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 thought I had read all the necessary “reviews” when I started this, as there were even web pages devoted to this subject. Some of them were obvious nonsense, but some seemed well intentioned. I made too many assumptions that these sites would have screamed from the hills if the very basics were broken, but I was wrong. Really wrong. I intend for this to be actually useful to using the devices for their intended purposes.
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.
I tried to get a really good look at these things to see basically what sorts of ins and outs they have…Even pictures are a bit difficult to track down sometimes, and most of the questions you would think to ask when looking for this sort of thing aren’t really available. Contacting the manufacturers was sometimes helpful in clarifying things.
Apogee’s Jam line of products seem like they would have been cool back before the lightning audio days. As far as I can tell, they don’t have any actual outputs, instead relying on the mobile device to provide the audio output. I think this is a non starter for our purposes, and won’t be saying any more about these as far as I know.
Verdict: No thanks
ONE/ Duet/ Quartet
Apogee is an enigma, they were really early to jump into the digital game, when there were still significant (and actually audible) problems with digital recording. We got their early filters for our Mitsubishi ProDigi format machines and it was a difference we could not only measure, but made a big difference in typical day to day stuff like setting compressor thresholds. That bit of splat, that I think George Massenburg assured us was group delay, made compressors for instance react to a different level than the one we apparently heard. Technobabble aside, it was a huge improvement. Later we would go on to get their analog to digital converters to replace the front end of the early tape based digital machines like our Sony PCM3348’s and later as front ends to the Modular Digital Multitracks (ADATs and DA-88’s for instance). They took a lot of first steps and really worked out how ADCs and DACs would work in a multitrack environment.
And then the computers came. The MDM style products still made great converters for the budding multichannel audio interface market, but Apogee decided to make their own. Way early to the digital party, and way late to the interface party, Apogee priced about on par with their name and reputation (the same way Focusrite did, although Focusrite having already established varying lines for varying budgets in the pre computer days, did the same on the DAW side as well), but their drivers and implementation were nowhere near as mature as even the “budget” companies’ offerings. As a predictable result, sending products to market before many of those who needed to be in the loop had a chance to test them, Apogee released some sound cards (and yeah, I will happily use that term interchangeably with “audio interface”, sue me) that absolutely tanked. Apogee was bit hard coming up short against the ASIO wall, and on this market, they never really seemed to recover and went off to hide in the Mac world.
Lucky for us! That means that some of the more desktop style I/O’s are available for iOS, where there is less chance of incompatible hardware, making it a lot easier to build for, and no pesky ASIO
Like the similar Presonus and Focusrite models, the Apogee Duet and Quartet are dual use dektop and mobile. Unlike those however, they are Mac side only and not Windows (I did see some press announcement that finally, Apogee have joined the 21st century and as of November, should have some Windows drivers, not holding my breath and given Apogee’s track record, would wait about 6 months of ASIO success before really being able to recommend these for that use).
As a harbinger of things to come, the ONE makes the untrue claim right out of the gate, and I quote from the website “The only interface that charges iOS devices while in use and can also be battery powered.” Sorry, there are other interfaces that can meet both requirements (and ones that don’t NEED to be battery powered as well). On the other hand, this is certainly a contender. Stereo ins on a breakout box, 1/8″ headphone out, a bit of metering, power input and also doubles as a USB interface for Mac desktop, and maybe someday, Windows…more on that below.
The Duet has two inputs and four outputs, which could possibly, through some tricky use of Audiobus or other routing solutions, help to deal with some of the routing issues in our existing iOS guitar software. It also has MIDI over USB. It also claims desktop level +20dBu outputs! Yowza! I have read that it offers pass thru charging to the iDevice as well. Which also brings up the point that this device needs a power supply to work with the mobile gear. Something I don’t see mentioned enough is its handy, multifunction knob for setting in and out levels. Very large, clear and seems to be made in a way that you don’t need to duct tape the knobs in place like some of the other devices…cool! Like the iRig pro, the inputs are Neutrik style Combo connectors, nice! The Duet also has some seriously serious looking metering.
The Quartet ups the ante on the Duet offering 4 Combos in and 6 1/4″ out….All separate, REAL connectors, VERY nice! Again serious metering here as well. Something else I don’t think I’ve seen on any other of these devices: 8 ins and outs over ADAT! This brings the Quartet up to the level of the type of product you can find on Craigslist of 50 dollar desktop interfaces, but on the mobile platform. Something comfortable, something familiar! Like a beacon in a storm almost.
