Hardware Price: $69.99
App Price: $19.99, FREE Lite Version Available
Version Reviewed: 1.1
Device Reviewed On: iPhone 4, iPad 1
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IK Multimedia is cranking out the iOS music accessories - and the apps to go with them - at an alarmingly fast rate. We've reviewed these as we can, from the iKlip music stand and the iRig Mic to the iRig guitar interface, and the company turns out some great products. The iRig MIDI, a keyboard MIDI interface for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, is no different. This is a stellar accessory, and the professional app, SampleTank, that is made to work with it, is as pro as it gets.
MIDI stands for "Musical Instrument Digital Interface," making it a protocol for instruments and software to communicate together. MIDI files do not contain actual music, but rather the performance variables of music performances, which can be ported to any MIDI-aware sound source. With the iRig MIDI, the MIDI-capable keyboard or drum pad (not included) becomes the performance source, and the iOS device is where the sounds are output, via SampleTank or other core MIDI app, like Garageband and a host of other compatible music apps.
The iRig MIDI accessory connects to both the iOS device of choice via the 9-Pin dock connector, with the other MIDI jack connected to any MIDI capable device via a thin wire. It has three MIDI ports, allowing users to connect IN/OUT and THRU, as well as a micro USB port to keep the iOS device powered while using it. It's a great accessory, feels well-manufactured, is small in size, and will allow musicians to use whatever keyboard, drum machine or pedalboard they want to. I used both an M-Audio keyboard as well as the Rockband 3 keyboard and both worked flawlessly. When I plugged in the iRig MIDI for the first time, my iPhone prompted me to download the free iRig Recorder app, which is required for the accessory to work.
SampleTank itself is as full featured a synth app as I've seen, and holds its own against my current favorite, Akai's SynthStation. The difference between these two apps, besides the price tag, is the interface. I'd say that the preference of the user will be the deciding factor. One thing I do not like about the interface for SampleTank is the way the onscreen keyboard is set up. In order to reach higher or lower octaves, the iPhone keyboard interface must of necessity be able to be moved up or down. SampleTank does this by swiping. This is not my favored method, as it keeps me from sliding from one note to another via that same swipe method. SampleTank does well at keeping the complication inherent in such a software product to a minimum, but wasn't always intuitive to my way of thinking; your mileage may vary. I also found it difficult to get the app keyboard and the hardware keyboard to match in terms of the octaves, which I attribute to the different keyboard hardware and my inability to figure out the interface in the app.
Other than that however, the sampled and synthesized sounds are fantastic, and well worth the price. This is basically a mobile version of award winning desktop software, SampleTank 2, for a fraction of the price. There are over 900 MB of samples for over 500 acoustic, electric and electronic instruments plus a selection of over 1,000 melodic and rhythmic patterns to meet all of the mobile musician's synth needs. It allows for up to 4 different sounds to be loaded at once for live performance or recording with the built-in recording function. Needless to say, this is a pro-level set of tools in one Universal App.
The iRig MIDI accessory is, bottom line, a fantastically put together MIDI interface for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. SampleTank is a incredibly rich and robust tool to create music on these devices as well; while I personally prefer a different layout, there's nothing amateur about SampleTank itself.