Provides: iOS MIDI connection
Developer: IK Multimedia
Minimum Requirements: iOS device, MIDI gear
Would you like to play your keyboard, electronic drums or other MIDI compatible device through your iOS device? Yes, please. Thanks to IK Multimedia’s iRig MIDI, you can do just that. It’s a dongle for your iOS device that accepts MIDI In, Out and Through, which opens a number of doors for electronic musicians.
The iRig MIDI is a pretty basic looking iOS device dongle. It’s a MIDI adapter without MIDI ports. Instead, it has three 1/8 inch inputs. Included with the iRig MIDI are two MIDI cables that are specifically made to work with these ports. So, you can’t use your own cables, but you also don’t need to buy any (unless you wreck these ones). If you need to be far away, you might need to extend the cables as they are made with portability (and tangle avoidance) in mind. There’s also a USB port on the iRig MIDI that you’ll want to make use of for charging since the dock connector is filled by the iRig MIDI, and you’ll likely want to keep your screen on the entire time you’re using this setup. Just be careful to not move your iOS device around too much or tug at the cables. While the iRig MIDI may be a very useful accessory, it isn’t the best at staying attached. This is both a good and a bad thing; I’d still have preferred an adapter that attached with a short cable similar to Apple’s AV adapter for iPad. This would support iPhone without having to remove any case, would add some flexibility to the dock connection and prevent unnecessary disconnections.
To use the iRig MIDI, all you have to do is plug the dongle into your iOS device and then connect your MIDI device to it with the included cables. If you just want to use a keyboard as a physical controller for an app, then you’ll only really need one of the MIDI cables for MIDI IN on the iRig MIDI. Since I’m not a professional MIDI musician, this is where I’m going to focus my attention. If you do more complicated things, the iRig MIDI has MIDI OUT and THRU ports, so it should function similarly to other MIDI devices in that regard.
Since iOS supports Core MIDI, many music applications are controllable by iRig MIDI already. Probably the most notable of these apps is Apple’s own Garageband. You’ll be able to play piano, guitar, bass, drums and more from the comfort of a MIDI keyboard through iRig MIDI. Everything you do on the keyboard translates directly to the app: note velocities, pitch bending, mod wheel, etc. If you have an electronic drum set, you can use Garageband to produce the sounds of your sticks hitting things. But another app you should consider is IK Multimedia’s own SampleTank.
SampleTank is built with iRig MIDI in mind. It’s essentially a sampler app, meaning it triggers sound samples via key presses (or MIDI signals). Instruments are collections of sounds. It has a bunch of these virtual instruments to play with or without iRig MIDI. Of course, the experience will be better for most musicians with a physical interface, like a MIDI keyboard or electronic drum set, but the app doesn’t require it. Actually, there are tons of preset loops that SampleTank can play all on its own, so you can use the app as a drum machine or background audio for you to play your instrument over. Or better yet, record your own loops.
I think this app plus hardware combo is a great portable setup. With just your iOS device, iRig MIDI and a MIDI keyboard, you can have a solid instrument setup that sounds great, is portable, and is flexible for when you can’t bring your keyboard. There’s a free version available and a paid version with more virtual instruments. Inside the app you’ll be able to buy even more virtual instruments to expand your musical possibilities. Each instrument is sorted into an appropriate category (like drums, bass, piano, synth lead etc.), has a number of parameters for you to tweak to perfection, and has a plethora of loops to play with said instrument with just the tap of a virtual button. About the only thing I don’t like about the app is that it doesn’t allow other audio to be playing at the same time, so if you wanted to do something like play drums over a song you like, you won’t be able to do it.
I’ve spent many hours playing my electronic drum set through SampleTank, and it’s a really great experience. The app produces different sounds for the same note based on note velocity. So, while you can still tell it’s not a real drum set, it’s a much closer approximation. And that’s a good thing for anyone who lives in an apartment and just can’t be banging on acoustic drums anytime they want.
Another app you should be aware of is iRig MIDI Recorder. You can probably guess what this one does; it allows you to record MIDI information (notes, velocities, etc.). Think of it like a voice recorder for your MIDI instrument. You could use it to record your performances in their purest format then play them back later with tweaked instrument settings. Or better yet, bring your iRig MIDI with you to a friend’s house and plug into his MIDI keyboard and “play” a song for him from the past. Recordings can be e-mailed and exported through iTunes.
Overall, I think the iRig MIDI is one of the most useful tools for MIDI musicians with iOS devices. It allows you to connect a keyboard, drum set or other MIDI device directly to your iOS device and control things (apps or your MIDI device, it works both ways). This is a function I’ve been hoping to see for a long time. And thanks to Apple’s Core MIDI support in iOS, this accessory will function with many of the audio apps already available on the App Store including Garageband and IK Multimedia’s own SampleTank.
Buy the iRig MIDI