Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Review: Roli Lumi Keys Musical Keyboard

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Musically, I am a walk Dunning-Kruger effect. I have learned just enough act like I know what I’m doing but not enough to, you know, play an instrument. The long isolation of pandemic life has inspired a plethora of new hobbies, and a few months ago I thought, maybe the music could be mine.

Enter Lumi Keys. Lumi Keys by Roli is a keyboard contained in a block one foot long, with translucent keys that light up in different colors depending on the note played. It is primarily intended for beginners and can be combined wirelessly with a companion app loaded with virtual music lessons. The app tells the keys to light up to the beat of the music, so you know which ones to press to play. Those flashy lights and vivid colors seemed like the perfect thing to hold the attention of my easily distracted silly brain.

Months of intermittent use of two different versions of the Lumi Keys haven’t made me a musical prodigy. (Not that I expected.) I enjoyed my time with the device more as a gadget or instrument than a teaching aid. It’s a solid midi controller, and the lessons are straightforward and easy to understand, although the cover versions of popular songs might seem a bit uninspiring.

Photograph: James North / Roli

Lumi Keys started out as a Kickstarter project in 2019. After hitting his fundraising goal on day one, Roli began production and released a limited series to his Kickstarter backers. The company was then caught off guard by the pandemic manufacturing woes. In the meantime, Roli made a few small tweaks to improve build quality and re-released a new version of the keyboard. In pre-order, anyway. It costs $ 299, and an optional app subscription is $ 79 per year.

I happen to have both the “Kickstarter version” of the product and the new version. The latter is the one I used the most. The Lumi Keys fit perfectly into my dinky desk, where it takes up less space than my typing keyboard. It has 24 keys in total, making it just over a quarter the size of a standard full keyboard. The size constraints mean that the keys are narrower than on a normal piano, which may require some tweaking if you’re used to full-size keys.

Lumi Keys is part of Roli’s Blocks line, which means there are small magnetic connectors on the side that allow you to sync two blocks side by side. Combine two and you’ve doubled your octave range. Aligned, the seam between two Lumi Keys is barely noticeable, although the connectors can easily disconnect if you really get stuck or place one of the devices at the wrong angle. Rubber bands on the bottom prevent it from slipping too much on a flat surface.

The keys themselves appear elastic and plastic. Roli claims the keys are 92% of the plunge depth of a grand piano, but there’s no mistaking the soft squish of the Lumi’s keyboard and the crisp, satisfying sound of a regular piano. But it’s a portable keyboard, not a Steinway. And hey, did I mention that the keys light up?

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