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iRig MIDI & SampleTank for iOS: Hands-on Review

Ok, let's get straight to the point: If you don't already have a MIDI input device for your iPad/iPhone, if you want one and can afford it, go and order the iRig MIDI right now!

We can't think of any major reason why you wouldn't. But if you want to know a bit more about iRig MIDI, why we think you need it and IK Multimedia's new SampleTank for iOS software, be sure to watch the video below and then read on for the inside scoop...

 

iRig MIDI Hardware

Setting up and using iRig MIDI really is as simple as the video above makes out!

In the box, as well as the iRig MIDI, you get:

  • 2 x 5.2' standard MIDI cables - DIN to 1/8" jacks
  • 1 x very short USB to Micro USB charging cable
  • Quick Start guide

The iRig MIDI has 3 MIDI ports: In, Out and Thru with two Red LEDs which reasurringly light up to indicate throughput in and out.

Setup is very straight forward. We had no trouble at all using our M-Audio Oxygen 8 test keyboard controller with any of the CoreMIDI compatible apps we had installed on our iPad.

We tested the iRig MIDI with a fairly simple setup but the Thru port also allows some more complex setups and a few alternative use cases are detailed on IK's site.

Little Shorty

The only real problem we had was the ridiculously short USB charging cable. This cable connects your standard iPad/iPhone charger to the iRig MIDI and charges your iOS Device while in use, which is handy and very useful.

But because the cable is so short we had to leave the iPad on the floor to be close enough to the charger and this meant we couldn't control the apps or use the touchscreen as it was out of reach.

In the end we used a 4-gang extension cable and had this sat on the desk, which took up precious work space and got in the way a bit, but it's not the end of the world and the extra sockets were handy.

Update: We heard from IK Multimedia after posting this review and apparently they wanted to include a longer cable, but doing so would not meet Apple's power rating requirements to charge the iPad and so they had to go with a cable of this length to get approval. Still, as they pointed out, at least you do have the option of charging the iPad with iRig MIDI and they supply the cable in the box.

Flawless Operation

This issue aside though, the iRig MIDI worked flawlessly with our MIDI Keyboard and apps like GarageBand, Addictive Synth, Animoog and NLog Pro, all recognising the Pitch Bend and Modulation wheels without any further setup (as you would expect with Core MIDI) and there are over 100 apps that are compatible with iRig MIDI listed on IK Multimedia's site.

The iRig MIDI is highly recommended by iPad Creative. For us, it certainly lives up to the promise. Go and get one.

 

SampleTank for iOS by IK Multimedia

If you want to start using multiple MIDI Channels or layering with your iRig MIDI, then you will probably need to use IK Multimedia's own SampleTank app, which comes in a Free version (available now from the app store) with a limited sample set initially.

Upgrades

In-app purchases can be made for different sample packs as you need them. The range of options for upgrades and add-ins is a bit complex to be honest, but it does give you the chance to add what you want if not everything suits your musical or playing styles.

The best value seems to be the upgrade to SampleTank for $9.99 (£6.99). Upgrading to the whole lot will set you back around £30 ($39.99) though, making it a more considered purchase for many of us.

Professional Sounds

All the samples are taken from IK's well respected desktop version of SampleTank which has been used in many professional and commercial projects.

The app has been designed for live use and its design allows you to switch between one of the four instrument banks, play over riff loops and/or presets using a midi controller and the onscreen keyboard simultaneously. 

The samples sound really good for the most part, just take a few minutes and give them a listen in the video demo below.

The main features of SampleTank for iOS are:

  • 4-part multi-timbral live sound module
  • Over 900 MB on-board sound library with over 400 instruments in 16 categories
  • Huge selection of melodic and rhythmic patterns for accompaniment or groove creation
  • Instruments are processed using 20 different insert FX with up to 4 simultaneous inserts per part
  • Master reverb effect with individual sends

The full set of samples takes the app up to just under 1GB, which meant a bit of app juggling on our 16GB iPad. This gives you a great range of sounds with a nice batch of Presets to get you started. The presets cover a good selection of styles from Pop through Reggae to Rock and a few Thrashy ones. There are also 3 pages of empty Presets for you to save your own customised versions. 

We were especially impressed by the quality of the samples in the Woodwind sections such as the Sax samples and also the Piano and Keyboards sounded great.

A Few Issues

As impressed as we were with the sounds in SampleTank for iOS, we thought we should mention the two issues we had: 

  1. We know the app was designed with live performance in mind, but we really missed a recording function. (Update: IK Multimedia have said that a recording feature is on the wish-list but there is no timescale as yet)
  2. The app is currently not Universal, so on the iPad we have to use it in 2x mode. It isn't the ugliest app at 2x we've seen on the iPad, but the text and keys do look pretty fuzzy and the lack of clarity gets annoying after a while, especially for those of us that rarely use iPhone apps on the iPad precisely because of this. But, an iPad version is on the way according to IK and hopefully it won't be long. (Update: IK Multimedia have confirmed to us an iPad version "is on  the way and it WILL be Universal", plus it will be a Free upgrade for those who have already paid for SampleTank for iOS)

These issues are not deal breakers, and we know that both of them can/will be addressed in future updates.

