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Entries in AmpKit Link (6)

GuitarJack 2 Reviewed - Is It The Best Yet?


After surprisingly little begging on our part, the nice people at Sonoma Wire Works in California agreed to send one of their GuitarJack 2 review models over to the UK for us to take a look at.

Of course, we agreed to let you know what we thought of it in return, and as always we have written our review just as we found it, in 'real world' situations we would use the device in, so here goes.

Overview

We expect by now you already know what the GuitarJack 2 is, but its main purpose is to provide you with the best sounding, cleanest audio input into your iOS device, specifically the iPhone 4, iPad 2, iPad, and iPod touch (not 1st gen.).

Here's a little video showing the GuitarJack 2 in action:

First Impressions - Construction

Our first observation? This thing is built like a tank!

All the other interfaces we've laid our hands on have been made of plastic of some sort. They seemed fairly substantial but one was certainly flimsy enough that if it were left on the floor it would not withstand the impact from a misplaced boot.

GuitarJack 2, on the other hand, has an aluminium shell and a heft to it that makes us think it could easily withstand a stomping from our 'gig boots' (we haven't tried it because we do have to send it back). It is a big chunk of made-in-America metal.

This solid shell is backed up by the very welcome metal jack sockets for a ¼" guitar/instrument cable, an ⅛" headphone jack (with increased drive for monitoring with headphones) and on the other side an ⅛" stereo microphone/line in.

The ¼" input is a solid brass Switchcraft jack, which we think is a good thing. In fact it is so solid that removing our guitar cable from this jack often involved inadvertently disconnecting the GuitarJack 2 from the device's dock connector.

About the Dock Connector

The one thing that we have found with most dock connecting devices, including Apple's own Camera Connection Kit, is that it is very easy to knock the 30 pin connector loose and it remains a problem in a busy recording setup even with GuitarJack 2.

Proxima Dock Extender Cable bought for under £5This connector issue also means that GuitarJack is not best hung off your device with cables connected to each jack, whether in portrait or landscape mode. The weight is liable to pull the interface away from the dock.

Sonoma have obviously thought about this though and you will find four little rubber feet on the bottom of the unit which give it some grip on a desk surface when your device is laid flat on its back, as in the product shot with the iPad (above) and iPhone (below).

They also suggest using a dock extender cable, even offering a $26 one for sale on their site, but we managed to pick one up on Amazon (UK) for under £5 (pictured above) that has full charging and syncing capabilities. It is this cable that we used when recording all the samples below and it never came loose.

Some info and hardware specs

Before we get into how the GuitarJack 2 sounds, here are a few specs from Sonoma Wire Works for the techies in our audience:

  • 1/4 inch (6.5 mm) instrument input
  • 1/8 inch (3.5 mm) stereo mic/line input
  • 1/8 inch (3.5 mm) stereo headphone/line output with increased drive for headphones
  • Dock connector designed for use without removing most cases
  • Device powered for ultimate portability - requires no batteries or power adapter
  • GuitarJack Model 2 includes a 24-bit AD/DA Converter, however only 16-bit audio playback and recording is currently possible until a firmware update becomes available.
  • Sleek and rugged aluminum shell

Software Features

(Control Panel in GuitarTone, FourTrack, StudioTrack & TaylorEQ)

  • GuitarJack 2 Control Panel in FourTrackLevel Control: 60 dB of continuous level control
  • Input Modes:
    • Instrument (1/4 inch) - mono - Pad, Lo-Z or Hi-Z mode
    • Mic/Line (1/8 inch) - mono, dual-mono or stereo - Pad, Normal or Boost mode
    • Both inputs - Mic/Line input on the right channel and Instrument on the left channel
  • Included Software:

We will be taking a look at the software integration in a future post. For this review we will be concentrating on the GuitarJack 2 hardware and its sound.

So what does it sound like?

We know, by now you're probably thinking, "This is all very good, but what does it actually sound like?", so let's get to that.

For a device costing this much, it better be good right?

Well, we have to say, it is!

GuitarJack 2 is by far the cleanest audio input device we have tested. Noise is non-existent in all but the highest of gain settings and even then you have to turn the volume up very high to know it's there.

