As recovering amateur musicians, some of us still fancy well-made mobile recording gear from time to time. The ability to simultaneously record guitar and vocals using an iPhone 4S is what made the GuitarJack Model 2, in particular, catch our eye. We've taken iPad recording accessories for a spin in the past, but the compact stature of this kit, along with its ability to transform a smartphone into a 4-track recorder seemed quite compelling indeed. At $149, this generation of the GuitarJack costs a full Grant more than Apogee Jam -- excluding the added expense of well-suited apps, of course. So is that hefty investment worth it? Read on to find out.
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Guitar Jack Model 2 review

Sonoma Wire Works

GuitarJack Model 2

Pros

  • Built like a tank
  • Tandem vocal and guitar recording
  • Quick set up, super easy to use

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Fingerprint magnet
  • No included software
Summary

If you're looking to track vocals and guitar simultaneously, this is your kit. A durable metal construction and quick setup process make this a nice little tool for mobile recording.



Hardware


We'll just go ahead and get this out of the way early: the Guitar Jack Model 2 is quite the dapper peripheral. The adapter is housed in a polished metal shell that pairs nicely with the latest iPhone when the two are connected. Look closely and you'll see the side plates housing the input / output jacks are located are fashioned out of a lighter shade of aluminum. The kit also has a bit of weight to it, which bolsters its durability factor when coupled with that all-metal exterior. We won't recommend you go tossing the thing off your balcony to test its strength, but from the outside, it would appear to hold up much better than plastic adapters we've gotten our mitts on. There's only one tiny issue with the high-gloss aluminum coating: it loves to collect fingerprints. We found ourselves constantly wiping the adapter down to keep things somewhat presentable.


The top and bottom of the adapter only feature logos and text; the action really happens on the sides of the device. On the right-hand edge, you'll encounter a 1/4-inch guitar or instrument input and a 1/8-inch headphone jack. Moving around to the top, there's the built-in iOS dock connector that allows for recording sans cables. Heading over to the left side, you'll discover a single 1/8-inch microphone input. The way all the jacks are set up, cables will extend out from the sides of the unit, allowing you to lay the entire thing flat while capturing your next power ballad. There are also diminutive rubber pads on the bottom to keep the kit's chiseled frame from scratching whatever surface it might rest on.

Software


If you don't install an app that plays nice with the adapter beforehand, your iOS device will prompt you to do so the first time you connect the two. Sonoma Wire Works, the company behind GuitarJack, offers a few options in the app department when it comes to getting your adapter in the game. We'll tackle the free ones first. GuitarTone allows you to rock out (via headphones, of course) on your iPhone while having the freedom to switch amps, cabs, mics and set up an effects loop to test out new riffs on-the-go. As with most free guitar apps, in order to expand your rig you'll have to dish out $9.99 per 12-pack. While the GuitarJack is connected, though, access to AmpPack 1 is granted and lends 12 amplifiers to your mobile axe arsenal.
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GuitarTone and TaylorEQ app screenshots


If acoustic guitars are more your style, the outfit has developed the TaylorEQ app for those looking to channel The Civil Wars. This application boosts the sound of Taylor acoustics when used with the aforementioned adapter through a set of EQ presets specifically designed for industry legend's signature guitar shapes. You'll also be able to create your own custom tone and jam along with The Boss should you be so inclined.

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FourTrack app screenshots


Splurging for the paid apps will allow you to get the most out of the GuitarJack Model 2. For the iPhone 4S, the FourTrack application is available if you're willing to shell out ten bucks. This software essentially converts your iPhone (or iPod touch and iPad, according to the company) into a mobile 4-track recording station with WiFi sync capabilities to get those new licks on your desktop for further editing. If an Apple slate is your recording weapon of choice, you'll need to spring for StudioTrack. For $20, this software will enable 8-track recording on an iPad via the tablet's built-in microphone or add-on audio interfaces like the GuitarJack. Wireless syncing is also available, as is the ability to load captured tracks into DAW software (like Pro Tools or Cubase) to further refine that new demo.

Recording and general use


To put the GuitarJack version 2.0 through the wringer, we used FourTrack as our application of choice. Capturing guitar licks was pretty straightforward and we used a set of noise-canceling headphones to monitor our face-melting tones right off the side of the adapter. Once we were through capturing our riffs, we were able to check our progress via the iPhone's speaker after unplugging the kit. We plucked the strings of both a Washburn acoustic electric and a Parker Nitefly M. Each time we had to pause our session to take a call or answer an email, the software remembered settings and we were able to pick up right where we left off. The WiFi sync feature worked well, as we snagged freshly recorded tracks from our desktop in a few relatively painless steps.


We grew increasingly fond of GuitarTone as well. Yes, we doubt you'd want to invest a couple Benjamins in hardware and software for the sole purpose of going deaf playing "Everlong" with Dave Grohl. There is some practical use, though, in that you can avail yourself of all the amp and effects expansion packs you purchase back in FourTrack when you're ready to record some original material or a remixed cover. It doesn't have to be all business, all the time, does it?

The competition


We've also taken the Apogee Jam for a spin and have found it offers features the GuitarJack doesn't, and vice versa. The Jam works best with GarageBand on an iPad or Mac and therein lies a key difference: desktop / laptop connectivity. However, with Apogee's $99 offering, you can only record one input device at a time while the GuitarJack offers instrument and mic capturing simultaneously. Both peripherals capture a digital signal that cuts down on pesky noise one might run into with similar analog recording devices. The two units also feature gain controls as well -- the GuitarJack's level is altered via iOS app, while the Jam features and on-board dial. You'll also have to keep up with a couple of extra cables with the Jam, whereas the Jack is an all-in-one solution – a pretty nice perk, if you ask us. In terms of sound quality, the GuitarJack holds a bit of an advantage when each peripheral is tested with its recommended software. The adapter doesn't win in a landslide, though, and it'd be worth your time to consider both before committing.

Wrap-up


On the surface, the Guitar Jack Model 2 is a handsome, well-built adapter for capturing ideas for that new EP in both instrumental and vocal form. The machined aluminum housing made the peripheral not only looks nice, but it also alleviated some fears about damaging the kit in a gear bag or backpack. The recommend software performs well and the base models don't put too much strain on the ol' wallet. But there lies an issue with this bad boy: the cost. At $149, you won't come in too far under a dedicated 4-track recorder, but you'll keep a piece of burlier tech out of the mix. So, it really is all about being compact and mobile -- two traits we prefer when it comes to tech.

With that said, the $50-plus premium you'll pay for this over the Apogee Jam is a sound investment only if you're going to be recording both vocals and an instrument simultaneously on the regular. If you're a guitar player without a decent set of pipes (think Angus Young), you may want to consider a less expensive offering that focuses more on your axe's tone. Even if you chose to spend your money here, you can expect above-average audio recording, along with a kit that's easy on the eyes as well.