Wednesday, June 30, 2010

iPhone Guitar - Hardware Matters

I've been thinking about my last entry and the iRig, and one of the things I've realized since I last posted is that the iPhone/iPod market will be a lot like the desktop virtual amp market in that you should probably consider your hardware and software solutions separately, to an extent, and weigh your hardware choices more carefully than your software choices. Here's why.

I do not for a second regret the $49 I spent on my Toneport GX when it was on clearance. It has limited input options, (a single standard TRS input), and the enclosed Gear Box software, (since upgraded for free by Line6 to Pod Farm), is not the best sounding or most versatile on the market. Still, just getting the USB interface allowed me to try out and play with most of the other software on the market for an absurdly low entry cost given what I got for it. And the GX gives me a low-latency, line level input device.

Input level and latency are going to be huge for portable applications. Every complaint I have heard about the PRS Jam Amp/Guitarbud seems to be related to one of these -- either that there is too much latency in the signal or that the signal craps out and becomes unusable as soon as the level gets too high, (and woe to all who have high output or active pickups in their guitars). No matter what the software is like, if the signal from the instrument isn't useable then there's nothing that the software can do to fix it. This is doubly true of portable applications because the memory and processing speeds are much more limited than they are for desktop applications. And, unlike desktop applications, you aren't likely going to want to carry around any additional gear with your iPhone/iPod rig to get it to sound better. It defeats the purpose of all that portability.

My guess is that a signal input that works with one set of iPhone guitar amp software will likely work with any other as well. It has to work with the internals of the phone itself and that is going to limit proprietary approaches substantially. This means that whatever hardware you get now will likely work for the near term no matter what new and amazing software is developed.

Short answer conclusion: If you decide to make the jump into iPhone guitar stuff, get the best hardware you can and keep your software options open because those are going to change a lot faster than the input options.

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