THE CREATIVE potential of Apple’s iOS devices—the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch—has grown quickly as manufacturers rush to support this exciting and extremely portable platform. With so many instrument and virtual-studio apps available, the demand has increased for interfaces with high-quality audio and plug-and-play connectivity, so manufacturers are stepping up to the plate. Here, we bring you some of the newest and most exciting products on the market.
One concern for many iOS device owners was the 2012 introduction of Lightning, the 8-pin connector on the iPad with Retina Display, the iPhone 5, and the fifth-generation iPod touch that superseded the 30-pin connector. At first, owners of these new products had to install Apple’s 8-to-30-pin adapter cable to use their audio interfaces and MIDI controllers, though the extra cable length was a bit inconvenient. However, a number of manufacturers now include cables featuring both connectors. That lets users of new and legacy iOS products equally experience the joys of the latest interface technology.
IK iRig HD.IK Multimedia iRig HD
No other music-related company has embraced the iOS revolution like IK Multimedia. After establishing themselves in a lead role with the original iRig guitar interface and mobile version of AmpliTube, the company has covered nearly every product category: There are the iLoud and iLoud Mini monitors, iRig Stomp, iRig Mic, iRig Pre (a mic interface with an XLR input), iRig Mic Cast, iRig Keys, iRig MIDI, the iRig BlueBoard pedalboard controller, the iLine cable kit, a variety of stand adapters such as iKlip 2, and my personal favorite, the 2013 Editors’ Choice Award-winning iRig Mix. Whew!
Their latest release is the iRig HD, an instrument interface that is 1" wide, less than 4" long, weighs a mere 1.25 ounces (without the cables attached), and works with iOS devices and Mac products via USB. Consequently, the first difference you’ll notice between the original iRig and the HD version is the connectivity. The original iRig connects to your iOS device’s headphone jack, and you connect your guitar or bass and your stereo headphones to the iRig itself.
The iRig HD, on the other hand, connects to your iDevice or computer digitally using special cables that are included. From there, you plug your instrument into the other end of the iRig HD and connect your earbuds to the headphone jack on your iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, or Apple computer. The digital connection provides higher quality sound than running everything through the iOS device’s headphone jack. The 24-bit A/D converter can work at 44.1 and 48kHz, depending on the app you’re using. Best of all, the high-impedance 1/4" input is designed to handle guitar, bass, and line-level signals, and an input gain control is located on the side of the interface.
As you would expect, iRig HD is powered by your iOS device or computer. A multicolor LED tells you if the unit is connected properly and roughly indicates the input signal strength. The unit comes with three 2.25' cables that match any Apple device you have—USB, 30-pin, and Lightning. I already have copies of AmpliTube 3 on my laptop and iPhone, so all I had to do was connect either one to the iRig HD, plug my Strat into the other end of the interface, and fire up the app. The sound quality of the app through this interface is excellent.
If you don’t already have the app, once you buy iRig HD, you can download AmpliTube Free and then grab the cool add-ons that IK Multimedia includes with the purchase: For iOS you get the Metal 150 and Metal W amps and the Wharmonator and X-Flanger stompboxes, while for Mac OS you get the AmpliTube Metal collection and AmpliTube Custom Shop software. From there, you’re ready to rock!
Line 6 Sonic Port.Line 6 Sonic Port
Line 6 is also a major player in the world of iOS, with their Mobile In interface, MIDI Mobilizer and MIDI Mobilizer II, and Mobile Keys controllers. However, the hot new item in their catalog is the Sonic Port, a 24-bit, 48kHz audio interface designed to work with all of the recent iOS products. The package includes two 41" cables, one with a 30-pin connector and the other with a Lightning plug.
Sonic Port is the length of an iPhone, weighs only 3.6 ounces, and sits solidly on the desktop. As you would expect, it has a 1/4" input for high-impedance, instrument-level signals, such as an electric guitar, but it also includes a 3.5mm stereo minijack input for line-level signals. You can only use one of the inputs at a time, so if you have instruments plugged into both, the interface will default to the line input.
