iWanna Rock! Hands-On Review of the iRig
Before I had a smartphone, I was never a "phone person." Now I won't travel from one room to the next without my iPhone. I've always had a similar attachment to my electric guitars. IK Multimedia's new iRig enables you to plug a guitar into an iPhone, iPod touch or an iPad and play virtual effects and amps. I tested out the iRig this week, and I may change my identity so I never have to give it back.
Then I found out that the iRig I was entrusted with is one of only twenty-five in the United States, which made my plan seem tactless and greedy. So I decided to keep my name (and my job) and write a hands-on review of this awesome new product. Besides, there's no need for hasty, irrational acts. The iRig is expected to be in stock at B&H around July 6th. Plus, the basic version of the AmpliTube (the app that runs on your iGadget) is free.
You're probably wondering what the heck an iRig is, right? Basically, it's a small adapter that's just slightly larger than a roll of breath mints. It's lightweight and made of plastic, but the build quality feels decently solid. A very short cable protrudes from the top of the iRig, which you plug into your iPhone, 2nd- and 3rd-generation iPod touch or iPad. You plug your headphones into a jack on the top of the iRig. A standard 1/4" guitar input is at the bottom. I made this animation to show you how to it all fits together:
As you can see, setting this thing up is super easy. If you already own an iPhone, iPod touch or an iPad, then I don't need to tell you that downloading the app from Apple's App Store is as simple as it gets. Plug in your gear, launch the app, and play your guitar or bass. That's it. From start to finish you can be up and rocking in under a minute.
When you launch the AmpliTube app and plug in the iRig, a dialog box with a sensible warning about protecting your hearing is displayed. Anytime you listen to or play music, especially with headphones or earbuds, you have to be careful not to destroy your hearing. The microphone that's built into many earbuds and headphones for the iPhone presents the opportunity for a nasty feedback loop to be created when using the iRig. As long as you're aware of this stuff, you can safely play guitar through this system.
You're probably wondering how good the effects, amplifier simulations and microphone emulators sound in the AmpliTube app, right? Well, I'm not a guitar tone snob. I tend to prefer sounds that are either as clean and natural as possible, or the other extreme (deep, textured, fuzzy and unique). I was really surprised when I started playing with the iRig. The effects and amps sounded different than the equipment I usually play with, so I immediately started playing new riffs and progressions. I was instantly inspired and writing new music on the spot. This was totally unexpected.
I played with the free version of the app for the first two days. It's pretty limited. You only get a delay pedal and the reverb and tone controls on the virtual amp to shape your sound. When you register your iRig, you get a free distortion pedal as well. I spend much of my life working within strict limitations, and I find that you can push the creative envelope just as hard with one or two tools as you could with an endless supply. Therefore, I would like to go on record stating that the AmpliTube Free is awesome.
On the third day I downloaded the full version of AmpliTube from the App Store. As soon as I started digging into the Envelope Filter and the 4x12A virtual guitar cabinet, I knew there was no going back to my beloved AmpliTube Free. At this price, upgrading to the full version of the app is strongly recommended. You can buy individual pedals, or a semi-stripped down version called AmpliTube LE as well, but don't bother. Go for the whole enchilada and don't look back.
John Pace, the Sales Manager of Pro Audio and Pro Video at B&H, joined me for a little iRig jam session. We plugged the iRig into a powered computer speaker and rocked out loud with it at the office (we currently don't have guitar amplifiers in the B&H Executive Offices). For a device that at its heart is a practice tool, we thought it sounded pretty darn good. John made an excellent point that every guitar you own will sound completely different through the iRig, and that finding the right combination of effects, settings and guitar choice can take time.
It's even feasible that you could perform live on stage with the iRig. You would likely need a table beside you so you could control the app, and you don't want to step on your iThing to turn the virtual guitar pedals on and off, but you could still play. Obviously, there are better options for guitar gear for live use. However, it's going to be nice to know that in the event that your other gear breaks the moment you hit the stage (and you know it will eventually), that having the iRig in your case and an iPod in your pocket could save the day. Not too shabby an option for its low price.
Apple's new iOS 4 was released the same week I was testing the iRig. The AmpliTube software worked on both the iPhone OS 3, and on the new iOS 4. There were a few occasions when the sound of the guitar would cease, only to mysteriously return a minute later. I'm not 100% sure if this was user error on my part, or a little bug that can easily be fixed with a version update.
This device fuses together the two of the great addictions in my life: my collection of guitars and basses and my iPhone. My guitars have always been a source of inspiration; they're instruments that challenge my manual abilities and encourage me to explore and create. Conversely, most of the time I spend on my iPhone is just a total waste. I sincerely believe that having an iRig around will encourage me to spend more time producing rather than consuming on my iPhone.
There's a lot more to discuss about the iRig. There are killer features like the built-in tuner, loop player and preset saving that I'd like to tell you about, and share my experiences playing electric bass through the iRig. We're planning to publish another article about the iRig. For now, I'd just like to let it be known that I like to rock. However, in addition to rocking, the iRig can be funky, jazzy, surfy, experimental, etc. Pretty much any style or mood you can get into with a guitar or a bass can be gotten into with the iRig. If you have any questions at all about the iRig or the AmpliTube app, we encourage you to post them in the comments section. Rock on, everybody!