This is the new MicroLab from Arturia. It’s a USB MIDI keyboard you can hook up to your Mac, your iPad or your iPhone. It’s tiny — but how does it differ from the zillion other portable MIDI keyboards littering the pages of Amazon? Two ways.
One is that it has a bunch of clever design features that make it great for travel or small desktop setups. The other is that it has big, proper, velocity-sensitive keys, instead of the stupid junky keys on almost every similar MIDI keyboard.
Roli is best known for its squishy, multitouch, pressure-sensitive music keyboards and controllers. Those are great. But the new Roli Lumi goes in a different direction. It’s a small portable keyboard with light-up keys. And not the kind of light-up keys you might see in a movie set during the 1970s disco scene: These light up keys help you learn to play the piano.
The Sensel Morph is a different kind of “keyboard” for the iPad or Mac. It’s a pressure-sensitive panel onto which you can slap various silicone overlays, turning it from a QWERTY keyboard into a piano, a movie-editing controller or many other specialized interfaces.
It’s a customizable, wildly imaginative input device designed for musicians, video editors, illustrators, writers and other creative types.
If you’re an iOS-using musician, then AUM is an utterly essential app. It’s an audio mixer, but that description hides its power. AUM does let you mix the audio from various apps, but it also hosts audio units (like plugins), routes audio between them, records those channels, and more.
This week, AUM got a huge update, adding a whole bunch of great new features.
At first glance, the decade-old OP-1 synthesizer from Swedish musical instrument makers Teenage Engineering looks about as standalone as it gets.
The tiny device couples a short, piano-style keyboard with a screen. And it contains a drum machine, several synthesizers, a sampler, a handful of sequencers, a virtual four-track tape recorder and even an FM radio. You can create entire tracks on it with no other gear, or you can hook it up to electric guitars and microphones and bring the outside world in.
But it also pairs surprisingly well with an iPad. You can record audio back and forth, but things go much deeper than that. You also can use the OP-1’s hardware keyboard to play instruments on the iPad, and use iPad MIDI apps to control the synthesizers on the OP-1.
Making music with an iPad and a synth
If you own both pieces of gear already, hopefully this how-to will give you some new ideas about making music with an iPad. But if you only own an iPad, this in-depth article will provide tips for using your tablet with other music gear.
And if you know nothing about the OP-1, or about Teenage Engineering’s work in general, you’ll learn why the company is kind of the Apple of the synth world. Teenage Engineering is known for its incredible interface design — and for having a quirky personality similar to 1984-era Apple, when the brand-new Mac was making waves.
Atom is a “piano roll” sequencer for making music on iOS. A piano roll is named for the software used to run olde worlde player pianos. It’s a roll of paper with holes punched in it. As the roll moves through the piano, the holes are read by a “tracker bar,” and the corresponding notes are played.
Imagine such a sheet of paper in the digital realm. That’s a modern piano-roll sequencer, and it’s a commonplace way to control software instruments. Atom brings some amazing tricks to the piano roll. It’s also an Audio Unit (AU) app, which means it can work as a plug-in inside your favorite iOS Music apps, like Cubasis and GarageBand.
Did you know that you can send the audio from your iPhone or iPad to your Mac via the Lightning cable? That audio stays in pristine digital ones and zeros, and can be recorded (or otherwise used) anywhere you can edit audio on your Mac.
For musicians, this turns your iPad and all its music apps into a plugin for your Mac. And for anyone else, it could just be a neat way to route audio into your Mac’s speakers. The feature is called iDAM, and it’s built into your Apple devices. Oh, and it works with MIDI too.
For Apple Watch-owning musicians, the MidiWrist app is pretty wild. It lets you control almost any music hardware or software just by tapping the Apple Watch. The possibilities are almost literally endless — and you can even map the smartwatch’s Digital Crown as a custom controller.
Imagine a piano keyboard that is also a multitouch surface, like the screen on an iPad. Now imagine that this is a tactile silicone surface with bumps and dips so you can feel the keys, just like a piano. Hold that image in your mind — you are currently imagining the Roli Seaboard Block, backpack-sized Bluetooth MIDI keyboard that will change the way you play music.
Apple’s Lightning to USB connector has ostensibly been about connecting your iPad to a camera to import images directly to your tablet.
Now, with iOS 9.2, it looks like the same adapter can be used on your iPhone to get photos onto your smaller-screened device.
There’s even some evidence that the Lightning to USB adapter works to connect other USB peripherals, like MIDI keyboards or USB-powered microphones. If you’re a musician on the road without access to your iPad, this might be your new best solution.