IK Multimedia iRig HD Review. The iRig HD is an excellent portable high quality A2D iOS interface that pairs with the AmpliTube App for outstanding production on the move.
With an history that spans almost fifteen years, it seems that not so long ago that IK Multimedia was announcing the release of the first real 'trend-setting' on-the-go recording solution to grace musicians wanting to make full use of Apple's iOS platform. Known as the 'iRIg', this small simple unit was really quite an revolutionary device that changed peoples perception of how music, and waves of inspiration, could be captured in a heart beat.
Now, in 2013, IK Multimedia have released a much more complex beast that they call the 'iRig HD'. Unlike its smaller brother, the iRig HD isn't just an input device that uses iOS devices microphone jack input to capture sound, it uses separate Digital Signal Processing (DSP) technology and it's own op amp to capture a much higher 'studio quality' sound that is fully useable beyond the sanction of any portable device.
Whilst I'm sure that the iRig HD has spent many a long time in an developmental stage, in many ways this 'HD' device is clearly IK Multimedia's attack move to reclaim some market share where competitors such as Line 6 and Apogee both recently released similar technologies named the (Line 6) 'Sonic Port' and (Apogee) 'Jam'. Without drawing any further parallels I would like to welcome you all to this iRig HD review, and hope that you enjoy our literary journey.
The iRig HD arrives in an attractive retail packaging that is not too dissimilar to that of what you would have seen with the previous iRig version. Proudly poking it's face through a clear window you are introduced to your new interface standing bold in black, adorned with the iRig name and its HD suffix counterpart. Notably the iRig HD has a compact form factor that easily increases the portability of the product, and being a device of this nature its physical dimensions are what we expected.
Opening the package appears to be quite a box of tricks that provides you with branded Lin Suiung connection cables in the form of the old style 30-Pin Apple docking cable, the modern lightning cable, and an USB cable for connecting the iRig HD to a Mac. Notably, the method in which the iRig HD connects to your device is via an rather long-in-the-tooth embedded PS/2 connector. Using this connection method does mean that if you happen to loose or fray the cables supplied then you will have to purchase an hardware specific cable direct from IK Multimedia. Due to the fact that this is designed to be a portable device does increase the chances of loosing cables so it just means that you have to be careful.
Specifications and Build Quality:
Similarly like many other devices, the iRig HD is currently only compatible with the iOS and Apple Mac related systems from iOS version 5.1 and Mac OS X 10.5 upwards. IK Multimedia guarantee that the iRig HD interface will work with the following hardware: All iPhone's from the 4 upwards, all iPod touches from the 4th generation upwards, all iPads generations including the Mini, and any Mac's running OS X with an spare USB port. The Pro Audio Web Blog has tested the iRig HD on an Mac Pro Early 2008, iPad 2, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S, and encountered no issues apart from predictable variables in battery drain and application processing speed. Although the input port features an guitar illustration and is in fact an 1/4" high impedance input, the iRig HD will support anything instrument you can throw at it, including any piezoelectric Direct Input (DI) devices, an monophonic synthesiser, or even a dynamic microphone connected with an XLR to TRS Jack. If you wish to use an condenser microphone in conjunction with the iRig HD then IK Multimedia do sell a unit that can provide phantom power, however this will make an portable setup quite pricy in comparison to one particular competitor that offers a whole interface for this price. I do have to say that I believe that the whole setup of the iRig HD is exceptionally easy; all you have to do is just connect one wire into two holes, and what is great is that you don't have to use any batteries as the (very minimal) current is drawn from the device you are using.
