IK Mulitmedia brings Guitar Jams to your iDevice
Product Category: Guitar-Geeky Awesomeness
Manufacturer: IK Multimedia
Price: $39.99 USD for iRig, $19.99 for full-featured Amplitube Software (free version also available)
System Requirements: Compatible with iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 3G, iPod Touch (4th, 3rd, and 2nd Generation), iPad and iPad 2.
- Beautifully rendered graphics;
- Easy to use interface;
- Wide range of functionality.
- Some functions are difficult to manipulate using touch screen;
- Adjusting for ideal sound and volume can be difficult;
- Slight latency can be annoying.
Summary: The iRig is a small, lipstick-sized connector that lets you connect your guitar to your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. Using the Amplitube software, you can build your dream virtual guitar rig and jam out. Amplitube provides a myriad of useful functionality for guitarists of all skill levels. From doing scale drills to learning the toughest licks, iRig and Amplitube make it easy.
I am a family man and a struggling guitarist. I love playing guitar and would like nothing more than to spend more time practicing and playing the guitar but my day job and my family come first. Sometimes, I like to sit in the living room with my family and just noodle on my Telecaster to practice. Of course, I can't plug my guitar in or my family would hate me. Last year, I bought a Line-6 Pocket Pod, thinking I could use it to help practice guitar in silence. What I found was that it was difficult to use and some of the guitar sounds it produced sounded terrible. Plus, the Pocket Pod offered no other functionality.
The IK Multimedia iRig is the polar opposite of the Pocket Pod. If you already own an IOS device, you can purchase the iRig and the Amplitube software for half the cost of a Pocket Pod. What you then have is a fully functional guitar rig that lets you jam, practice and record in silence (using your headphones). When you are ready to really rock out, connect the iRig to a pair of speakers and crank it up!
Figure 1: The iRig is simple to connect. Plug your axe into one end, your earphones into the other, then plug the iRig into your IOS device. Rock on.
Once you've got your guitar connected, fire up the Amplitube software your jammage experience begins.
I found that using the iRig and Amplitube with my earphones was great. It was very easy to dial in the sound I wanted at the volume I wanted. I did find it somewhat frustrating to run it through my powered studio monitors, however. I connected the iRig to my speaker amp and, even with the volume on my speaker amp turned all the way up and the volume on the iPad turned all the way up, I couldn't get the volume I desired. I tried tweaking the input and output levels in the software and could improve it, but there is a point where the sound begins to feed back. This is an area I'd like to work with some more to see if I can get it loud enough to make it a legitimate practice amp.
Figure 2: The Amplitube interface is stunning, and provides a simple way to dial in the tone your're looking for.
Pick an Amp, any Amp...
Amplitube comes loaded up with several amp models from which to choose. Everything from a clean Fender Twin Reverb to a maxed out Marshall stack is available (although brand names aren't used in the software). Once you select an amp, use the virtual amp knobs to dial in your sound. At first, I found the knobs difficult to manipulate. I kept wanting to run my finger in a circle around the knob to twist it, but I then found that it's easier to simply brush up to turn the knob up, brush down to turn it down. Simple.
You can also choose a cabinet type - everything from a single 12" speaker to a full stack. Tweak your sound even more by choosing a microphone type (simulating a studio set up).
Once you've got your amp tone dialed in, add up to four stomp boxes round out your sound. Choose delay, fuzz, overdrive, wah, chorus, phazer, and more. Each stomp box models a famous version; for example, the overdrive pedal looks and sounds suspiciously like a Tube Screamer.
If you like what you hear, store your sound in a preset for easy access later. Amplitube comes loaded up with some factory presets to get you started. Tweak those or start fresh - the choice is yours.
That's Cool, but So What?
I have to admit: when I first started experimenting with iRig and Amplitube, I wasn't sure how useful it would be. It was fun to play with different sounds, sure, but beyond that, so what? That's where some of Amplitube's other features come into play.
The Tools Menu
The Tools menu in Amplitube is where I really started getting excited about this thing. First, there's an extremely easy to use guitar tuner. Play a note, and the tuner tells you in a big bright display how out of tune you are. A sliding scale gives a good visual indicator showing if you are sharp or flat, and moves smoothly to the middle to show you are in tune.
