IK Multimedia iRig Keys I/O 25 Review
IK Multimedia is a company that has been making musician focused software and hardware since 1996. They are best known for their T-RackS plugins and have a very loyal following on social media. I’ve followed this company’s products for a while, but I’ve never found a reason to acquire one until now. Why? well If you’ve ever considered or attempted to make music on the road using either a laptop or mobile device you’ve probably come across this problem…audio. One of the major downsides to making music on the road is access to a quality audio interface with proper preamps and DACs. Most mobile musicians (the ones who create music digitally, not with real instruments) are usually limited to the soundcards in their tablets, phones or laptops. There are dedicated interfaces on the market that allow you to squeeze some decent audio from your mobile device, but these are typically low-quality or very expensive. Another problem faced by the mobile musician is the lack of expansion ports so even if you can find a decent interface for your phone, tablet, or laptop you may eventually face a problem where you don’t have enough ports to connect your devices. There are solutions to all these problems, but they usually include the need to travel with more gear which completely defeats the purpose of having a mobile setup in the first place.
As Stated earlier IK Multimedia is one of the leaders in mobile-centric hardware for iOS devices under their iRig moniker. They also have a few Android compatible devices as well although the unit we will be reviewing today is not officially one of them. The iRig Keys I/O 25 is a special device it’s not unique in what it offers but it is currently the only MIDI controller on the market in its price range that features full-size synth-action keys and an audio interface in a compact 25 key package. The goodness doesn’t stop there though. The unit also has 8 backlit velocity-sensitive drum pads, two multi-function capacitive sliders, dedicated transport controls and 5 endless encoders including one that is clickable. On top of all that you get access to the company’s TRackS Deluxe and Sample Tank 3 software which includes 10 mixing and mastering tools and over 33GB of samples, 4,000 ready-to-play instruments, 2,500 rhythm loops, and 2,000 MIDI files. Finally, they tossed in a copy of Ableton Live Lite (Not Intro as stated on some sites) for good measure and the unit can be powered by USB, Batteries or by a dedicated power supply that is sold separately.
The iRig Keys I/O 25 carries on the trend of minimalistic but attractive design cues typically featured by the company’s products. It has a simple Black and White color scheme with glossy plastic on the top half of the controller and matte plastic on the bottom. I want to tell you that the build quality of this controller is great, but it feels cheap. The company’s website touts their factory in Modena Italy but the unit I received was made in China. That’s not necessarily a red flag though because let’s face it practically everything is made in China nowadays. I did notice some minor blemishes on the bottom of the unit but nothing too unexpected in this price range. The back of the unit has all the connectors for the important bits. There is a Sustain pedal input, a Neutrik combo jack with phantom power, dual ¼ inch jacks for audio output from the interface in addition to a headphone jack for separate monitoring of the output signal. The controller can be powered by either USB or 4 AA batteries that were provided in the box, it also has a “DC IN” jack on the back for a separate power supply that the company states will charge your iOS device when it’s connected to the controller. On the topic of connections. The I/O series of controllers have a special “Device” port on the back of the unit that allows you to use different cables depending on what device you want to connect the controller to. There were two cables included in the box at the time of purchase, one with a typical PC USB connector and another with a Thunderbolt connector for use with iPhones and iPads.
Using the Keys, I/O is what you would expect from a controller of this size in the $100-$200 USD price range. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table in the Keyboard Controller arena. Yes, the keys are full size, but the drum pads and sliders are tiny. The knobs feel cheap and “rattle” when touched almost like they will come off if twisted too hard. I’m sure that is not the case though since once you start turning them they move very smoothly and in a controlled manner, but the initial touch will always throw you off. The Synth action keys are just that, not weighted but are velocity sensitive. The multi-functional sliders are a little too sensitive for my taste and can be a bear when trying to make precise changes (like changing octaves and pitch bending). I’m sure with time a reasonable person can work within these limitations, but they are limitations nonetheless.
