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Entries in guitar (43)

Tune-in Tuesday: New Guitar Music Made on an iPad

We are delighted to say that our Soundcloud group for iPad using musicians is still very active. There are some really fun, creative and sometimes quite bonkers tracks being shared by Soundclouders, if you haven't visited the group before please check it out.

Here are a few original tracks that have caught our attention in recent weeks and this time we've gone for a Rock theme:

Cannibal Rat Ghost Ship by Nathan Jon Tillett

We love this song "sitting somewhere between Iron Maiden and Spinal Tap, this one has the OTT tongue-in-cheek dial turned up to 11!".  Recorded partly on GarageBand for iPad using the Apogee Jam and iRig Mic (both highly recommended by the way) it is brilliant fun and an enthusiastic performance makes this one of our favourites.

Back To You by LoungeBots

As massive Back to the Future fans we were more than happy to see this (also tongue-in-cheek) tribute, just for the cover art alone. Made completely on an iPad too:

"Produced, recorded and mixed on iPads using NanoStudio, Auria, GarageBand, BeatMaker2, JamUp Pro and a variety of additional iOS synth apps."

Too Many Friends by Gaffbass02

Another original track recorded completely on an iPad using GarageBand and we think it sounds great as a demo. Here's what Gareth says about the recording of the song:

"I record this in my basement in an afternoon on an iPad 3 using an apogee jam to connect an sm58, and a cheap behringer condenser.  All drums, keys, strings etc are from the iPad, and there's no external EQ etc, just straight into the GarageBand app."

Bonus Track: Budda 30 demo by Derek Buddemeyer

Some great lead playing and a very tight arrangement in this short demo from Derek that perfectly shows off the authentic sounds you can get from apps like AmpKit on the iPad.

Over to You

We hope you liked listening to our selection of tracks but if wailing guitars isn't your thing don't worry, next time we will be focussing our attention on more electro driven tracks.

In the meantime you could always explore our Soundcloud group for hundreds of tracks from all genres, we are sure you will find something there you like.

If you would like to share your iPad created sounds please feel free to join our group and add your tracks or click on the 'Send us your sounds' link in the sidebar.  Thank you.

50% Off (Almost) Everything From IK Multimedia

If you have been holding off on purchasing that iPad app from IK Multimedia or if you have a new iPad that needs loading up with some of the best audio apps available for iOS, then now is the time to grab a bargain with 50% off everything except their two newest apps.  There is also 50% off in-app purchases!

Video: BIAS and GarageBand Play Nicely Together

Positive Grid are doing a good job of sharing tutorials and demos on YouTube of their new BIAS amp modelling app. If you don't know much about BIAS check out our review.

This video shows how to use your carefully crafted BIAS tone with Apple's Inter-App audio feature built in to the marvellous GarageBand. We hope you find it as useful we did.


Giveaway: Win a Copy of the Epic BIAS Guitar Modelling App

BIAS Logo

A couple of days ago in our review we told you how we were blown away by Positive Grid's new infinitely tweakable sound engine, BIAS for iPad.

Well, if you really fancy trying BIAS but haven’t yet splashed out on the app yourself, we have one free copy to give away.

All you have to do is:

1) Ensure you follow us on either Facebook or Twitter

2) Leave us a comment below that includes

a) Your favourite feature of BIAS (hint: check out the BIAS homepage)

b) Your email address in the comment form so we can contact you if you win (don’t worry, we are the only ones who see your email, it isn’t made public)

Important Info.

That’s it.  You must meet both criteria 2a and 2b above or, in fairness to other entrants, we cannot consider your entry.

We’ll randomly select one of the commenters below after 1900 GMT on the closing date Wednesday 20th November 2013.

BIAS Blows Us Away

“…We threw out convention and focused instead on how to create the most delicious tone in as many flavors as possible. The result is BIAS... - Calvin Abel, BIAS Product Manager

BIAS Logo

In our last post we told you about the upcoming release of BIAS and what amazing tone control was promised by the team at Positive Grid.

Well, we were invited to be in on the Beta program for BIAS and Wow! BIAS really does live up to that promise.  

BIAS has now been officially released and we think Guitarists are going to love this app, especially those searching for the perfect tone,.

