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.

Back in 2013, IK launched the Blueboard, a bluetooth MIDI pedalboard with 4 buttons and, extremely importantly, two jacks for expression pedals. At launch time, it was for the iOS and Mac systems only, but no biggie, technology marches on.

Or does it? Oh IK Multimedia, what happened to you? (This may become a recurring theme as we go on). 2017 and its still just iOS and Mac…there is an android version called iKlip Stage, but it appears to only be for turning pages. And still no Windows version. Gack…

Then again, I currently have an iPhone 5 and people are always giving us old iPads, my girlfriend had an iPad Mini 1, so I figure, into the iOabySs I go. Seems #2 is taken care of

For those who know me, it doesn’t need to be said that my relationship with Apple, the company, the software and especially, the culture, couldn’t even charitably be described as “contentious”, so it was with some trepidation that I approached this, and despite not naively diving in, I was blindsided quite a few times beyond even my lowest expectations.

But the lure of a wireless MIDI pedal in the form of the Blueboard was too much for me to resist, so into the fray I go!

What were my other choices for a pedal? Well, I definitely wanted wireless and the only devices I really knew about were the Blueboard and Positive Grid’s BT-4.

Ahh, Positive Grid…Where to begin? Their amplifier software, BIAS, in my opinion is absolutely, positively amazing sounding. It gives you a LOT of control over amplifier tones, just awesome, seriously. But the implementation? Ouch. I spent many a long night trying to go to bat for the REAPER community to resolve some issues with their VST’s and really, not much help back from Positive Grid themselves. Their pages were very, VERY light on information, and at the time to me seemed quite cryptic. (of course, I would later learn that this was the bread and butter of iCulture, yet another recurring theme we will be seeing). I wasn’t confident that using a product by a company I had no confidence in, on an OS I had no confidence in, would not add undue stress to an already trying situation.

Since I had been given a Blueboard around launch date, I figured I’d dig it back out and at least start from there. Usually, I’m the guy people ask about new tech when it comes to DAWs and things, it was kind of embarrassing that I was really clueless on this mobile device guitar stuff, especially since I was already sitting on a Blueboard and definitely had a guitar, and had been carrying around the mobile devices that could run the stuff for years. I guess I always figured there were friends who had been running this stuff since it began, and they could field whatever questions anyone had.

I was a little bummed that there were just four buttons on these things, and then read that you couldn’t use two Blueboards and probably can’t use a Blueboard and a BT-4 together, but, hey, this is an experiment, we shall see how it shakes out.

Another recurring theme here, is that it has been my lifelong nature in all things audio to really, really drill down on exactly how the end user will be using these things. The development of REAPER was very much a response to my complaint that most of the DAW stuff we had seemed to be written by people who had never been within 20 miles of a recording studio, and had ZERO idea of how this stuff was to be used in the real world, with a customer standing behind you, irately, arms crossed and just wanting to get what was in his head out through the speakers. From what seems to be partly iCulture and partly no end use goal planning (or charitably, a different end goal than many performing guitar players would have in mind), it will be more and more apparent that this whole setup isn’t what you would think it was….I’m trying to put this nicely.

I know there’s no real order to this post, but I’m just going to state it here for now…the goal?

A performing guitar player, on stage, in front of a crowd, playing with a band, with access to the utilities and tones needed to get through a set.

Some of the functions and flow needed for this are probably obvious: tuning and preset switching, for example….Some maybe not so obvious to a developer, or maybe just not what the developer was targeting for: IMMEDIATE access to critical functions, levels…levels, levels, levels, levels. Different types of outputs for different target devices like guitar amp and PA (much much much much more on this later!)

Ok, so pedalboard out of the way, lets get to #3, the interface between the guitar and the iThing. Again, this seemed to be a no brainer. IK Multimedia has been doing this from the beginning, so just grab one of their iGuitar plug-into-ifier devices and go! iRig 2 was ubiquitous, so I grabbed one and considered that problem solved…Some of you are already saying “big fat oops on you, man!”. Yup. More on this later, but safe to say, I could at least move forward now and start thinking about the last two factors on the list, the monitoring amp and the software.

