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Entries in iRig (18)

Is the iRig BlueBoard the One We've Been Waiting For?

After being announced back in January at NAMM by IK Multimedia, the iRig BlueBoard was released a few weeks ago and we think this is probably the solution guitarists have been waiting for.   

For a long time we have been extolling the iOS Amp Simulation apps as a viable, more portable, alternative for gigging/recording musicians and we think iRig's BlueBoard takes a big leap closer to that reality (and it also works with your Mac!).

Switching it up (and down)

One of the most essential requirements of any guitarist's pedal board is the ability to switch effects on-the-fly and, to be honest, this was the least practical element of using a touch device in a live situation.  

Changing effects just before a solo in a darkened room was a hit-and-miss affair at best, especially when trying to quickly switch from a rhythm to a solo sound.

We haven't been able to try it ourselves yet, but we are hopeful that the BlueBoard, as seen in the video above, will enable us to do this with any MIDI compatible iPad app, including GarageBand, AmpKit, JamUp as well as all of IK's own apps.  

Likes and dislikes

We like the small and portable sizing that makes it likely to slip into a cables bag. The adjustable backlit pedals are going to be really useful in a live situation and we are fond of the blue too.

If we were being picky, the pedals themselves look a bit small, especially if you tend to wear clodhopper boots on stage.  We would have liked twice as many footswitches really (e.g. one row to switch Banks and another row for the effects switching) but the BlueBoard may have been less portable with 8.  

As it is, with some forethought into the patch setup and ordering of the Banks plus the use of one or two external expression pedals, e.g. a Wah, this will suit most guitarists.

Bluetooth 4.0 is supposed to be more efficient but we are not sure how long a set of 4 AAAs are going to last, although they should see you through at least a few gigs if not several more.

What do you think?

Are you a guitarist or other musician looking to use Amp Sims or iPad Instrument apps live?  Would you use the iRig BlueBoard in your live or studio performances?  Let us know in the comments what 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.

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:

IK Multimedia Post Video of iRig MIC Cast In Action

We mentioned IK Multimedia's new iRig MIC cast when it was announced at CES last week, but this is the first video we have seen of it in action.

What do you think?

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

iRig MIC Cast for Mobile Voice Recording and Podcasting

Have you ever tried recording a lecture, talk or podcast conversation on your iOS device? If you have, you'll know that results can vary and ambient noise plays a big part.

IK Multimedia want to help you out with the newly announced iRig MIC Cast

It features a narrow field unidirectional mic for cutting down on ambient noise, they even recommend using it for VOIP calls.

Like the iRig Mic, the MIC Cast has a headphone socket so you can monitor what is being recorded.

The iRig MIC Cast even comes with a stand for your iPhone/iPod Touch, but you should be able to use the device (without stand) on your iPad too.

IK Multimedia are also bundling their iRig Recorder and VocaLive software with the device, both very useable and solid apps in our experience.

More details and images of the $39.99 device are available on the website.

What do you think, is this going to be useful to you?

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.

Video: iPad as a Recording Studio

Tide of Creativity

There is currently a virtual flood of music creativity out there using iOS and iDevices like the iPad. We are seeing new creations, new Apps, and new ideas every day.

Here is a new one posted on our Facebook page from Giuliano Soares da Silva [Facebook login required] whose guitar rig setup we posted about a few days ago.

Recording Setup

Giuliano has posted a video on his YouTube channel showing how he created the track below. In it he used the apps:

  • MultiTrack DAW
  • GarageBand
  • GeoSynth 

coupled up with some hardware that included: 

  • Roland TD3 Electronic Drumkit
  • iRig MIDI
  • Boss GT-8 
  • Camera Connection Kit
  • iPad and iPod Touch 

This is Feelings of the Soul (Demo):

Lose That Hefty Old Guitar Amp

Here's a short video that any guitarist will find interesting and it may even tempt you to replace that hefty amp that you're lugging around, at least for jamming round a friends house anyway.

YouTube user  made this demo using IK Multimedia's iRig for the guitar input and iRig MIDI to connect the classic Boss GT-8 controller via the dock connector, both played through the new guitar fx app JamUp (our review is on it's way). 

We think this set up has potential for playing live, what do you think?

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.