As a Yamaha keyboard enthusiast for quite a few years now, the process of being able to perform and create music is a truly delightful experience. Using many of the flagship models from Yamaha, I certainly have one of the best, if not the best musical instruments currently available. The iPad includes many synthesizer sound generators and music notation software options and many of those feature the ability to connect external MIDI equipment.
This is where IK Multimedia’s iRig MIDI kit becomes an important addition to your Apple tablet and other compatible hardware…
Although I will be targeting the keyboard connectivity in this review, the iRig MIDI supports Drum Pads, Drum Machines and Pedalboards also.
My current keyboard is Yamaha’s flagship model the Tyros4 and with this musical instrument or with any other available keyboard from various manufacturers that are also compatible with the MIDI interface, will allow me to connect to the iOS device of my choice (in my case I prefer the iPad) and control many of the musical apps designed for this implementation.
So what are the advantages to this?
The primary functions of MIDI include communicating event messages about musical notation, pitch, velocity, control signals for parameters (such as volume, vibrato, audio panning, cues, and clock signals (to set and synchronize tempo) between multiple devices; these complete a signal chain and produce audible sound from a sound source.
Inputting musical notation using the virtual keys shown on-screen can often leave you with very mixed results. It’s certainly possible this way, however anyone who has enjoyed the feel of a ‘real’ keyboard will find this extremely limiting as it lacks the control and precision. By using the iRig MIDI interface and connecting a MIDI compatible keyboard, the world of music literally takes flight, limited only by your imagination.
You can purchase a MIDI compatible keyboard very cheaply these days, which may include a very limited set of on-board voices or even none whatsoever. The quality of any voices within the instrument can also be fairly average at best and although it may state it includes a representation of an oboe as part of its voice repertoire, the actual recreation it produces may sound very rough indeed.
Many iOS apps feature an extensive range of voices mimicking their real-life instrument counterparts and with the iRig MIDI and your ‘real’ keyboard connected – you will have access to all these amazing and diverse libraries for your performances and indeed personal masterpieces you create.
The iRig MIDI device itself is a small peripheral with the traditional Apple connector to attach to your iOS phone or tablet including the iPad, iPhone & iPod Touch. Connections for MIDI In, MIDI Out and MIDI Thru are available. For the vast majority of the time, using just the MIDI In port with the supplied cable and connecting the other end to the MIDI Out of your keyboard will suffice. There is also a port to the side of iRig MIDI to attach power to keep your iOS device charged while you have the device attached.
IK Multimedia also have their own iOS app known as Sampletank (free and paid versions available). Featuring a huge array of voices from sections including Drums, Bass, Guitar, Piano, Electric Piano, Organ, Chromatic, Strings, Brass, Woodwinds, Synth Leads, Synth Pads and many more besides. The quality of these voices compared to those that are included on the lower end of the market stored within actual musical keyboards shine very brightly indeed and although I have been totally spoilt by Yamaha’s flagship keyboard, they stand up very well for the price. The samples are all clear, expressive and more importantly musically appropriate. They aren’t top of the range as you notice slight imperfections within the recordings, however Sampletank which is just £13.99 and £27.99 if you want each and every voice available, it’s hard not to appreciate the quality.
The polyphony stands up surprisingly well to say you are using a tablet to create all the voices & effects and, even with both hands playing complex multi-finger chords, each note remained represented in the sound produced. There was no noticeable delay from pressing the key on the keyboard to the iPad playing back the required sound and operations including using the pitch bend & modulation wheels were accurately recognised.
Although Sampletank has a great selection of voices for you to use and many more you can purchase as add-ons, you need not be limited to this app alone. Many iOS apps support a MIDI interface and the iRig MIDI provides an excellent connection for whichever you prefer including the sublime GarageBand by Apple.
If you prefer ‘arranger’ keyboards and by this I mean keyboards that include a selection of backing accompaniments (otherwise known as Styles), then the iOS landscape of apps is yet to fill this niche. Although you can create your own backings one instrument & track at a time – it’s not the same as selecting an existing Style and controlling the chords with your left hand and the melody with your right.
- Standard Core MIDI interface connects any MIDI hardware device to Core MIDI-compatible apps like SampleTank FREE and GarageBand®
- Directly connect MIDI keyboards, synthesizers, drum machines, drum pads, pedal boards and more using the included 2 x 5.2′ (1.6 m) MIDI 5-pin DIN cables
- 3 MIDI ports: IN/OUT/THRU
- 2 LEDs for MIDI IN/OUT activity display
- Micro USB port can charge the iOS device while in use
- Free apps included*: SampleTank FREE* the powerful sample-based sound module app and iRig MIDI Recorder FREE*
* All IK mobile apps are available for download from the App Store.
iRig MIDI provides an essential connection to your Apple iOS device to allow your musical aspirations to come to life. Although IK Multimedia themselves have their own iOS app known as Sampletank to create your performances, the beauty of iRig MIDI is that you can use it with many more available within the iTunes App Store.
This flexibility and creative potential will allow any musical keyboard, organ or piano player to delve into a whole new territory of musical expression, creativity and pure enjoyment. If you have any interest in taking your music experimentation to the next level, purchasing the iRig MIDI is surely a strong contender.