So here we go, #1: the amp I’d be playing this through. And here we get to a CRITICAL disconnect between the developers and the end users, I’m sure I’ll be ranting and raving about this issue later, and I am getting to the point where maybe I should just enter the market and maybe shouldn’t be building this article as a “how to” on how I personally think one of these apps should be built, and and and…ok, I digress

As mentioned before, I am in a ZERO confidence area as far as getting an amp miked correctly onstage, but really, in some ways, aren’t we all? Love it or hate it, cabinet emulation, even in the form of impulse responses (oh man and yet again another, we will DEFINITELY be speaking more on this later) has gotten so subjectively good that shouldn’t we be feeding that to a soundman of any skill level instead of having yet another live mike picking up noise and feeding back onstage? Sorry Luddites, but I think the advantages outweigh the perceived tonal differences (that you guys fail consistently on ABX tests anyway) claimed.

So potentially, we have the onstage actual guitar amp path, we have possibly another monitoring path and then the front of house path. A show could vary, with an amp filling all three roles, but for a bigger show, these may be separate things.

And here’s where things get sticky. The monitors and FOH DEFINITELY need the sound of the speaker cabinet, which of course is why the guitar amp is often mic’d. On the other hand, if you have your head or combo or 4×12 or what have you, you don’t want that speaker cabinet emulation. It’ll sound like sticking a bandpass filter in your FX loop.

In general, the devices and software I’ve seen for iOS seem philosophically aimed at the home user and this is one area where it hits you like a Mac truck. I guess one easy solution is to play thru a full range speaker. One of those self powered PA speakers would fit the bill nicely. That way you could just leave the cabinet emulation on, and all three paths get the same signal, thru some splitting or separate outputs (and yet another infuriating disconnect, and hopefully, you guessed it, more on this later).

Your other choice could be going thru the actual guitar input of a normal guitar amp. In this case, software side, you’d want the cabinet off, probably any possible power amp simulation/transformer type stuff off as well,  and depending on your desired outcome, whatever FX you were planning on using the amp for as well (distortion, compression, reverb, you name it), but I figure this probably defeats the purpose of the iThing. I would think you’d set the amp pretty flat, bypass most of its stuff (though the amp’s EQ could be used pretty handily in a live situation and again, and ENRAGING more on this later), and use the iBox to handle the FX. Interface levels, noise, design, and *watch out!* stereo vs mono and potentially painful summing (sorry, yet again, more on this later!) are issues you need to watch out for here.

Another choice could be to use the power amp in or FX loop return of many decent guitar amps. In this case, you’d wan’t the cabinet emulator off and again, levels and summing need to be looked at. Knowing the topology of your amp is pretty critical here. You may or may not have EQ and pretty importantly, master volume after this insert point, which could be ideal. Depending on the particular amp, you *may* have a “recording” or “emulated” output which sources after the FX loop return and gives you, tada (!) a speaker emulated output to hand to the soundguy! Really convenient! These aren’t always the bestest Rosen Digital impulse sounding emultors, but whatever, its a hugely far cry from some knucklehead micing the floor of the stage while pretending to mic your amp.

For many amps you are still looking at the problem of providing the soundguy with a speaker simulator output. [rant mode on again]…Target market guys! If you’re developing for the home guitar player, aimed at playing thru headphones and recording to Garage Band or whatever, no problem, this works out pretty well. For a guitarist hitting the stage at a venue where the guitar signal will have to go to Front of House, these apps fall short, though there are some workarounds. This isn’t just the app developers’ fault, some serious blame needs to go to the interface makers as well…sorry, you guessed it, more on this later.

I have quite a few amps at my disposal, and I figured I should pick one with the security that, should this iStuff fail at a show, I’d still have all the stuff I needed straight from the amp. What do I need? Tuner, channel switching/ tone switching, some time based fx or what have you, plenty of monitoring volume, and of course, a speaker emulator output.

I have a Blackstar TVP260 that I like to play with, has an onboard tuner, handy pedalboard, great sounding speaker emulator and definitely more volume than I’ll ever need. I could go on another rant about Blackstar, but its beyond the scope of this already too long winded post. Suffice it to say, this model has a full range input, no dedicated FX loop (you can switch in software the line in and recording out to become an FX loop, but then you’d lose the emulated outs), and seriously seems to have a tweeter in it. I have sent messages to Blackstar to learn a bit more, but no response yet. I was able to software switch to send the mp3 input to the emulated out (and I assume but havent tested yet, that there will not be cabinet emulation applied to the signal).

