Size and mobility are two qualities that come to mind when choosing gear for the budding DJ/producer. You can buy a really tiny keyboard controller, but if the keys are too small to be usable for you, what’s the point? We heartily recommend the iRig Keys if you want to start producing and are looking for a controller for home and gig use. The larger iRig Keys PRO is also great value for someone looking for a regular-sized keyboard with a smaller footprint. You can pair either model with your tablet / phone / laptop, and you’ve got a synth and production environment on the go.
First Impressions / Setting up
What I love about IK Multimedia gear is that they come with cables for different types of platforms. Inside the iRig Keys and iRig Keys PRO boxes you’ll find all the leads you need for whatever device you’ve got: Lightning for iOS, USB for Mac and PCs, and just recently USB to OTG for Android. It’s a nice touch, and I’ve yet to hear someone complain about getting all these extra goodies.
Both the iRig Keys and the iRig Keys PRO come in all-plastic enclosures. The iRig Keys, which is the mini keyboard, is very light, but doesn’t feel cheap at all. The slightly heavier iRig Keys PRO is also quite light, considering it’s got 37 full-sized keys, so in the heft department they both get top marks.
Both controllers have Pitch and Mod Wheels, a volume knob, and buttons for changing octaves and settings in software. Speaking of which, both controllers come with a suite of apps for iOS, Android, and Mac/PC that include iGrand Piano and the company’s Sampletank 3 SE sample workstation.
I’ve got a small desk that my iMac sits on, so squeezing gear on a tiny space is just something I have to live with unless I get a big desk, which won’t happen since I’ve got a small room. I immediately felt like the iRig Keys with the smaller keybed would be the better fit for my table set-up, so I plugged it in first and fired up Ableton.
For the record, these are some of the nicest mini keys you can get for the money: They’re springy and a bit stiff, with just the right action for playing. I’ve tried out some pretty lousy mini keys in the past (shoddy Casio clones from my childhood come to mind), and those just really take all the joy out of using a controller. This is a mini keyboard that’s fun to use.
Next I tried out the iRig Keys PRO with the full-sized keys. The bigger keys felt a little bit looser than the iRig Keys, but they still played OK. The Pitch and Mod Wheels are also larger here, and I think folks with bigger hands will appreciate that. Personally, I liked the feel of the mini keys more, though. The octave and program buttons are the same for both controllers, and the volume knob works as it should.
After having a go with Ableton, I tried both controllers on my iPad running Arturia’s iProphet synthesiser, which I love to use when producing and even at some live shows. Again, no need for any external power supplies, I just connected them via Lightning and off I went.
In a nutshell, both controllers performed as expected: They worked on different platforms without a hitch, and the keys are good for the price, them being within the reach of a beginner wanting to get into production. I also liked the fact that while the iRig Keys PRO had full-size keys, it still wasn’t huge – if I wanted more space on my tabletop, I can just unplug it and put it on a shelf.
I’d have to say that I was more impressed with the iRig Keys though. The size is just right to make it both a portable and a studio controller, and the keys themselves feel great. The fact that it’s a three-octave keyboard controller makes a sweet deal even sweeter, because you can practice playing with both your hands, something that you’re somewhat limited at doing by using a 25-key controller.
We heartily recommend the iRig Keys if you want to start producing and are looking for a controller for home and gig use. It’s pretty small for the number of keys, too, so you can take this with you when you travel or at your next gig.
The larger iRig Keys PRO is also great value for someone looking for a regular-sized keyboard with a smaller footprint, but we just really love how small yet extremely functional the iRig Keys are. Nevertheless, you can pair either model with your tablet / phone / laptop, and you’ve got a synth and production environment on the go.