Musically, I am a walking Dunning-Kruger effect. I’ve learned just enough to 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 music could be mine.
Enter Lumi Keys. Lumi Keys from Roli is a keyboard contained in a foot-long block, with translucent keys that light up in various colors depending on which note is played. It’s primarily marketed towards beginners, and it wirelessly pairs with a companion app loaded with virtual music lessons. The app tells the keys to light up in time to the music, so you know which ones to press to play along. These flashy lights and bright colors seemed like just the thing to hold the attention of my easily distracted idiot brain.
Months of on-and-off usage of two different versions of the Lumi Keys did not make me a musical prodigy. (Not that I expected it to.) I enjoyed my time with the device more as an gadget or instrument than an instructional tool. It’s a solid midi controller and the lessons are straightforward and easy to grasp, even if the cover versions of popular songs can feel a little uninspiring.
Lumi Keys started as a Kickstarter project back in 2019. After reaching its fundraising goal on the first day, Roli started production and released a limited run to its Kickstarter backers. The company was then blindsided by pandemic-induced manufacturing woes. In the meantime, Roli has made some small tweaks to improve build quality and has re-released a new version of the keyboard. For preorder, anyway. It costs $299, and an optional subscription to the app 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 mostly used. The Lumi Keys fits right on my dinky desk, where it takes up less space than my typing keyboard. It has 24 keys total, making it just over a fourth the size of a standard full keyboard. Size constraints mean that the keys are narrower than on a normal piano, which can take some adjustment if you’re used to regular-sized keys.
Lumi Keys is part of Roli’s Blocks line, which means there are little magnetic connectors on the side that let you sync up two blocks side-by-side. Pair two of them and you’ve doubled your octave range. Lined up, the seam between two Lumi Keys is barely noticeable, though the connectors can disconnect easily if you’re really jamming out or you bonk one of the devices at the wrong angle. Rubber strips on the bottom keep it from sliding around too much on a flat surface.
The keys themselves feel springy and plastic. Roli claims that the keys have 92 percent of the plunge depth of a grand piano, but there’s no confusing the soft squish of the Lumi’s keyboard with the crisp, satisfying clunk of a regular piano. But this is a portable keyboard, not a Steinway. And hey, did I mention the keys light up?