IK Multimedia’s iRig Keys I/O aims to be a one-stop station for portable music production. Combining 49 full-size keys, MIDI controls, 8 drum pads, and a full 24-bit/96 kHz audio interface, this iRig model is an enticing option for mobile music producers and keyboardists alike.
IN THE BOX
One of the iRig’s biggest selling points is compactness, so there aren’t many pieces to unbox here. The keyboard contains all the essential “studio” features within a thin and streamlined body, and comes with a form-fitting case for portable use. According to IK, in fact, both iRig Keys I/O models are the smallest full-sized controllers on the market. While the iRig Keys I/O is bus-powered, a separate power adapter and lightning cable were included in the box for use with iOS devices. An attachable stand for mobile devices is also included.
Above the 49-key full-size keybed, the iRig Keys I/O sports touch-sensitive controls for pitch, modulation, octave adjustments, program changes, and transport functions. An LED readout in the middle displays MIDI data, followed by five programmable endless MIDI knobs. Finally, 8 touch-sensitive pads comprise the right side of the control surface.
The iRig’s back panel contains one of its most exciting features: a fully integrated audio interface. The device uses a proprietary USB connection, with jacks for balanced 1/4” and 1/8” output, and a combination mic/line input with phantom power and gain control. The controller also has a tandem footswitch input for a sustain or expression pedal.
IN THE FIELD
The iRig’s 49 full-size keys are refreshingly comfortable, especially when stacked up against other small controllers that eschew key size in favor of convenience. The keybed’s synth action could be more expressive, but it’s comparable to similar basic MIDI controllers like the M-Audio Oxygen. I certainly prefer the full-size keys to the miniature keys that many small controller manufacturers opt for.
The iRig enables you to edit all the MIDI messages for its controls, a feature that’s surprisingly lacking in many modern MIDI controllers. Its expandability encourages many exciting options for producers who prefer specific, customized workflows.
The touch sensitive controls are a sleek feature, but they’re a bit too sensitive at times. It’s easy to trigger these buttons by accident when performing with the keyboard, especially while using the modulation controller. On the opposite side of the keyboard, the drum pads are too resistant. Pad sensitivity is adjustable, but the baseline hardware threshold to register a MIDI value is a bit too high. On the lowest velocity setting, light taps don’t register, and extremely heavy pad strikes top out between 110-120.
The iRig’s built-in audio interface is, by far, its best feature. I explored its functionalities with IK’s iRig Mic Studio XLR, a little condenser mic that includes a small XLR cable and portable stand/mount. Setup was a breeze; the mic came through loud and clear with low latency, and no extra effort required. I would prefer IK used a more standard USB connector for the iRig Keys I/O 49, however. IK’s Mini-DIN connection restricts usage to the included Mini-DIN to USB cable, which is quite inconvenient to replace.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: IK Multimedia now offers a Mini-DIN (male) to Mini-DIN (female) extender cable that will allow a user to expand the distance between the Keys I/O and the connected iOS device.]
Finally, the iRig Keys I/O 49 is bundled with a ton of useful, quality software so you can hit the ground running: SampleTank 3, T-RackS Deluxe, Syntronik Pro-V’s Prophet emulator, and the Miroslav Philharmonik CE orchestral plugin.
Extremely compact and portable, quality integrated audio interface, full-size keys, full programmable MIDI controls.
USB cables use uncommon connectors and are short. Limited range of pad sensitivity.
Cale Hawkins is a multi-instrumentalist and writer who has worked with Quincy Jones, Nate Ruess, Wyclef Jean, Bilal, Nikki Yanofsky and others. Find out more at www.calehawkins.com