If you care about your guitar tone and want professional results right there on your iPad, you will run out and get BIAS now. Here's why you should:

Infinitely Tuneable

As the above video demonstrates, BIAS makes your guitar tone infinitely tuneable to the finest degree possible. You have complete control over every part of your tone including:

  • preamps
  • tone stacks
  • power amps
  • transformers
  • cabinets
  • panel controls
  • mic selection 
  • mic placement

BIAS 05 Transformer

The great thing is you don’t need to be a sound tech or audiophile to understand this app and dial in your perfect sound.  We found it intuitive and easy to drag/tap our way to a sound we were happy with.

BIAS 07 EQ

You can do things with this app that would take a long time to do or that would cost you a lot of money in the real world.  For example, you may not  bother to change a whole set of tubes or be able to switch to a different head or cabinet setup to fine-tune your sound, but you can do that in a couple of seconds with BIAS, all whilst constantly monitoring the sound as you make even tiny adjustments.

BIAS 06 Cab

Sound Launchpad

To get you started, BIAS comes loaded with 36 amp presets (28 guitar, 4 bass and 4 keyboard/vocal), including a lot of the most popular and well loved amps.  These sound fantastic as they are, but they are also a perfect launchpad for building your own sound, especially as they are categorised so you have an idea of what to expect.  Here’s the categories you get: 

  • Clean
  • Glassy
  • Blues
  • Crunch
  • Hi Gain
  • Metal
  • Insane
  • Acoustic
  • Bass
BIAS 01 Home
 

The quality of these amp models is very impressive.  Positive Grid’s USP for us is the warmth that their sound engine produces in comparison to the often harsh, digital, sound of some other iOS amp sims.  

The clean amps especially sound beautiful as long as you pare down the input from your guitar, but with our Epi Les Paul (no we can’t afford the real thing) the Metal and Insane amps ripped apart our speakers with the lovely, screaming yet smooth, distortion that you would hope to hear.

It is a bit embarrassing to admit, but there was a massive smile on our face as we heard these amp models for the first time, even excitedly chuckling at how awesome they sounded.  BIAS really does sound that good.

Custom Looks

It’s not just about the way your unique amp sounds either.  You can completely customise the look of your new unique amp setup.  You have control over every aspect of your amp’s design whether you want that traditional Marshall rock stack look or a classic Fender Tweed blues vibe, or a mash-up of both, you can do it with BIAS.

You can even change the panel style (behind the controls) and add your own custom image as the bezel for your amp head. 

BIAS 08 CustomPanel

Share It

Once you have found that killer tone and designed your amp’s look, you can tell everyone else about it by sharing it with them on Facebook. 

BIAS 09 Facebook 

This is what it looks like when you share it on Facebook:

1426604 10152088970331018 1631701762 n

Use It

When your sound is finalised and ready to go Positive Grid have made it a one-tap operation to send your whole amp (including its unique look) over to JamUp XT (Free) or their Pro version to jam live with.

BIAS 10 JamUp Integration

BIAS is also Audiobus compatible so you can use your unique amp sound in any app that integrates with the fantastic Audiobus platform, including GarageBand which you may already have for free if you have a new iOS device, an essential but still very welcome interaction.

Getting the Sound In

Of course, BIAS is compatible with pretty much any manner of iOS instrument input device, not just Positive Grid’s own JamUp Plug. A full list of the compatible iOS audio interfaces can be found at the bottom of the BIAS webpage.

We had no problem using it with iRig, Apogee Jam, GuitarJack 2 and of course the JamUp Plug.  All gave great results with only the difference between the devices themselves affecting the input levels (but that has nothing to do with BIAS). 

Recommendation and Win

We could go on, but it will come as no surprise that we are highly recommending BIAS for iPad.

Yes, it is on the expensive side for an iOS app at $19.99, but at the price of one decent tube for your amp BIAS will open up a world of easily achievable tone and we don't think you'll ever regret purchasing it.

You can find out more about the BIAS for iPad app at Positive Grid's website or go and grab it from the App Store now.

Plus, stay tuned over the weekend for your chance to win a free copy of BIAS - more soon.

