As musicians throw their real instruments in garbage bins all over the world in a rush to create Electronic Dance Music using nothing but the most minimal of computers, one piece of "legacy" equipment refuses to go away: good ol' ebony and ivory (or a plastic imitation of it). Manufacturers from Akai to Numark to Korg have created portable MIDI keyboards in every imaginable iteration, but none of them have felt substantial enough to be interesting on their own merits. And then there's the C.24, a Kickstarted piece of kit from San Francisco-based Miselu that doubles as an iPad cover.
The entire device fits in a metal enclosure that's almost the same size as the iPad, while a magnetic latch on the edge lets it function almost as elegantly as Apple's own covers. Like a sort of click pen, the whole keyboard pops out of its frame to a satisfying elevation of a little more than an inch, creating a small but significant key-travel distance. Each key is equipped with a small pair of opposed magnets to give a slightly "weighted" feel — it's certainly nothing compared to a baby grand, but the tiny resistance is just one of many little perks that make the C.24 as interesting to explore as a Swiss army knife.
It's certainly nothing compared to a baby grand
A combination of infrared and optical key-tracking methods provide super-high-resolution touch data to the iPad over a Bluetooth Low Energy connection. Inside the tablet, the Miselu KEY application takes care of all the MIDI routing you can throw at it. There's no mechanical latch on top of the C.24 to hold the iPad, just a grippy "performance groove" slot that feels solid enough to use even on a bumpy car ride. There's also a small slot on board to house third-party auxiliary controllers like button arrays or ribbon controllers.
The preproduction units on display at NAMM seemed super delicate — there were some latching, spring-load, and magnetics issues to be firmed up before the product ships to its 1,200 Kickstarter backers in April. But once it was properly engaged, the C.24 was super-fun to use with Animoog — it was the first time I'd used the virtual-modular synth app with hardware that felt like it was "supposed" to feel, whatever that means. My favorite little trick was optical octave-switching: to shift the pitch up or down, you simply swipe your left hand somewhere near the left side of the keyboard.
I never pictured myself as the kind of person who would care about an iPad keyboard, but with so many well-thought-out tricks under its belt, I have high hopes for the C.24 when it launches commercially. Pre-orders for the non-Kickstarting public will start in February at $199.