There's noshortageofways to get sound into your iOS device, but one thing has been missing from the field up to this point: a handheld accessory to help you hone your Sammy Hagar (or Anderson Cooper) impression while you're FaceTiming with Gramps. The iRig vocal mic fills that gap, and the included Vocalive app does its part to help you rap over your favorite beat, add sick and twisted FX to your vox, and share your jams with your file-sharing friends. But is the iRig a Napster-level entry into the iMic field? Is it more of an eDonkey, or just kind of a KaZaA? Read on for our impressions of the SM58-feeling cardioid.
The iRig plugs into your pod / pad / phone via the 1/8" jack -- it includes the requisite pass-through jack for monitoring system audio as well. It looks just like any number of Shure knockoffs on the market and feels nice and weighty in the hand. There's also a three-position gain control switch on the body. It feels like a little bit of a joke, though: if we had to name each of the three positions they'd be "almost off," "Big Muff," and "this one goes to 13." And, just for fun, the three settings were backwards on our unit. Also for fun, if you turn it up all the way, you can hear your neighbor's cordless phone conversations.
Which brings us to the first point about the iRig: it doesn't sound good. Remember Your First Sony? Yeah, it's like that. So don't plan on cutting your Rumours of the 22nd century on this thing or anything like that.
But. But! Remember Your First Sony? It was really super-awesome and you probably still pull the tapes out when it's too late at a party to laugh at your 3,000 charming renditions of "Baby Beluga." This is where iRig's paired software comes handily into play: it's called Vocalive, and while its mind-crushingly cheesy title screen might have you LOLing all the way to the Top of the Pops, the quick-and-dirty nature of it lends a Tascam 4-track feel that we haven't really dealt with elsewhere in iLand (except for, oh, the official app).
As soon as the app opens you're free to start setting up your own personal wall of sound: your industry-standard chorus, delay, distortion, compression, and pitch shift homeboys are all here. The increasingly ubiquitous "pitch fix" is also along for the ride, and while it's not quite I Am T-Pain, it's enough to keep you entertained for at least a couple jams' worth of kind of staying in key.
The C60 cassette-inflected recording interface works just as you'd expect it to, but for a price: one track is free, and you can unlock three more for a $4.99 in-app purchase). Swiping between FX, panning, and insert sections is intuitive and feels just like home to us. You can import songs from your library and assign them to tracks in the recorder, which is just what we did here:
We could go on for quite a while about the fun extra features Vocalive packs in, too: a voice trainer that will play scales for you to howl along to, a vocal remover for imported songs that actually functions decently, a looper for extracting killer breakbeats, and a speedtrainer for screwing and chirping those hard-to-handle Steve Vai licks. Unfortunately, we could also go on for a while about just how often Vocalive crashes -- it's not a dealbreaker, but it's certainly enough to interrupt your creative flow. The only way to remedy one of our crashes was a hard reset of the device.
But when it works, man! It really works. Consider the crashes recording breaks, and you'll feel just like a real live studio musician -- the kind of studio musician with only a lo-fi, hi-fun My First Sony at his or her disposal. While we can't whole-heartedly recommend the iRig + Vocalive combo at this moment, when version 2.0 comes out you can be sure we'll be right there with the vocal gain turned to 13 and our pitch fix set to F minus, ready to rock n' scroll.