So basically, I have the iPad guitar app software speaker emulator on, the iRig output going to the apparently mono* line/mp3 input, which is controlled by the master volume. Hopefully this signal recieves no further processing when it exits in parallel out the emulated outputs. This way, whether I use the amp itself or the iPad, the soundman will get the correct signal no matter what.

* According to Blackstar [sic I think]

“5. MP3/Line In
Connect the output of your mp3 or CD player here. Adjust the player’s volume to
match that of your guitar to enable you to play along.
NOTE: The connection is summer into mono.”

Amp is taken care of, for now. This would be a much different story if I were using the FX loop of a normal amp without a full range speaker setup.

So now, drumroll please, onto #5, the software!

To bring back a late 70’s/early 80’s term, this was a definite “doi”. Who else could I possibly pick besides the company who absolutely revolutionized guitar for VST? The people who brought this stuff to the mobile world in the first place? The time and again revolutionary world breakers. This was obviously a no brainer…I scanned the QR codes that came with the iRig and the Blueboard and loaded Amplitube into my iPad. Of course, I was going to start and end this journey with an environment I was so comfortable with that it fit like an old, warm blanket.

And then reality set in

This is NOT the Amplitube you know and love.

Its not even close

Its not even remotely close

Loading up the 5150, you get the same sound as you would if you did it on VST…Quite awesome (yeah yeah, I know all the Amplitube haters out there, but, this is still good stuff!). And that’s where any similarity ends. Most of the functionality you are used to, the signal flow, the FX, the routing, the utilities, kiss them goodbye. The MIDI control is extremely limited and even the documented functions from the manual don’t seem to exist in the actual app. There was a harmonizer, for pay, from another IK package, but you can’t use it after the amp, you’d have to use it ahead…Yeah, run a harmonizer IN to the distortion generator…I don’t think so.

Which brings up another point, the pay. Amplitube VST was early on with the “item mall” style of commerce. I never really minded, as the free version certainly contained everything you needed, and you got to feel good about rewarding the developers by buying little bits here and there to spice things up. It wasn’t quite iCulture, but it did rub a lot of people the wrong way.

iCulture is kind of its own beast. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s like an even slimier version of “free to play” aka pay to win online video games. In that case, you download the product for free with the knowledge that you will get pwnt by everyone unless you use real money to buy some stuff, but you play with it and get a feel for whether or not you want to actually spend IRL dollars on it.

in iCulture, you pay first to even find out if it looks like something that might work, then you pay to unlock basic functions so it actually can “work”. And I mean “work” at a very basic level. You will spend quite a lot before you get “works” without the scare quotes.


I was somewhat aware of this beforehand, but not really needing any extra apps or whatever for my iPhone than what it came with, I just kind of laughed at the iNfected from afar.

As far as I know, there is no demo for any of this stuff. But pay or not, far worse is the lack of documentation or even basic information. This was something I was familiar with when trying to get Positive Grid’s BIAS worked out in REAPER. It was very strange, and alien to me, and rightfully, this sort of behaviour got them tarred and feathered in the VST community. But in iCulture, its the norm.

As I looked beyond Amplitube to see what guitar apps I could try, I ran headlong into the information black hole. There were a few apps to buy, but no real way of telling what you would actually get. I’m not rich by any means and even the cheapest of these apps were beyond my daily pay. I was hesitant to buy something and find out that I would still have to buy quite a bit more before I could even find out if it would work if I bought even more from its catalog.

So much was also determined by “bundles”. Except again, you really didn’t know what was in what bundle. I immediately sent messages to several manufacturers to try and figure out what was in what, and also, curious to find out WHY this info wasn’t on their websites or somewhere, ANYWHERE.

Yonac, makers of Tonestack, to their credit gave me some answers, but even there, the info was very light.

