REVIEW: IK Multimedia’s iRig Keys I/O MIDI controller

As IK Multimedia continues to produce interesting portable products for musicians, the company has introduced a new piece of kit that aims to “evolve the concept of traditional controllers”.

The iRig Keys I/O is not only a savvy MIDI controller, but also an audio interface with 24-bit audio and a 96kHz sampling rate.

Available in a 25 or 49-key model, MI Focus editor Laura Barnes tested out the larger sized controller to see if it lives up to its promise of being “the all-in-one music production station that goes anywhere you want”.

Starting off with the look and feel of the iRig Keys I/O, the 49-key model is surprisingly light weight for its size. In fact, I have a couple of smaller sized controllers that feel slightly heavier. Despite this, the device doesn’t feel too flimsy. Sure, if you bashed it about on the road it probably wouldn’t last years, but at a quite low price point of €299.99, you wouldn’t expect something that’s going to last a life time.

Despite its reasonable pricing and easy portability, the iRig Key I/O manages to look like a product that’s perhaps a little more expensive. Its black and white colour scheme will work well on stage and its big, touch sensitives buttons and knobs not only look good, but allow musicians to easily adjust and manipulate their sounds on the fly without fear of jabbing the wrong thing.

The device comes with a set of touch sensitive programmable sliders, as well as a series of knobs and a row of velocity-sensitive multi-coloured pads. All three sections, which run along the top of the controller are a joy to use. The sliders do their job and make it easy to bend pitches and move octaves.

Whether it’s because I’m a drummer and thus my natural instinct is to hit things, or that I’ve spend many years in my youth messing around on very old, cheap keyboards, for some reason, I assumed the pads on the left-hand side needed to be firmly pressed in order to get a proper use out of them. In actual fact, the velocity sensitivity works incredibly well, meaning you’re able to express yourself even more than usual on the buttons alone.

The actual keys themselves are as light as you’d expect from a synth, so those wanting a weightier piano-like feel won’t find it here. For what I personally use this type of gear for – messing around on software on my MacBook and iPhone – this is ideal.

The other thing I like about the keys are they’re quite long. Oftentimes I’ve noticed that manufacturers tend to make a device more portable by making everything, including the keys, that little bit smaller. Personally, I find it something like the iRig Keys I/O much easier to stretch my hands over and hit the intended keys rather than ending up in a bit of a kerfuffle.

Moving on to the iRig Keys I/O’s audio interface, it’s quite easy to see the advantages this gives users. There are much fewer cables, wires and head scratching when getting your controller set up with whatever situation you’re intending to use it in.

For me, being able to connect the keyboard directly to my iPhone and MacBook via the supplies cables is a blessing. There’s even a little attachable stand to put your mobile device onto to help you keep everything contained. I had no problem using it straight away with Garageband and a few other pieces of software on both devices, without the need to install anything.

If you’re new to making music, or you fancy trying out some new software, IK Multimedia has also included a comprehensive software bundle to get you creating tunes as fast as possible. The pack includes, SampleTank 3, T-RackS 4 Deluxe mix and mastering suite, Syntronik Pro-V vintage synthesizer and Miroslav Philharmonik 2 CE.

Plus, for iPhone and iPad users the full version of SampleTank, Syntronik Pro-V and Miroslav Philharmonik 2 collection are also included.

In a recording studio situation, everything can be connected directly to the Keys I/O, and with a built-in headphone output, you’ll also find this a useful device for practicing on.

There’s also a balanced stereo output for live situations, meaning cables can run directly from the controller to the PA or mixer. And if you’re having trouble finding a power point, you can insert four AA batteries to make the iRig Keys I/O a truly portable, and powerful, piece of kit.