Review: IK Multimedia AmpliTube iRig and AmpliTube for iPhone app

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With the release of the AmpliTube iRig interface and the Amplitube for iPhone app, IK Multimedia now lets you get modeled guitar-amp-and-effects tones from your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. There are two parts to the product: AmpliTube iRig ($39.99) is an audio interface for your iPhone that lets you plug in a guitar jack and output to a stereo 1/8-inch jack. The software component is the AmpliTube for iPhone app ($19.99), which gives you a selection of amp models—a clean Fender (see Fig. 1), a crunchy Vox, a Marshall for distorted lead, a Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier for heavily distorted metal sounds, and an Ampeg SVT bass amp head—in an interface that's derived from IK's AmpliTube applications for Mac and Windows.

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FIG. 1: This Fender model is one of the five amps available in the app.

This app-and-interface combo is designed mainly as a practice aid and jamming tool. Don't expect it to be the sonic equal of AmpliTube software running on a desktop or laptop computer, or of a hardware modeling processor. According to IK, this is due mainly to limitations of the iPhone processor and the fact that IK wanted the app to be compatible with the less powerful CPU in the iPhone 3G. Nevertheless, as you'll hear in a bit, you can still get some pretty convincing tones with it.

I tested the app and interface with an iPhone 3G. They're also compatible with the 3GS, the iPhone 4, the second- and third-generation iPod touch, and the iPad (as this review was posted, IK announced a dedicated AmplTube for iPad app, which presumably is a more powerful version of AmpliTube for iPhone [link to news item in new window]). The interface is easy to use. Just plug in your guitar, turn on the app, and you're ready to go. You can either monitor through headphones, or by plugging a cable out of the iRig's headphone out into an amp, powered speakers, or an audio interface. I discovered that you can also use the iRig to get audio into other iPhone apps that have audio inputs, such as tuners. That could be useful if you want to use an iPhone tuner app in a noisy situation where the built-in mic doesn't cut it, or for using a tuner app on the iPod touch (which has no mic).

Once you fire up the AmpliTube app, you can dial in an amp, and then tweak that amp's gain, EQ, reverb, and—in the case of the Fender emulation—tremolo. The latter sounds good, but the reverb is not smooth or natural sounding. [Listen to the Fender emulation with reverb and tremolo on] The only way I was able to use the reverb was to dial in a tiny bit just to add ambience.

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FIG. 2: One of the 11 stompbox emulations available in AmpliTube for iPhone gives you Tube-Screamer-like overdrive.

In addition to amp type, you can choose between two cabinet models (the choices change depending on the amp model you're using) and two mic models. You can also add up to three simultaneous effects to a patch from a choice that includes chorus, flanger, phaser, octave (octave divider), noise filter (gate), wah, overdrive (apparently a Tube Screamer emulation, see Fig. 2), fuzz, and delay. The effects are pretty good, especially the modulation choices and and the excellent-sounding octave effect. These effects don't seem to take advantage of the stereo capabilities of the iPhone's audio, however. There is no compressor, which would have been a useful addition. Registering the app unlocks an additional distortion pedal model. IK says it's going to make more effects available over time, which you'll be able to purchase from within the app.

To facilitate practicing along with recordings, the app lets you wirelessly import audio files from your computer. I tried it with WAV, AIFF, MP3, and M4A (iTunes format) files, all of which imported seamlessly. You get playback controls and the ability to loop your imported files. For practicing, learning, and jamming, this capability is fantastic. Note that you must be on a wireless network to import files, not on the iPhone's 3G network (which is typical for apps that use wireless import). Up to 20 songs can be in memory at a time.

The combination of iRig and the AmpliTube app turns your iPhone/iPod touch or iPad into a portable amp-and-effects modeler. Although it's not intended as an outboard processor for recording, I was nevertheless able to get some pretty cool results plugging direct from it into my DAW.

Still, its primary value will be as a practice device, or as a way to access amp and effects tones when you're away from your computer or your actual amp and effects pedals. In those roles, it succeeds admirably.

Overall Ratings (1 through 5):
AmpliTube iRig: 4
AmpliTube for iPhone app: 4