Some of this is me expecting too much. Yonac is head and shoulders above what else I’ve seen of iCulture, yet I’m used to the wild and wooly world of VST, where answers are immediate, developers are available, active forums abound, and even Facebook can provide answers in near instantaneous fashion. If all else fails, and you can stomach it, KVR will have your answers, and fast. There really isn’t, from what I’ve been able to find (and come on, I’m no slouch when hunting info) an easy way to get basic info on these things.

In the end, if I really wanted to pursue this, I ended up having to just buy everything. I knew BIAS at least sounds good, workflow and features lack not withstanding, so I bought all their bundles, I also grabbed Ampkit, but I kept running into mentions of Tonestack.

To break down what I really expected of the software, lets see:

#1: All the basic FX: Amp, dynamics, wah, EQ, time based FX, LFO’s, speaker cabinets,pitch shifters and harmonizers (not asking for the moon, this is all easily doable on computers not as powerful as an iPhone 5)

#2 The ability to control all these tones with MIDI

#3 Sensible routing and utilities: Tuners, MIDI map editors, CC editors, mixers and splitters, level controls, preset management, and I/O functions for dealing with the outside world

If I wanted to be a real stickler for #1, as far as I know, the only possible choice is Tonestack. Thankfully, their developer let me know what was in each bundle, but I ended up buying all the bundles anyway…Lots of goodies in there!

Not being initially too thrilled with the actual amp and especially speaker models in Tonestack, I kept loading up the different BIAS apps for basic tones. I was often rewarded with good sounding amps, and kind of bummed about the lack of FX. What was really unnerving was the insane feedback and noise I would get from some of the higher gain amps in all of the available apps. I would soon learn this is just a side effect of using the headphone jack as the I/O port. (Yeah, you vets were waiting for me to get to that part and were probably laughing the whole way through)

I have to say right here, that, in terms of features and included FX, Tonestack is very much closer to what I expected Amplitube iOS to be.

Upon being able to get borderline acceptable basic tones in all of the apps, I moved onto #2, control

What would surely be a basic starting point is a clean sound and a distorted sound. So In each app I made a clean preset and a dirty preset. No problem. Time to fire up the Blueboard and test it out! The Blueboard app seemed pretty simple to use, and it ended up connecting to each guitar app no problem.

So first, Amplitube. I figure, this is the app the Blueboard is made for, so lets see what it can do….Play some clean chords and hit the switch to the dirty sound…and BONK! Some weird noise burst and then wait….and wait….and wait…and yeah, finally, a few measures worth of time later, there’s the dirty sound. Hmmm…well, no problem I figured, probably just had to load both sounds into memory or something, so I hit the switch to jump back to clean. BONK! There’s the burst again…and wait….and wait….and wait…and finally, back to the clean sound. Ok so *in song* preset switching was not going to work in Amplitube. Let’s try the others

No such luck, BIAS and Jamup had similar holes between sounds, and Tonestack was even longer.

Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat! Amplitube VST had dual amp paths that you could switch between in a hurry, I could do this with CC messages instead. Except apparently, Amplitube iPad has no such feature. BIAS FX and Tonestack on the other hand, did.

I don’t know how much more anyone can stomach of my rants about iCulture, but lets just say, finding the info to actually do any real CC editing as well as mixing and splitting was daunting. Infuriating, frustrating, and ridiculous, but for you dear readers, I trudged on!

I was able to get both Tonestack and BIAS FX to make decent dual paths. BIAS sounded better on most things, but (whether I still don’t know enough about it or if it really is more limited) I couldn’t really switch on and off in different combinations, things instantly the way I wanted to in BIAS as I could in Tonestack.

BIAS has kind of a dual amp path thing, with a splitter at the front and a mixer at the end, while Tonestack has a ABY utility which could switch signals at the front, with some pan and mix controls and then a summer symbol at the end of the chain. It is still unclear to me exactly how the signal flow of ABY works, and I’ve put some messages in their forum asking for help.

Neither app seems to have the basic splitter, panner, mixer type thing you’d really want to get the most out of stereo FX and as we’ll talk about later, handle some of the basic functionality you’d need for a real show at a real venue….Again, there do seem to be workarounds.

Anyway, I was able to get some basic sounds up, and moved on to the more utilitarian stuff of preset management and control from MIDI. I pretty much settled on Tonestack, with the only tonal issue being that I wasn’t 100% sold on the amp and cab sounds. I was pretty easily able to set my Blueboard’s switch #4 to become both tuner and output mute.

