimedia offers additional options if necessary.
JUST RIGHT? I THINK SO!
In the time I have been using the iRig Keys I/O 49 I just keep saying over and over, “it’s just right”. The size, feel and features give me the confidence to use it as a main keyboard when a larger 61 or 88 key controller just is too big.
You can bring the iRig Keys I/O 49, your iPad (or iPhone), connect them to another one of my favorite products from IK Multimedia; the iLoud portable speaker, and you would be looking at a very capable performance setup.
So out of the woods, we go, with our new setup in tow, to bring joyous sounds to listeners everywhere whether high or low ( I just could not help myself). And the last I heard everyone lived happily ever after.
IK Multimedia also produces a 25 note version of the iRig Keys I/O as well as many other MIDI controller and audio interface solutions. Find out which one may be “just right” for you by visiting IK Multimedia’s website or better yet try and find them at your local music retailer to experience them first hand.
Here is a recent video showing my first experiences with the iRIG Keys IO 49: