British music-gear company Roli is mostly known for its attempts at reimagining the piano. Thefull-size Seaboardandsmaller Seaboard Risemay bear similarities to traditional keyboards, but their rubberized, touch-sensitive buttons let you modulate, pitch-bend and slide between notes in a way that's far different from what you can do on a standard keyboard or synthesizer. However, price is a big barrier to entry -- the Seaboard Rise starts at $800, while its full-size counterpart will set you back $2,000 or more.
But Roli has been working on a way to bring its unique music-creation tools down to a much lower price point, and it's taking the wraps off those efforts today. Roli Blocks are a set of modular synth controllers that snap together and hook up to your iPhone or iPad via Bluetooth. They're tiny and inexpensive: The main controller, called the Lightpad, is a small square (less than 4 inches to a side) that sells for $179. That's significantly cheaper than Roli's other products. And while you can't play the Lightpad like a keyboard, the short time I spent playing with it and the other Roli Blocks convinced me that it's still a powerful, flexible and fun music-making tool.