Audio from a microphone is clear and totally devoid of noise. Sound recorded from another audio device (in our test the audio from an iPad's headphone socket) sounds just as good.

Guitar tones are crisp, clear and well balanced. Even with high-gain, distortion loaded, fuzz-maven settings in AmpKit+, there was an obvious lack of feedback.

We ran plenty of sound tests and we recorded our general observations and a few samples for you to hear below.

Compared to Headphone jack input devices

Our main concern was how the GuitarJack 2 would sound in comparison to audio input devices that used the iOS device's headphone jack.

We have always been a bit disappointed with the noise levels present in audio interfaces connecting via the headphone jack.

To be honest, this may be less GuitarJack 2 versus iRig / AmpKit LiNK / JamUp Plug / iRig Mic, etc. than it is 'dock connecting audio devices' versus 'headphone jack connecting devices'.

The iPad/iPhone audio circuitry always generates noise in our experience and, as such, we think devices like iRig Mic, etc., will continually be at a disadvantage because of this.

But let's see what GuitarJack 2 sounded like with a guitar.

Guitar Input

We tried lots of different guitar apps and setups. GuitarJack 2 worked with everything we tried except Amplitube. IK Multimedia's apps just don't seem to detect an audio source via the dock connector, something we hope they rectify very soon.

We had been sent an A/B switch by Sonoma Wire Works too, which let's you input your guitar and split the output in two so that we could record on the iPad and iPhone at the same time. We used the amazing sounding AmpKit+ because it has both iPhone and iPad versions and we know it well.

A/B testing a guitar signal using AmpKit+ on iPad & iPhone

After trying lots of distortion laden settings and comparing the GuitarJack 2 with iRig, AmpKit LiNK and the JamUp Plug, the biggest difference was the lack of screeching feedback using the dock connected device as compared to the headphone jack devices.

But it was when we stripped everything down to the cleanest amp settings we could in the AmpKit+ app, took away the noise gate and matched the settings on both the iPhone and iPad, that we finally understood how clean the signal was from GuitarJack 2 in comparison.

Here's a few sample recordings so you can judge for yourself. We used our A/B setup shown above to record the same audio onto two devices simultaneously. We recommend listening with headphones for a better comparison and don't worry, Phil doesn't have to rely on his guitar playing to make a living!

First up, clean as we can get it, using AmpKit LiNK:

and now using GuitarJack 2

It is the audio hiss that you can clearly hear from the device connected to the headphone jack (in this case the AmpKit LiNK) that sealed it for us. The GuitarJack 2 is far superior and offers the cleanest signal we have heard so far, even without a Noise Gate pedal.

Feedback

This demo took us by surprise. When we were recording these we could only listen to one of the devices for monitoring (unless we wore two pairs of headphones, which seemed a bit weird).

So we chose to monitor our guitar through the GuitarJack 2 connected to the iPhone whilst recording. That sounded ok with this sample, noisier than we would normally use because of the high gain and lack of Noise Gate pedal, but acceptable:

Then later we listened to the version we had recorded via the AmpKit LiNK into the iPad. The feedback we heard here was not the nice tonal kind, but even using AmpKit's excellent re-amp feature afterward we had trouble dialling it out.

Here's how the same set-up, with the same 'Dynamically Dirty' preset, sounded through AmpKit LiNK, the headphone socket audio device that has arguably the best feedback prevention (warning: it's not very comfortable to listen to):

The difference is clear, we're sure you will agree. We haven't done anything with these sounds except trim the end bit off and export them from the apps used to record them.

Microphone input

As mentioned, GuitarJack 2 has an ⅛" stereo mic input with software controls to use mono, dual-mono or stereo input depending on whether or not you are using the ¼" input at the same.

When we used our old mono condenser mic (XLR to ¼" mono) we couldn't get it to work using both of the GuitarJack 2's inputs (for example vocals and guitar, or vocals and output from an iPad for video demos).

Our old mic and XLR to stereo jack cableThe 'Both Inputs' mode on GuitarJack 2 seems to take the Right channel only from the stereo mic input and our mic was only showing up on the left.

