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Korg microKEY-25 keyboard lets musicians practice and perform anywhere

Although the iPad was initially thought of as a media consumption device, it quickly became a popular tool for musicians on the run. And while a lot of musicians quickly got the hang of playing on virtual keyboards on the screen, many others opted to wait for "real" keyboards (aka MIDI keyboard controllers) to appear to provide a much more natural interface. On the low end of the keyboard market is Korg's microKEY-25 (US$69.99), a tiny companion to the iPad that fits easily into a backpack or bag for easy transport. Read the review, and then enter our giveaway of this ultra-portable MIDI keyboard controller.

Design

Like the larger keyboards tested by TUAW in the past (see our review of the Samson Carbon 49 and Line 6 Mobile Keys 49 keyboards), the Korg microKEY-25 is USB bus-powered. Unlike the Line 6 keyboard that comes with a special cable, you'll need to purchase an Apple Camera Connection Kit ($29) in order to connect to the microKEY-25. If you're thinking about hooking it to a fourth-generation iPad, you'll also have to pick up a $29 Lightning to 30-pin adapter. To me, there's something seriously wrong about spending $58 plus sales tax to be able to use a $70 keyboard with a current generation iPad. You can, of course, use the microKEY-25 with any Mac as well.

The microKEY-25 weighs just 1.44 lbs. and takes up 15.25" x 4.75" x 1.5" of volume in your bag. As the name implies, there are 25 keys -- 15 white and 10 black. On the left side of the keyboard is a joystick that acts both as a pitch bend controller when moved in the X-axis (left or right) and to transmit control changes in the Y-axis (up or down). There are also buttons for the arpeggiator, sustain and octave up / down.

Functionality

Once you've made the USB connection, the microKEY-25 comes to life. There are no switches or toggles anywhere on the device; you plug it in and it's ready to use. The octave keys are used to switch up and down the keyboard to emulate a full 88-key keyboard -- tapping the down octave button repeatedly drops down four octaves, pressing the up button takes the keyboard above the standard octave by a maximum of four octaves. The buttons shift from dark when in the standard (middle) octave, to green, orange, red and then flashing red to indicate what octave you're currently in.

Using the microKEY-25 with GarageBand on either the Mac or iPad was instantaneous. The microKEY-25 was immediately recognized by Garage Band, and I could start tapping out tunes immediately. The keyboard has a surprisingly good feel to it, although those who are used to playing on high-end equipment or "real" pianos will find them a little mushy.

Those thinking about purchasing this little keyboard should remember that it only has 25 keys. For about $20 more, you could get Samson's Carbon 49 and get almost double the keys. That will keep you from having to constantly switch between octaves. However, you'll be losing the incredible portability of the microKEY-25.

You don't have to use the microKEY-25 with Garage Band. Korg includes access to a free copy of its M1Le software, and licenses are included for "Applied Acoustics Systems' Strum Acoustic Session, Lounge Lizard Session and Ultra Analog Session as well as a license for Toontrack's software drum sound module EzDrummer Lite, and a discount coupon for Ableton's 'Live,' 'Live Suite' and 'Live LE' DAW software, widely popular for its sophisticated functionality."

Conclusion

Musicians looking for a tiny MIDI keyboard controller should be happy with the Korg microKEY-25. The lightweight and compact keyboard can go anywhere, and it's a perfect match for anyone who wants to do iPad-based music.

Pros

  • Very lightweight and compact, can be used almost anywhere
  • Bus-powered, requires no recharging or batteries
  • Good feel to the keys
  • Excellent software suite included with the unit

Cons

  • 25-key layout requires constant switching between octaves
  • To use with Lightning Connector-based devices, requires purchase of $58 worth of adapters

Who is it for?

  • Budding pianists or musicians who want to be able to carry a keyboard with them everywhere

Giveaway

And now we have a Korg microKEY-25 to give away to one lucky TUAW reader. Here are the rules for the giveaway:

  • Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older.
  • To enter, fill out the form below completely and click or tap the Submit button.
  • The entry must be made before December 2, 2012 11:59PM Eastern Standard Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • One winner will be selected and will receive a Korg microKEY-25 USB MIDI Keyboard Controller valued at $69.99.
  • Click Here for complete Official Rules.

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