August 23, 2011
Rather than relying on custom computer hardware the iPB-10 instead uses the same iPad architecture used by thousands of app developers to create a processing machine that you can plug right into a multi-fx pedalboard shell.
Since the introduction of the Apple iPad in 2010 an entirely new market of music tools have cropped up in the iPad’s wake—from tuners to recording apps and even amp modeling apps.
DigiTech has harnessed the power of the iPad and coupled it with their expertise in the pedal world to create the iPB-10 Programmable Pedalboard. Rather than relying on custom computer hardware the iPB-10 instead uses the same iPad architecture used by thousands of app developers to create a processing machine that you can plug right into a multi-fx pedalboard shell. The combination of high quality touch display, iPad horsepower and Digitech’s modeling software—the iPB-Nexus app—creates an all-in-one amp and pedalboard combo that’s ready to rock the studio or stage.
If It Looks Like a Pedalboard
The iPB-10 consists of three separate parts; the physical pedalboard unit, your iPad, and the iPB Nexus app. The pedalboard itself is metal and rock solid, and the iPad is installed by lifting a protective latch, which reveals a power connector. Once the iPad is in place and the cover is lowered the iPad becomes the display and focal point of the unit.
On the left of the iPad are two stomp switches labeled Stomp and Amp. To the right of the iPad you’ll find Up and Down switches for selecting from the effects banks and a small LED display above that denotes what banks have been selected. Below the iPad are two rows of five stomp switches. The top bank is labeled A-E and the bottom is 1-5. All stomp switches have an adjacent red LED indicator to indicate activity. On the far right of the unit is an attached expression pedal that is used for volume, wah, whammy and other effects.
The back of the unit includes a guitar input, an amp loop consisting of send and return jacks plus a ground lift switch (very handy), and a stomp loop with send and return jacks. Next to that are stereo ¼” outputs with an amp/mixer switch for proper output matching as well as dual XLR outputs with a ground lift switch. There’s also an output volume pot along with a stereo 1/8” headphone jack, footswitch jack, USB output for direct recording to a DAW via USB, and a 9V power input. The included power supply is a lump-in-the-line 9V, 2amp that is capable of powering the iPB-10 anywhere in the world with the included adapters.
The iPB-Nexus app is free and can be downloaded from the App Store on the iPad. No copy protection or serial number/activation code is necessary as the pedalboard itself is required for true functionality.
Setup and iPB-Nexus
Having the iPad as a display is a thing of beauty and this is without question the best looking multi-fx display I’ve seen to date. The app is laid out very clearly with the amp model on top and five pedals displayed below. The bank and patch number along with the name of the patch are clearly labeled on the top left of the screen. Touching on an amp, cabinet or FX pedal immediately brings up a choice of all available options.
There are 54 amps, 26 cabs and 87 pedals to choose from. And because the iPad is a touch screen all parameters are controllable by touching and dialing them in. A built-in tuner mutes the volume when in use, a volume icon that allows you to easily adjust the volume of your presets, and a Settings page displays app and firmware versions as well as tuning reference and output level controls.
The help system is built right into the app so if you ever get lost the manual is just a touch away. You can also use the MyTones section of the app to search for tones via a variety of criteria to make it easy to locate a preset.
So Many Sounds
After firing up the App Store and installing the Nexus app, which took about two minutes, I was ready to go. To hear what the models sounded like without the aid of an amp I plugged the mono output of the iPB into my Creation Audio Labs MW1 Studio tool (my go-to direct box/reamper) and auditioned the sound through Pro Tools on my studio monitors. There are 100 presets to choose from (banks 1-20, switches 1-5 for each bank) so there was plenty to check out. With each preset you get a single amp and cab with five pedals customized for that particular preset. Although the models are not labeled with the exact name of the amp the model emulates, it’s obvious enough what each one is.
The amp models all exhibit resemblances to their inspirations. But for the most part, the higher the gain, the grainer the tone. The cleaner amps fared better in terms of note clarity but in general, the models are less full-bodied than the sound of a real amp—at least through monitors. Plugging into an amp warmed up the sound up considerably and really made the iPB-10 tones more believable.
Editing the presets by changing out the amp and cabinet was a blast. A touch of the screen revealed the amp choices and touching the amp immediately replaced the old one with the new. The same went for the cabinets and because changes are immediately audible, it’s easy to compare and select the right one for a given musical setting. The speaker cabinets do not offer a choice of microphones or microphone placement, so what you hear is what you get for a given amp sound. The pedals fared better in terms of accuracy. The Whammy pedal, for instance, was remarkably close in to my own Whammy pedal. Choruses were all fairly lush as were other modulation effects like phasers and tremolo. The overdrive/gain/distortion pedals were mostly effective but could tend toward harsh in high gain situations.
Plugged into an amp, I decided to try out the effects pedals only, and it’s in this setting that you get a feel for the benefits of adding a programmable pedalboard. For starters, there’s no tangle of cabling. And for the traveling musician that doesn’t want to lug pedals this is a less cumbersome alternative. I wouldn’t say the pedals fared as well as their hardware counterparts in the amped environment. But the sheer number available and the ability to store them as presets and arrange them in any order is very handy. With 87 pedals available there are certainly enough options to create a huge number of effects tones.
The iPad interface puts a lot of bonus functionality at your fingertips. A very good built-in help system is available at the touch of an icon, as is a tuner and a volume/settings page. The tuner is adequate but I would have liked to see it a little more refined—there were several times I didn’t feel the guitar was truly in tune.
The MyTones page enabled me to build presets very easily and arrange the pedals in any order to make the best use of the signal chain. The flexibility in software is a definite plus, especially for somebody in a cover band who needs to call up a new sound for each song.
While I’m a tone purist, I’m also a realist. And while the iPB-10 may not replace your Tweed Deluxe and vintage Fuzz Face in the studio, if you’re a traveling guitarist or a bar band trying to cover a lot of stylistic range, the iPB-10 and a good clean amp might be all you need. You can also easily plug direct into the PA and play a gig with minimal fuss.
Given the improvements in affordable modeling technology, it’s easy to see this type of system becoming more and more popular and accessible. It’s super efficient, self-contained and simple to work with. Given that, it’s easy to see how the iPB-10 could become a go-to solution for guitarists for years to come.
you own an iPad and like the convenience of an all-in-one amp/pedal system.
you’re a purist that needs authentic tube amp goodness.
Street $499 - DigiTech - digitech.com