After playing with lots of of step-down/mono/stereo adapter combinations we gave up and ordered an XLR to stereo ⅛" cable that is bridged, so the mono signal is split into a left and right channel output. This worked wonderfully.

So how did the microphone sound? We compared GuitarJack 2's input to the nearest headphone jack competitor we had, the iRig Mic from IK Multimedia. This device also has three hardware switchable sensitivity settings, as does GuitarJack 2 (via the software control panel).

We wanted to specifically show you what the noise levels were like on each setting. We strongly recommend you listen with headphones to more effectively hear the comparisons.

First, the iRig Mic:

And here's our inexpensive mono condenser mic connected to the ⅛" stereo socket on GuitarJack 2:

Hopefully the difference is obvious, especially on the high sensitivity setting used at the end of our audio. GuitarJack 2's noise-free audio is clearly evident here in the second example.

Further testing underway

We are still conducting various 'real world' tests with GuitarJack 2, especially using dual inputs for videos of the iPad in action recorded on the iPhone 4, as well as the GuitarTone software that only works with FourTrack currently, but hopefully with StudioTrack on the iPad very soon.

As soon as we have more to show you we will let you know.

Final thoughts

In our opinion, audio recorded via the GuitarJack 2 sounds better, cleaner, more dynamic and more reliably useable than that of any other audio interface we have used for iOS devices.

Much of this is due to the fact that GuitarJack 2 interfaces with the dock connector. But just as much of the GuitarJack 2's performance comes from the way it has been professionally engineered and optimised to work with both the hardware and especially the compatible software.

If, like us, you could not normally justify the $199 RRP cost of the GuitarJack 2, you can get away with devices like the ones we have mentioned above that connect via the iOS device's headphone socket. For many purposes these would probably be enough and are a fraction of the cost.

If, though, you are serious about your sound, if you want the best possible start and quality of audio recording that you can reasonably expect on your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch, then we think you should sell something else and/or scrape together the pennies to buy yourself the GuitarJack 2.

We are sure you'll consider it a worthwhile investment in your music and other audio productions.

GuitarJack 2 was still available for a discounted price of $149 from Sonoma Wire Works direct, at the time of writing and its online and street price may be around the same when the deal finishes. A quick Google search has the price at a fairly uniform £139 here in the UK.

Further reading: iRig vs AmpKit LiNK - which is better? Part 1 of 2

Further reading: iRig vs AmpKit LiNK - which is better? Part 2 of 2

Tune-in Tuesday Special: One Like Son - 'Start the Show' Album Released Today

We've got something special for you in this week's pick of iOS created music. We mentioned last week One Like Son's upcoming third album, this one recorded entirely on an iPhone using iOS apps. Today the album is officially released and we were fortunate enough to be included in a pre-release listen.

What did we think? Gobsmackingly good! Really. We cannot believe that this album was entirely recorded and mastered on an iPhone. We've not heard anything better so far!

Take a listen for yourself, go and order the album (we did), or click on the 'Buy all' button in the playlist below, then take a look at some of the details we have included from the press release about the album:

Here's more detail from the press release about the apps used in making the album: 

Using the GuitarJack and AmpKit LiNK hardware interface and apps such as AmpKit, FourTrack, Multitrack DAW, Pocket Organ, Moog’s Filtatron, ThumbJam and even Apple’s Garageband, the group produced an authentic rock record. Where most music composed on the iphone or ipad sounds like digital music, this record sounds like a live rock and roll band. 

Here's a quote we definitely agree with from Sonoma Wire Works' Daniel Codella [bold text ours]:

One Like Son have produced a full blown rock record on the iPhone that sounds like it was recorded using thousands of dollars’ worth of gear. One Like Son have really set the bar for what can be done with an inexpensive mobile recording setup. Bravo!"

And this from Hamilton Feltman of Harmonic Dog [bold text ours]:

“One Like Son has gone off the deep end and produced an entire rock album, on a phone, and it sounds… amazing! The quality is outstanding, the production, superb. Five years ago, who would have guessed this would happen. On. a. phone.

If you haven't listened to the album yet, do yourself a favour and give it a listen now (above) and be sure to let us know what you think in the comments below.