Since the beginning, I had my sights set on a certain prize: the wah. My Blackstar doesn’t have one. I never actually owned a wah pedal in my life, but I like the things they do. I also didn’t want the hassle of a real world wah pedal not knowing whether it was supposed to already be on or off on a particular preset (not THAT huge of a deal, since preset switching seemed out of the question anyway, but still).

Due credit time: Tonestack’s wah doesn’t just work well, it has a very smart switching feature! Not the ten ton elephant press of the line 6’s or the “don’t go too far” magical maybe switches of Digitech and some others, Tonestack can switch on just by moving the pedal off of 0 a bit. Very cool. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to specify just how big this dead space is in the MIDI editor, so the wah travel is a bit limited. Still VERY usable. I have asked the developer for help on this as well. I wasn’t able to figure out how to do this same sort of thing on BIAS FX and figured I could take a real wah pedal, send the resistor output to one jack and the switch signal out another jack to go into the Blueboard’s two CC inputs, but since Tonestack’s wah works so well, I didn’t bother.

This was Friday afternoon and Friday night, I had band practice. I created a few slightly tonally different presets trying to anticipate how this would fare once bass and drums were in the mix, plugged into my Blackstar and got ready for practice. I hot glued my iRig 2 to the iPad case (scared as hell of the notoriously unreliable 1/8″ jack of course), and clamped it all in a mic stand mounted iPad holder. Things went surprisingly well, and the tuner was really handy. You know my rants about tuning, so tune early and tune often! Overall a very pleasant experience with no real technical issues. Even used the wah! Switching between the dual paths, though mugh longer of a delay than I would be comfortable with, was workable.

For the next few days, I started making bread and butter presets, and having a much better attitude about the iOS experience in general. Where I had almost given up several times and cursed my investment in this stuff, I was now feeling about as confident as if I had one of those cheap, plasticky multi-FX pedalboard things, and in some ways, a bit more upbeat than that, due to the potential flexibility….I still say “potential” as some of these plasticky pedal things are still far more immediately functional in some areas.

And there we go: immediacy. Here’s where that slimey, unethical, iCulture feeling comes up again. In these apps in general, there are, and to some extent, forgivable by the nature of not having a mouse and keyboard and the smaller screen size, often menus deep before you get to time critical settings and functions. This can make it a bit scary live and difficult while editing presets. But the real killer is when these things are obfuscated behind or below pay to win storefronts. I know the maxim of never attributing malice where incompetence would suffice, but this really really does feel like putting parasitic App Store interests before the customer’s (especially when you’ve already bought the damn thing) needs. iCulture itself makes things unnecessarily difficult, unreliable, and again, slimy.

As I guessed my way through learning these apps, along with receiving help from many friends and forumites, the problems inherent in the headphone jack style interface became more and more of an issue to me. Setting the input gain on the iRig 2 was somewhat problematic, as the gain control doesn’t lock in any way and gets moved. I used a nice low tech solution of duct tape to keep it in place. However, it was not really the optimal gain, as there was still a lot of noise, but any higher and the dreaded feedback was likely to occur. The output gain was also just too low for me to be comfortable.

The 1/8″ style interfaces were a great first step, and I wouldn’t knock those early pioneers who made these things, but there were definitely better options available now, so I got one.

Enter the iRig HD2. A lightning interface which seemingly had analog to digital and digital to analog converters onboard. I’m not positive, but seems to me to be that way.

I chose this interface specifically over the iRig HD Pro as it had an actual 1/4″ output in addition to the stereo 1/8″ outs. In use, I found that I could turn the input gain all the way down and everything was pretty happy noise wise, and now, NO feedback! Wooohooo!

But wait, that’s not exactly true. Out of the blue, the thing would make full scale noise and hiss and distortion, kind of the brief blip you’d hear on a DAW when changing sample rates, only it would continue until you unplugged the lightning connector! Game over, showstopper…youch, let’s figure this out!

