By Jonny Rosch
After spending six years at Harvard Law School, and then another eight years at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, it started to become apparent to me that merely working in the cafeteria wasn’t going to earn me the degrees I expected when I took those jobs. That’s when I transferred to an arguably less prestigious university located in the Paramus, NJ mall, called Uncle Ernie’s College of Carnal Knowledge where I majored in Music Tech Gear.
This may be the review that could win this year’s coveted Music Tech Gear “Reviewie” award, because this is actually three reviews in one – a feat rarely seen in The Reviewing Industry. For the uninitiated, this is the equivalent of the Triple Salchow in figure skating. It’s a dangerous and risky proposition. Here goes.
Lately I have been binging on Netflix and reviewing products made by the venerable IK Multimedia. I have been using their products in my recording studio since they first leapt on the scene in 1996.
The first product to review this week was the new iRig HD2, a digital guitar interface designed to be used with your iOS compliant gear, including mobile devices such as your iPad or iPhone, etc. The second review is the Amplitube4 software which, literally, will transform your sound, and the third is of iRigPads, an almost infinitely mappable pad controller (and infinitely is a huge number).
iRig HD2. The iRigHD2 is a newer version of the iRig2, with several improvements. We will get to those improvements momentarily, but if you haven’t a clue what this product is or what it does, that’s not your fault, because you can’t know everything, and as we know, there are known knowns; known unknowns and unknown unknowns If Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld can get away with saying that, I can get away with it) So, if you don’t know what the iRig HD or iRig HD2 does, I’ll fix that right now:
Hey kids, do ya like those fancy, electric guitars and those wacky, electric amplifiers? Me too. Wild and crazy, they’re responsible for a great deal of the newfangled music that came out after the 1950s. Some of us ole’ timers remember the days of carrying both a guitar and amplifier to sessions and gigs. By cracky, things are different today and the new iRig HD2 made by IK Multimedia is one of the big reasons. Do ya own one of those iPhones or iPads or Androids or one of them newfangled computers? Well, aren’t you fancy, and aren’t you in luck, too. Leave that amplifier home (that’s usually the heavier of the two) and make noise with just your guitar, your phone or iPad, and this iRig HD2, that can actually fit in your pocket, which your amplifier can’t. Now don’t get me wrong, that amplifier that you paid lots of money for can still be used, but if you want to record or play live or rehearse with just your smart phone or iPad or computer, $99 gets you in.
OK, enough of the ole timer’s crap. Here’s the skinny. iRig HD2 is a tiny little device
- It’s only 1.53″ x 3.9″ x 0.83″ (or 39mm x 99mm x 21mm you metric-centric people. ) For those of you not good with numbers, it’s the size of a big cigarette lighter and you can hide it in one hand if you wanted to.
- It’s 1.8oz (or 51g), the weight of a regular sandwich that has nothing in the middle, just the two slices of bread. Actually, even less than that.
- It’s made out of something I like to call ‘pletal’ … or ‘mastic’, because it’s made of plastic but looks and almost feels like metal. It’s sturdy and I doubt you’d break it if you dropped it or stepped on it but … why even try?)
- Cost – YES, THAT’S WHAT I WANT TO KNOW … NOW PLEASE!!! It costs $99 US dollars. (or 88.03 Euros for you Euro-centric people or 75.721 Pounds Sterling for you Brexit-centric blokes) I once spent the same amount on a date with this girl from Cleveland and didn’t have as much satisfaction…just sayin’. Even if you are broke but decide to go for this, I don’t think you will ever regret the decision. If you can afford it, just get it and skip the rest of this review
It comes with:
- Two cables: One can connect the iRig HD2 to your computer and DAW system, the other cable to your to your smart phone
- Mic Stand Clip Attachment: OK, I confess, I like this kind of attention to detail. They didn’t have to add this piece but in my world, little things mean a lot. They also include a little plastic attachable/detachable clip AND a strip of Velcro. Why? So you can attach this device to your mic stand or guitar strap for convenience. THANK YOU FOR CARING ABOUT THE REAL WORLD IK Multimedia. Such a small thing but it goes a long way in my book.
