I’ve been playing bass guitar since I was 12, and while I’ve always loved the playing music side of playing music, I’ve never been much on the lugging-equipment-around aspect. I deplored it so much, in fact, that I quit the wedding band business for a time, only coming back when the band agreed to hire roadies to take care of our gear for us. Even breaking out the practice amp was a chore I avoided, which meant that I didn’t rehearse nearly as much as I suppose I should have.
If only I’d had IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube iRig – a tube-shaped dongle that plugs into the headphone jack of your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, turning it into, for all intents and purposes, a guitar amp. And not just a guitar amp, but your choice of several, thanks to its accompanying app, called AmpliTube—at version 3 as of this writing.
A Talented Duet
The iRig cleverly includes its own headphone jack, so you can still plug your headphones (or speakers or line out to a sound system.) This not only lets you hear yourself with a richness your i-device’s speakers could never deliver on their own, it lets you practice without disturbing the rest of the household — something my father would have certainly appreciated during my high school rock band phase. But perhaps even more importantly, it allows you to hear yourself with no latency (the lag between the time you hit the strings and the time you hear the resulting sound.) Your bass (or guitar, for you six-string aficionados) plugs in via a 1/4-inch jack. The unit is light, unobtrusive and simplicity itself —all adjustments are done within its software partner, the AmpliTube app. And that’s perhaps the real beauty of the iRig; like Apple, IK Multimedia controls the hard ware and software—the whole widget—and can therefore make sure the duo works seamlessly together.
Similar set-ups have been around before for use with a Mac: Griffin’s iMic, for instance. And more recently, I’ve used an M-Audio USB interface for the same purpose. None of these, however, is nearly as elegant and portable as the iRig. And none of those older solutions provides such easy access to an array of virtual amplifiers as AmpliTube. The free version, available for both the iPhone/iPod rouch and iPad, comes with 24 gear models with more available through in-app purchases. The US$20 version boasts 160 pieces of gear including vintage and classic rigs. The company says there are 51 individual stompboxes and effects, 31 amplifier preamp & power sections, 46 speaker cabinet models, 15 high end stage and studio mics, and 17 post amp rack effects. A free Fender amplifier is also available as a separate app. Unfortunately, the apps are not Universal; pay $20 for the iPad version and you’ll still need to pony up an additional $20 for your iPhone. It’s a trend that seems to be waning, but is still all-too prevalent with iOS apps in general.
I found the sound quality to be quite good, with the various amps, stompboxes and dials options providing responsive and realistic adjustments to the instrument’s sound. And since there are few things more boring than an unaccompanied bass solo, I was glad to see the app can import songs from the iPod app to play along with. (The iOS architecture doesn’t allow the songs to be access directly, thus the requirement to import them into AmpliTube.)
Happily, the AmpliTube app now has the ability to record your sessions, so your bravura performances can be saved for posterity. That means the iRig isn’t merely an amp in your pocket, it’s a whole recording studio.
The software is simply gorgeous: elegant, richly detailed and functional, using a metaphor of photo-realistic equipment, including amps, mics, stompboxes and even reel-to-reel recording equipment. It’s lovely without going overboard or getting in the way of functionality.
At $40, the AmpliTube iRig is a downright no-brainer for any bass (or guitar) playing i-device owner, and its feature-rich companion app opens a whole world of rigs to try. It makes rehearsing so convenient I’m tempted to start up another band.