iRig Keys 37 by IK Multimedia

 

What can help you decide between the many different mini MIDI keyboards available? Maybe IK Multimedia has something for us, so let’s see what iRig Keys 37 can offer with its three octaves of little keys.

by Alex Arsov, Nov. 2016

 

There are a large number of mini keyboards on the market. Finding the right one is not an easy task. I tried a solid number of other portable keyboards before I obtained Keys 37. Some were even cheaper, offering quite a bit less, plenty of them were more expensive, and a few of those even offered some additional things that iRig Keys 37 doesn’t have. It’s actually all about the options and your personal preferences.

As I already had some portable mini keyboards before this one, I know exactly what I should look for, the first thing being: one octave more. The main problem with all those two-octave keyboards, whether mini or even those with normal sized keys, is that you can’t play much more than some basic chords/chord inversions or some short solo passages. iRig Keys 37 keyboard comes with a three-octave range of keys, so it is much easier to play wider chords, including some bass notes. Maybe still not enough to play doubled basses in octaves along with a chords, but nevertheless it is almost unbelievable how much extra playing freedom you get with this additional octave.

The second, even more important reason why I decided to obtain iRig Keys 37 is the key action. When I tried it for the first time I was surprised how responsive the keys were on this mini keyboard. We all know how lousy and unresponsive the keys can be on all those “under 250 bucks” MIDI controllers, especially on mini keyboards with smaller keys. Of course, iRig Keys 37 doesn’t offer anything near the full weighted keys experience, but still, they are a bit less lightweight than most other keys on controllers in that price range and I found the iRig Keys 37 to be very playable. It is surprising how many of those small or even normal sized keyboards have issues with release action, not allowing you to play some faster notes because keys don’t go fast enough back into their normal position after releasing the key. Thankfully, I didn’t experience that issue with this model.

The last thing that totally convinced me were the “old school” pitch and mod-wheel controllers that I miss on many other models. Roland has this funny mod-wheel that always jumps back into the zero position after releasing it, making it almost impossible to record volume curves with string arrangements, muting the strings after releasing the mod-wheel. Some mini keyboards offer knobs instead of wheels, but they aren’t quite as practical as those classical mod-wheels. So, old fashioned is the “new fashion” for me. Those are the three main reasons why I chose this model over a ton of other models, developers and sizes. Portable but still very playable. So, let’s go to the details to see what else we get with this package.

 

Hardware

Three octaves with one additional note (thanks for this additional high C note, it is very handy), velocity sensitive, fully Core MIDI and USB compliant. No plug and pray, just plug and play. Working with PC, Mac iOS devices and with an additional cable it should also work with Android above version 5-0.

On the back you will find one very nice addition – an input for Sustain or Expression pedal. Didn’t notice that one on many other mini keyboards. I presume that Octave up and Octave down buttons are quite standard these days, so nothing unusual having those two on the front panel. As soon as you apply any octave button, the red LED light will flash for that button. If you press the same button again, the light will flash twice, letting you know how many octaves you are beyond the default one. Pressing both octave buttons at once, will set the EDIT mode where you can chose between different touch velocity sensitivity curves or even send an “all notes off message”, set the MIDI transmit channel or send some specific Program Change number. Not that you will need all those, but at least heaving an ability to set different velocity sensitivity curves is always a nice option. There are three fixed velocity options along with the default one, namely light, normal and heavy velocity settings. There is also one “rookie” option in this edit mode, allowing you to transpose the whole keyboard in semitones. Ideal solution for all those keyboard players that prefer to play F# major scale in their favorite, “only white keys please” position. I’m not one of them, but nevertheless I’m almost sure that quite soon a day will come when I will also use this function. It’s quite tempting.

All those settings or any other changes can be saved with the set button that offers up to four different sets that can be saved and recalled. On the left is also a slightly larger Volume / Data knob that is pre-assigned to MIDI volume but is also programmable. At the right are also two additional program buttons that send “Program Change MIDI” messages. The only problem is that most current virtual instruments don’t support that function, actually not having this option implemented in their core. We already mentioned Pitch and Mod wheels that felt much more solid than on any other mini keyboard I’ve tried before. Actually the whole keyboard looks quite solidly made.

My only criticism goes to the USB cable, actually mini USB switch that goes into the keyboard. The problem is that it goes only half-way inside the keyboard connector, not allowing you to push the switch totally inside the connector, leaving everything a bit vulnerable. I’m still open to the idea that this could just be the case with my particular piece of hardware. I spoke to shop assistant in a local music store about this issue (they didn’t have any other iRig Keys in stock at that moment, so I couldn’t check if this is only the case with my piece of hardware) and he told me that those tiny USB connectors are the main problem of most MIDI keyboards, regardless of the model or manufacturer. Just a few keyboards come with a slightly bigger connector, not being so fragile, while all those small keyboards by default use a few different versions of those tiny connectors. I know something about this topic as I have my broken M-Audio Keystation MINI somewhere in my studio with a connector now disconnected from keyboard’s motherboard.

Software

Every mini keyboard comes with lots of software and as this is a keyboard from well-known software developer, so you can be sure that there will be more than enough sounds added along with the hardware.

The first thing is the special edition of Sample Tank SE, a well-known virtual sampler from IK Multimedia. The full version comes with 4,000 different instruments, while this special edition brings us 400 various instruments in 20 categories. All in all 6.5 GB of samples. There is also The Grid, an additional collection of sounds, midi patterns and production kits. If that’s not enough then you can pick up an additional five sound packs from the Electronika or Beats series. It brings a nice number of loops, sounds or even instruments in the case of Elektronika, and of course a nice number of MIDI loops. All sound packs cover various contemporary genres. I presume there will be no problem in starting to make some interesting music with all that sound. I didn’t go for this product because of the software, but I can’t complain. Quite a wide array of sounds.

 

Conclusions

I’m perfectly happy with my piece of hardware. If you are looking for a MIDI controller with additional drum pads then maybe you should look for another keyboard that has those drum pads, or you can even buy an iRig Keys – iRig Pad bundle for €244 EUR. My requirements were quite simple: portability with one additional octave along with a good old fashioned mod and pitch wheel. I spent plenty of my precious time using two-octave keyboards. So, thanks, but not anymore. Also, I spent some time finding a mini keyboard with a good action, because there is nothing worse in this world than banging keys that react like over-ripe fruit. The software comes just as an bonus.

I also obtained an additional cable for Android devices for an additional €4 EUR in my local store. My first attempt at getting it connected was not successful, probably should have ask my kids to set this up. Anyway, as soon as my kids will be in the mood to help I will try it with my Android phone and then I will be mobile on all mobile devices.

More info on http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/irigkeys37/

iRig Keys 37 will cost you  € 97.59 EUR (vat included)

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