While it’s fun to fiddle virtual music instruments on tablets and smartphones, finessing a half-decent live performance out of what amounts to a drumhead made of glass is next to impossible. The power of a Digital Audio Workstation at your fingertips while on the go can be an incredible thing; having to tweak performances problematized by a tablet or smartphone’s musically crude interface post-op can be a pain in the butt.
Thus companies like IK Multimedia exist, selling microphones, stomp boxes and standalone MIDI keyboards that jack directly into iPhones, iPads and Android devices. But speaking as a pianist and longtime electronic keyboardist, compact controllers come with their own significant compromises: The 37-key Korg microKEY I use with my MacBook and Apple‘s Logic leaves a lot to be desired: Its white keys are half as long as my acoustic grand’s and roughly 25% thinner, while its black keys — also truncated — offer the tactile feel, span-wise, of overcooked French fries.
But as I like to say, we live in the future, where electronic pianos can have replica acoustic grand actions without the size (and cost) issues of an actual grand. Isn’t it time we figured out how to make better portable keyboards that aren’t just shrunken facsimiles of synth-action technology older than I am?
Meet the C.24 music keyboard by Miselu, a Kickstarter project to put the finishing touches on a two-octave (24-key semi-weighted), collapsible Bluetooth keyboard designed specifically for the iPad. Yep, collapsible, as in the keys themselves, which move sort of like the drawers in a higher-end toolbox, popping up and out or down and in with the flick of a lever. The idea, says Miselu in its pitch video, was to come up with a keyboard that didn’t compromise key size and travel (or at least not as significantly) without building something too big. The full-sized iPad on its side is still just 9.5 inches long. My three octave microKEY is over 22 inches long — even if you lop off an octave and measure the remaining two, C to C, you’re looking at over 11 inches (with tiny, finger-unfriendly keys).
The C.24, by comparison, is no wider than the iPad itself (about 9.5 inches). In fact, it doubles as a protective case for the iPad, magnetically attaching like one of those pastel-colored Smart Covers Apple sells for both the iPad and iPad Mini. But pop it off and pull the lever and the keyboard shifts from two dimensions to three.
The white and black keys spring up and out, at which point you notice those white keys are significantly longer than any other compact keyboard controller you’ve played. It’s a feat made possible by Miselu’s clever collapsing design; just drop the iPad into a top slot, like placing music on a stand, and you’re in business. The C.24 pairs with the iPad using Bluetooth, and works with any iOS application that supports MIDI.
Above the keys, Miselu’s placed a capacitive sensor strip divvied into two sections: on the right, an analog pitch-bending area with 32 LEDs; on the left, eight sections that allow you to change octaves on the fly. There’s also empty space above the keys that the company describes as an expansion area for “future hardware control modules” (think faders, knobs, buttons, all opened up to third-party development, say someone wants to design a physical control interface to complement a software module or application).
While the C.24 itself is already designed, Miselu says it needs help pushing the keyboard into production, thus its Kickstarter project, which as of this posting is nearly funded: over $96,000 raised toward a goal of $99,000 (with 23 days to go). You have to respect Miselu’s sense of focus here, too — you won’t find stretch goals, and the pledge tiers are elementary.
I have no idea how likable (or durable) this thing’s going to feel in action or whether the lack of key “sides” (on the black keys in particular) might cause finger-snagging issues, but up front, it’s arguably the most innovative thing to happen to compact keyboard actions in years.
If you want a deeper dive on the C.24’s action, with considerable insight into the design process, Mike Prichard, VP of design with Miselu, offers a terrific 16-minute explainer below.