Now comes the fun stuff.
IK Multimedia makes great software products too, and one of those, Amplitube 4, is the latest version of its industry-standard, amp-modeling software. Now, I was really only asked to review the iRig HD2 but it would be insane and insulting to you, the prospective buyer, not to cover this part of the iRig HD2 package because I can actually see some of you buying the hardware piece just to own the software! So this will constitute part #2 of my review Trifecta.
Amplitube 4: The Fine Points:
It’s software. That means you can’t pick it up or eat it but … it still tastes good.
For those who may be familiar with previous versions of Amplitube (including Amplitube 3), this is NOT an update. It is a brand new product with its own amp modeling features and its own capabilities. It can be used as a standalone program or as a plugin for your favorite DAW. You can use different MIDI controllers or things like IK Multimedia’s Bluetooth Blue Board to control the software.
- It has Amp Modeling.
- It has Effects processing.
- It has a guitar tuner.
- It has an eight-track recorder.
- It has a 4 track looper.
- It’s EASY TO USE!
I’d pay $99 for this program and I don’t like spending money.
However, buy the iRig HD2 and you’ll get this program for free, and also have the latest and greatest digital guitar interface.
- I saw it.
- I used it.
- I played with it.
- It was better than good.
- Go out and good yourself.
iRig HD2 has
- 96kHz Digital Audio with 24-bit A/D conversion. This is recording studio quality – 96kHz sample rate and 24-bit A/D. Cool.
- 1/4″ Amp output jack with switchable output “FX” and “Thru.” put it on “FX” if you want the effects (processed signal), but if you don’t … switch it to Thru” and you are clean (unprocessed). You wanna use this sucker in a “live” setting? Run a regular ole ¼” cable out of this bigger sized hole and go right to your amplifier. Yeah! Along with the enclosed bundled Amplitube 4 software (see review below) you can use your HD2 as a “virtual stomp box.”
- 1/8″ Headphone output with preamp and level control. Plug your headphones into this little hole and groove. Too loud? (Uh, I mean .. too soft?) Turn up (or down) the level on the Volume control. This output jack sends the “processed” stereo signal to whatever you want, so with the right cable you can also send this signal to your mixer or directly to your powered speakers.
- Microphone stand mounting clip and Velcro strip; strap your iRig HD2 to your mic stand or guitar strap for easy and handy live access.
- Comes with AmpliTube 4 for Mac/PC. Unlocks full version features and gear of AmpliTube for iOS (Free download from App Store. This alone is worth the price of admission. See review below.
The Actual Review: We could write a book on any one of these sections, so this is just a quick look at the most important aspects of each.
Perhaps the heart of this software. Here you can select from any number of amplifier heads and cabinets and mix and match them to your heart’s content. You name it: they have an amplifier head/cabinet to choose from. Vintage, new, large, small, 12”, 10”, 15”, you choose. But wait! You can also decide what exact speaker brand or model or size that you want. But wait! That’s not all. You also can choose microphone simulations (condensers, dynamic, ribbon, etc.) and you can place them in virtual space wherever you want them—close to the virtual cabinet or speaker, far away, a combination of the two – or three mics or 4, etc. … matched pairs, different mics … angled or straight at the speaker. You can mix and pan all these mics and include room mics to your mix as well. Be prepared to go down the virtual rabbit hole.
Effects processing / Virtual Stomp box
Now here there is something old and something new for Amplitube users of yore. The Effects portion of Amplitube 4 provides you with a vast array of virtual pedals to virtually stomp on, or racks upon racks of processing to put in your chain before your amplifier (virtual or not). So many pedals and racks to choose from, and for each one there is even more presets, including your old legacy presets you may have saved from previous Amplitube versions. Be prepared to go deeper.
