Review: iRig Keys Universal Mini Keyboard

Portable keyboard for PC, Mac, iPad and iPhone

The iRig Keys portable MIDI keyboard controller.

IK Multimedia

Striking a Balance Between Cost and Features

Fresh off our review of the Korg microKEY 25, we take a look at another portable keyboard, the iRig Keys. Priced at about $100, the iRig Keys is a universal MIDI keyboard controller that tries to strike a balance between cost and features. So how does it fare in that goal? Well, let’s put the mini keyboard through the paces, shall we?

With 37 keys, the iRig features a range of three full octaves. That’s one octave more than the microKEY 25, allowing you more flexibility when layering tracks. The keys themselves are velocity sensitive, which means you can get a different effect for each note depending on whether you tap the keys lightly or press them hard. The response is pretty good, with no discernable lag when inputting notes via the keyboard. Key depth is a tad shallower than the microKEY and the iRig’s keys are also smaller.

Compatibility is pretty good — you can use the keyboard with a wide range of devices. The iRig connects to both PC and Mac via USB, with owners able to download the SampleTank 2 L software for both via the iRig site (the device will work with Garage Band, too). It also comes with a connector cord that sports Apple’s older 30-pin connector so you can use the device with the iPhone and iPad. Users can also download the free versions of iGrand Piano and SampleTank from the Apple App Store. Being able to power the iRig via just the iPad or iPhone alone is also another plus.

Wide Range of Features

A key strength of the iRig is its wide range of features. On the lower, left are two separate wheels for adjusting pitch bend and modulation so you can add effects to your music. There’s also a connection slot for folks who want to plug in an optional sustain pedal. Spread out across the top is a volume adjustment knob as well as buttons for adjusting your octave settings up or down by a maximum of three octaves.

Another key feature is the range of customization available with the device. This includes two program buttons for use with sound modules, including virtual instrument apps and plug-ins. You can also activate “Edit Mode” for a wide range of adjustments for things such as pressure sensitivity. This is actually a pretty neat feature since you can tailor the velocity sensitivity to your style of play.

In addition, you can set the MIDI to transmit channel via various keys as well as the MIDI control change number via the iRig’s VOL/DATA knob. You can send MIDI program changes or reset the keyboard back to original settings. Lastly, you can transpose the keyboard in semitones to play more difficult keys using easier ones. Overall, its wide range of features provides more options to advanced users who want get more out of a portable keyboard.

Potential Drawbacks

Despite its strengths, the iRig is not without its weaknesses. The smaller keys, for example, can be an issue for folks with larger hands, especially when playing more technical pieces that require more complicated movements. Accessing more advanced features can also be a bit complicated to feature out. Also, while being able to power the iRig via just the iPhone or iPad connector is a plus, it also means you can’t use the connector to charge your iOS device while the keyboard is connected.

Even with its drawbacks, however, the iRig is still a solid device overall for folks who want a universal keyboard controller that is also easily portable. If you’re looking for a MIDI keyboard with plenty of features that you can take along with your laptop or even your iPad or iPhone, then the iRig Keys is a solid device that’s worth looking into.

iRig Keys

  • Cost: $100
  • Keys: 37
  • Controllers: Pitch wheel, modulation wheel, octave up and down, program buttons
  • Compatibility: Windows, Mac, and iPad

Update: A new version of this gadget has been released since this review. Although most of the features remain the same, the new iRig Keys now come with Lightning, OTG to micro-USB and USB cables so you can play immediately using newer Apple iPads and iPhones. Folks using an older Apple device can still connect via a 30-pin cable. For connecting to PC or Mac, the included USB cable will suffice. And if you want to connect to an older iOS device, all you have to do is pick up an optional 30-pin cable.