Hong Kong based, Dream Cheeky, has been dreaming up innovative and quirky gadgets for a few years now, which include everything from missile launchers for inter-office battles, to coffee cup warmers and mini fridges, all USB powered.
While the company has already dabbled in musical products, with its USB roll up drum kit and piano, their latest two products are Bluetooth ready, and aimed at iOS music makers.
I should point out right from the start, Dream Cheeky are out to take on the might of Line 6, Akai, and others who are focused on professional musicians, however, their new products are certainly worth a mention.
Today, I’m taking a look at Dream Cheeky’s iPlay Piano, which is a Bluetooth enabled touch keyboard designed to work exclusively with the freely available, Sound System for Piano, universal iOS app.
First to the keyboard. I don’t really know the ‘thinking’ behind it, but the iPlay Piano features a fold-up design, and when opened out it presents a full size, 3-octave keyboard.
I must admit, it is convenient to be able to fold it in half and store it away. So that probably answers my question on the design.
On the left hand side underneath is the battery compartment, which houses a removable, rechargeable battery, and to compensate for this added thickness, a series of thin guides lock into place along the under carriage of the keyboard, so that it sits nicely flat on a table. It’s actually pretty clever how it works.
They keys on the keyboard don’t physically move, and instead are touch sensitive, though not velocity sensitive unfortunately. And these are probably going to be the biggest turn off for professional users, as it’s hard to get any real ‘feel’ when playing.
Still, I’m happy to say, you can still tinker away and get a reasonable sounding performance.
As I said, it connects via Bluetooth, which is pretty unique in itself for any musical instrument designed for iOS devices. Pairing is done the usual way, and no password is required, it simply connects, and you’re away.
There isn’t a great deal more to say about the keyboard itself, other than the build quality isn’t exactly up to professional standards, but it’s also surprisingly durable for what is essentially a musical toy.
The free app, Sound System for Piano, works exclusively with the keyboard and in fact won’t even load up unless it detects the keyboard is paired and ready to go.
This 124MB app isn’t exactly bursting with features, but the developers have told me they have new features planned for future updates.
At present, the app offers 6 different sounds to play via the keyboard, including Grand Piano, Accordion, Violin, xylophone, Trumpet, and Rock Organ. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the sampled sounds of these instruments, which could explain why the download is over 100MB.
There are just two modes, Free Play and Learning mode. In Free Play, you have the chance to jam away to your heart’s content on any of the built in sounds. In addition, you can also access any song from your device’s iTunes library, and not only play along to it, but also record the performance. Once done, you can listen back to it, and adjust the individual volume of both elements.
This features works well, and is a great way to add your own musical personal touch to some of your favourite artist’s recordings.
There is no editing options unfortunately, so if you make a mistake, you need to start over.
The other mode is the Learning mode, which displays the notes you’re meant to play for two included songs. Don’t get excited though, they’re very old classics, including London Bridge is falling down and Ode to Joy. In this mode, the notes fall down the screen and line up with the keys you’re supposed to play on the real keyboard. It has a similar look, albeit simplified version of Guitar Hero on PlayStation/Xbox 360. The idea here is OK, but I actually found it tricky to watch the screen and also be watching where my fingers were meant to be on the keyboard. A better selection of songs would have also made this mode much more appealing.
You are also awarded a score for your performance here too, so you can see if you getting any better at playing these songs after a bit of practise.
As mentioned, this app is set to include some ‘yet to be announced’ features in the future, which I’m looking forward to hearing more about.
At US$99, iPlay Piano isn’t exactly cheap. It’s also not a replacement for a professional MIDI/USB keyboard controller. It does feature some clever tech that I hope makes its way into more professional gear at some point.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well the keyboard performed, sans its lack of velocity touch and natural feel, but if you’re looking for something you can quickly whip out of your backpack, and have it connected to your iPhone wirelessly, in a matter of seconds, to jam, then this is well worth considering.
More info – http://www.dreamcheeky.com/iplay-piano