Final Thoughts

Because SampleTank for iOS is initially a free download and includes a selection of IK Multimedia's professional sound samples we would definitely recommend you download the app and have a look.

Because of the onscreen keyboard you don't need to have an external controller, so SampleTank for iOS stands alone.

Combined with iRig MIDI and an external controller though we think IK Multimedia have provided live performers with a fantastic way to incorporate their iPad and favourite Core MIDI compatible app into their setup.

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Reader Comments (11)

nice review, thanks, very interesting gadget... i think i will buy it for my sh-201 synth (: but i need a good ipad holder, which solution did you use in the video review?

October 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJan

Jan - Thanks for your comment, it's not our video of course, but it looks like they are using the iKlip (another IK Multimedia product) which we have heard good things about, in fact we are waiting on a guest review for this product from a local musician. You can check it out here.

October 22, 2011 | Registered CommenteriPad Creative

The iRig midi seems to work beautifully although I worry about the weight of the little box putting stress on the iphone connection slot (when you lie the whole thing flat, the midi box dangles from the connection: I wonder why they didnt design the box so that its dimensions would be precisely in-line with the body of the phone. I have attached a little square of cardboard to the back of the midi box to fill the gap and stop it dangling). SampleTank has some truly excellent sounds and good patterns but is fundamentally flawed because it lacks both recording capability and Audio Copy and Paste for easy import/export on the go (it would appear that IK have an aversion to the ACP tool as I dont think its in any of their apps that I have). It's also very expensive once you start adding the extras: I find IK's 'drip feed' approach to adding functionality exasperating. So in summary I'd say SampleTank is potentially superb, but falls well short of this because of how the product has been executed.

October 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthe clocktoys

@the clocktoys - Thank you for commenting with your thoughts on this. We didn't feel that the iRig MIDI device was particularly perilous hanging off the dock connector, no more than Apple's CCK anyway, but we did mostly use it on the iPad and only briefly on the iPhone to make sure it worked.

It does seem difficult to justify the entire cost of the in-app purchases, especially if you are on a limited budget. When you compare the cost of Windows/Mac software though, it doesn't seem so bad, the quality of the samples are at the same professional level at maybe a quarter/fifth of the price.

Providing an entry level at $0 is perhaps a way for anyone to try-before-you-buy without plumping down $40 outright on something they won't use. It's not an ideal system either way really, but within the limits of Apple's store pricing the options are limited.

They are developing a record function as we mentioned above, but there is already a loop export via emial/iTunes that creates a stereo mix down to AAC. This allows you to use at least the loops to create a base track for use in GarageBand or another app.

We used it like this:
- created a 'lounge piano' type of groove using 4 banks of samples
- exported via email to ourselves on iPad
- opened it in AmpliTube for iPad (press and hold on audio attachment to see your options)
- looped it and used the backing track to practice some guitar scales/solo riffs over the top

The potential is definitely there, and this is the first release!

October 27, 2011 | Registered CommenteriPad Creative

Do you know if it's possible to load custom samples that you've created into SampleTank, or are you limited to only those that IK Multimedia makes available?

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Hi Andrew - no you are limited to the samples included or bought within SampleTank.

November 8, 2011 | Registered CommenteriPad Creative

Hi - I just got the iRIG Midi adapter, using it with an iPhone 3gs and Sampletank (some amazing recording/live quality sounds here, organs, piano's, melotrons).

So far the latency has been a real issue rendering the system frustrating and unusable. It appears the App simply can't handle the input. I've tried three different midi controllers to no avail. One note is fine, but three, or using the pitch wheel or sustain pedal sends the output into distorting stuttering hell. Lowing the latency does nothing.

I'm going to return the iMIDI unit for a fresh one (mine was an open box), and see if that's the issue. Amplitube and the iRIG guitar adapter works amazingly.

Has anyone else encountered this?

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterseratone

Yes, I just recently installed Sampltank for both IPhone and iPad utilizing IK's irig midi interface. As much as I love the product I am having initial issues. First off, it doesn't seem to see midi sustain. Second, I'm getting the clicks and stutters usually associated with overload conditions.
It's my first day with it and I'm hunting down solutions. (I've closed all other apps., switched to flight mode, etc.).
IK...you gotta get the sustain working!!! That alone is a deal breaker!

May 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSyl

I'm jus wondering if i can connect this irig midi with my medeli dd305 coz my digitL drumsets midi port is micro usb type..can i use the irig eith it?

September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJake

How do you turn off the sample off?
The ones triggered down the lower end of keyboard?????
Cheers, Dan

November 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDsn

I have irig midi... But i have the ipad 4. What can i do ??

February 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMake

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