Guitar tuner: I don’t care how good of a guitarist you are. You need this and so it appears first in the chain. It has a mute switch so you can spare your audience and the band the pain of listening to you tune up, or you can tune while listening. Amplitube 4 also comes with something called UltraTuner, which lets you tune with accuracy of up to 1 1/100th of a percent, along with some groovy ways to look at what’s going on to your signal. Just as hip, it has some presets for different tunings such as Pythagorean or Kimberger III or other stuff you don’t know about and won’t use until you decide that Rock, Jazz, Blues, Country, Rap, R&B, etc. are a complete bore and there’s no money in it anyway so you’re going to be an avant-garde performance artist with a guitar. Well, you’re halfway there now. Select a weird tuning from the presets, play any notes, in any order, at any volume, and sit back and watch the grant money roll in. UltraTuner! That could be your stage name, too.
8-track recorder: Wow, all of a sudden you are bitch-slapped by inspiration and you need to throw down that amazing Grammy Award winning (or, Grammy Award neglected) song idea or guitar riff. Boom! There it is. An 8 track DAW with editing features. It’s laid out in a beautiful, elegant and visually pleasing manner. I own every DAW known to man and visually pleasing is real important to me.
Some great features of the recorder section include a metronome, a looping function (different from the 4-track looper), pitch control so you change keys if you need to, and a handy “playback speed” section with settings of ½ speed/normal speed/2x’s speed. Great! There are all the typical DAW tools as well.
4-track looper: Unlike most politicians, it does what it says. You can loop and layer up to four different guitar parts and then easily import them into the 8-track recorder. Can’t get much easier than that, unlike most politicians.
It’s EASY TO USE!
Let’s pretend that you are a brand new guitarist and you just read all that I wrote, but you don’t have a clue of what any of that stuff means. Good. I like you. Here’s what I have to say: You could buy the iRig HD2 today, download the Amplitube 4 program, look at one or two tutorial videos and be going CRAZY (the good kind of crazy, not the frustrated kind) by tonight.
I have about 30 or 40 vintage amps of all makes, models and sizes in my studio. You name it: a ’69 plexi Marshall stack, pre CBS Fenders galore, Princetons, Deluxes, Super Twins, Vibro Champs. Ampeg flip tops, and many others…As Walter Brennan used to say “No brag … just fact.” I don’t even want to get started with the purists out there who will argue, “It’s not the same as the real thing, man!” Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I don’t care to eat that donut hole. If you are making music with a guitar and an amplifier and you can’t find some combination of amps, effects, mics, racks, etc. that give you the color that is in your head in Amplitube 4 … well that piece of music better be so friggin’ good that I bow down and kiss your feet (I include the remote possibility of my 17-year-old daughter hearing that music and saying, “Dad, I kind of loved the song, but the guitar track sounded like it came from a virtual software program as opposed to an actual amp that was mic’ed so…it kind of ruined the song for me.”).
The final verdict.
I’d pay $99 for this program and I don’t like spending money. However, buy the iRig HD2 and you’ll get this program for free, but you’ll also have the latest and greatest digital guitar interface.
- I saw it.
- I used it.
- I played with it.
- It was good.
- Better than good.
- Go out and good yourself.
- Don’t blame me for slacking off on Netflix, blame IK Multimedia.
This pad controller can be used with Mac or PC, or your iOS device such as an iPad or iPhone or iPod Touch. It is truly a great example of “Plug & Play” technology, and can quickly map to whatever program you wish to use. There are templates for most of the major programs out there, but always know that you can map or remap any of the pads or knobs or buttons or the slider to suit your tastes and requirements. You can save up to 16 different “scenes” and call them up whenever you need them. All of the controls are MIDI assignable and customizable, easily. It comes with an easy-to-use editing program called iRig Pads Editor, a free download. It is BUS powered so it does NOT need batteries, and you don’t need a power adaptor—just plug it in to your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch via its included Lightning cable. There are also a host of apps you can use with the iRigPads.
If you do live DJ’ing, you’ll like this. If you like creating grooves/beats, you’ll like this. If you need to trigger loops or samples, you’ll like this. If you like unicorns, rainbows, cotton candy, or Harley Davidson 1200 Sportsters retrofitted with a Screaming Eagle exhaust system, you’ll like this.
Size: This is a major plus. It’s extremely compact and lightweight so you can drag it around and use it most anywhere you want, like when you either feel the creative inspiration is striking, or you need to kill time on an airplane, or on a really bad date. You can sneak it onto your lap and play with it in between dinner courses.
