IK Multimedia will need little by way of introduction to most iOS music makers and their catalogue of both software and hardware products aimed at the iOS musician is an impressive one. I’ve reviewed a good number of their products here on the Music App Blog over the last few years and the most recent hardware item was the iRig Acoustic mic/pickup system designed (surprise, surprise!) with acoustic guitar players in mind.
I was suitably impressed with the iRig Acoustic hardware. It provides a very simple, and very cost effective, means of getting the sound of your acoustic guitar (or ukulele) into your iOS hardware and, from there, on to either your live sound system or your recording software. And, while it uses the headphone jack of your iOS hardware for input/output (although it is flexible enough to allow you to use an alternative audio interface if you prefer), the audio quality is actually pretty decent…. and certainly a match for using a budget mic in a room where the acoustics might not be ideal for guitar recording in the first place.
Released alongside the iRig Acoustic hardware is AmpliTube Acoustic and, as the title suggests, this is an iOS music app in the vein of one of IKM’s biggest sellers to-date; AmpliTube. AmpliTube Acoustic is an acoustic guitar themed version of AmpliTube and, unsurprisingly, shares many features of the electric guitar orientated amp and effects modelling software.
The broad spec therefore includes amp modelling, stompbox effects and a number of IAPs that can add multi-track audio recording, a 4-track looper, an advanced tuner (a standard tuner is included), a drum loop tool (this comes as standard with a small selection of loops but you can add more via IAP packs). Also included are Audiobus and IAA support and the ability to control certain functions of the app via MIDI using (for example,) an external controller such as the iRig BlueBoard.
The standard version of AmpliTube is well established and I’ve reviewed it here before as well as covering the numerous updates and additions it has received over the last few years. I’ll not repeat all that detail here, therefore, but instead I’ll focus on the elements of the new app that are specifically aimed at the acoustic guitar player. For the record, the app requires iOS8.0 or later, is universal, a 430MB download at is currently priced at UK£7.99.
With or without you
As mentioned in the iRig Acoustic review, the hardware pickup system and the AmpliTube Acoustic app are designed to be used together but you can also use them independently of each other should you prefer. So, for example, the iRig Acoustic pickup can be used directly into something like a DAW (as I did with Cubasis when reviewing the hardware) and AmpliTube Acoustic can be used with a different means of getting your acoustic guitar sound into the app (for example, via a pickup already built into your acoustic guitar or via a microphone).
However, when used together, the combination does allow AmpliTube Acoustic to use one very interesting trick it offers; input calibration. A little wizard guides you through the process, and you can save as many different calibrations as you like, but the app simply gets you to strum the open strings of your instrument and then ‘calibrates’ the incoming sound to achieve a suitably pleasant sound. I’ve no idea quite what the input is calibrated against but the idea is to avoid some of the common gremlins (such as a boxy or boomy sound) that often befall acoustic guitars when recording.
And, in the main, it seems to work very well. I did have to repeat some calibration attempts when the calibration didn’t seem to want to get the input level set correctly and I ended up with a very overloaded sound but, otherwise, this is a pretty painless experience and I have to say produced some very useable results with both steel strung and nylon strung acoustics.
In terms of the virtual kit modelled within AmpliTube acoustic, there is perhaps less of it than in the electric versions of AmpliTube. You get three different amps – two solid state and one tube-based – each of which includes one or two different effects options such as reverb, chorus or delay built into the amp itself. The amps all sound good when used with the straight sound of the acoustic delivered from the iRig Acoustic (or via a different audio input) with, as you might expect, the tube model giving a slightly warmer sound than the two solid state models.
In addition, there are a number of virtual stompboxes. While these include both graphic and parametric EQ and a compressor, the others are perhaps a little more specific to the acoustic theme. So, for example, there is a 12-string emulator pedal that applies some pitch-shifting to create a 12-string jangle from a 6-string input and a Bass Maker that adds an octave below pitch-shifted signal. This is good fun if you are just playing some riffs and want to emulate a bass guitar. It includes volume controls for both the dry signal and the pitch-shifted signal so you can balance the two sounds easily or, if you want, just hear the ‘bass’. Not really one to use if you are strumming chords though…. :-)
However, perhaps the most interesting option is the Body Modeler. Nope, this doesn’t turn your less than well-tuned stomach into a rippling six pack but, instead, will allow you to change the character of your acoustic guitar into something a little different. The models supported include a couple of different dreadnoughts, a parlor guitar (slightly smaller body style), a jumbo (slightly bigger) and a ‘classic’ (nylon strung) guitar. You specify both the source guitar that most closely matches the actual guitar you are using and the target guitar (the model that you want the guitar to sound like) and the app then allows you to blend in the transformed sound with the dry signal.
