By Mike Riley on Wed, 11/09/2011
IK Multimedia has been a company on a roll lately, with a slew of hardware and software products tailored for amateur and prosumer musicians. Whether its stands and clips for iPhones and iPads or multitrack recording and sampling software for the iOS platform, IK has been expanding their catalog at a prodigious rate. Their latest releases include a MIDI hardware connector for the iOS platform, a sound sampler app and a iPad version of their popular VocaLive software. This review will take a closer look at each.
IK has remained consistent in its approach to hardware released in tandem with software that leverages the inputs and outputs that the new hardware has to offer. In the case of iRig MIDI, the iPhone or iPad can now be used to connect to and control other MIDI devices on the chain. A typical scenario for this arrangement would be to queue up a program like Apple's Garageband or IK Multimedia's own SampleTank (see review below) to trigger external MIDI-enabled instruments ranging from drum machines to stage lighting. Given the fact that every serious digital musical instrument has a MIDI port onboard, the ability to control and interact with all these devices from an iPad, whether live or in the studio, is truly power at your fingertips.
Hooking up the iRig MIDI is a snap - just plug it into the iPhone or iPad's interface port, launch SampleTank or Garageband and you're ready to rock. I also appreciated the fact that the iRig MIDI designers allowed me to power my iPhone/iPad during jams, courtesy of the onboard micro USB port (located on the left side of the iRig MIDI) and included a micro USB cable for me to plug into a powered USB port.
Given how small the iRig MIDI hardware is (about the size of a matchbook), the standard headphone plug to MIDI DIN connector cables actually take up more space. And as anyone familiar with MIDI would expect, the iRig MIDI features MIDI IN, OUT and THRU connections, allowing your iPad to link practically anywhere in your MIDI equipment chain. There are also LED's on the iRig MIDI that blink when data activity is occurring on the respective MIDI connection.
If you need MIDI control of your iPad or want it to be a participant in MIDI trigger events with other instruments on your MIDI bus, the iRig MIDI interface is a must have.
Like the AmpliTude iPhone app designed to work with the original iRig guitar effects adapter, or VocaLive for IK's iRig Mic, SampleTank is an app made for iRig MIDI. SampleTank is similar to Garageband in that sample loops can be triggered for real-time jams. But what really makes SampleTank powerful, especially when the tank is topped off with the full $39.99 in-app purchase of over 400 instrument samples, is the fact that you are literally carrying around a full blown, very powerful sampler/synthesizer in your pocket.
While SampleTank provides access to a small (er, very small) section of a keyboard for one-handed jamming, the app shines when iRig MIDI joins the picture, as a full-sized MIDI keyboard can connect in and drive the samples with all the expressiveness you would expect from a sampler. It's a remarkable experience when it works, and even more mind-blowing when you consider that this kind of configuration costs a fraction of what a similar arrangement would have cost a few years ago (and it's unlikely that such a setup would have been as portable, compact and as fully featured as the iRig MIDI+SampleTank have to offer).
About the only thing missing from SampleTank is the ability to MIDI record your jams within SampleTank. Recording is possible via a iRig MIDI Recorder, a free program available in the App Store. But it would have been especially convenient if iRig MIDI Recorder's functionality were available to SampleTank as well. But I suppose that if you're already connecting a full-sized external MIDI keyboard to drive SampleTank, you probably already have a MIDI recording application running on your keyboard synth or computer that is running software ready to capture/control MIDI events anyway.
VocaLive for iPad
Being well acquainted with the VocaLive app originally released for the iPhone when the IK Multimedia's iRig Mic came on the market several months ago (check out my original review of VocaLive for the iPhone), I didn't have high expectations for what the iPad version had to offer. After all, wasn't it going to simply be resized graphic treatment? Boy was I wrong. The design engineers at IK have not only recreated the UI from scratch but how I ever got used to using this app on the iPHone is beyond me. Moving from VocaLive for the iPhone to VocaLive for the iPad felt like moving from a tiny, crowded apartment to a spacious, palatial mansion. The extra screen real estate on an app like this cannot be overstated. Vocalists will absolutely love this iPad-optimized experience. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me that VocaLive for the iPad will become one of the most frequently used programs for iPad-owning vocalists.
The new iPad version brings several other enhancements beyond the greatly improved and highly accessible interface. Unlike the iPhone release that only supported 4-track multi-recording ability, the iPad edition supports up to 8-track multi-recording, allowing vocalists to layer harmonies that rival Enya's rich harmonic choirs.
Other VocaLive for iPad features include 12 vocal effects (choir, morph, double, reverb, delay, etc.) with 50 factory presets, built-in metronome and a voice cancel function that eliminates vocal tracks from existing recordings. You can queue up recordings from your synced iTunes library or use VocaLive's built-in file transfer agent to copy audio files into VocaLive's file store.
Product: VocaLive for iPad
Developer: IK Multimedia
Cost: $19.99 + in-app purchases
Rating: 5/5 stars
Both SampleTank and VocaLive can each be extended via in-app purchases. In the case of SampleTank, individual categories of sounds can be purchased for $$. IK also offers the entire library of sounds for $39.99. Likewise, recording functionality can be unlocked in the VocaLive app for $14.99. While both apps can be used in tandem with IK's hardware companions without these additional in-app upgrades, serious users will eventually discover that they won't get very far without these enhancements. Consequently, budget your purchase accordingly. In the case of iRig MIDI and the full compliment of SampleTank sounds, the total expense for the full package is around $120, and for VocaLive for iPad with 8-track recording ability and the iRig Mic will cost just under $90. But compared to the more traditional, purpose-built musical equipment from pre-iOS days, these costs are actually a bargain as anyone who considers themselves a serious musician knows.
IK Multimedia has become the go-to hardware and software company for discerning musicians determined to use their iOS devices to the fullest extent. I can't wait to see what musical enhancements that the design wizards at IK come up with next!