Video: Think an iPad can't be used as a Live Guitar Amp? Think Again!

 

We have mentioned before the potential for your iPad to replace those hefty and bulky guitar amps you have to carry around with you to gigs as a guitarist.  Actual documented examples are less common than we would like, but here's one.

In the video above Gene Baker is using the brilliant JamUp Pro (or XT) app by Positive Grid as his 'Amp' (read our in-depth review for more on JamUp).  He is switching effects/rigs using JamUp's integration with the Bluetooth AirTurn pedal, allowing for live use as a virtual pedalboard.

Although the sound quality of the video isn't that great, guitarists will be listening out for the solo in Mean Gene Band's cover of the Aerosmith classic 'Walk this way' and we think it definitely passes muster.

What do you think?

iPad at NAMM 2013 - IK Multimedia

If you create music on or via your iPad, you need to know about some of the very cool stuff announced at the Winter NAMM Show that has taken place over the last few days in California.

There is a lot to get excited about as always, so in the next few posts we are going to highlight some of the shiny new tech announced for your iPad.

iRig BlueBoard

IK Multimedia had several new products to announce at NAMM this year, but this is the one that got us the most excited.  

As anyone who has tried it knows, switching settings or presets in the middle of a song using any of the iPad guitar FX sims is pretty tricky and worst of all, it means taking your hands off the guitar which usually requires adapting the way you play the song to allow time for poking at the touch screen.

Foot controllers are the natural solution to this problem and this is not the first Bluetooth foot controller for iOS we have seen, but it might be the nicest looking.

The BlueBoard ($99.99 / €79.99) is a wireless MIDI controller (so it should work with most MIDI apps you have on your iPad.  It is advertised as working up to about 30ft away from your main iPad rig, so you could set it up on the other side of the stage for those spotlight solos whilst retaining some control over your virtual pedal setup.  It will also work with your iPhone/iPod Touch and your Mac if you have one.

Check out the video below and the web page for more details, suffice to say, we want one very badly!

iRig HD

More than just an update for the much loved (and to be honest still default for us) iRig guitar interface, the iRig HD is another device altogether.  

iRig HD a 24-bit A/D convertor, with thumbwheel adjustable pre-amp on the device and digital noise reduction plus many other features, but what really stood out for us is that this device can be used with your Mac too via an interchangeable cable that features USB, 30-pin and Lightning dock connectors.

This is for us a brilliant feature that means purchasing less cables or audio devices for musicians who use both iOS and Computer based processing/recording apps.

We have yet to hear what it really sounds like, but we are really keen to find out and we will be looking out for some good samples in the near future.

More details again on the web page and in the video below:

We are always interested to hear what you think and what announced products you are looking forward to seeing (or maybe just adding to your wishlist).  Let us know in the comments below.

Shred Like Slash On Your iPad

IK Multimedia continue to bring great sounding, and fantastic looking, guitar goodness to your iPad with their new AmpliTube Slash for iPad, a special edition of their iOS guitar effects app.

The official trailer below shows what some of the equipment included in this special edition sounds like (we're loving the OctoBlue):

IK Multimedia are rightly proud to note that Slash apparently uses the iRig and the iPad / iPhone Amplitube app on the road to capture ideas and practice his riffs.

Check out this overview with Slash himself demoing the sounds:

What more can you want? At a fairly reasonable £6.99, we're off to the (in)app store now.

Amazing Joe Satriani cover played in the new GarageBand for iPad

At some points in this video it is hard to believe you are listening to a guitar simulation, played on a touchscreen computer by YouTube user TelevatorMuzak (a.k.a. Francis). It's a track we are very fond of anyway, but we also think it is a remarkable demonstration of what can be done with the right know-how and a lot of musical talent.

We contacted Francis to find out about his musical interests, creating music using GarageBand and the improvements that version 1.2 brings.

iPad Creative: Tell us something about yourself and your love for music making.

Francis: I've been making music (or just mere 'sound like things' when I was younger!) as far back as I can remember, from banging pots and pans to finally, real instruments. Although I've been in bands, I'm not really a band guy. I mostly enjoy making solo post-rock music, like modern acoustic guitar fingerpicking and solo piano, and probably that's why I enjoy making music on the iPad.

iPad Creative: What do you think of GarageBand for the iPad?

