Artiphon's 'Instrument 1' is an iPhone powered multi-instrument, we go hands-on

Music, MIDI and mobile? Seen that before, right? Well, yeah, but sometimes something comes along that surprises everyone. Artiphon's Instrument 1 is one such thing. And after all, there's more than one way to crack a nut. Artiphon's method involves creating a high-quality muli-instrument device that uses an iPhone or iPod touch as its brain. So, this is no plastic (bear with us) "appcessory." The Instrument 1 is made out of special quality African hardwood, and centers around an intentionally ambiguous design. There is a pair of high-quality custom speakers that give impressive 30W onboard sound. There is, of course, a line out and MIDI in / out too. The prototype we saw today doesn't have a built-in battery, but final production models will, making this a truly portable, complete solution. Dr Mike Butera, the firm's founder, was keen to explain to us that this is intended not to replicate one specific device (though it does a great job of guitar, violin, banjo and more), but rather to enable musicians to be able to work in a way they want to. The Instrument 1 works with any core MIDI enabled app, but there are plans to release a companion app for more detailed / custom mappings in the future. We got a private tour of the device, to tip-toe past the break for more.

The first thing we noticed was how authentic it felt. Authentic what? Well, ok, that's a little harder to explain. It definitely felt more like holding an instrument, than a MIDI device or an accessory component though. The oiled wood finish, metal speaker grilles and overall quality of the device make it feel like something you'd wield with care. The iPhone section is also pleasantly discreet. Sure, it takes somewhat center place, but at the same time keeps it out of the way when you're playing. Under the neck you'll also find some additional controls that steer the Instrument 1 in more dedicated instrument directions (bass mode for fret tapping, banjo mode with arpeggios etc). The small black box below the iPhone housing serves as a strum-surface (or when in violin mode, the area you "bow"), and the neck section is largely akin to a guitar neck, but when approached creatively, can be used in all manner of ways, such as drum-pads when resting on your lap. For those that want to know, it's currently sporting a 30-pin connector, but has room enough so that you can also use it with a lightning adaptor. There's also a physical volume control and a USB port.

As for the MIDI options... there are plenty. Polyphonic aftertouch, vibrato, versatile modulation and mapping, to name a few. There is an octave switch on the neck, also, so that you can get a wide range of musical notes with ease. Mike showed us that as there are two sensors on each neck-note, you can effectively cram two octaves into the same space too, should this better suit your needs. As mentioned above, currently this is the third prototype, but full production is expected soon. How much, then, does Artiphon want for the Instrument 1? That'll be $800 when it eventually rolls out towards the end of this year. A tall price for a MIDI controller perhaps, but you'll be replacing your entire band at the same time. Just don't tell them yet. Go south for the demo video.

Billy Steele contributed to this report.