The "signature sound" that is the hallmark of any superstar band usually comes from using a particular guitar amplifier. AC/DC's Angus Young uses four Marshall stacks, the Beatles used VOX AC-30s and blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn was famous for tweaking a studio full of Fender amps before recording an album. Now anyone with an iRig connector, the AmpliTube app and an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad and a guitar can create their own signature sound at a fraction of the cost of the original hardware.
What is the iRig?
The iRig is a thumb-sized adapter that plugs these devices together, along with headphones or external speakers. The AmpliTube app (guitar amplifier and effects simulator software) gives you the digital equivalent of many thousands of dollars worth of the same sort of classic big name guitar amplifiers, microphones and effect pedals used by the rock stars, without needing a truck and a team of roadies to haul it around for you.
For our test we purchased the full version of the Amplitude version 2 for $23.99 from the iTunes store and installed it on an iPad. Although amp and effect simulators have been available on computers and in pro audio software for years, this is the first time we have seen so many quality sounds for portable device. The makers of AmpliTube 2 claim the new app has improved sound by adapting DSP (digital signal processing) technology derived from flagship desktop computer software AmpliTube 3 and T-RackS 3.
This full featured version of AmpliTube includes five amplifiers with virtual dials to shape the tone, reverb, and gain as well as five speaker cabinets, two microphones and the following effect pedals: Delay, fuzz, distortion, overdrive, wah, envelope filter, chorus, flanger, phaser, compressor, graphic EQ, parametric EQ, reverb, limiter, octave and a noise filter.
Wired for sound?
You can interchange up to four effects at once and store them with custom names in one of the 36 preset configurations. The makers of AmpliTube, IK Multimedia, have indicated that more (virtual) amps and effects will be available in the future.
Visually and aurally the five amps reflect the clean reverb and tremolo tones of Fender, the crunch sound of a Vox, lead sounds of Marshall as well as a heavy metal guitar and bass rig. The slick interface is easy to navigate and these classic amps and pedals look very much like their 'real' but unbranded cousins.
AmpliTube has recently announced a Fender Amplifier app version (soon to be released in Australia) of the software which includes the following amplifier and effect simulators: '65 Deluxe ReverbTM, the Super-SonicTM, the '65 Twin ReverbTM, the '59 BassmanTM LTD and the Pro JuniorTM, Tape Delay, Compressor, the Fender BlenderTM, FenderTM Phaser, Overdrive and Noise Filter. Its available for iPhone and iPad costs $14.99.
We achieved more realistic interpretation of classic guitar sounds by combining these amps with multiple speaker options (1 x 12", 2 x 12", 4 x 10", or 15") as well as the choice of two virtual microphones that change the tone of the sound.
You can listen to the iRig with headphones or plug it into a guitar amplifier, mixing desk or powered monitor speakers. It's a very quick way of emulating an array of guitar sounds that cover blues, rock, metal, funk and experimental.
Same but different
"Real" guitar amplifiers are made of solid state and/or tube (valve) electronics technology. The sound or tone between the two can vary greatly, as can the dynamics. Tube amplifiers are popular for their unique tonal qualities of "breaking up". This means you can strum a chord gently and get a soft undistorted sound or hit the strings hard to get a loud distorted or overdriven sound. Take a listen the our demo recordings below to decide for yourself how well the Amplitude app simulates a real amp's sounds and effects.
Software emulation of amplifier and guitar effects has come a long way. The apps sounds are so realistic you even get the hum and feedback that comes with distorted guitar effects and overdriven amplifiers, however there is a "Noise filter" and "no feedback" option to mute this.
We found that a big amplifier stack sounds realistic through a set of headphones. Looking for that elusive Hendrix tone? Try the lead amp with a large speaker cabinet, add a wah and fuzz pedal. Going for that country/rock sound? Try the tremolo, with some gain on the vintage tube amplifier. (See audio examples below)
Hang on? How can I swipe my iPad to control the wah pedal when I need two hands to play the guitar? You could try using your toes. Unfortunately there are currently no remote or external control pedals to control this setup with your feet so an auto wah is the best option in this case.
If you're keen to jam along with your favorite band, you can import up to 50 songs from iTunes as backing tracks directly from the iPod library on your device or your computer using file sharing or Wi-Fi. Learning those tricky guitar solos and chord progressions is easier with the ability to set loop points and slow down or speed up tracks (50-200%) without changing the pitch. Other handy tools include a chromatic guitar tuner and metronome.
Benefits of buying digital
The real strength of this portable setup on an iPad is the ability to easily adjust the knobs on the all the amps, effects and tools. By swapping the order of effects around and saving presets you can quickly experiment with a wide range of sounds and save them as presets for later use. Another handy feature is the ability to synchronise delay and flanger effects to the tempo or BPM (beats per minute) of the song you are playing.
AmpliTube version 2 comes with a recording and production studio built-in. This includes a single track recorder with re-amping capabilities. This will allow you to record and export your recordings and mixes as high quality audio files.
It is possible to expand the recording capabilities to enable a multi-track recorder with eight tracks and a master FX section with five effects (Reverb, Chorus, Delay, Compressor & Parametric EQ). This comes at an additional $17.99 as an in-app purchase.
Only one question remains, what would Jimi Hendrix do with one of these?
The iRig adaptor costs $59.95 and full version of Amplitude is $23.99 via iTunes and is also available as a free version.
We recorded three different styles of guitar music with the iRig and ampliTube as an example of the different sounds available.
Country - Effects used: Tremolo and reverb through a clean amp.
Funk - Left channel; clean vintage tube amplifier. Right channel; oscillation filter (reminiscent of Moog synthesizer).
Rock - Left channel; Rhythm guitar using overdriven classic amp. Right channel; Lead guitar overdrive with reverb and occasional delay.
Download the sample files. Funk, Rock and Country.