IK Multimedia is the undisputed leader in the mobile music-making game. If you can plug it into a phone or tablet to record or create music, they probably make it. I’ve played a great number of their products and reviewed them – so how does the iRig Keys Mini stack up to the rest?
The iRig Keys Mini ($79.99 direct) is a 25 key MIDI controller keyboard made for mobile devices. You can also plug it into a computer with a standard USB cable (included), but it’s main purpose is to be compact enough to take with you and create music on the go. It’s by far the most simple of the iRig Keys series (of which there are now 3), having exactly one port, one knob, and two buttons. The keys are also mini keys, like the original iRig Keys but unlike the Keys Pro, which has full-size keys. It comes with 3 different cables for different types of devices (Apple, Android, USB) all of which power the keyboard from the device.
Let’s be real – you’re not going to be playing Chopin on this thing. The keys are small, and the keyboard is small, and that’s pretty far from the point. That’s not to say that you couldn’t use it for performance, it’s just mainly for other purposes. I personally used it for composing songs, entering MIDI into Pro Tools with my elementary keyboard skills, mostly one short phrase at a time (quantizing all the way!), programming drums, and not much else. For this purpose, it shines. Its compact size left lots of room on my studio desk, and taking it on vacation with me was no problem.
It was plug-and-play across all devices I tested it on, and although I didn’t really use it for any kind of advanced moves, it did its job without any problems the whole time I used it. The keys feel pretty good, and didn’t impede my terrible technique, although anything this light is of course going to feel a bit cheap. I think for a studio MIDI controller for producers, there are many better options, and if you’re looking for something that will take up permanent residence in your studio, this might not be it, but I haven’t found something better for mobile.
As I mentioned, it has only one hole in it, which means no sustain pedal port. Also, no pitch or mod wheel of any kind, which inhibits anyone who plays with expression, which doesn’t include me at all. Once again, this is hardly to the point, but just further demonstrates the intention of it, which is note entry more than anything else.
I can see this also being used to trigger samples in live performance – for instance, when I interviewed Symphony X on their rig, their keyboardist was using a MIDI controller to trigger certain things like big drum hits, 808s, backing choirs and the like. If you wanted to add that kind of sampling to your live keyboard rig, you could just attach the Keys Mini to your phone or device and trigger the samples off of that to FOH. You don’t need a whole full-size keyboard to do something like that, so the Keys Mini could be perfect for the job.
The iRig Keys Mini is the perfect addition to your mobile recording/composing rig. If you’re a real keyboardist, you will find it to be extremely limited in a performance capacity, so I’d look elsewhere, but for on-the-go MIDI control, it sits in a nice spot between something like the Korg NanoKEY and anything just too big to be considered mobile. A great combination with any of the other IK mobile stuff I’ve reviewed, such as the iRig Pads (although it could be a tad redundant, as you can program drums on the Keys), iRig Pro Duo, and the iRig Mic Studio. I know I’ll be taking all this stuff with me on my next trip!