Choosing an iOS Guitar Interface

Want to plug your guitar into an iPad so you can carry around a giant pedalboard in your pocket virtually? You’ll need an interface of some sort. When I started this journey, I thought I had done my due diligence, as I thought that this stuff was at least on par with the hobby level electronics for the desktop.

Most of it isn’t.

The community doesn’t expect it to be and the manufacturers don’t for the most part seem to care about real world performance. I am going to try to make the guide I wish I had when I started this, and hopefully it will help you avoid mistakes and pitfalls I fell prey to.

I will add devices as I receive units to test. For manufacturers, most of you already know from our time together on desktop devices that I will most happily accept products for review, and in that case, I will submit my findings to you before posting so you have a chance to comment or set me straight on any issues I have, but as always, I WILL report the truth as I see it. I welcome your participation, but I want to reiterate the risk you are taking that I may give your product a bad review.

TL;DR – here we go.

Low Output on iOS guitar interfaces

I have been testing a few of the iOS interfaces available. The specs for the iRig HD 2 show the maximum output at being 1.6vpp, which is roughly equivalent to a guitar output (my EMG 707’s put out about 1.5vpp if I hit an open A chord). If anything, these devices should be capable of MUCH more output, a regular audio interface will be on the order of +10 – +20dBu (1.6vpp is around -2.7dBu for reference). But I digress

I can’t get the actual output going through this device and through any software (even with everything bypassed) to get anywhere near this level. Here are the results of some testing I did, first setting guitar to DI to -15dBFS for reference levels

guitar into DI = -15dBFS

guitar into iRig HD 2 (not connected to lightning) into DI = -28dBFS Gain controls have no effect but Thru/FX switch mutes when set to FX

guitar into iRig HD 2 (connected to lightning) into DI = -15dBFS Thru/FX switch set to Thru. Gain controls have no effect

guitar into iRig HD 2 (connected to lightning) into DI Loudest with no distortion = -28dBFS Thru/FX switch set to FX. All Amplitube FX bypassed.

guitar into iRig HD 2 (connected to lightning) into DI Using Amplitube’s in/out controls to set for highest output, allowing distortion = -27dBFS
Thru/FX switch set to FX. All Amplitube FX bypassed.

I have exchanged some emails with IK’s tech support over this, and tested roughly the same on an iRig 2. Anyone know if the Sonicport has higher output levels?

Could there be some setting on the iPad telling it to drop the lightning connector’s audio 12dB?

Multiple Microphones on Guitar Cabinets

For those who still insist on sticking mics in front of guitar cabinets, here’s an old one I wrote for recordingproject.com

Introduction

A lot of this came from following around the God of Metal Engineering: Bill Metoyer. (Check the back of your records; if you don’t see his name on anything, you need a trip to the record store). I am sharing this because I see many posts on many online forums concerning recording guitars with multiple microphones. It is my hope that this tutorial will serve you well. Follow all that is suggested, and be on your way to glorious guitar tones whenever, and whatever you record with. Multiple mic’s on guitars doesn’t have to produce horrible phase artifacts if approached right. Here we go!

Intonation

Make sure your guitar is in tune, and intonated properly. Different intonations, even slightly different, can make completely separate flavors of distortion so get it as close as you can. If you know the difference in distortion sound between a 24 3/4″ scale guitar neck and a 25 1/2″ one then you know what I’m saying. In addition, guitars and basses that are not intonated together will surely fight each other in the mix, causing one or the other to dominate, and never blend perfectly. If you are not skilled in intonating your guitar, it is best to take it into a luthier that is reputable!

Preamp Gain

Most of the best guitar tones, especially in “metal” genres, come from less, a whole lot less (that’s right LESS), distortion/preamp gain than you would use live. For riffs and chord changes, the real heaviness comes from dynamics – the fact that it gets louder when your pick hits the string than when the string is just resonating.