In addition to the 3.5mm stereo headphone output, Sonic Port has a stereo 1/4" TRS line-level output, compatible with a mixer or powered studio monitors as well as guitar and bass amps. You can use both outputs, simultaneously.
Line 6 recommends you download the free Mobile POD app, particularly because it can be used to install firmware updates when they become available. However, the Sonic Port works with any app that uses Core Audio.
Best of all, the Sonic Port is completely plug-and-play. Simply attach it to your mobile device, plug in your instrument, launch your favorite app, and you’re in business. I was very impressed with the sound quality of the Sonic Port and could easily hear the differences between the various amp-and-effects app I use on my iPhone. And I appreciated having dedicated outputs for my studio monitors.
Squier by Fender USB Stratocaster.
Squier by Fender USB Stratocaster
My favorite iOS-compatible device of the year is the Squier USB Stratocaster, an Indonesian-made electric guitar that includes a built-in 24- bit, bi-directional audio interface. In addition to the standard 1/4" analog output that plugs into any guitar amp, you can simultaneously route a digitized signal to and from an iDevice or laptop (Mac or Windows) via USB. When you make the digital connection for the first time, it simply works, without hassle: I like that.
The USB Strat has an onboard headphone jack, which not only allows you to hear the virtual amp and effects you’re playing through, but the sound files or streaming audio from sources such as iTunes and YouTube, as well. This makes the USB Strat perfect for practicing and learning songs.
The built-in interface is USB Class Compliant, supporting Mac OS X 10.7, iOS, and Windows 7. It works with any application that supports Core Audio (Mac) or ASIO drivers. The guitar comes with two cables, each with a USB Mini-B connector on one end, which attaches to the instrument. One of the cables has a 30-pin connector for iOS devices on the other end, while the second cable terminates in a USB Type-A connector that you can plug into your computer. If your iDevice requires Lightning, you’ll need to use a 30-pin-to-8-pin adapter.
Remarkably, any latency you get when playing the USB Strat is nearly imperceptible, despite the fact that your guitar sound is being digitized onboard, sent to your mobile device, run through an app, returned to the guitar along with whatever song you’re playing with, and then run through a D/A converter so you can hear it in your headphones. Once you start playing, however, you’ll quickly forget the round trip your guitar signal is making, because the sound quality is exceptional and the response from the instrument is outstanding considering the price point.
The USB Strat is fairly lightweight thanks to its basswood body, and it has single-coil pickups in the neck and middle position and a humbucker at the bridge, so it sounds like a Fender Strat no matter what you plug it into. Hands down, it is the most convenient guitar for recording or wood-shedding that you’ll ever use.
DigiTech iStomp.DigiTech iStomp
$229 MSRP, $149 STREET
While iOS devices provide a lot of bang for the buck when it comes to sounds, many guitarists are not inclined to bring their iPhone or iPad onstage where it can get brutalized. To address this, DigiTech introduced the iPB-10 iPad dock, an interface and pedalboard that can hold your patches on its own if you’re squeamish about taking your iPad onstage. However, it’s a pedalboard, and you may already have one.
So, DigiTech designed the iStomp, a 3"x5" stompbox that can host a single effect that is downloaded into the pedal from your iOS device. Once the effect is loaded, you can disconnect iStomp and use it independently of your iDevice.
Effects are managed within the free Stomp Shop app, which comes with two effects— Redline Overdrive, which is preloaded into the pedal, and Total Recall Delay. Additional effects are available for $0.99 to $9.99, and there are more than two dozen to choose from, including delays, reverb, chorus, boost, distortion, and so on. Of particular note are the Vintage Tape Delay and the 240 Plate reverb— both sound amazing and you won’t want to let them leave your pedalboard.
Loading an effect into iStomp from Stomp Shop takes only 30 seconds. If you want to try an effect before you buy, you can download a time-limited (five-minute) demo version into the pedal. If the demo runs out before you’ve made your decision, simply download it again. To hear how an effect sounds without downloading into iStomp, hit the Play button in Stomp Shop to hear a pre-recorded track with or without the effect.
The software algorithms used for the effects come from DigiTech’s hardware products, but they’ve been tweaked to fully utilize the processing resources available in the iStomp’s DSP chip. As a result, the audio quality is astounding overall, and they sound and behave as if you were playing them from within a dedicated hardware pedal.