Francis: Oh, I'm really stoked with the iPad GarageBand. I usually do recordings on DAWs but this app is just so liberating for me because the playable instruments are self-contained. I think Apple nailed it with their accelerometer velocity sensors. The instruments are remarkably expressive. One thing I didn't really like about other iOS music apps before GB was exactly this, everything sounded robotic and electronic (which may sound good with some genres) but Apple took it to the next level with the expressive range of the instruments. So now, I could sneak convincing recordings on the couch, at work, in my car, on the toilet, LOL, pretty much anywhere, without lugging around extra equipment. Granted, it's like learning new instruments altogether, but once you get the hang of, it's satisfying what you can create.

Again, I'm not a band kind of guy and I'm mesmerized by the idea of performers doing all the parts amazingly on their own despite the limitations of their instruments and that precisely what's so challenging but rewarding when working with the iPad GarageBand app.

iPad Creative: And your take on the improvements that arrived with version 1.2?

Francis: I think it's great they took it to another level. The note editor opens it up further for everyone, all you need is a good ear. I'm glad I could transpose notes now especially with the guitar sound since in the old version, it was a bit limited in range.

It's also convenient for tweaking the parts a bit. You don't have to nail each riff each time. You could just go in and shift a few notes in time and pitch if you mess up. But as with any synthetic music, there's a danger of sounding too synthetic, so real-time expression is still important if you're aiming for that sort of thing. I think Apple provided iPad GB with ample expressive tools to make your songs subtly nuanced.

iPad Creative: Besides GarageBand, what other iPad apps excite you, for music creation or otherwise?

Francis: Pretty much any app that will take the leap from the desktop to the tablet excites me. I like how Apple keeps the iPad versions of their software clean and simple so as not to take away from their more powerful desktop versions. They're more like spontaneous sketchpads than real workstations but, of course, that might change in the near future.

Francis has something very interesting in the pipeline, we'll bring you more news soon. In the meantime listen to this stunning cover again, particularly the last couple of minutes. Just think, this was produced on a computer that some people claimed would be the death of creativity. Fortunately, that argument has been well and truly quashed.

Further reading: TelevatorMuzak

Tune-in Tuesday: AmpKit Special

In honour of the AmpKit Retina graphics update we mentioned earlier today and the limited time 50% off AmpKit+, we thought it would be fun to find a few tracks on SoundCloud that have been made with AmpKit. Hopefully it will give you an idea of some of the sounds you can re-create in Agile Partners' authentic sounding amp sim.

AmpKit comes with SoundCloud export built right in to the app so it is very quick and easy to share your riff, chorus or even whole song idea with the world. It is also possible to import a backing track or drum loop and play over it in AmpKit, or you can use one of the provided loops complete with bass and rhythm guitars.

There isn't any punch-in type of recording in AmpKit itself though, so you often end up with imperfect one-off takes or maybe the third, fourth, fifth (you get the idea) attempt being shared to SoundCloud.

With that in mind, we have selected three different samples that demonstrate just a few of the many different types of sound you can get from AmpKit.

'Ready Set Jam' by TheRedDash

"Messing around with some Drum back tracking" is how this track is described by Dash from New York, but it features the rich, well sustained Rock sound that you can conjure up in AmpKit without too much effort and reliably every time. We liked the tight, compressed rhythm style at the start too.

'Duckie Dux' by toño châvez

A tongue-in-cheek title for this track but toño demonstrates very nicely the auto-wah pedal sound here, which is actually quite difficult to get right in our experience.

'Strat Your Stuff' by shred_777

We have featured Timothy Khalil's (a.k.a. shred_777) work once before, but we liked the funky Blues sound of this track a lot and it provides us with a sample of the Stevie Ray type of tone that makes us so happy. Nice one Timothy!

Just three short samples of the sounds you can create with AmpKit on your iOS device.

Good enough for a Commerical album

Of course, if you want to take it to the ultimate level and incorporate AmpKit as your main guitar amplification for commercial productions, you can do that too, as perfectly demonstrated by One Like Son in our bonus track below. To find out more about their album made entirely on an iPhone 3GS be sure to read our post.

