iRig Keys I0 25 REVIEW Great Potential but Difficult to Use
I am neither a music nor tech newb, but I am also not an expert. I started playing in Wind Ensembles in fifth grade and continued throughout high school and college. Alongside my love for music, I was able to watch the technological world advance exponentially. Only recently have I started to review tech and this has proven to be an entirely different experience. From headphones/speakers to children toys, to NAS/Cloud-based systems, to apps, to automotive tech, I have had to learn the nuances of each type of tech. I have not shied away from a challenge and the iRig Keys i/o keyboard proved to be just that, a challenge. At first sight, you may think that this was a fancy plug and play keyboard, but it was so much more than that. This piece of tech proved to best me at every turn.
The adage “Do not judge a book by its cover,” was probably made about an ugly book. iRig does not follow this age-old-rule because they did a fine job designing the packaging. One of the most iconic signs on an American road is an octagonal stop sign. In fact, even small children can recognize the red sign and white lettering. Intelligently, the red and white color scheme was utilized by iRig. The front of the 16 3/4 inches long by 12 inches wide by 3 5/8 inches thick retail package was adorned with a top-down and back view of the 75% size image of the i/o keyboard. The bold black title “iRig Keys I/O 25” was stylistically placed along the top right, and you have a list of SampleTank 3, Syntronik Pro-V and T-RackS deluxe apps that were included with the kit. The white cover was an impressive backdrop for the keyboard, with a pleasing contrast between the black coloration of the base and the black keys. The red colored sides, top and bottom of the box further enhanced the visual appeal.
The top panel provided ten icons which detailed most of the functions of the i/o keyboard: 25 synth action, velocity sensitive keys, 8 multifunction pads, Guitar, Line, Mic input, headphone/line out, touch-sensitive buttons/sliders, 24bit/96kHz sampling rate, USB and battery powered, iOS/Mac/PC, included iPhone/iPad stand, included lightning and USB cables. The bottom panel details the product compatibility list (iPhone 5/c/s, 6/plus, 7/plus, SE, iPad Pro 9.7/12.9, iPad mini (all), iPad Air/2, 4th/5th generation, iPod touch 5th/6th generation, Mac OS X 10.6or later and PC XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10) and includes full version software for iOS (SampleTank3, Syntronik Pro-V) and Mac/PC (T-RackS Deluxe, Ableton Live Lite, PreSonus Studio One Prime). Flipping the product to the back, iRig masterfully showcased their product along the bottom but missed a little on the verbiage. I applaud the multilingual paragraph detailing the all-in-one 25 key ultra-compact MIDI controller with input/output audio interface, impressive sampling rate, MFI cables, Class A mic pre with 48V phantom power, balanced stereo, and headphone output, and app/software opportunities. However, providing the same information for ten languages added a lot of information to the back panel.
Opening the side panel, you can easily slide out the all-white internal box. Inside, you will find the 14 5/8 inches long by 8 1/4 inches wide by 2 1/2 inches thick (base to tip of touch-sensitive knobs) I/O MIDI keyboard along with the bottom. Along the top, you will find an accessory box with the 27 inches long lightning to 7 pin MIDI and a USB-A to 7 pin Din MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) the iPad/iPhone stand, two manuals (red instruction manual and black advertisement book detailing other iRig products) and a software download card. The instruction manual was quite vague, leaving out the necessary information. You will want to scan the QR code along the bottom left of the inner cover, to learn more about this device. In a nutshell, download the apps, obtain and install four AA batteries (or buy the AC charger separately), and then plug either the MIDI USB or MIDI iPhone cable into the back of the keyboard and then into your device.
The might of the MIDI keyboard is not in the pearly whites; it is in the input/output ports along the back. This single device will accommodate an XLR microphone input and if you press the 48V button, can provide power to a powered microphone. If desired, you can also plug in your 1/4 inch electric guitar line into the input port to gain access to your digital ax. You can control the gain by turning the knob on the back of the MIDI keyboard. Most people do not understand Gain vs. Volume; I was one of those before this review. I found a very helpful webpage detailing the difference between gain and volume and encourage you to read about the difference. I do not play guitar, so the amp education was not something I previously sought out. However, the nerd in me ate this stuff up. Additionally, the back of the device has 1/4 inch outputs for Left/Right speakers and mixers, an input for a pedal and you can plug a separate pair of headphones into the device. As I said above, this is much more than just a simple keyboard.
I have read many of the reviews on the device stating that it was a simple plug and play. I can attest that this was not my experience, at least not with the iPad Pro 10.5″ or the MacBook Pro. This is not a simple electric keyboard; you cannot just plug it into your iPad and expect to jam on the beautiful, yet unweighted, keys. Unweighted does not mean bad, because the keys had good recoil and were very sensitive. When I plugged the iRig into my iPad Pro 10.5 (not listed on the box), I just wanted to play the keyboard on Garage Band. No matter what I tried, I could not get the native speakers of my iPad or iPhone to work with the device. The keyboard would work, it would record, but I had to plug a pair of headphones into the keyboard to listen to the sound. I searched the internet, adjusted settings, and outputs and alas, I could not get it to work. Plugging the device into my MacBook Pro, I was able to select the output device specifically and was able to record my version of Axel F. I enjoyed the C2-c4 notes and the ability to increase/decrease the octave by touching the active button. The drum pads along the top right were relatively quiet and were arranged in a 2×4 position. You could program each of these buttons if you were so inclined. The knobs along the top were touch sensitive and programmable, but this process proved to be tedious without a software editor (follow along in the manual). Just to the left of the octave button, you can find a pitch/bend slider. If you do not touch the slider, it will revert to the middle. If you slide your finger up, it will bend the pitch up and if down, negative. The keys and drum pads have velocity sensitivity and will work
This is a highly complex system, and it was fun to play/learn, but I have so much more to learn. I had numerous setbacks and I found that this tech was not something that I personally would get much use out of. I tried to link my Fifine Professional Cardioid Studio Microphone to the iRig and at this point, I think I had an interface issue as the Fifine Cable worked fine but an Amazon XLR cable that I purchased separately would not work with or without phantom power. The knobs were responsive, the keys were responsive and used the ALT button, you gain a whole new set of button options. I wish that the LCD would show more than three characters and I also wish that the manual was included and not obtainable via QR code. Most of the reviews that I found online did not talk about the actual use of the device; they rehashed the product features. This piece of tech was very complicated and is likely not for the computer or music novice. I have tested/used other iRig gear and did fine. My goal was to use Garageband and not to have to learn another piece of software. It was nice that they included so many features of the device. I hope that there are people that can utilize this device as it seems like the perfect MIDI controller. Being more stubborn than most, I stuck with this far longer than I have other devices that I could not get to work properly. The design looked absolutely amazing, the size was perfect, and the layout was exquisite. However, it did not work with my devices, the included book documentation was not helpful, no audio through the iOS speaker, must use headphones, did not work with microphone (microphone plugged directly into my computer and worked okay), iPad/iPhone stand will not work with a case.
I hate to leave negative reviews, but I have to be honest with my own testing. I did not download the additional software as stated I wanted to play on Garageband. The box says this should have been possible, the website and the app also detailed Garageband. For me, the device was not understandable and I fear that many people will get frustrated and send it back.
Originally published at macsources.com on April 20, 2018.