IK Multimedia iRig Pads
By Phil O'Keefe |
MIDI Pad and Groove Controller for Mac/PC and iOS Devices
I've become a real big fan of making music on my iOS devices, and I'm not alone. Countless people enjoy the huge variety of musical apps that are available for their Apple devices and it's great to be able to create music on the go, but sometimes your iPhone or iPad isn't quite enough by itself - it needs a little outside hardware assistance. One company that has been a big player in the burgeoning iOS market is IK Multimedia. They're released several products with iOS musicians in mind; both software apps as well as their popular iRig hardware line. One of their latest releases is iRig Pads, a MIDI drum pad and groove controller. Let's take a closer look.
What You Need To Know
- IK Multimedia calls the iRig Pads a MIDI Groove Controller, and it's designed to work with iOS devices, as well as your Mac or PC computer. It's MIDI class-compliant, so it can work with just about anything.
- There are 16 velocity sensitive drum pads laid out in a familiar 4x4 grid, complete with multicolor backlights that change color (green to orange to red) with increasing velocity. The lights can also be triggered by connected external devices too. The pads are rubberized and have a bit more "give" to them when pressed than some other pads I've tried, but are quite comfortable and inviting to play. Velocity sensitivity of the pads can be user-adjusted.
- You also get other controls, including two edit buttons for making MIDI assignments and that are also used to recall scenes and fix velocity levels, two assignable buttons that you can use to send various MIDI messages, two assignable MIDI rotary knobs, a MIDI programmable slider, and a pushbutton rotary encoder knob that is also MIDI programmable and assignable. These flexible controls add considerably to the unit's capabilities and make it more than just a drum pad controller.
- Interfacing with the rest of the word is handled by three jacks mounted at the top of the unit - one micro USB port for connecting iRig Pads to your Mac or PC, a round multi pin port for connecting a Lightning or optional 30-pin iOS cable, and a 1/4" TRS expression / sustain pedal jack. A USB cable and Lightning cable are included, although if you have an older iOS device, you'll need to purchase the iRig Pads 30-pin cable separately.
- iRig Pads is bus powered by whatever device you have it connected to, but it is designed to have ultra-low power consumption so it doesn't drain your iOS device or laptop's battery too quickly. You can power it over USB while using it with your iOS device, so if you have a USB wall wart charger you can use that to power your iRig Pads and eliminate the power drain on your iOS device completely.
- iRig Pads is relatively compact and light, making it easy to take with you. The main housing is a touch under 1" inch thick (23mm), although the knobs do stick up a bit further beyond that. The width is roughly 7 3/8" and it is about 8" deep.
- Since IK Multimedia's iRig Pads is designed to work with a variety of different apps that may require different control assignments and pad layouts, 16 different scenes are available, with a General MIDI drum kit pre-assigned by the factory to Scene 1. Scene 2 is a chromatic preset, and four scenes for Akai MPC banks are also included, with the rest of the scene presets left blank for saving your own configurations. Recalling a scene is simple - hit the scene button, press the pad that corresponds to the preset you want to recall, and you're done.
- Using iRig Pads is about as simple as it gets for a product of this type, and it doesn't take long to get up to speed with it. I was quickly using the pads and other controls on iRig Pads to stop and start the decks, scratch, solo EQ bands and do all sorts of other fun things such as adjusting pitch and triggering samples and sound effects in IK Multimedia's DJ Rig app. The slider let me crossfade between the app's two virtual decks easily and intuitively, and the hardware worked seamlessly with the software.
- IK Multimedia's Groovemaker 2 loop-based music application is similarly well supported, and iRig Pads works with the latest version right out of the box with no user configuration or programming required. So do the latest versions of SampleTank 3 and SampleTank for iOS, and free versions of all these apps (as well as inexpensive but more fully-featured versions) are available in the App Store or direct from IK Multimedia. In fact, IK Multimedia download-bundles SampleTank 3 SE for Mac and PC with iRig Pads, and it comes with 400 instruments, 150 MIDI patterns and over 6.5GB of content, as well as additional content for SampleTank iOS when you register your iRig Pads.
- Don't think for a moment that you're limited to only IK Multimedia's apps. I have Akai's iMPC app on my iPad, and iRigs Pads works great with that app too. Connect iRig Pads to your iPad, launch the app, call up scene 5, 6, 7 or 8 (which correspond with MPC banks A-D) on the iRig Pads and away you go. It can also be used with many other apps as well, including Garageband and FL Studio Mobile HD.
- It's a lot more fun working with iRig Pads than it is with just the iPad alone. Physically it provides you with a really nice set of physical controls, and it's a lot easier on your hands tapping on the iRig Pads than it is on the iPad's screen, especially if you're a bit heavy-handed as you play, as I am occasionally.
- While they are velocity sensitive, the pads lack aftertouch.
- It may take you a while to figure out which pads are assigned to what, but that's true of any pad based controller. The well-written manual certainly helps. A physical copy isn't included with the hardware, but it's available online as a free download.
I really like iRig Pads. It's light and compact, yet relatively solid, stable and sturdy. Programming it is easy, and it's more powerful than it appears at first glance. It doesn't drain your battery unreasonably, and it is much more ergonomic to play and program beats with it than it is to do so on the iPad's screen, but more importantly, the two devices work extremely well together and compliment each other's features.
Best of all, it scores really high on fun factor, and allows you to take direct physical control of your music. I had a blast working with iRig Pads, and wouldn't want to go back to programming beats without it. While I do wish the pads had aftertouch for extra expressive control, that's really the only notable criticism I have. Setup is easy, it's small and light enough to take with you along with your iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone, and it doesn't require any external power supply. And when you get home, you can plug it into your computer and use it with that too. If you program drum beats, or DJ, or just need a good pad based controller for your loop-based music, you really should check out IK Multimedia's iRig Pads.
Musician's Friend IK Multimedia iRig Pads online catalog page ($149.99 "street")
IK Multimedia's product web page
iRig Pads Manual
Grovemaker 2 with iRig Pads