The Verdict: These three devices offer some cool features, some with unique features, but they have their issues as well. The ONE and the Duet have their I/O on breakout boxes, adding to the unreliability (but then again, potentially fixable in ways the internal connectors of other devices may not be), not sure the availability of replacement cables, and this could lessen their perceived portability and add a tiny bit of complexity. Is it worth it? Up to you. Cutting down on the portability as well are the power requirements. The ONE seems to need batteries like the iRig Pro series, again, this may or may not be an issue to you. The Duet and Quartet have the same pluses and minuses as the other desktop style interfaces reviewed here, with the extreme disadvantage that the others have stable, mature ASIO drivers for Windows, while at this time these devices are Mac only on the desktop side. Entire forums have been shut down arguing over converter quality between Apogee Lavry, Mytek and all the budget converters, so I won’t really go into that here although, I would be willing to do one of my notorious bets that you won’t be able to pick the apogee in an ABX over the Presonus or Focusrite. I would happily put up some gear for that challenge. Because of this, for the cost of the Apogee, I would buy two of the arguably more functional desktop style interfaces from Presonus or Focusrite and have some money left over for a Blueboard or BT-4, before I bought one of these two units. The ONE may be more of a contender if you don’t mind the power requirements and the breakout cables VS the comparable iRig stuff
This device is a docking style interface with a really comprehensive looking set of inputs and outputs. It also seems to have pass through charging. Unfortunately, I think it is only for older devices. It was unclear to me if there is a lightning connector version.
Verdict: Probably pretty cool in its day, and probably still cool for the devices it supports, but without lightning support, this feels like an evolutionary dead end.
iTrack One Pre/ iTrack Pocket
These two lightning devices, like the Apogee Jam series, don’t seem to have any outputs of their own. They are probably great for older devices, but I wouldn’t be too interested in them for stage duty.
Now we’re talking! Lightning connector, real, separate 1/4″ outputs, and separate physical gain controls where you need them. Microphone inputs, should you need them, USB MIDI of some sort and a claimed +10dBu out! Yes!
You give up a little in the way of convenience and portability in that you need to supply A/C to the Dock’s power supply, but on the plus side, this guy has pass thru power and charges your iPad while its docked!
I need to give one of these a real test and see if that need for a power supply is really any issue in real use.
This is a bit of a different beast, as it is also a Mac/Windows USB audio interfaces, as well as an iOS interface. With Focusrite, this means pretty mature, reliable, and confidence building ASIO drivers. Quite cool to be able to use the same device for your “real” DAW and your iGuitar duties.
While this device does have separate left right outputs, they are on [YUK!] RCA jacks. There also is a stereo Headphone out, thankfully on 1/4″.
If you are using this with an iPad, as with the iTrack Dock, you’ll need to power it. In this case it has a USB port for charging, might be able to use one of those portable power brick battery things. Unfortunately, if I am reading the manual correctly, this device will not pass through the power and charge your iPad.
Verdict: For my money, the iTrack Dock seems to be the best way to go from the Focusrite offerings. I’m swimming in multichannel ASIO audio interfaces, so the dual nature of the Solo isn’t really a seller for me, but for others it well could be. Pass thru power, a plethora of 1/4″ outputs, and pass thru charging tilt the scales way in the favor of the Dock
If you have to, I guess….Analog connection through your iDevice’s headphone jack, so no lighting only newer devices. You’d probably be better off with one of the analog iRigs.
Like the Apogee stuff, there doesn’t seem to be any outputs on this thing, but it looks like it works with lightning, USB and 30 pin devices. I guess if you have an older device, this could be OK…Its not much cheaper than an iRig HD though, which seems (still working through an iRig issue with IK’s tech support) to be much better on paper, and definitely has some outputs. I wouldn’t recommend this product.
Seems to be 30 pin only, what a bummer, as it has a full set of ins and outs including MIDI. According to an article at Premier Guitar, there’s supposed to be a lightning version of this, but that was 2013, and I see nothing about it at Griffin’s website
A newer incarnation of the device that seems to have started it all. Chances are the whole reason you are looking at any of this, comes from IK Multimedia’s early work. I was blown away back in the day at a NAMM show watching people walking around with an entire guitar amp and FX system on their phones! That was the kind of future tech that you could respond to the ever present question “come on man, where’s my flying car already?”. Unfortunately, for some reason, not all that much has changed since then for IK’s software, which had once led the pack, and still a KILLER contender on the desktop, just isn’t much on the iPad. If you are looking for Amplitube on the iDevices, look at Tonestack, it has its own issues and shortcomings, but its as close to Amplitube VST as you are going to get on the iOS system.