Over to you

We hope you enjoyed listening to our AmpKit made picks this week, but as always, we want to hear from you too whatever iOS app you use. If you have your own iOS created sounds (preferably with the iPad, but not essential) here's how you can get them to us:

  • Join our iPad Creative SoundCloud group then click on the 'Share a Track' button on the group page
  • If you're on a computer, click 'Send us your sounds' at top of the sidebar --->
  • Leave us a link to your track on SoundCloud in the comments below

We're looking forward to hearing you soon.

AmpKit+ 1.3 - Double the Resolution, Half the Price

AmpKit Icon TransBG

Agile Partners have updated their sonically amazing guitar amp sim AmpKit with new Retina Graphics and it looks gorgeous.

We think they are (at least one of) the first guitar sim app makers to update their in-app graphics for the new iPad's Retina display.

It isn't anything that really affects the every day use of the app of course, but it is a lot nicer to look at and makes the amp controls especially a whole lot clearer.

 

Retina Upgrade

As we are interested in how Developers are updating their apps, we took a series of screenshots from AmpKit+ before we upgraded so that you can compare them.

It's hard to see in these scaled down versions but if you look closeley you should see the added clarity and detail on the amp controls and stomp pedal graphics in the gallery below.

New Gear

With the release of AmpKit+ 1.3 Agile Partners have also added 3 new pieces of kit and bass players get a little love. From the Press Release:

Trace Elliot 1215
For the first time, a world class, full-featured bass amp and cabinet for iOS bass players.

Rocktron Metal Planet Distortion
A versatile, true heavy metal distortion pedal - not for the faint of heart

Rocktron HUSH Noise Reduction
If you aren't using HUSH, you aren't using real noise reduction for guitar.

Select the links if you want to find out more and see videos of Rocktron Hush and Rocktron Metal Planet Distortion.

50% off!

In addition to the updates mentioned above, the purchase price for AmpKit+ has been halved to $9.99/£6.99 and the 3 pieces of new gear have between 33% and 40% off for a limited time.

If you haven't pulled the trigger on that AmpKit+ purchase yet, now is the time to do it, it is well worth it for the savings you make over individual gear purchase prices.

App Store Link: AmpKit (Free) / AmpKit+ both Universal apps

StudioTrack for iPad Updated plus 50% off

Now is the time to grab StudioTrack for iPad from Sonoma WireWorks if you haven't got it already!

Added integration

We've been eagerly awaiting this update [press release link] which finally brings GuitarJack control panel and GuitarTone (great sounding amp sim) integration to the iPad.

This functionality was previously only available via Sonoma's FourTrack iPhone app. This is the app we had to use when reviewing GuitarJack 2 last month, which was less than optimal running on our iPad at 2x.

Now we can enjoy StudioTrack's 8 recording tracks along with this integration, we are very happy.

GuitarJacked

If you have been holding off on purchasing GuitarJack 2 for your iPad, this update will definitely improve your experience of using it.

We can't recommend GuitarJack 2 highly enough, it continues to impress as much as it did when we reviewed it, even more to be honest.

Non-Retina but great price

Although StudioTrack's UI has not yet been fully updated for the new iPad's 'Retina' display, it is good to see the updated version (1.5) being offered with a 50% discount at just $9.99/£6.99 for a limited time.

We highly recommend you grab a copy for the discounted price while you can. If you want to know more about StudioTrack and how it works, here's our review of the first release.

iKlip Studio Solves A Problem

If you have already invested in IK Multimedia's iRig device and you've had the same problem we have managing devices and cables dangling off your iPad, you may be interested to hear about the new iKlip Studio.

The recently announced iKlip Studio

Announced at this year's Winter NAMM and priced at a very reasonable $29.99, this adjustable iPad stand also folds flat for storage and importantly incorporates a little holder for your iRig, which then clips onto the back of the iKlip Studio.

Rear view of iKlip Studio with iRig mount

We haven't seen it in the flesh yet but it looks fairly sturdy and we think it's a great idea that will potentially solve one of our main annoyances about using the iRig with our iPad.