So, the part you’ve been waiting for and the saving grace of this hybrid controller is the built-in audio interface. Let me just get this out of the way right now. If you are using this product for what it was designed for, as in connecting it to your iPad or iPhone, you are good to go, it works flawlessly, and you can stop reading this review right now. If on the other hand, you are a PC user (I can’t speak for Macs since I don’t have one to test) you want to read everything I type in the next few paragraphs and let it sink in before you think about using this device to replace your existing mobile setup. Okay, so first I want to thank the guys at IK Multimedia for even having the Cojones to release a device like this in the cookie cutter MIDI Controller market. For their first attempt (to my knowledge) at a hybrid unit they did a reasonably okay job and I’m sure the V2 of this device will blow everything else out of the water. That being said, if you are going to be using this with a PC be aware that this unit “cannot be used” with professional production software because of one glaring omission by the guys at IK. It has no ASIO drivers and based on what I’ve seen from the company there will be none. They do have built-in WASAPI support for Windows 10 devices and I have used this with some success, but many professional apps will not allow you to use certain functions or will perform poorly without proper ASIO driver support. The company suggests that those of us that require ASIO functionality should use the open source ASIO4All driver and even though this is a functional workaround it is not the same as having dedicated drivers.
Another limitation of the interface is that it only has one input which means that you won’t be able to record stereo sound sources. With dual inputs, this thing could have been a mobile musician’s powerhouse. Imagine having a little external mixer with a synth or looper attached and then your Mic(s) and drum-machine, sampler etc. connected and then piped in through a stereo capable interface which doubled as your MIDI controller right into your DAW. This would be the killer app. I know that this limitation was not implemented because of size, the reason being that there is a larger 49 Key version of this unit that has the same 1 channel input. I’m sure they did this to avoid cannibalizing their synth software by allowing external high-quality stereo sound sources which would probably prevent you from having the need to purchase the expansion packs for Sample Tank and Syntronik software included with the controller. By doing this they limited the potential of this unit to people that can actually sing, something that I definitely cannot do.☹ All jokes aside, unless you are comfortable with mono input from your external sound sources or you are a classically trained vocalist, you are probably better off using the soundcard that came with your PC. As I mentioned earlier if you are using an iOS device with this unit then you’re all set. When I connected the keyboard to my iPad 2 Mini and installed the iOS version of Sample Tank the unit popped right up showing a little “MIDI Connector” in the lower right-hand side of the software just above the virtual keyboard. After that, I was able to use the pads and keys on the controller to play the instruments on the tablet.
I think this product fills a large void in the Midi Controller market with its hybrid approach, especially for mobile musicians that depend mainly on their iOS devices for most of their audio content when playing out. I also think that this company missed a huge opportunity by intentionally releasing a neutered Interface and not providing proper drivers for PC users. Maybe this was their way of testing the waters before they went all in with an iRig Keys I/O Plus or whatever. Maybe they know who their market is and are comfortable with their current profits negating the need to expand and capture additional market share. It could possibly be that the hardware they are selling is just a way to get you to start using their software (which is great by the way) so that they can do the old upsell on you which would eventually eclipse whatever you spent on the hardware in the first place. Maybe it’s the obvious reason, cost. It could be that there was no way they could release a complete product at this price point, so they came as close as they could and released an unfinished product to see how the market would react. I don’t know what their reasons were but regardless of how useless some of the features on this controller are, I will be keeping it because, well, the software is pretty damn good, and they included a free stand to put my iPad on as it sits on my bookshelf gathering dust. Also, full-size keys are hard to get in this price range with such a small overall form factor. I hope the guys at IK read this review and fix the problems in the next version. I will definitely support a company that is willing to take risks!
- All-in-one, fully portable, ultra-compact MIDI controller with 24-bit / 96kHz capable input/output audio interface for iPhone, iPad, Mac and PC
- Available in 49 or 25 keys versions with full size keys and smooth, velocity-sensitive, synth-action keyboard
- Smart, ultra-compact, elegant design
- Easily transportable, fits anywhere
- MFi certified by Apple (“Made for iPhone and iPad”) includes Lightning Cable
- Includes mobile device support stand
- Comprehensive controls: 2 slider strips for pitch and modulation (user programmable,) octave, program change and transport controls, 5 programmable touch sensitive knobs, 8 velocity-sensitive multi-colored assignable pads
- Neutrik® combo input jack for line, instrument or microphones
- 48V phantom power button
- Balanced stereo and headphone outputs
- Powered by USB, 4 AA batteries or optional external power supply (charges your iOS device)
- Comes with the most comprehensive collection of software instruments and pro studio processors on the market: a value of over $550 (25-keys model) and $750 (49-keys model) for software and apps
Get Your own iRig Keys I/O 25