Still, IK are the pioneers and we have a lot to thank them for in the mobile world.
The iRig 2 is the newest incarnation of their original devices, utilizing the headphone/mic jack on the older iThings as the I/O. This makes things a little iffy with noise and especially, feedback issues. Some software will allow an anti-feedback mode to use with this style of interface, but that makes it mono, killing the ability to run The One True Path (a signal with no cab sim for the guitar amp and a signal with a cabinet simulator on for the PA system).
This particular unit has a 1/4″ output (but it is summed to mono as far as I can tell) and a stereo 1/8″ headphone out.
For historical reasons, I figured this unit needed to be on the list, as it is the modern presentation of a legacy, but unless you have an older device that can’t do lightning, I would definitely avoid this model.
iRig HD 2
Here we are with a modern, lightning interface from IK Multimedia. Personally, I feel this unit sounds MILES above the iRig 2, especially up high in the treble department. To me, the difference was stunning. And that is nothing compared to the noise and lack of feedback problems! Perfect, right?
Well, maybe, or maybe not so much.
I started getting horrendous noises and distortions when clicking on menus or sometimes, even at random. Initially, in communication with IK’s tech support, they sure made it seem like they hadn’t seen this problem before, but it wasn’t too long before I found forum posts explaining it and the problems, and finally, at the end IK spilled the beans. This device shouldn’t be used with the older devices, as something broke in OS 10 or so….Not IK’s fault, and the prevailing wisdom is that Apple is aware of this problem, but probably won’t be fixing it…Indeed, it has gone on so long that the time for fixing was a few generations ago, so that’s probably true.
Still, there should be a BIG FAT warning in giant letters at IK’s site warning of incompatibilities with this model and older devices. I believe it behooves any manufacturer to think of their customers this way. IK didn’t so I will
DO NOT BUY THIS DEVICE FOR OLDER MODELS!!! NO!
You’re welcome, IK Multimedia.
Back to the device itself, it has a 1/4″ output, though it also seems summed to mono, and an 1/8″ stereo headphone out.
But the levels? Hmmm…Well, that has been quite a struggle!
I have played tech support ping pong with IK for quite a while over this, and picked up another unit on Craigslist that had the same issues, so I am not convinced this device has the drive to put out a sensible level that your guitar amp wants. As far as I have been able to test, the level, at its very maximum, with the input and output gains driven to full distortion, is a full 12 dB less than the guitar that went into it. This is NOT the level your guitar amp wants to see.
The verdict: This unit sounds great, and has some cool features, but due to its level issues, I would NOT recommend it. If IK wants to send me a third one, I’ll try it again, but as of this writing, I have to give a big, fat, no thanks to this device.
iRig Pro I/O / iRig Pro Duo
The Pro I/O was originally the unit I was going to get when I started all this, as it came in a box with the iRig Blueboard, a wireless MIDI controller that looked so cool that it was really the reason for trying all of this in the first place. However, as it didn’t have a 1/4″ out, I figured it wasn’t for me…If only I knew then what I know now!
I know I can sound like a stuck record, but the lack of basic documentation in the iOS world compared to what we are used to on the desktop, really knocks people down dead end and costly paths. A lot of why I’m writing this is to help the next guy down this road avoid as much of the nonsense and non starters as possible.
Now, these two units have some cool stuff! MIDI I/O, Mic inputs, and possible pass through charging. I say possible, as it requires their special adapter, not sure if your local electronics store will have an extra one of those in a pinch.
These things do, for some reason require power, in the form of batteries, or that adapter. I tried hard to find out if the power was only necessary if you were planning on phantom powering things, but couldn’t find an answer. I’m going to assume you need to stick batteries in these things in order to work. I had earlier been led to believe that lightning power wasn’t enough to reach acceptable output levels, hence the trouble with the iRig HD 2, and that’s why you’d need the batteries on this, but as shown below, Sonoma Wire Works claims desktop interface output levels on their lightning powered units. We shall see.