Here's a little taster video from IK Multimedia about the iKlip Studio's general features - let us know what you think in the comments:

AmpDock We Think We Love You!

It is probably very wrong to get so excited about an iPad accessory before we have even seen it, but we felt the same way about the iO Dock from Alesis and their new AmpDock, designed specifically for guitar and bass players, has got us in a stupor again.

Basically a slightly cut down version of their iO Dock, Alesis have made the AmpDock more robust for live use. AmpDock features an enclosing cover on the fourth side so that you iPad isn't exposed on the top edge, as it was on the iO Dock.

There's also a handy little kickstand on the back to angle the AmpDock when it is sat on top of your amp and to allow clearance of the amp's handle. If you have ever tried balancing your iPad on top of your amp you'll know how useful and reassuring this feature will be.

But the main thing that got us excited was the inclusion of a pedalboard controller in the $299 price!

This is a great boon and means that, for the iPad-owning musician, AmpDock is ready to rock (or not, depending on your guitar style) out of the box without any further expenditure.

More details and specs below, after the teaser video from Alesis:

AmpDock Key Features

  • The first professional guitar processor to use your iPad or iPad 2 for signal processing
  • Works with GarageBand, AmpliTube, JamUp, and virtually any audio or CoreMIDI app
  • Includes a rugged pedalboard controller with program, effect, bypass, volume and continuous controls
  • Guitar Input 1 and switchable Mic/Line/Guitar Input 2; professional outputs, and MIDI jacks
  • Kickstand allows for stable positioning on top of guitar amps
  • Hinged door completely encloses and secures your iPad
  • Mountable to a mic stand using the Alesis Module Mount (sold separately)
  • 1/4" high-impedance guitar input and combo input for microphone, second guitar, or another instrument
  • 1/4" outputs with Guitar/Line impedance switch
  • Stereo auxiliary outputs for connection to external effects
  • Two assignable endless knobs to control parameters in compatible apps
  • Analog Input 1, Input 2, Main, and Headphone volume controls
  • MIDI input and outputs and USB MIDI jack for use with other controllers and MIDI software or hardware

AmpDock Specs:

  • (1) - High Impedance Guitar Input
  • (1) - XLR/ 1/4" Combo Jack for switchable for Guitar, Line Level, and Phantom Power
  • (2) - 1/4" unbalanced Auxiliary Outputs
  • (2) - 1/4" balanced Outputs
  • (1) - 1/4" Stereo Headphone Output
  • Ground Lift Switch
  • Class Compliant USB 1.1 and 5-pin DIN MIDI I/O
  • True Bypass

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

JamUp Pro now expanded plus 50% Off Expansion Packs

The nice people at Positive Grid have sent us a note to say that JamUp Pro, the relatively new Guitar FX-app-on-the-block has just been updated to Version 1.3.

We loved this boutique looking and great sounding app when we reviewed it back in November last year.

What's New?

New in 1.3 are an "updated DSP engine, audio copy and paste, and 20+ new amps and effects available via in-app purchase.".

The new in-app purchases are obviously the big thing, but we are particularly excited to see support for ACP included in this update too.

If you're quick you can take advantage of a 50% discount on the new expansion packs, but for just one week only.

Go and grab your update.

App Store Link: JamUp Pro

iRig Mix for iOS Opens Up a World of Portable Audio

IK Multimedia are throwing their considerable weight firmly behind the iOS platform with their latest round of product announcements ahead of this year's NAMM show, starting next week.

The first of these we wanted to tell you about is the iRig Mix. Here's the trailer video which got our heads in a spin with the sheer potential of this device for the mobile musician.

Be sure to watch through to the end to see the multitude of ways iRig Mix can be used.

Check out the iRig Mix page for more demo videos of the device in action and details.

Needless to say, we are very excited at the prospect of this new device, what do you think of it? Let us know in the comments.

iPad Case That Thinks It's A Guitar

As expected, the iPad is featuring heavily at CES, or rather, accessories for the iPad are popping up everywhere. SlashGear and Engadget both reported this morning on the soon-to-be-released Guitar Apprentice from ION Audio (the people that brought us the iCade and Piano Apprentice for iPad).