The Metronome provides a click track for practice. This is where I really started enjoyed using the product. Since I'm not a very good guitarist, I tell myself all the time that if I just practice my scales, I'll become the next Eric Clapton. I've learned over the years that practicing scales with a metronome greatly improves my speed and accuracy. Just tap on the Metronome, and dial in a BPM speed and let it rip. My only gripe is that the sliding adjuster is difficult to set on an exact speed (I still can't seem to get it to land on 100.0 BMP on the nose).
The last item on the Tools menu is the demo. There are 8 demo tracks included. Turn on the demo track to hear a guitarist much better than myself play some riffs, then use that sample to play around with your sound.
The Song Menu
This is by far my favorite part of the software. I play in a cover band, and so I'm always trying to learn and master somebody else's music. The Song menu is an amazing tool to learn songs, solos, and riffs. You can load up a song from your iPod library, or transfer a song to the device through WiFi. This feature is great. I wanted to practice a song that I had on my home computer, but not on my iPad. I clicked the "Add Song" button in Amplitube, then selected WiFi. Amplitube then instructed me to browse to a web address (the ip address of the iPad itself, port 8080) on the computer where the song resides. I went to my home computer and dialed up the address in my browser. I was presented with an upload page, where I browsed for my MP3 file, and clicked upload. Back on the iPad, the song was now available to play in Amplitube. Amazing.
With the song loaded up, I could now play the song, and play along with it. I wanted to master the solo in the song, so I used the A-B Loop buttons to zero in on the solo itself. The solo part played as an endless loop while I practiced along with it. I had trouble with it at first, so I used the "SpeedTrainer" slider to slow the playback down. Once the solo was playing at half speed, I was able to isolate the notes and practice along with it. I then gradually increased the speed, playing along as I got better and better at playing the solo. Once I was comfortable with playing the solo at full speed, I got greedy and then increased the speed. The "SpeedTrainer" can adjust from half-speed to double-speed. Once I was playing at double-speed, I realized I'll never be another Eddie Van Halen.
The Song player even features a "No Voice" button that strips the vocals out of the song. It works pretty well most of the time, although the song takes on a new, compressed and processed tonality. I found that this button also tended to strip out the solo as well, leaving you with a fairly clean backing track to play with. This is a great tool for learning songs!
Amplitube also comes with a single track recorder. I have to be honest and admit that I wasn't able to find much use for the recorder for my use. The one thing I wanted to do, I couldn't easy figure out. In my "real" rig, I have a BOSS RC-2 Loop Station pedal which allows me to easily lay down a looping chord progression. I can then play that loop and practice over it, or add additional layers to it with a push of the pedal. I was hoping for a simple way to do the same in Amplitube, but couldn't accomplish this task. I could record some progressions, but couldn't get it to loop effectively. Perhaps I need more training, but the single track recorder just didn't seem that useful to me.
Which leads to the next feature of Amplitube...
The Amplitube software comes out of the box with a decent array of amps, cabinets, and stomp boxes. But we all know that guitar players are never happy with what they have - they always want more. To satisfy this need, Amplitube allows for the easy purchase of additional items. Simply tap the "Add Gear" button to be presented with a pick list of stuff to buy. Most stomp boxes run about three bucks, amps run five bucks. A full-blown 8 track recorder can be purchased for $15.
IK Multimedia also makes an awesome bracket for mounting your iPad to your microphone stand - the iKlip. Mount the iKlip to your mic stand, then attach your iPad. This worked great for me while I was practicing my scales, but would also be a nice way to keep notes, or lyrics easily accessible while performing.
Figure 3: I'm using the iKlip to keep the iPad within reach while struggling through yet another scale drill.
IK also offers a Fender branded version of Amplitube. Functionality is basically the same, but the amps, cabinets and stomp boxes are all Fender branded products. This is a great app if you are a Fender fan (which I am), but you also may find the Fender version somewhat limited compared the to full Amplitube app.
IK Multimedia has hit a home run for the vast guitar/tech/geek crowd. The iRig and Amplitube software provide an endless playground. While it takes a bit to get used to the interface, once mastered you can create an endless array of sounds, giving you that dream rig you could never afford in real life. It really is the most fun I've had with my iPad.
Ron Hostetter is a software sales engineer by day, a gadget lover and struggling guitarist by night. He has worked in the IT field for over 20 years and loves reading about and playing with technology. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri with his lovely wife, his son and daughter, andtheir two dogs. He enjoys playing guitar in his band 71 South and watching the Kansas City Royals.
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