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Review: IK Multimedia iRig

Get your guitar tone on your iPhone with this ingenious accessory and app combo from IK Multimedia

As developers of the acclaimed AmpliTube guitar amp emulation software, IK Multimedia knows a thing or two about hooking up guitars to computers, and withthe new iRig mini interface it’s now turned its attention to the iPhone. Designed to be used in conjunction with the new AmpliTube iPhone app, the iRig is a lightweight black plastic cylinder about the same size as your average cigarette lighter, that accommodates a guitar lead by way of a standard 1/4-inch jack socket at one end. The opposite end houses 1/8- inch minijack stereo headphone socket and a minijack plug mounted on a short two-inch cable that plugs into the iPhone’s headphone socket. The whole thing is so lightweight that when we actually hooked up a decently weighty guitar lead, we found it difficult to get into a position where the weight of the attached cable didn’t pull both the iRig and the iPhone off onto the floor. We couldn’t help but feel that if the short cable from the iRig to the phone were longer, there might be less of a pull on the actual phone while in use. It might just have been the particular phone we were testing it on, but the connection from the iRig to our iPhone was intermittent at first. To begin with, the minijack plug was an extremely tight fit and seemed not to want to go all the way into the iPhone’s headphone socket. Removing the iPhone’s silicone case proved to be no help, and initially we couldn’t get any sound from the unit at all. It wasn’t until we stood the phone on its end and really pushed down hard on the connector that the connection was made and the sound from our guitar became audible for a second or two, but then it disappeared again. We fiddled.
It came back. It went again, and so on. The situation was exacerbated by the aforementioned cable length issue – once we’d found a position where the sound was constant, the slightest movement of the guitar and its lead would cause the weight of the cable to dislodge it again. Eventually, after a lot of fiddling about, we managed to get into a position where the connection remained unbroken and the phone stayed put and wasn’t swinging in mid air. This meant we could begin to explore the companion AmpliTube iPhone app in depth. There are actually three AmpliTube apps available in the iTunes Store, each with its own price tag and corresponding breadth of features. You can start out with the free app, which contains three stomp box effects, one amp, one speaker cabs and two mics, with more combos and virtual effects pedals available as in-app purchases. In the middle sits the LE version at £1.79, for which you get five stomps, or you could just hit the ground running and shell out £11.99 for the full version, which contains five amp models (clean, crunch, lead, metal and bass) with full tone and drive controls, 11 stompbox effects (delay, flanger, phaser, overdrive, distortion, filter, wah, fuzz, octaver, chorus and noise filter), five speaker cabinets (1×12- inch, 2×12-inch, 4×12-inch A, 4×12-inch B and 1×15-inch) and two microphones (dynamic and condenser).
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a chromatic digital tuner and a metronome. You can import and play along with up to 20 songs or backing tracks, and create, save and recall up to 36 presets on the fly – although, unfortunately, there appears to be no way to share these presets or back them up. Like the desktop version of AmpliTube, the sounds are clear, bright and full, with little or no betrayal of their synthetic origins, and should be more than satisfactory to rock out with through all but the most cheap and nasty of headphones or speaker systems. We were very impressed that there were also no noticeable latency issues in our tests, which is remarkable for what is, essentially, a budget system. The ability to import songs and play along with them is not only fantastic fun, but it makes this combination invaluable as a practise aid for guitarists and bass players alike. The import process is straightforward – when running the app on a device on the same Wi-Fi network as the computer hosting the audio files, you will be given an IP address to enter into the computer’s web browser. This then presents you with a screen in which you can browse to the location of the files you wish to transfer, and then you simply choose and upload them to the iPhone from there. Despite our initial connection niggles, we were extremely impressed with the iRig. The idea of having a full-on practise rig in your pocket is one that must appeal greatly to anybody who’s ever picked up a plectrum, and at this price it’s an absolute belter. The creative potential for getting down ideas is absolutely invaluable for anyone who knows what it’s like to have a tune in mind and then completely forgettingit. You just have to hope that nobody rings you up in the middle of that unrepeatable solo.