The idea is that keys on the $99 fretboard light up, teaching you how to play guitar and perhaps also enabling guitar games. The potential is there for this accessory to be used by iPad musicians with CoreMIDI compatible apps to play an iPad synth app for example in an iBand.

We think it is a fun and creative idea for those who already have an iPad, but if you are really looking to learn guitar, we think you should get a starter electric or acoustic guitar and, if you have an iPad, get the brilliant WildChords app by Ovelin. You'll do a much better job of learning to play real guitar that way.

4 Chances To Win JamUp Pro and JamUp Plug

The nice people at Positive Grid, developers of the brilliant JamUp Pro and the JamUp Plug, have launched a seasonal giveaway. You can read our review of both to see why you should want to win them.

For the next 4 weeks Positive Grid are giving away a copy of the JamUp Pro app along with their specially made for iOS hardware plug, which we really like.

All you have to do is leave your name and email address on the giveaway page and you are entered for all 4 weeks of the giveaway.

Nothing to lose and well worth winning!

WildChords for iPad - Guitar Tutor Meets Pied Piper

Have you ever tried learning guitar? How far did you get?

If you're like a lot of people you probably learnt a few chords, maybe even a few songs, but never really got any better and you lost motivation. If you took guitar lessons you may have a had a guitar teacher who struggled to engage you and made learning guitar a chore, not fun.

WildChords icon

WildChords from Finnish developers Ovelin has been designed specifically to dispel these problems with learning guitar.

Using a gaming approach, combined with a carefully ramped learning curve, cute cartoon graphics and bespoke, fun sounding songs to play along with, we think WildChords has a good chance at succeeding.

We were in on the beta program for this app and we have seen it develop a great deal from the early versions but the core idea of the app has remained the same: to make it fun to learn.

Here's a promo video made for WildChords that shows off the quirky European sense of humour that we love.

The story

As you will have seen in the video above, the idea behind the game is that a lot of animals have escaped from a nearby zoo and are now terrorising the locals.

You play our brave guitar hero, who takes to the streets armed with the knowledge that the escaped animals can be corralled pied-piper like by playing the corresponding chord. A for Apes, C for Crocodiles, E for Elephants, and so on.

Using a real guitar (acoustic or electric) you play the chords shown as our cartoon hero marches down the street. No plastic guitars allowed here! This is about learning to play guitar for real.

As each new chord is introduced there is a little tutorial showing you how to play the chord and where each finger should go.

The iPad's built-in microphone picks up how well you play the chord and lights up the string for each note that is sounded correctly.

Moving on

Once you have started getting used to playing the chords and as you move up through the levels you get to move on and play individual notes. The cartoon-like graphics continue here, with cute little birds sitting on telegraph wires, getting zapped if you don't play the notes correctly.

Somehow, you are suspended from a bunch of balloons, guitar in hand and you have to play the fret and string indicated or the birds get it! As the stages progress it gets trickier, requiring quite a bit of concentration.

Even though we've played guitar before, we found ourselves sweating a bit and getting quite tense on these levels.

 

What's it like to play?

WildChords really is a lot of fun to play and at the same time quite challenging. Each time you strum a chord it has to ring out correctly and you have to hit the timing bang on if you want to do well.

Far from being the trudging, demotivating type of lesson that puts so many of us off learning to play an instrument, WildChords makes learning guitar fun and keeps you coming back for more.

Rewards

Do you like collecting gold stars? We do!

WildChords rewards accuracy and timing with the oft-used three gold stars at the end of each level. Which is clever, because not getting three stars is annoying, especially when trying to learn a new skill, like playing guitar.

If you're determined to do this right, you'll want another go at the level, and another, until you get those three gold stars.

More lessons

WildChords starts as a free download and this will get you a long way towards making more recognisable sounds from your guitar.

If you have completed all these initial tutorials you can extend your skills and buy further tutorial 'packs' which include new challenges and some new chords and even scales.

These packs are currently available as in-app purchases for just $2.99 (£1.99), which is not bad at all and a great deal cheaper than a single guitar lesson.

Even if you don't want to pay for the extra lessons, the WildChords app is a free download from the App Store, and we reckon you should go and get it.

If you do grab WildChords, don't forget to leave us a comment and let us know what you think.