The Duo looks extra smart, as it has two actual 1/4″ outputs…and I’m going to assume they aren’t just mono summed mirrors of each other (yes I know, assuming ANYTHING on iOS is folly, but still…Not making these stereo would be as dumb as Line 6 not putting a line output on the Amplifi 150)
The iRig Pro I/O sadly, has no 1/4″ outputs, but does have the same 1/8″ stereo output as the Duo.
I haven’t tried either of these yet, but likely will. If IK or anyone else wants to send them to me, I’ll be glad to give them a run.
The verdict: These need power of some sort, either batteries or their special adapter. If this doesn’t deter you (and assuming the output levels are decent, which I have no real reason to believe at the moment), these are probably a cool choice.
STOP THE PRESSES!!!!
iRig Stomp I/O
Just announced at NAMM 2018, this guy looks seriously targeted for the exact problems a lot of us want solved. I’ve had some un-nice things to say about some of the IK stuff here, but this really looks like they hit one out of the park. I’ll have a lot more to say once I have one in my hands
Four footswitches, an expression pedal, sensible I/O, an iPad holder….smart stuff IK!
Ahh Line 6, another pioneering company. My first brush with them was doing a Rob Halford album in the 90’s and we had received two of those crazy little POD beans to use on the session. Shrapnel’s Derek Taylor proceeded to wail 4 thousand notes per second all over these things, and it was a really really fast and easy way to get song ideas down before anyone could forget them.
Line 6 is really forward thinking and usually has a whole bunch of new ideas every time you run into them. They revolutionized a lot of ways of dealing with sound and especially controlling those sounds.
However, they often do really dumb things, like not putting a line out on the Amplifi 150…Not sure if I’ll ever let them live that down…and it worries me that in an already sketchy environment, they might have messed up on their iOS interfaces. But maybe not, I don’t know as of yet.
The Sonicport looks good, lightning interface, no batteries needed, no gain controls (not sure if that’s good or bad, but after using duct tape to hold my position on the iRig 2’s gain control, could be a good thing), a stereo output on 1/4″ TRS and a headphone output on 1/8″.
I read a lot on forums about low output gain, but I haven’t seen any actual numbers to back that up (hint hint….come on, manufacturers and forum posters alike, its really not that hard to at least give some relative numbers! Plug your guitar into a DI in your DAW, look at the levels, then plug the interface out into that same DI, plug your guitar into the interface and see what you get!)
There is also a Sonic Port VX version that adds a microphone (!) and some sort of pass through charging, though I couldn’t find much info on this last feature.
The Verdict: This could really be a great device! I thought I would have one by now, but no luck, if anyone wants to send me one, I will gladly put it through its paces! Line 6, if you are listening, send me one of these, and please, for the love of The Flying Spaghetti Monster, put a $%#^#^$^ line out on the Amplifi 150!
Tone Shifter 3/ Tone Shifter 3s
Apparently audio I/O and MIDI switches, could be very cool, but I have an extremely hard time finding info on it.
This interface seemed to have a kickstarter fund attached to it, but information is scarce for me. The website doesn’t seem to load, but it looks good features wise.
Multiple attempts to contact the manufacturer on social media, websites and kickstarter have failed, so until I hear more, as cool as this thing looks, I have no idea how to try one.
Audiobox iOne/ Audiobox iTwo
I love it when a manufacturer puts up clear pictures of all the gozintas and gozoutas of a device! Makes things much easier to judge at a glance and understand the claims made in the ads.
Similar to the Focusrite iTrack Solo, and isn’t it always what you would expect, these two guys always vying for the same niche of the same markets, one with the weight of their historical name and the other with sheer pluck and resourcefulness (Presonus I forgive you for ever using the dreaded DICE II chipset on some of your firewire interfaces, as Focusrite did the exact same %^&$& thing!)
Unlike the iTrack Solo however, this unit has actual 1/4″ outs! Yes, thank you! Claiming a +10 dBU output, and also, like the iTrack Solo, can work as a computer audio interface (hopefully with Presonus’ decent ASIO drivers).
The iOne requires power over USB and can pass thru charge your iDevice.
The Verdict: If more of a desktop style is OK for you, this unit should be more than great. Not quite as portable as the lightning powered units.
Sonoma Wire Works
I haven’t tried either of these yet, but they look very promising!
Update: In the initial testing stages of the StudioJack Mini, see below
This looks to be quite a serious piece of gear! MIDI pedals, MIDI knobs, plenty of I/O and an expression pedal input!
Pass thru charging! And without any sort of special adapter apparently.
