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One of the benefits of using recording interfaces and apps for iPhone and iPad is that they allow you to quickly lay down an melody or riff at a moment's notice without having to fumble around with setting up an entire recording rig. For most musicians the best musical ideas often pop into your head without warning, and losing that inspiration after 10 minutes of amp tweaking and mic placement can be extremely frustrating. And the absence of those hassles makes iOS guitar accessories attractive and useful for players who spend a lot of time on the road and away from their home studios.
We've taken a look at some of the most exciting new devices on the market—including interfaces (Griffin GuitarConnect Pro, Line 6 Mobile In, RapcoHorizon i-JAM 3-n-1, Tascam iXZ, Traveler MI-10), controllers (IK Multimedia iRig STOMP, Griffin StompBox) and microphones (Blue Mikey Digital, Tascam iM2X)—and tested their durability, sound quality, and whether they're really worth your hard-earned dollars.
Griffin GuitarConnect Pro Analog to Digital Interface
Griffin has been a player in the electronics accessories business for a long time—even when the iPhone’s ancestor Newton PDA was still kicking around. So they know a thing or two about designing rugged accessories for portable devices. The GuitarConnect Pro showcases their eye for detail with a slender, weighty and rubber-footed enclosure, single ¼" input jack, input gain knob and 30-pin connector for low-latency digital tracking (as of press time, Griffin has not announced a Lightning jack-compatible version). The connection to the dock gives the interface the ability to help track 24-bit sound at 48 kHz, and pull power from the connected Apple device. Sadly, there’s no USB through-put jack to charge the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch being used, so you’ll need to keep an eye on the device’s battery level while you’re recording.
As far as simple iOS interfaces go, the Guitar Connect Pro is one of the best on the market. It tracks the instrument’s signal perfectly, and its weighty build and thick rubber pad keep it from sliding across the table. I experienced no latency issues when tracking with GarageBand, and the app’s built-in modeling seemed to have extra sparkle and clarity with the interface than with most of the others in this roundup. Unfortunately, my iPad 2’s battery started to die while I was in the middle of a recording session, and I had to disconnect the cable to charge the tablet. A USB-through jack for simultaneous charging on the Guitar Connect Pro would have prevented that inspiration-killing moment.
Line 6 Mobile In
At half the length of a credit card, the Mobile In is one of the more portable devices in this roundup. It has no physical controls, and serves only as a barebones interface for apps that use Line 6’s CoreAudio technology (such as Mobile POD) via an included 1/8" to ¼" cable. The unit generates 24-bit/48kHz audio with a wide 110dB dynamic range. Latency is always a big concern when working with digital conversion and processing, so Line 6 designed the Mobile In to plug directly into the 30-pin jack of an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. This unfortunately leaves the iPhone 5, iPad Mini and the newest generation of iPads out in the cold due to their newer Lightning cable connections, but there’s always the possibility that Line 6 will introduce a Lightning-compatible version in the near future. And hopefully they’ll address the its lack of a USB-through jack for charging while in use, because resource-intense apps such as Mobile In and GarageBand can speed up battery drain quite a bit.
The Mobile In interfaces smoothly with the Mobile POD, displaying super-low latency, great dynamics with amp models and rock-solid stability. The Mobile POD app has a whopping 64 models including some of the most hallowed amps, cabs, and effects in history, and they’re as tweakable as those on bigger PODs. The sound quality and crispness of the amp models is exceptional, and they’re often near-dead ringers for the same models in full-sized PODs and Gearbox counterparts. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to record your own ideas with it through GarageBand or any other iOS DAW app. You can record directly to GarageBand with the Mobile In interface, but you can’t output the app’s tones to the GarageBand app, nor can you record them in Mobile POD and paste them elsewhere. It’s downright frustrating, and limits the potential of what could be an extremely useful recording tool. And for the price it commands, it should offer this kind of basic functionality.
RapcoHorizon i-JAM 3-n-1 Interface
The i-Jam not only serves as an interface for guitar and recording apps on iOS devices, it also functions as a standalone headphone amp and a jamming tool for playing over music stored on your Apple hardware. The aluminum casing is very sturdy, and it also features a belt clip for keeping it close if you’re moving around. It has a handy push button for telling Apple’s internal music player to instantly skip to the next track. The i-Jam is a completely passive device unless you’re using its headphone amp function, which pulls power from an internal 9V battery. Replacing the battery requires the use of a Phillips head screwdriver to pull off the back panel, which could be frustrating for players who don’t always have a toolset within arm’s reach. The i-Jam also includes all of the cables needed to get you started, including a ¼" instrument cable and a long, 1/8" – 1/8" cable to connect it to your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.
From a usability standpoint, the i-Jam is a wonderful option for players who need a quick and easy solution for on-the-go jamming. With a Stratocaster and an iPad pumping out some classic rock tunes, the i-Jam made it a breeze to play along silently without disturbing anyone who happened to be nearby. And if I grew tired of working on a particularly long tune (five minutes into King Crimson’s “Fracture” made my fingers feel like they were about to fall off), a quick tap of the i-Jam’s track skip button queued up the next song without any fuss.
The i-Jam also works well as a direct recording tool, provided that your iOS device isn’t running a ton of resource-heavy apps in the background. For the most part, I experienced no latency problems when tracking with GarageBand. But if I had a game and several apps running in the background, my tracks would often play back with digital glitiching and skips. This is probably partly attributable to the fact that i-Jam feeds its signal through the mic ring of the iOS device’s headphone jack rather than Apple’s data interface jack.