OscilloScoop - Carve Your Own Synth Sounds

Oscilloscoop icon

Over the last few weeks we have been playing with OscilloScoop, a sound maker app with an interesting game-like interface twist, here's the detail and a video to help you see why you should buy it.


Crafted Design

OscilloScoop was designed by Lukas Girling and developed by interactive artist and programmer Scott Snibbe (Gravilux, Bubble Harp and the upcoming Bjork album apps) along with game designer Graham McDermott.

Getting Creative

Although we don't imagine professional DJs will be using the app necessarily, as non-professionals we found the app a lot of fun to play with and we have lost many hours exploring and experimenting with the apps myriad adjustments.

Carving into the rotating cylinders feels really creative and organic, very much like shaping clay on a potter's wheel.

Just like pot throwing, you can completely reshape your creation and start again if you get carried away or make a complete mess.

Song Creation

OscilloScoop also has the advantage of being able to save your carefully moulded sound for instant recall later, meaning you could create songs or performance sets if you wish.

There is no Audio Copy & Paste, but we were able to use the iPhone version (it's a Universal app so this is included in the price) to record into GarageBand on the iPad via the iRig or AmpKit Link so that multi-layered soundscapes can be created.

We would have been happier to see more beats included in the purchase price (complete sets of 20 new beats can be had via in-app purchase) but a lot of clever design has gone into making this app deceptively simple to access and the Landscape mode is even better for fine control of your sound.

Recommended Purchase

If synthesizer sounds mixed with great beats are your thing, we would definitely recommend you try out OscilloScoop. It is currently available for $1.99 (£1.19) on the app store as a Universal app.

The app has been out for just over a month now so if you have tried it already let us know what you think about OscilloScoop in the comments.

If you haven't seen it yet, here is the video demo from the Developers that made us buy it (be sure to note the Landscape mode later in the video, it will help you shape your sounds more accurately):

 

iRig vs AmpKit LiNK - which is better? Part 2 of 2

This is the second of a two part head to head review of iRig and AmpKit LiNK, arguably the two primary guitar (or other line level instrument) interfaces for the iPad (of the ones that use the headphone socket).

In Part 1 we set out the use for these interfaces and compared the basic dry signal passed from a guitar via these interfaces and the Clean Amp settings in the two iPad apps that partner with these devices, Amplitube and AmpKit.

In Part 2 we are going to ramp up the gain and continue to compare the performance of these two guitar interfaces. Read on to find out what happens as the volume gets louder...

Crunch Time

The next thing we are going to look at is the Crunch preset in each app with both guitar interfaces. In Amplitube it is Preset 1 - 'Mild Crunch' and 'Captain Crunchy' in AmpKit.

The Crunch Amp in Amplitube

If you listen very carefully you may hear that the AmpKit LiNK provides a slightly clearer, less muddy sound than the iRig. This was the case in both apps, and there is a definite small volume lift when using the battery powered AmpKit LiNK over the non-powered iRig.

This has an effect on the tone of the guitar which becomes more evident, although still slight, when using a bit more gain.

Here are a couple of samples.

iRig into Amplitube - Crunch

AmpKit LiNK into Amplitube - Crunch

Metal Mayhem

Finally, we stopped playing nice and opened up the screaming distortion and high gain amp models to see what these interfaces could do. Apart from make a lot of noise (thank goodness for the headphone out) this part of the test showed the key issue with these type of guitar interfaces - susceptibility to screeching feedback, apparently due to crosstalk from the close proximity of microphone and audio out circuits (or something similar).

If you have ever stood in front of a guitar amp with full bore distortion dialled in you will a) know just how much fun this is and b) know that you are walking a fine line between cutting tone and screeching, eardrum shattering feedback.

When on the high-gain settings in Amplitube we really didn't have any feedback problems from either guitar interface until we introduced a Distortion stompbox and a Fuzz pedal on top of the Metal Amp setting. The AmpKit LiNK seemed to be more resilient as we increased the gain, drive and volume controls in Amplitube, although not by a massive amount.

Fighting Feedback

The real difference came when we switched to the high-gain Peavey-type amp in the AmpKit app. As soon as we plugged the iRig in to AmpKit with the 'Killing the King' preset engaged we almost blew our eardrums out through audio feedback.