Separate left and right 1/4″ Line outs
1/4″ Stereo headphone out
This is another device that is able to be used as an audio interface for the desktop, and ASIO drivers for it are available.
Like a few other devices in this roundup, the GuitarJack Stage also has a mic input, I don’t bring this up much as its not so relevant to the specific use I intend for them, but know that its there, and even has its own, actual, real, physical, knob to control gain.
I even read a few different reviews and forum posts that said this unit could work alongside IK Multimedia’s BlueBoard bluetooth MIDI controller, who’s achilles heel has been the inability to add more switches to it. I need to test this claim still.
- Maximum output level (into 32 Ohms): 1.09 Vrms (34 mW) [my calculations say 2.97 dBu]
- Maximum output level (into 10 kOhms): 1.00 Vrms (+2.2 dBu)
Not sure why this claim is so much lower than the StudioJack Mini below. I have asked the manufacturer, awaiting response.
Really good sign, in less than a day, Sonoma Wire Works explained why the numbers should be as claimed. I will never stop believing that a big part of REAPER’s success is that we would do everything in our power to help the users, even if it meant driving the old:
across the country! A responsive developer like this is a very good sign indeed.
Erik Klerk’s GuitarJack Stage setup. Note the, apparently, Radial DI for the PA output. Sonoma Wire Works definitely recommends NOT putting phantom power into this thing, and anyway, you need to get the levels sensible as the outputs are line level, and unlike so many of the other devices, are claimed to be capable of desktop interface levels of output gain. Note also the expression pedal input, the REALLY long cable from the GuitarJackStage to the iPad, and what seems to be BIAS FX
Pass thru charging!
Stereo 1/4″ output
Like the GuitarJack Stage, this unit can also function as an audio interface for the desktop and has ASIO drivers.
Claims (now verified!)
- Maximum output level (into 32 Ohms): 1.09 Vrms (34 mW) [my calculations say 2.97 dBu]
- Maximum output level (into 10 kOhms): 1.73 Vrms (+7.0 dBu)
“The Vrms specs on our site are accurate, but I did some fresh Vpp measurements so you can compare. I got out my Fluke 289 multimeter, a Telecaster, and the StudioJack Mini plugged into an iPhone 6, no external power. Using the the Peak voltage measurement feature on the Fluke, the output of a solid strum across the open strings with the Bridge pickup on the Tele is ~2.5Vpp (it’s got some pretty hot pickups:) Plugging the Tele into the StudioJack Mini and setting the input level to just before the LED turns red (about halfway on the input knob), GuitarTone app running on iPhone, but with all the amps and effects bypassed, so basically just a pass through, with a similar strum yields a similar ~2.5Vpp output. Running a Signal Generator app, with a 1kHz sine wave with full output level I measure ~3.6Vpp. Changing to a GuitarJack Stage gives similar results. So yes it is definitely possible, and our devices both do it without external power. Of course, add the external power, and you get the pass-through charging for your iPhone or iPad:) We run them for 10 hours a day, all week at NAMM. We had to have twice as many iPads as demo stations at shows before we added charging. It was our number one feature request for GuitarJack Model 2, and it tool a lot of work to get right. A lot of this is thanks to Joe Bryan”
THAT is the kind of tech support you’d expect from a company that wanted to stay alive in the desktop world, but is so sadly lacking in the iOS world. This is what you should DEMAND, without question, from the other iOS based companies. MEGA kudos to Sonoma Wire Works.
Hopefully I’ll be trying these sooner rather than later. Update: Got one on order stay tuned!
f the products themselves live up to the excellent customer care standards SWW have already shown, I think these devices will be the top of the heap.
After quite a bit of testing I can verify the level claims, this thing is SERIOUSLY legit! The included cables are nice and long, no worried about having to tweak them into suicidally crazy bends in order to hook it up to your iDevice. The multi colored level LEDS on the top of the unit are very handy, a cool feature that some of the iRigs and the Apogees have as well. I found this unit to have plenty of level, no silly noises, and even next to my computer, had very good noise rejection (below the noise level of my guitar). I know I harp on it a lot, but again, the output level was more than high enough to make my amp’s FX loop happy.
