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May 2014
more... iOSGearHow-TosRecording TipsRecordingNew GearApril 2012

iPhone Recording App Roundup

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Positive Grid Jamup Plug and Jamup Pro App

Ratings

Pros:
Great tones. Brilliant interface. massive amps and effects library.

Cons:
JamUp Plug has noise, fidelity, and construction-quality issues.

Tones:

Ease of Use:

Materials:

Value:

Street:
$19.99

Company
positivegrid.com

JamUp Plug is compatible with:
• iPhone 4S, 4, 3GS, and 3
• iPod Touch 4th gen.
• iPad and iPad2
JamUp Pro works on iOS 4.3 or later

The amp and effects models on offer in JamUp Pro’s smartly laid-out interface are well voiced, with surprisingly full dynamic ranges, consistent output levels across a range of gain levels, and a playability that you have to experience to appreciate.

Even just dialing through the presets— “Awesome Clean,” “UK 30 Sparkle,” “800 Lead,” and others—I found plenty of useful, musical tones. And the smart-gate settings mean these sounds are much quieter than virtually any other amp app. Kudos are also due for the excellent reverb sounds, from digital ’verbs to a very convincing vintage spring—it’s hard enough to find great spring reverbs on a full-blown rig, but a tiny iPhone? That’s remarkable.

To edit presets, you touch back to the Amp/FX menu, and the controls for each given amp and effect appear across the bottom of the screen. JamUp Pro displays horizontally, so you tilt the phone sideways, which I’d argue means a broader, easier page for edit adjustments, though some may prefer the vertical layout. A quick double-tap on anything in your signal chain—amps, effects, etc.—produces a menu of options for each. There are six amps and quite a few pedals in the app when you first download it, but I’d recommend stocking up on the many effects and amps Positive Grid offers as in-app purchases. From lively, spongy takes on Bogner, Orange, Hiwatt, Fender, Boogie, and Vox, there’s a surplus of amp riches here. Effects? You get rich, thick modulations, believable tape-echo with adjustable heads, spacious digital reverbs— and they’re all very easy to edit. The Noise Gate pedal really cleans things up beautifully when you’ve gone a little crazy on the distortions.

Another couple of big pluses: JamUp Pro makes it easy to alter your signal path. So you can, say, place effects before or after the amp, try out delays before distortions, and experiment with any unusual path you can dream up. Also, the app’s Jam feature allows you play along with any song in your iTunes library. You can even use the onboard controls to slow down the tempo without altering the pitch, or modulate the pitch and/or key—and you don’t need to buy another app to do it!

Just as cool, JamUp Pro’s Sampler makes it easy to create, load, and store guitar loops—it’s like having a JamMan or Boomerang on your iPhone. One caveat: It would be nice to be able to trigger the metronome after you start recording your loop rather than only beforehand. In all, though, JamUp Pro is an absolute essential for the traveling guitarist—and you will almost certainly find yourself using it at home, too.

Given the app’s strengths, I wish I could be as effusive about the JamUp Plug itself. Although it’s certainly a reasonably priced interface, it’s a bit too flimsy to do justice to the JamUp Pro app, and that’s too bad. Because it connects to your iOS device’s headphone jack instead of the 30-pin connector, it just can’t squeeze through as many dynamics. And despite its line-level output, the sounds clearly suffer from crosstalk and bad conversion. You’re far better off trying JamUp Pro through an interface with better input capabilities and third-party app compatibility. Such a combination will make JamUp Pro—possibly the deepest and finest amp/effects app on the market—sound as good as it’s capable of sounding.

Apogee Jam and Apple GarageBand App

Ratings

Pros:
Jam offers clean sound and a gain control. GarageBand is genius.

Cons:
Jam is too light and not very sturdy.

Tones:

Ease of Use:

Materials:

Value:

Street:
$99

Company
apple.com

Apogee Jam is compatible with:
• iPhone 4S and 4
• iPad and iPad2
Apple GarageBand works on iOS 4.3 or later

The Apogee name carries a lot of weight in pro-engineering circles, so when Apogee jumped into the consumer game with the ultra-lightweight Jam, it definitely got some attention. Still, given the success of the Apogee Duet2 interface—an acclaimed project-studio-oriented, 2-channel I/O optimized for Macs—perhaps it wasn’t a great stretch to address the growing portable music market, too.

Apogee’s US-made Jam certainly makes the company’s entry into the smartphone field a competent one. The lightweight plastic housing is highly portable, but it’s not rugged, and I would hesitate before tossing this into my gig bag, frankly. (Perhaps a small, sturdy case would help?) The Jam connects to your iPhone or iPad via an included 30-pin cable, which is good for sonic fidelity, though it actually makes it harder to keep things in place. Without grips or a direct connection to your device, it’s hard to keep the Jam in a stable position, because the weight of your guitar cable alone can pull your iPhone and Jam off the table and onto the floor. Some kind of grip or clip system would be nice, and presumably the included Velcro is meant to remedy this, but how—by attaching the Jam to your iOS device? Not going to happen!

To its credit, the Jam sounds very clean, and there’s really no configuration required. It doesn’t have its own headphone jack, however, so you’ll have to use your device’s instead. To use the Jam as a 1-channel input device to a Mac, you use the included USB cable and choose “Jam” as your input device in GarageBand, Logic, or another DAW, just as you would any other audio I/O. As previously mentioned, the Jam’s sonic qualities suggest quality converters—Apogee calls it PUREDigital. We just call it low-noise, with 40 dB of variable gain. And the inclusion of a physical input gain control on the Jam’s side flank is a nice touch, too.

While the Jam is a nice interface—if slightly overpriced, given the materials—the app that Apogee recommends you use with it, Apple’s GarageBand, is a minor miracle. Perhaps it’s Apple’s sheer economic might that lets it get away with only charging five bucks for what is, essentially, a complete 8-track audio and intelligent MIDI recording system, with myriad modeled vintage keyboards, basses, guitar amps and effects pedals, drums and drum machines, an onboard sampler(!), as well as loop-based features (including some 250 drum loops), Smart and Touch instruments, and mixdown tools. Did I say five bucks?

The guitar section alone includes nine amp models (tweeds, silverfaces, Vox-style, vintage Marshall-style, Rectifier-style, and more) and 10 stompbox effects, from the super-mod Treble Boost to the quirky Auto-Funk. All of them provide more-than-reasonable facsimiles, and the good-looking graphics are backed up by control views that beef up the size of knobs and sliders for easy editing. GarageBand does offer an input level control that’s smartly partnered with a noise gate to keep your sounds clean and mean. There’s also a reliable onboard tuner. The bottom line is that it’s a fun, highly creative tool that may even help you capture keeper tracks for an album.

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