We had to reduce the Input gain from the iRig all the way down to about 19% and the Output gain down to around 23% before we could take our hand away from the strings without feedback. This was with the 'Noise & Feedback Filter' set to 60%, meaning a serious lack of sustain (this filter cuts the audio signal as soon as it detects interference or feedback, which means cutting off notes instead of leaving them to ring out).

With the AmpKit LiNK interface, plugged into the AmpKit app and the same raucous amp setting as we had before, we were able to set the Input Gain at about 38% with the Output Gain around 50%. The Noise & Feedback Filter was pared all the way back to about 15%.

This gives a much more biting and responsive tone with longer sustain, but we still had to fine tune the settings and fiddle quite a bit before we could reduce the feedback to acceptable levels and even then it was not entirely gone.

AmpKit App Metal (Killing the King) Preset with Gain settings

Overall then, we have to say that the AmpKit LiNK does a much better job of fighting off the feedback for longer with extremely high-gain settings, which the AmpKit app has in spades being modelled on the raunchy and particularly Metal oriented Peavey and Mesa Boogie amps.

These samples were played after adjustments were made, because we guess you know what feedback sounds like. They are a bit louder so you may want to drop the volume a bit, especially if you are listening via headphones.

iRig into Amplitube - Metal Amp + Distortion

AmpKit LiNK into Amplitube - Metal Amp + Distortion

iRig into AmpKit App - 'Killing the King' Preset

AmpKit LiNK into AmpKit App - 'Killing the King' Preset

Cable Length

One noticeable difference between these two interfaces is the length of cable and the socket positioning. The cable that leads from the iRig to your iDevice is very short. This means that it is a little bit awkward when a fairly heavy guitar cable is connected and can pull on the iPad making it unstable if on a stand or stood up in a case, especially if you have the iPad's Home button on the left.

The iRig also has the headphone cable on the opposite side to the 1/4" connecter where your guitar cable plugs into, so that you have cables going in two directions, which again can be annoying.

If you set the iRig up carefully before you start it is not too bad, but the AmpKit LiNK wins out here, although slightly heavier and with a larger form factor (probably because of the batteries) the AmpKit LiNK has a much longer cable to plug into your iDevice which means you can lay it on the desk or table next to your iPad.

There is still the danger of pulling the AmpKit LiNK and toppling the iPad, but with both connectors (1/4" and 1/8") on one side, opposite the cable to your Device, cable routing is a lot less problematic. 

Pricing

The prices are similar for both interfaces, iRig retails for about $40 (£25) and AmpKit LiNK for around $30 (£29). The price difference seems to be because the iRig is produced here in Europe so the AmpKit LiNK ends up being cheaper in the US.

Final Thoughts

As we said at the outset, we are not audio specialists so you may get varying results but we were impressed by the ease of use of both interfaces and the results.

The AmpKit LiNK will need batteries to work, although they seem to last quite a long time. It could leave you stuck though if you are away from home and have forgotten to bring spare batteries with you.

If you are primarily going to use IK Multimedia's Amplitube we would recommend either IK Multimedia's own iRig or Peavey/Agile's AmpKit LiNK.

We think they are both brilliant ways of getting your guitar (or other line level) signal into the iPad, but...

**Our overall winner of this head to head comparison is AmpKit LiNK.**

We would recommend the AmpKit LiNK for the most compatibility, especially if you are primarily going to use the AmpKit app with the high-gain amps (which by the way sound amazing!).

Whilst we would not say that AmpKit LiNK eliminates feedback, we think the circuitry inside it does reduce the effect when using high-gain settings in any app. Just be sure to keep a few spare AAA batteries in your guitar case.

So that's it, we hope you found this review useful. You can hear all of our samples from both Parts of this head to head test in one place by visiting this SoundCloud Setlist (it should work on your iPad once you get there).

If you have anything you would like to add or if you would like to let us know your experience of using iRig, AmpKit LiNK or any of the guitar amp simulation apps, please leave us a comment below.