A real good look at just how small this thing is. If you were worried by the pictures on the website thinking this was quite a bit larger than the conveniently pocketsized IK iRig devices, fear not. Yet somehow it still has the space for charging and real 1/4″ jacks
My live and testing setup. StudioJack Mini velcroed to the top of the amp and velcro for my iPad’s case. The Fender Mustang III V2 is pretty handy for this. I have my software’s right signal path including a cabinet simulator, while the left signal path contains no cabinet emulation. If you switch the Mustang’s FX Loop return to “Looper Pedal” setting, the FX return is the only signal path before the volume knob that goes to the speakers. The real speaker does the cabinet sound, since, well, its a speaker in a cabinet! Plugging into here breaks the path from the main guitar input to the speakers. The main input goes thru the regular preamp section, where I have bypassed anything that could be bypassed and set anything else flat. The right signal with the cabinet emulator goes in here, and it goes out to the Mustang’s line level XLR outputs. This way, the soundguy gets the cab sim signal for the PA, without needing a direct box, and the amplifier’s speaker gets the signal it wants! Perfect! Till I get my hands on an FRFR setup anyway
For a modern lightning device, staying as wireless as possible, the Line 6 Sonic Port, possibly the IK Multimedia iRig HD 2 (though I still have GRAVE concerns about the level issues and some questionable non confidence in their tech support) seem like good choices. But to me , the Sonoma Wire Works StudioJack Mini pulls far, far ahead in this category. The IK Multimedia iRig Pro I/O and iRig Pro Duo could possibly fit into this category as well, I need to find out more about their power situation and output levels.
For a modern lightning device where you don’t mind cables running across the floor, the Focusrite iTrack Dock looks to be an extremely solid contender, with its mass of I/O’s and pass through charging and general Focusrite reliability. However, not to sound like a fanboy, the Sonoma Wire Works GuitarJack Stage looks to absolutely wipe the floor with the competition. If it lives up to its claims, it would seem to dominate this particular category without even an inkling of taking prisoners.
As always, I am FOREVER on the lookout for programmers, especially ones that speak C++. I believe my track record of successful audio engineering software should be an encouragement for any coder looking to get into this stuff and we can do some AWESOME work together, let’s go guys!!!
I get a lot lot lot lot of requests and questions about this or that gear, but as some of you know, I make very little money in real life, and any time a windfall shows up, I just end up buying fun stuff for our kids at Kailua Music School, so I have near zero funds to buy and try this stuff. I don’t know if I could set up an easier to use testing donation fund (thanks millions by the way for the stuff so far, everyone reading this is benefiting from your contribution!). Probably the best thing to do at the moment is either send me the things, or ask any manufacturer in question to send it to:
Kailua Music School
131 Hekili Street Suite: 209
Kailua, HI 96734
If you like the kind of stuff I’m doing here, please consider buying some vintage REAPER shirts at my spreadshirt store. https://shop.spreadshirt.com/pipelineaudio/
Update: As far as I can tell upon much much much testing, while the most I can coax out of this thing is 0.684volts or around -4dBu (as compared to Sonoma Wire Works StudioJack Mini’s 1.3volts or a solid +4dBu at 0dBFS with the 0dBFS being according to the iPad Levels app running in Audiobus 3 ), it is in excess of the -10 standard. I just flat out don’t know why the amplifier FX returns or PA inputs I have tried it in don’t seem to like how quiet it is.
For the real surprise, I was shocked by just how crazy loud even my passive guitars were. Yes, its still true as below that the iRig output was at best 12 dB below my guitar, but holy good golly miss molly, my EMG guitar ended up measuring a whopping 1.8volts or a WHOPPING +7dBu….OK
Just to test my sanity I compared I/O levels with that guitar going into different devices, and aside from desktop audio interfaces, they all came out lower than what the guitar was putting out, including an ART Tube MP. A digitech RP 360 XP for a reference came out at 0.32volts, just about right on the money for a -10dBV
I don’t know if I was totally wrong in this whole situation, but I certainly wasn’t getting or putting out the whole picture, so I’m doing my best to correct it
now onto the original post, saved to show my humiliation
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?
Update: I have heard from IK Multimedia tech support and they say I should definitely be getting higher levels and perhaps I have gotten two defective units…Stranger things have happened, stay tuned when I try another one!
Could there be some setting on the iPad telling it to drop the lightning connector’s audio 12dB?
For those who still insist on sticking mics in front of guitar cabinets, here’s an old one I wrote for recordingproject.com
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!
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!
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!
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.
