Musicians increasingly want their hardware to work with as much of their other gear as possible, including analog, software and mobile devices. IK has been leading the field in developing controllers that do much more than just connect to your computer. The iRig keys 2 is the latest generation of the company’s portable MIDI controller and it comes with a slick new look - rounded and appealing, it certainly stands out from the crowd. It has 37 mini keys (the Pro version is identical but for full-size keys) with velocity and powers over USB. Lightning and USB-A to micro USB cables are provided though no USB-C, and there’s 2.5mm TRS MIDI cables for connecting MIDI hardware independently of a computer.
On the subject of I/O you also now get a headphone stereo out port, which can also be used to connect speakers. This is a nice touch since it means you’re not reliant on laptop or iPad speakers for playback monitoring. There’s no audio input, though IK makes the iRig Keys I/O if that’s something you need. MIDI in/out follows, and a pedal input rounds out the port selection.
In terms of controls there’s everything you’d expect from a compact unit: volume, octave and program, setup, an assignable push encoder and 4x4 assignable knobs. Some keys double up as toggles or switches as well for extended functionality. There’s no screen but there is backlighting of many buttons. It works with iOS, Mac, PC and Android, with the latter’s support depending on your Android device as is often the case. Tested on a Mac and various iOS devices it worked flawlessly, appearing automatically once connected.
The software bundle is solid, with Cubasis LE for iOS and SampleTank 4 SE for Mac and PC included. You also get unlock codes for bonus content for some of IK’s free iOS and Android apps - SampleTank, iGrand Piano and iLectric Piano. These are available after registering your hardware unit online.
The iRig Keys 2 is a great little MIDI controller with responsive keys and a useful set of controllers. It works with pretty much any device, with or without a computer if necessary and has the added benefit of a new audio out so it acts as a sort of half an audio interface. Since mobile devices mostly eliminated headphone ports, your one connection is generally already occupied. The two models differ only in the size of the keys - I tested the Pro version and personally always prefer larger keys, but if absolute portability is crucial for you, or you’re more of a triggerer than a player, the smaller version may suit. If you’re in the market for a portable controller or are just short on space, this is a great solution for MIDI control and simple monitoring.
Price: iRig Keys 2 158.59 Eur inc VAT. Pro version 182.99 Eur inc.VAT.
Pros: Good build quality. Sleek new look. Multiple power options. Good key action. Use without a computer if required. Setup is nonexistent. Monitor audio.
Cons: No USB-C cable bundled.