If you don't already, you can follow iPad Creative on Twitter or Facebook (or both) for more information and news about stuff like this and other Creative uses of the iPad. 

iRig vs AmpKit LiNK - which is better? Part 1 of 2

When it comes to getting a guitar (or other instrument) input into your iPad there are arguably two major players, iRig by IK Multimedia and AmpKit LiNK by Peavey. We are fortunate enough to have got hold of both of them and we have been using them for a while now, testing them head to head.

So, which one is better? Read on to see what we found.

The Hardware

The iRig and AmpKit LiNK both have the same purpose, to get a line level audio signal from an instrument or microphone into your iOS device. This signal is input via the headphone socket (not the Dock connector) because of the Microphone input present there. The interfaces both have a headphone socket to monitor the processed signal back out of the Apps.

The main difference though is that, unlike the iRig, Peavey's AmpKit LiNK is powered, by 2 x AAA batteries, with what Peavey claim is "circuitry that virtually eliminates feedback".

We tried both interfaces on our iPhones but primarily we are reporting on the results from the iPad, especially now that Version 1.1 of the AmpKit app is iPad native. 

How we tested them

We are obviously not audio specialists or expert musicians, but we wanted to test these devices in a reasonably authentic way as far as the average iPad owner might use them. We played our Epiphone Les Paul twin humbucker guitar, through both the iRig and AmpKit LiNK, into the two apps that partner them, Amplitube 2 for iPad from IK Multimedia and AmpKit v1.1 from Agile Partners.

We tried both devices with identical settings through each app in turn. As far as possible we kept the amp settings, guitar settings and iPad exactly the same. All we did was swap out one device for the other and compare.  We tested them on various settings, Dry signal, Clean with a few touches of Reverb, Delay and Chorus, then on Crunch setups through to High Gain screaming distortion settings.

Where we could, we recorded samples of what we were hearing using the in-app recording function and sharing it out via iTunes file sharing. We have not edited the sounds at all apart from trimming the empty space at the start/end of some tracks.

All 12 sample tracks were then uploaded to SoundCloud. Unfortunately, their embedded player still does not work on the iPad, so you will need to follow the links we include here to the SoundCloud site itself, where you can play the tracks on your iPad/iPhone.

The Dry signal

We started out by turning off the amps and recorded a simple Blues scale played on the guitar through each app. There wasn't much to tell between the devices to be honest. If we were being exceptionally picky, using headphones, it sounds like the powered AmpKit LiNK is a little thinner sounding than the non-powered iRig, which surprised us a little. This is actually a tonal advantage as you will see in Part 2 but for now, it is not really something to worry about. See what you think by listening to the two tracks below on SoundCloud (we recommend using headphones rather than your device's speakers as the sound differences are not that great).

iRig into Amplitube dry signal

AmpKit LiNK into Amplitube dry signal

Clean

The next test we did was on a clean amp setup, using the standard 'clean' preset in both apps, with just a bit of Reverb (and a shade of Tremelo on Amplitube). The result was as expected with a clear, undistorted sound (once we had tamed the Les Paul's humbuckers) and no particular issues to report. Both the iRig and AmpKit LiNK provided a strong and clear tone from our test guitar with only slight tonal differences, as you can hear in the samples below (again we advise headphones to better discern the tone).

iRig into Amplitube - Clean

AmpKit LiNK into Amplitube - Clean

iRig into AmpKit App - Clean

AmpKit LiNK into AmpKit App - Clean

That's it for Part 1, in Part 2 we will turn up the heat a little bit and then let rip with the high-gain stuff and see what happens. Be sure to catch Part 2 for our final recommendations as well.

In the meantime, if you have anything you would like to add, please let us know in the comments below.

Impressive AmpKit Demo Video

We are eagerly awaiting the iPad native version of Agile Partners / Peavey's Ampkit before finalising our review, but this video demo by Peavey rep Tom Allen at Nevada Music UK is a great way to see the app in action and hear some of the sounds achievable with the iPhone version of the app.

We know you can use the iPhone version on your iPad, but it looks pretty rough to be honest and we know there is an iPad version in the works, so we will bring you more on AmpKit when we can test the native version.

Suffice to say, we think it really does rock, especially with some of the more high-gain Rock sounds which, frankly, blow Amplitube away.

More from us soon, in the meantime, enjoy the video and let us know if you have used AmpKit on your iPad and what you think of it if you have.