Thursday, June 10, 2010

iPhone/iPod Virtual Amp Race

Look's like it's on. IK Multimedia just announced their Amplitube iRig for the iPhone/iPod.

Back in March PRS started sending out press releases for their Jam Amp/Guitarbud combo which gives you a virtual amp, play-along capability, recording and a tuner. It looks simple enough -- there's a 1/4" input for your instrument cable, a minijack input for your headphones and a minijack plug for your iPhone or iPod Touch that allows it to process your signal and send it back to you.

I thought it was a good idea when I first heard about it. I had always looked wistfully at the Waves iGTR and thought about picking one up for its convenient form factor, but I never really liked the sound of it or the way the controls were laid out. I have a Vox DA5 for a practice amp and already feel cramped by it on the effects front despite it having a lot of useful effect combinations and three tweakable parameters for each. The iGTR limited you to three each from amps, filters and time effects and gave you only one parameter for each. The results being that everything sounded overprocessed and artificial to my ear. PRS took things a step farther than the iGTR by just using the iPhone/iPod hardward, adding an input for your instrument and letting you purchase the amp software in the app store.

Great idea, but the app/hardware got fairly mixed reviews. I took these with a grain of salt because I know that a lot of users don't have the patience to troubleshoot and tweak things in order to make it work and the bad reviews could just mean that a good product had a steeper learning curve than your average iPod. What made me pass on it, however, was that I was looking for a little more tonal flexibility than a single virtual amp with no effects could deliver.

The iRig, meanwhile, gives you the option of a free model with one amp and three effects, a low cost lite version with one amp, five effects and the option of plugging in more a la carte, or the full version which has eleven effects and five amps and looks to be very tweakable:

I'm going to be replacing my cell soon with an iPhone, which means my old iPod Touch will be free. I'll wait for the first reviews to come in (or the first big sale) before getting it, but this looks really promising. I'm hoping that this is just the first wave of a bunch of new virtual amp options for smartphones and mp3 players.

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