Make sure (if you can at this point in the recording) that the sound fits with the other tracks. You will probably use a speaker that you wouldn’t like live for this process. A speaker with more mids than normal, like a Celestion Vintage 30, or maybe a Kendrick. Greenbacks are good live, but sometimes lose that all-important midrange on tape. Watch the speaker distortion! Get a power level that makes comfortable dynamics for you, maybe on the less compressed side so you gotta work just a wee bit harder than normal to crunch it up.
Initial Mic Placement
Now, stand in the room with the amp. Get your head moving around until you find the one speaker that sounds better than the others, or maybe just a real good spot where it seems to sound best. I am assuming we are not going after a “room” sound at this point. Stick a 57 right there, where your ear was.
Now, at the console, first verify that this is roughly the sound you heard out there. Be sure levels are where they should be etc… No EQ at this point on the console. Have someone move the mic back towards or away from the cab (or do it yourself with headphones). You are doing two things with this:
1) Changing the ratio of direct (from the speaker) vs. reflected (yeah you might be only a few inches from the cab but the room still is playing a huge part) sound coming into the mic.
2) Changing the amount of dynamic compression that the actual volume of the speaker is causing in the mic’s diaphragm, ribbon or voice coil. You are changing the behavior of the sound here.
Once you like the placement of your mic, its time to get very tricky.
The Second Mic: Dealing with Phase
One mic is almost never enough, but with two or more, phase cancellation rears its ugly head. Nevertheless, we got a trick for that right?
Here it comes.
Put the guitar down. Make it make noise, or take the cable off and stick it on something that will make noise. This noise has to be stable and constant…. a fender strat’s hum is perfect for this assuming it has some midrange harmonics to it.
Using your console’s meters, bring that noise up to wherever your “zero” is. This will probably require a lot of mic pre gain so make sure your speakers are turned down. Don’t let anyone touch the guitar or whatever the noise source is. Once you’ve got the signal to zero, mute the channel.
Next go into the room with the amp, and put your second mic about equidistant from the speaker as the first mic … Be careful not to disturb Mic#1.
Back in the control room, bring Mic#2 up to zero.
Now, very importantly, pull Mic#2’s fader (NOT mic pre) down to -infinity. Unmute Mic#1. Slowly push Mic#2’s fader up towards zero.
If the volume at your final Left Right Mix buss on your console goes up, you need to flip the phase of Mic#2. If your console doesn’t have a phase switch, make an out of phase cable. Just reverse pins 2 and 3 on an XLR, and make sure you label that cable so later on you don’t screw up some overheads or something. Remember: if the volume goes up, flip the phase.
If the volume goes down, we can proceed… keep flipping the phase until the volume goes down when they are at their zeros.
Now pick up a bat, knife or gun. Whatever you are best with. Threaten anyone in the control room with it and say, “DO NOT touch that guitar! I am going to have headphones on at extreme gain levels and am risking it all so you can have a good guitar sound.” Wave the weapon around menacingly until you are sure that they get the point. Kick them out and lock the door if you can’t trust em… now is not the time for gags.
Go out to the amp with headphones on. You will hear a hiss or buzz or hum… make sure the hum in the phones is louder than the one you can hear directly from the amp.
Do not cough; you will blow your eardrums right into each other. Be careful of any noise that may be present.
Now, extremely carefully, move Mic#2 back and forth, left and right. Slowly. You should hear a whoosh sound, much like a flanger pedal would make.
The trick here is to find the spot where the least amount noise is coming out of the headphones. Keep moving the mic until you find it.
Have you caught the theory yet? We are looking for the spot where the two mics are the most in phase with each other. If one is phase flipped, then at the most in phase spot, they will nearly cancel each other out. Find that spot! Once you get it, take off the phones and go back to the console.
Turn both mic preamp gains all the way down. Put fader one at the unity position on your console. Play your guitar and turn up the mic pre gain until you hit zero. Now mute Mic#1. Now turn fader two to the unity position. Bring up mic pre #2 until you hit zero.
Unflip the phase on Mic#2 at this point so that both mics are in phase.
Unmute Mic#1 and mess with the faders. Those two faders now become the best EQ money can buy! Turn up one, then the other, experiment to your heart’s content. Once you get a sound you like, buss them together and send em to a track… or keep them separate if you want some choices later.
Revel in your glorious new tone!
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:
- 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)
- The mobile device itself, whether phone or tablet, which OS, which model etc…
- 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)
- The MIDI controller for all the myriad of magical tones
- 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.