How well does this work? Well, I’m not sure it is up to the same standard as, for example, the dedicated guitar modelling found in something like the Line 6 Variax guitars, but it is interesting technology to find in an app that costs about the same as a fast food lunch and a large fizzy drink. Within a mix, the sounds work well enough. However, if the guitar is isolated or exposed within a more sparse arrangement, some artefacts from the processing may well be audible. Used live, within the audio clutter of a gig situation, you might find the results are good enough to get away with and, whether it’s the 12-string or bass modelling, or turning one acoustic guitar into another, there are some interesting tonal changes that you can create.
The occasional calibration issue aside, I had no technical difficulties using AmpliTube Acoustic. I did most of my testing via Audiobus, sending the output of the app into Cubasis to record the results. However, I also used the app via IAA with Cubasis as my IAA host. The advantage of the latter is that it allows you to record the ‘dry’ acoustic guitar signal (via the iRig Acoustic hardware) into Cubasis and then experiment with AmpliTube Acoustic’s various modelling options to tweak your tone after the fact. Either way, however, the app performed very smoothly.
Of the various additional features that are also found in the other AmpliTube apps, the Loop Drummer is actually quite useful and, for personal practice or a quick dose of song writing, it could be a useful tool (and therefore worth spending a little on the extra loop content IAPs) for singer-songwriter types. I haven’t tried the Looper IAP (UK£7.99) but, while no where near as well featured as, for example, Loopy HD or LoopTree, it would be an attractive choice if you are into using looping as part of your performance and wanted that feature built in rather than in a separate app. It can also be controlled/trigger via the iRig BlueBoard (or other MDI controller) so it might well be a viable live performance setup with a bit of suitable practice. Oh, and used in that context, there is also a feedback ‘killer’ effect that can be switched on. I didn’t get the chance to try this in anger but it could be a useful option to have when gigging.
My personal application for the app – alongside the iRig Acoustic hardware – would be in a recording context though and, as I stated earlier, I think the hardware makes what can be a tricky job pretty easy. It produces very solid results given the modest price. The AmpliTube Acoustic app isn’t essential for using the hardware but it does open up a number of further possibilities. While I’m not sure exactly what it is doing (although I guess it mostly involves EQ) the app’s calibration process does seem to squeeze a bit of additional gloss out of the pickup. I also like the Bass Maker effect and, although the jury might still be out in terms of the 12-string and Body Modeler effects when used in a recording context (fine in a busy mix, less so if exposed), it will be very interesting to see just how far the potential of the modelling can be taken as the app develops further over time.
The bottom line, however, is that AmpliTube Acoustic does a good job and means you can get just that bit more in terms of shaping your acoustic guitar tone from an investment made in the iRig Acoustic hardware.
The is nothing new in terms of the basic AmpliTube structure here but the modelling within the app is different and very much focussed on the acoustic player. The basic amp and effects options work well and, used with the iRig Acoustic hardware, make it very easy to get a solid acoustic guitar sound into your iOS device whether that’s for recording or live performance. For a budding singer-songwriter wanting a no fuss solution for demoing songs, this is an easy way to capture your guitar parts. No, not million buck studio quality but way better than you might expect given the price of both hardware and software.
I’m intrigued by the 12-string and Body Modelling options and this sort of technology, while not unknown elsewhere (Line 6 are probably the best know exponents of it), is perhaps not yet quite as convincing when heard in isolation. It’s nice to have – and I’d be surprised if it could not be developed further with time – but, right now, it is perhaps interesting potential rather than utterly convincing.
If you are buying an iRig Acoustic to record your acoustic guitars then I think the extra investment in AmpliTube Acoustic is well worth the investment and the two work very well together. For those using something other than iRig Acoustic for guitar recording (for example, by micing up a guitar) then perhaps AmpliTube Acoustic is not an essential purchase. That said, at the current asking price, it will not break the bank either and does offer a useful collection of tools aimed at the acoustic player; it could certainly make for a useful addition and provide some extra tone shaping options.
AmpliTube Acoustic is a welcome addition to the AmpliTube range. It has obvious appeal for any acoustic guitar player who also happens to use iOS within their music making process but, if you have already considered investing in the iRig Acoustic hardware, then the app would make for an excellent addition. Maybe not quite ‘essential’ for all iOS acoustic guitar players but the hardware/software combination is most certainly an attractive one for those looking for a low-cost, no fuss, means of getting acoustic guitars recorded to their iOS DAW.