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Amplitube has alway been widely recognized as a premier tone shaping plug-in and stand alone application that has pretty much become synonymous with all things associated with digital recording.  IK Multimedia has now taken their tried and true GrooveMaker formula and applied it to Amplitube.  Aimed at guitarists and bass players, Amplitube and the iRig connector effectively transform your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad into a very portable and convenient practice studio. Before I get to into the review, let me first say that this application doesn’t have any multi-tracking.  As much as I wanted it to, it is purely for practicing and jamming along with your favorite MP3′s.

Anybody that’s familiar with the several Groovemaker applications available will feel right at home with Amplitube.  The design is near flawless with it’s ease of use and friendly interface directives.  The sliders feel smooth and navigating the application really couldn’t be easier.  The graphics are representative and clear, never allowing you to feel like you’ve led yourself astray through navigational choices.  For those that may be new to this sort of thing, there is a fair amount of help and a whole demo embedded within the App to get you where you need to be. The iRig 1/4 Inch to 1/8th Inch adapter (purchased separately) is the liaison between your guitar and the iPhone.  Super simple, it plugs right in and works as soon as the App is booted up.  The whole piece has a nice matte finish to the plastic and it is almost weightless.

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As far as performance goes, Amplitube is a sure fire winner.  I didn’t notice any such latency and everything about the App responded in a moments notice.  There was some slow down here and there when loading stomp boxes and amps but it it wasn’t too bothersome all things considered.  One thing I did run into was that you need to extend the auto-shutdown time of your phone as I ran into some issues with Amplitube not knowing what was going on.  It does in fact work with the screen shut down (see pic below) but there were times when weird and pervasive digital noise invaded the headphones upon screen shut down.  It was very unsettling, so watch out.  Other than that, I was impressed with how Amplitube dealt with the live conversion from analog to digital and most guitar players will agree that they’d never imagined playing guitar so smoothly on their IPhones.

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The biggest disappoint for me was the quality of the sound reproduction.  Way too digital.  For the sake of reference, I was using an ESP LTD Viper 400 with Active EMG 81 Pick-Ups.  A decently “hot” guitar, I was also using a pair of Sony MDR-7504 Headphones as monitors.  At no point was I blown away by the tones produced through Amplitube.  However, knowing what you’re doing will definitely help you get the most out of Amplitube and the iRig.  Trying to get a suitable clean tone while using the Metal Amp isn’t going to work and vice-versa.  You can chain three effects simultaneously in conjunction with an Amp set-up, your cabinet of choice, and either a dynamic or condenser microphone.  I liked the Clean and Metal Amp set-ups the best.  Crunch and Lead Amps were filed in the “whatever” category but it will largely depend on what type of guitarist your are.  I got some real heavy Stoner Metal style tones out of the Crunch Amp but it was rather muddy and useless for more precise and technical playing.  Most all clean tones sounded OK with occasional distortion appearing when the strings were hit harder.

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If you want to jam along with some of your favorite songs, you can import up to 20 tunes wirelessley provided that your phone and computer share the same wireless network.  The app gives you and IP address for you to input into your URL, and then you upload the tracks from there.  Overall the process was easy and painless.  The preferred format is MP3 but I had no trouble booting up an Mpeg-4.  Once the track is in the App it just takes a moment to expand and then it’s forever yours.

All the effects sounded as they should with some being better than others.  The wah pedal effect was a bit weak but the envelope filter and octave pedals were killer.  The noise suppressor is totally essential and without it your are going to be hearing your fair share of digital hiss, so you need to incorporate it with all of your set ups.  When it came to distorted tones, the low gain ones were pretty unbalanced even when set at high gain.  During other set up experiments I couldn’t dial in enough treble and everything sounded like it was coming from the neck pick up.  They were all pretty harsh, but I honestly wasn’t expecting all that much given the fact that even my MacBook Pro can’t render live tones all that well (Amplitube Metal w/ Pro Tools LE).  Changing around the cabinets and microphones will definitely provide some much needed “scooping”, but by and large you are going to find a couple key tones and make them presets and stick with them, in which the App can hold up to 36.  It’s quite the astonishing feat that IK Multimedia has succeeded where it has with bringing live guitar to such a small device, and I’m interested in seeing if it will sound any better on the iPhone 4, as I did all my testing on an iPhone 3G and an iPad.  I didn’t notice any differences between the two minus the fact that Amplitube has yet to be optimized for the iPad’s larger screen.

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There are several choices one can make when buying Amplitube and the iRig.  The iRig itself will cost $39.99 when it is released in the first week of July, and there will be 3 different versions of Amplitube for you to consider.  The full version with all 11 stompboxes, 5 amps/cabinets, and 2 microphones will run you $19.99, whereas the LE version with 5 stompboxes, 1 amplifier/cabinet, and 2 microphones will cost $2.99.  Lastly, the Free version will contain 3 stompboxes, 1 amp/cabinet, and 2 microphones.  With either the LE or the Free versions, you are welcome to buy stomp boxes at an A La Carte price of $2.99 each.  None of the versions will work without the proprietary conversion of the iRig so you know.  You can also use the headphone input as an out to an amp but that sort of defeats the purpose of the App.  If I were me, I would buy the iRig and start with the Free version, as if I’m just jamming and not recording all I need is a clean and distorted channel without craving such effects as flange, phase, and delay.

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My overall impression of IK Multimedia’s Amplitube and iRig for the iPhone is one of vast applause.  Never has digital instrumentation been this accessible and innovative.  Even if the sound reproduction isn’t stellar, the impact of convenience and low to zero latency will surely standout.  I know that Line 6 has a similar product, but I’ve yet to test that one out.  While I would have greatly appreciated the inclusion of multi-tracking or tone sharing, I still think that Amplitube and iRig is a huge step forward for guitarists looking to keep their chops tight no matter where they are.  I can see this as being a great alternative for when you’re home for the holidays, away from your other rig, or practically anywhere you need to get your jam on.

Pros:

  • Zero to low latency
  • Quality user interface
  • Multiple options for the budget conscious

Cons:

  • Tone shaping
  • No multi-tracking










Jeff B