I hit the forums and it wasn’t too long before I saw others having the same issues:

It was reccomended to update the firmware, which I did, but the issue remained. Most disturbing to me was this post, where we see the usual script style non answer tech support, which is TOTALLY not my experience with IK Multimedia

It appears that according to the quote that was alleged to come from Positive Grid (I couldn’t find the actual source, just the quote), that the issue may never be fixed on some devices, as OS time has moved on. I won’t really have my final verdict till I try this with one of the newer iOS devices

I will say this. I sent a support ticket to IK Multimedia about this and it hasn’t been answered yet as of this writing.  IK has responded, see update below. Disappointing to say the least. Will ALL of IK’s lightning devices do this? I’m a bit scared to find out, but I will accept them for testing if anyone so desires.

I don’t know if I can entirely blame this on iCulture, though it is kind of par for the course. Ethically, they probably should have a warning on their site about this, really.


There should be GIANT BOLD FONT, flashing red and black, with giant arrows pointing at it warning that this is a KNOWN ISSUE. It may not affect everyone, but certain devices are likely to have problems and THE POTENTIAL CUSTOMER SHOULD BE FULLY INFORMED

Seriously, I would feel like a bad person if I didn’t do this. This is the kind of thing that will rightfully get you the banhammer in the VST world, and does.

Disappointed, really, truly, I expect better here. IK Multimedia, we have been friends a long time, if I am getting this wrong, I will retract it and make sincere apologies, but I want to be honest, and this is really how I see it right now.

Update: IK has confirmed the problem, seems to be iOS 9.1 and later on the older devices. Not sure if Apple will be fixing this, so probably best to use newer iDevices, though as the other forum showed, there were some iPhone 7 issues as well. I assume this will be the case for any Lightning based devices, and not limited to the IK Multimedia products.

At the time of this writing, IK still shows iPad mini as compatible, and probably shouldn’t.

Update: I have run for a few hours on the iPhone 5 without suffering any of the issues described. I’m on the lookout for a newer iPad (mini2, Air, whatever can run the newer OS’s) if anyone wants to donate one.

Back to the iRig HD2’s non showstopping qualities.

First of all, and I need to truly test this to be 100% sure, but it seems like latency went up. Tonestack’s harmonizer now crackles with the same settings I used with the iRig2. CPU use seems the same, so I am betting I’m looking at something related to the apparently increased latency. Again, hopefully I test this on a faster iDevice and see exactly what’s going on.

Noise….aside from the explosive ridiculous nasty bug, noise is WAY down compared to the iRig2. I usually test input gain by seeing how easily I can make artificial harmonics. Even at the very lowest gain setting on the iRig HD 2’s body, I have zero trouble, if anything its actually louder than the roughly halfway up I had on the iRig2. No longer using the noisegate on Tonestack even on the high gain amps. A drastic improvement.

Bandwidth. People can easily cite hundreds of times where I have claimed that any decently built device won’t really have a bandwidth problem, even the cheap stuff. But in this case, WOW, maybe, and I mean a slight maybe, its the lack of noise, but it appears to me, that especially on the clean settings, the highs are just lush and dare I say beautiful! Piercing, but not distorted, just hard and clear. Blown away.

One things these interfaces all or at least most seem to have a problem with again comes from the target market. If you are going to just be playing at home with your headphones or whatever, they should be fine, but for the rest of us, the outputs can be problematic.

The Apogee lightning unit I looked at didn’t seem to have an output at all, it seemed to rely on the iDevice’s headphone jack to work…not cool.

The iRig 2 doesnt have a gain control on its headphone out, but it does have a 1/4″ out, which as far as I can tell is mono, and has far too low of output level for my tastes (unless you hit the “thru” switch, defeating the purpose of this jack for me)

I picked the HD 2 over the pro because of the 1/4″ out on the HD 2, but this is summed to mono, and setting the headphone gain to levels near unity with the thru switch level results in some nasty distortion. I made some adapters to go to two XLR’s from the headphone jack and it seems to work much better than the 1/4″ and truly is stereo. I actually used this cable to create a chart showing which of Tonestack’s FX were mono and which were stereo.