The iStomp has four knobs, a single footswitch, and a pair of unbalanced 1/4" inputs and outputs, so you can use mono or stereo effects. The knobs are configured for the effect you load into the pedal, and reusable adhesive labels are provided so you can see at a glance how they’re assigned. The pedal is powered by a 9V adapter, and it comes with the DigiTech Smart Cable, which has an 8-pin connector on one end that plugs into the pedal, and a 30-pin connector on the other for your iDevice.
Yamaha i-UX1.Yamaha i-UX1 and iMX-1
$79 STREET AND $69 STREET
Yamaha offers a pair of MIDI interfaces for iOS devices that you can use to play instruments on the mobile platform using standard MIDI controllers. The i-MX1 is an adapter with a 30-pin connector. MIDI In and Out ports are available by plugging in the included cables, which terminate in 5-pin MIDI DIN plugs.
The i-UX1 is a USB-over-MIDI cable that is just under 5' long. It has a 30-pin connector on one end and a standard USB B connector on the other. The cable is designed to connect your iDevice to the USB-to-Host port on an instrument such as an electronic drum kit, synth, or portable keyboard. Yamaha also offers Faders & XY Pad ($3.99), a Core MIDI app that you can use to control hardware MIDI instruments from your iPad.
Both interfaces are Core MIDI compliant, so they work with any MIDI controller, but owners of Yamaha products have additional options. For example, you can use the company’s MusicSoft Manager app (free) to backup and restore data from your Yamaha instrument to your Apple device. Or use your iDevice to change file names and edit sounds on instruments such as the Motif XF or MOX. The app also lets you use iTunes File Sharing and Dropbox to transfer style and MIDI data between an instrument, a computer, and remote storage.
iConnectivity iConnectMIDI4+.iConnectivity iConnectMIDI4+
$249 MSRP, $199 STREET
For full integration of MIDI between your iOS device and your Mac- or Windows-based DAW, the iConnectMIDI4+ has you covered. As the name suggests, the unit has four sets of MIDI I/O ports, with a built-in MIDI manager for routing (MIDI Thru, merge, and filtering) and using snapshot presets. This Class Compliant device has three USB Host ports that allow you to hook up three computers, with the added ability to pass audio through the device as well as MIDI. An additional USB port is included so you can connect a USB controller directly or use a powered hub. The device can even charge your iOS devices.
On top of that, the iConnectMIDI4+ has a built-in Ethernet port providing network connectivity using a wireless router or Ethernet hub. As a result, any MIDI device connected to the iConnectMIDI4+ can be controlled over the network. Nonetheless, the unit is compact enough that two can be rackmounted side-by-side.
The company also offers iConnectMIDI2+ ($89 MSRP, $69 street), which has many of the same features as the bigger version but with two sets of MIDI I/O and two USB-to- Host ports, and iConnectMIDI1 ($79 MSRP, $59 street), a 1x1 MIDI interface with DIN connectors that is USB bus powered.
Mackie DL806.Mackie DL806
Hot on the heels of their popular 16-channel digital live-sound mixer, Mackie has introduced the DL806, an 8-channel version that can be controlled wirelessly from your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. The hardware component, which acts as an iPad dock, has 24-bit Cirrus Logic converters and eight Onyx mic preamps, four of which have combo connectors that accept 1/4" inputs. Individual gain controls span the front panel, with a 1/4" stereo headphone jack and level control in the upper right.
The rear panel has a global phantom-power switch, four aux sends, main output jacks on XLR connectors, and an Ethernet port for use with a WiFi router, which you’ll need for wireless operation. To control the device wirelessly, download one of the free apps from the iTunes app store—My Fader Control for the iPhone and iPod touch, or Master Fader Control for the iPad.
Once they are installed, mix levels and plug-in parameters for dynamics, EQ, delay, and reverb effects can be handled by your iOS device from a distance. In fact, you can have up to 10 iOS devices connected wirelessly.
Use this power wisely!
Gino Robair is Technical Editor for Electronic Musician.