When the iRig HD is compared with similar devices at this price-point it is perhaps subjective as to whether IK Multimedia could have done better with the construction of the unit. A summary of the build quality would be that the iRig HD shell is a rubberised plastic that feels a bit lacklustre in the hand, where small internal clips and an single mounted screw point holds the case together. Saying this brings me on to an relative point that should be some food for thought. IK Multimedia have textured the iRig HD case with an rubberised finish so that the unit does not slip around on tables so that the slightest movements will eliminate the probability of introducing microphonic anomalies in your live, or recorded, performance. However, during use we have experienced some issues with microphonics due to the fact that the iRig HD case has not internally mounted 'discreetly'. To change this factor it would be useful is the circuitry is partially suspended using a soft-floating system (ie. small non-conductive pieces of sponge). With sonic specifications of this unit being as high as the capabilities of desktop interfaces (44.1kHz/48kHz and 16Bit/24Bit Sampling rate), the 'pro-audio' use of application is more difficult for devices with low-output pickups or instruments, where physical taps on the housing could potentially result in serious takes being vetoed due to sonic anomalies being audible. This is perhaps the iRig HD's most noticeable vice in its environment as an portable interface - especially if you were to split the signal out of your instrument and the iRig HD was on the cab. Furthermore, I do have a small gripe with the gain dial. With the word 'GAIN' is embossed for tactile feedback, it impacts the accuracy of users fingers if an prompt 'live' adjustment is necessary.
Sound Quality and Application Support:
When you receive your iRig HD there is just the device, and no download codes or anything like that, apart from some instructions to just go to the App Store... IK Multimedia have created a very simple and straightforward affair, actually I love how simple this all is. When you first connect the iRig HD to whatever host there is no annoying pop-ups, weird goings-on with the battery saying this or that, or 'would you like to set-up this device?'. IK Multimedia couldn't have made this unit even more simplistic, and with this in mind it will perfectly suit a huge number of users from those just starting to learn about recording and playing with various effects, to users that are trying to lay down some overdubs or 'what-have-you's'. "Hey, hey there, doesn't this contradict your point about microphonics?" No. Regardless of whatever that is still an issue, but the user can learn to understand this and 'tame the beast'. Oops, did we go off on a tangent? Moving on... So, we first downloaded 'AmpliTube' from the App Store by just typing in 'iRig', plugged in the iRig HD where the dull blue turned into a beautifully bright neon blue, and appeared the settings as the preferred audio interface. As an signal is detected the Blue will turn to a green to show a good signal, which will then become Red if you are clipping. Alternatively you can monitor your input responsibly within the app.
Specifically for Guitar (and Bass) IK Multimedia have produced an full 'premium' version of AmpliTube which costs £13.99, AmpliTube LE (£1.99), along with an custom Fender (£10.49), 'Jimi Hendrix' (£10.49) and 'Slash' (£10.49) toned AmpliTube apps. However, for this review we will be using the standard 'out-of-the-box' AmpliTube Free. When connecting a Guitar there is an noticeable improvement from the previous standard iRig, everything is tighter, more defined, and definitely clearer without huge line noise; obviously as a result of the superior dual A2D designed just for these uses. With an product such as this it would be an instant fail if there was some unacceptable latency, yet there was none detectable. We used both active and passive pickups, and found no issues with the headroom using both the side 'GAIN' dial and the in-app gain slider. Within the App you can choose a three different cabs; The 'Lead', 'Metal 150', and 'Metal W'. They all sounded very acceptable, and the ability to choose between a the classic SM57 sound and Neumann U87 works well within the app. Additional effects can easily be added, where you can add some standard off the shelf drum grooves to strum along to, open a tuner... to obviously tune your instrument, or add some perfectly performing multi-tonal 'Delay', 'Filters', 'Flanger', 'Whammy'. The app itself comes with some pretty standard presets, but the user should navigate the interface to explore all the endless possibilities. Here at The Pro Audio Web Blog we managed to get some great sounds that very well could be used in a more professional environment. It is for this reason that we believe that the sonic possibilities of the iRig HD really offer some great 'bang for your buck', although we do recommend that you take the plunge and purchase the full version of AmpliTube to have the most extensive capabilities. Alternatively you can partner the iRig HD with your Mac, and connect to GarageBand to get some fun results that might get your creative juices going.
The iRig HD is certainly a huge improvement from it's younger brother, the DSP capabilities are great, and we have encountered no compatibility issues (especially for the fact that it is compatible with newer Apple 'Lightning' connecting devices), or real concerns for the sonic performance. However, the biggest issue here is housing materials and its potential to impact a recording. Quite honestly, it is this reason for why we have knocked off just an single star. For a comprehensive package the user might consider using the IK Multimedia iLine Kit, as well as purchasing the, rather expensive, full AmpliTube for £13.99. At the end of the day the iRig HD is a great interface! Therefore we award the IK Multimedia iRig HD with four out of five stars.