We were fortunate to get an early look at the iRig and a pre-release version of the app from IK Multimedia. Read on for our first impressions and thoughts on this potentially set-up altering piece of gear.
The iRig Hardware
The iRig in itself is a very simple item. Essentially, it allows you to plug a mono 1/4" jack (from your guitar / bass / keyboard / instrument) into your iPhone, and then take the output via stereo 1/8" mini-jack to your external source (headphones, powered speakers, mixer, or an amp). However, depending on your PA or mixer, and we expect most amps, you'll need a 1/8" mini-jack to a 1/4" jack converter lead so you can plug it in.
Small in size and sturdy in feel, the iRig will fit right in with your other cables and patch leads. Similar to your "built like a tank" pedal case, the iRig will have no problem being chucked around with the rest of your gear. If anything, you'll be trying to find the misplaced thing much like your mysteriously vanishing capo 20 minutes after you should have left for the gig.
There's not much else to say here. It feels good and looks good, but will it sound good? Click the 'read more' link to find out..
The AmpliTube Software
As mentioned before, the Amplitube app comes in three variations: Free, LE and the full version. You can download the free or LE version and then upgrade / expand your virtual rig from within the app. There are 11 stomp boxes (delay, fuzz, distortion, overdrive, wah, envelope filter, chorus, flanger, phaser, octave, noise filter), 5 amps (clean, crunch, lead, metal and bass), 5 cabinets and 2 microphones (a condenser mic and a modeled SM57 type mic)
Out of those you can create 12 presets consisting of up to 3 pedals and 1 amp and cabinet at a time. These 12 presets can be recalled on a keypad type interface. Tap to turn on a preset, tap to turn off a preset or switch to another preset. It's not a foot switch, but it in a manner of speaking, it gets the job done. However, there's definitely not going to be any seamless effects switching going on.
A chromatic tuner and a metronome are built into the app, too, which is clever and convenient. You can also import songs or backing tracks into the app over a wireless network so you can play your sweet licks whilst listening to the song at the same time.
Visually, like AmpliTube for the desktop, the app looks great. The pedals, amps and cabinets seem to be modeled well after the real life well respected classics. For example, the green overdrive pedal looks remarkably similar to my Ibanez TS9 tube screamer.
The app ran well on my iPhone 3G, although it was prone to the odd crash, but this is likely due to the fact that it was still in its final stages of development. IK Multimedia does not recommend AmpliTube for first-generation iPhones and iPod touch handhelds.
And finally what counts... The Tone
Firstly, I want to say that I wouldn't class myself as a tone guru, but I'd like to think that I know what sounds good (acceptable) and what doesn't. Secondly, and more importantly, like real pedals and amps, so much of it is down to personal preference and opinion, and what kind of tone and sound you are looking for. So, here's my opinion, but do try out the app for yourself; you may think differently.
In short, the sounds and tones that I got out of the AmpliTube app were very impressive. Especially considering that I was playing my Telecaster through my telephone! I first tried the app listening through my in-ear monitor headphones. I honestly thought this is not half bad, or that dissimilar from what I hear when I use my in-ear headphones playing live with my full set-up, and my amp locked in a room behind the stage. I then tried the app through some powered speakers and was equally impressed. Regrettably, my amp is blown so I wasn't able to try the app with the amps and cabinets turned off running just the effects.
I found the presets to be well gauged with little tweaking necessary. Initially, I did most of the tweaking through my pick-up selector and bass / treble control on my guitar. When I pushed past the presets I was blown away by the amount of customization and calibration available on the pedals, and particularly on the amps. It will sound silly to say, but I caught myself getting excited and thinking this is just like the real thing, like on my desktop, that's like the real thing. but on my phone (more on this later).
A few of the amps and pedals that stood out to me are as follows
The clean amp running the 2x12 cab was my favourite, and that is what I would go for in real life, too. So, not too shabby there. I was impressed by the delay pedal and managed to get some interesting sounds out of it. The feedback had a good acceptable feel to it, too. I mainly used the overdrive and fuzz pedal and tended to stay clear of the crunch and metal amps. I was caught off guard when I turned on the octave pedal, to me it really sounded fat, warm and punchy. I lost some time trying to play a few lines from a White Stripes track.
I attempted the wah pedal, but didn't get very far with it. For obvious reasons, it doesn't function quite like a typical wah pedal would!
Some concerns over latency have been voiced and the app offers a low and ultra low latency option to compensate. After chatting with the IK Multimedia rep in the UK, I discovered that the iPhone version is built on the same engineering that is used in the AmpliTube desktop versions. So, theoretically, what you hear on the iPhone version of AmpliTube should be the same as what you hear on the desktop versions, including the modeling of the amps and effects. I noticed no issues with latency, and I found no need to turn on the ultra low latency option, but then again, I'm not Joe Satriani.
Earlier I mentioned that I got excited about the iPhone version of AmpliTube sounding just like the desktop versions that sound LIKE the real thing. And I am excited. But the point is, for me anyway, is that it sounds like the real thing, but it's obviously not the real thing. Which means it doesn't sound LIKE the real thing. If that makes sense!
Pushing deeper into the various effects and amps I found that, of course, there are limits to how far the software can go, just like the desktop versions. Especially in comparison to the real thing (I'm assuming you know I'm talking about the quality stuff when I say the real thing). But what impresses me about AmpliTube and the iRig is just how close it can come to sounding like the real thing, even more so when I do it from my little iPhone that fits in my pocket.
Would I trade up my current guitar set-up for the iRig and AmpliTube on my iPhone? No. But would I use the iRig and Amplitube on my iPhone for a last minute rehearsal, or even the odd low-profile gig? Well, I'd be willing to give it a try.
For the money you'll spend, especially in comparisons to the money you'd spend on the desktop versions (or even the real thing!), Amplitube and the iRig provide a comprehensive and fully featured guitaring experience, and is well worth adding to your guitar set-up. Go and give it a try.
And don't fret, you don't need to buy the iRig to hear what it sounds like. There are some pre-recorded guitar takes built into the app that loop while you try the different effects and amps.