This seems obvious, but it’s not really. You need to maximize the dynamic range at this stage because from here on out, the signal is going to be compressed and degraded in all sorts of ways. In most cases the gain should be about where a chord actually comes out clean when you strum softly. Transistor amps/pedals may not do this (some will), which is another reason tubes are usually preferred for this type of thing. Not all preamps are created equal! Having a preamp that works with your genre is essential! Pick wisely, and pick from a lot of experimentation. Keep in mind too that pickup/preamp combinations work differently from each other. A Seymour Duncan Invader pickup will drive just about any preamp to distortion a lot quicker than a stock Fender Strat single coil pickup will. So much more could be said about selecting the right pickup and preamp for your “sound”, but that would regress this tutorial. Therefore, we move on!

Tone

Scooped mids, cranked bass and treble right? WRONG!!! For recording you will need a lot more mids than you normally would live. You need to be heard. The way our ears work, we take most of our cues from the midrange. Get as much body in the tone as you can…. not bottom, body. You can always scoop it out later if you must. As the carpenter says, “Always cut long.” Again, we could talk a long time about the tonal characteristics of different amps, but that would regress this tutorial.

Power Amp and Speaker

Ok, on to the power amp or the power section of your head if you use one. Here is where you start the dynamic reduction process. You want to get a sound with enough sustain to work, but, being careful whether or not you want to actually hear power tube saturation or speaker distortion. Nothing right or wrong here, you are only limited to what sound is right for your production. Get a good sound that you enjoy – that is what counts.

My iOS Guitar Journey

TL:DR – this will be a journal, and perhaps the basis for some how-to’s later on using iOS guitar apps in a real world setting

Apologies in advance that this will often go into tangents as my writing always does, hopefully there really will be a TL:DR later on for those who may be wanting to try this yourself and get some simple, easy steps to avoid all of my mistakes, but for now, the random stream of semi-consciousness will follow.

For aspiring iOS guitarists reading this: consider exactly what you are planning to do with this setup

For developers reading this: please please consider what your target market will be doing with this stuff (I realize that many or most will probably just be playing at home thru headphones, but that won’t be everyone) and even if they aren’t your target, please consider what performing guitar players at actual venues will need. Some of you guys made some awesome software that will definitely be very appealing outside the home headphone market, and it behooves you to consider their actual end goal and use case needs! I am more than happy to speak with you about this, and I hope my track record in the VST and DAW world hopefully speaks for itself.

For the first time in a very very long time, I’m actually joining a band. Technology has moved forward by leaps and bounds in most industries since the last time I seriously entertained the idea of entertaining. I considered if I would do the old giant rack/pedalboard and 412 combo with all of its associated wiring and real estate or if I would use the VSTs I use every day in recording, somehow combine it with a MIDI pedalboard and of course my experience and gear with REAPER Live, and decided to at least give the tablet/phone avenue a try.

Why? The idea of being mostly wireless, and the fact that I already knew that what had once taken racks and racks of gear could easily be run on a computer, I figured the phones and portable devices wouldn’t be all that different. Add in the wireless MIDI pedalboards that had come into the market and it seemed at least a fun avenue to explore. I figured I’d have to consider a few things for this:

  1. The amp I would be using to monitor myself (I live in a place where soundmen point 57’s at the floor by lazily looping them thru a handle of a guitar cab, sending more of the sound of your feet through the PA than your amplifier, so no way was I going to hope that they’d be giving me my signal to monitor)
  2. The mobile device itself, whether phone or tablet, which OS, which model etc…
  3. The interface to get from the guitar to the mobile device and then the signal back to the amplifier (and boy oh boy is this last bit of the signal path the source of some serious siliness! More on that later)
  4. The MIDI controller for all the myriad of magical tones
  5. And of course, the software itself that I will be using to get my tones from

#4 seemed to me to be a no brainer. During the development and launch of REAPER, I had an excellent and very rewarding relationship with IK Multimedia. They made sure that all of our users’ questions were answered in a timely manner and spent a lot of time on our forums helping out. If you know me, you’ve probably seen me many times praising IK for having the balls to make a real harmonizer in VST, something that so many coders I approached would hem and haw about Eventide having a patent for and couldn’t be done in realtime anyway. IK ground that claim into the dirt and just did it.