I couldn’t find a chart like this, or anywhere else to learn these things, though maybe I just wasn’t looking ridiculously hard enough. I don’t want to keep harping on the documentation thing…

There is an IK HD Pro Duo, which appears to have two 1/4″ outs, hopefully one actually left and one actually right, not a pair of summed 1/4″‘s, but I couldn’t find if that was the case, and it seems to need powering which would cut down the convenience a bit.

Line6 has the Sonic Port, which looked best of all to me, no gain controls, and a truly stereo 1/4″ out on TRS, plus the stereo headphone jacks. Hopefully Line6 will send me one to try out. I did read a lot of forum posts that its output was too quiet, and though I don’t like the fiddly nature of the input gain controls on some of these devices, it does seem a bit scary not to have one at all.

After that we see a lot of dual use interfaces from the real deal manufacturers like Focusrite and Presonus. They seemed to be able to do both lightning and USB, including actual ASIO drivers. They also have real inputs and outputs and reliable gain controls…However, they need power, so maybe not as convenient. In all likelihood, I may once this experiment is over, get away from the iDevices and stick one of these last family of interfaces on a laptop, running software that I have no issues running at all (though really, I LOVE the way Tonestack handles the wah, and not 100% positive I can duplicate that in VST) and likely run SWS’s Live Configs with REAPER as the actual host.

If there are other interfaces anyone thinks I should know about, please let me know!

On the subject of outputs, as mentioned before, a guitar amp (unless it has a full range speaker input) is going to want the cabinet emulation off and a PA system is going to want the cabinet emulation on. Again, target market caveat. This didn’t at all seem to be on the forefront of developers’ minds in the interfaces or the apps and it needs dealing with. I’m not sure how you would actually do this in Amplitube iOS or Jamup. There are some workarounds I found in BIAS FX and Tonestack.

In BIAS FX, set a dual amp path, and open one of the amps in BIAS Amp, remove the speaker cabinet from it and send it back to BIAS FX. Again, documentation…ugh. Doing it the way it says in the Positive Grid instructions will not work, don’t hit the “Back to Bias FX” button in Bias amp! Click the icon on the right side of the screen instead that either looks like a pedal or will have the Bias FX icon. Unfortunately, this will cost you your in-preset ability to switch to a totally clean sound. This needs to be adressed, or maybe I’m not thinking hard enough.

In Tonestack, you can use the ABY utility to pan one side through a speaker and the other away from it, and using it in Y mode. Unfortunately, I cant think of a way to do this and not lose the in-preset switching capability. I would really really really love to see more splitting and mixing utilities in these apps.

For the time being, I guess I’ll have to stick with amps with full range speaker inputs, or those with a cab emulator output that is fed after the FX loop return…Lots of room for improvement here.

At this point in my journey, I have pretty much decided Tonestack is the best available app for me, but there are a few things which I like better in other apps, the biggest, being the cabinet emulation, and second the amplifiers themselves. I THINK I like the amps better in BIAS. I like the speakers available in BIAS a bit better as well, but what I really want is an impulse loader, of which there actually are a few apps for on iOS.

Unfortunately there is no VST like ability as far as I can tell on iOS.

But there are two helpful functions: IAA or Inter-App Audio and Audiobus.

IAA allows you to place other apps inside as an FX module in a host app. Perfect right? Just like VST! Not quite. For one thing, it does not recall the preset of the hosted app, but the main problem is that it is just buggy. My IAA fx disappear in Tonestack as soon as I change presets. IAA would be great if it could tell the other app what preset to load, and if it wasn’t so buggy.

Audiobus, as far as I can tell, is like a chainer, where you can place one app after another, but not inside each other…Its kind of like a pedalboard for apps. Could be cool for putting an impulse response on after Tonestack, but I don’t see how I would switch it off when I want my clean sound.

I guess at this point I could go on and on about Tonestack, the good, the bad, and the suggestions I would have for it, but this post seems to have gotten long enough. I hope it was helpful, and I will hopefully be making a lot more shorter, specific how to’s based on my experiences.

One thought to “My iOS Guitar Journey”

  1. Stumbled across your blog via a link posted in Great reading here! I’ve been going through all these same issues but maybe a year behind you. I wish I’d found all this great info you’ve documented when I started out since there are mountains of trial and error to go through if you hope to master iOS guitar. Well done and looking forward to reading more posts.

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