Weight: 1.2lb (or 547g for you metric-centric people), like the weight of a newborn Yorkie puppy from somewhere between 0 to about 9 weeks. Also, I’ve read that the human soul weighs about 1.2lbs. The guy who ‘Tweeted’ that said, “I know because I’ve weighed myself before and after I walk into my job.”
Cost – YES, THAT”S WHAT I WANT TO KNOW … NOW PLEASE!!! It costs $149 US dollars (132.878 Euros or 114.529 Pounds Sterling. for you Brexit-centric birds.)
I’m going to go out on a limb here and state for the record that, in my humble estimation, the pads are the most important part of this product. I know that’s risky but I feel lighter now that I got that off my chest.
There are 16 of them. They are velocity sensitive which means that the harder you hit the pads the more *#^$%@! you get, and by “*#^$%@!” I mean whatever parameter you want more of. You decide that.
Note: There is an Edit button (to be discussed below) that can toggle you between ‘Velocity Sensitive’ pads or a ‘Fixed’ velocity, which means that the pads will react the same no matter how hard or softly you strike them. (Editorial Note: When I was a young boy, spanking were still considered an acceptable form of parental punishment. Must have been a ‘Fixed’ velocity spanking because whether I was struck hard or soft, my reaction was the same. It hurt. I cried. (Your pads won’t)
These 16 pads light up in different colors, red, green, orange, many other colors in between. That doesn’t mean that the colors are ‘indifferent’ because they will in fact tell you the degree of velocity as well as the advent of MIDI DATA.
1 The Slider
The iRigPads has a slider that can be mapped to any variety of parameters you may want it to control. If you use IK Multimedia’s Sampletank* the ‘default’ assignment for this slider is the ‘modulation wheel’ but do not fear. You can change this if you want.
2 Rotary Knobs
These 2 knobs are located right above the aforementioned slider and these too are programmable to suit your needs, wishes, and desires (within the realm of MIDI programmable assignments and not fixing an argument with your spouse or making dinner reservations, etc.) If you use IK Multimedia’s Sampletank* the ‘default’ assignment for the top rotary knob is ‘panning’ but do not fear. You can change this if you want.
The DATA ‘encoder’ knob/wheel
This is a rotary knob used for entering data or controlling any parameter in real time.
If you use IK Multimedia’s Sampletank* the ‘default’ assignment for the rotary DATA knob is ‘Volume’ but do not fear. You can change this if you want.
2 Assignable Push buttons
They are programmable to suit your needs, wishes, and desires.
2 Edit Push Buttons
These can be used to recall or edit scenes and to toggle between ‘Fixed” velocity or “Velocity Sensitive” Pads.
It comes with two different cables, to connect to your computer and DAW system ort o your smart phone or the newer iPad* ( * The iPad 3 has a 30-pin connector so you would have to use an optional cable or the USB cable with an Apple camera connection kit adapter.).
At A Glance
- MIDI Pad controller/groove-production station
- 16 velocity-sensitive pads
- Multicolor pad indicators for velocity and incoming MIDI signals
- Two MIDI knobs, two pushbuttons, one slider and a pushbutton rotary encoder, all programmable
- Expression/Sustain pedal input
- 16 user-programmable scenes, available for instant recall
- Sends and receives MIDI data
- Bus powered: needs no batteries or AC adapter
- 30-pin cable available separately
Wondering if it’ll work with what you got? Compatible with iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5, iPhone 4s*, iPhone 4*, iPod touch (3rd*, 4th, and 5th generation), iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3, iPad Air, iPad mini 2, iPad 4th generation, iPad mini, iPad 3rd generation*, iPad 2*, iPad*. iOS 4.3 or later is required
* Sampletank – there are many versions of IK Multimedia’s Sampletank INCLUDING a free version which you can download from their website: http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/sampletankcs/
There is a map/display of the iRigPads device built into these programs for easy playing and editing.
My final analysis: If you think you might need something like this … you do.
Get it. You’ll never miss the money but it will be useful for many applications for many years to come.
Plus – they’re giving you really great free software to get you started.
Free is good.