MIDI Interface For iPad
Unlike a lot of folks, I've actually played a solo using the iPhone as my only amp. Despite my love of tube amps and real pedals, it was much more practical for a solo artist to jack into the phone with an iRig and run that to the PA. So what about taking this concept further, and having an iPad help to replace a whole pedalboard? That's what Digitech have attempted to do with the iPB10, although, fortunately, you won't have to step on the iPad.
Three elements combine to make the system: the iPB10 pedalboard, your own iPad or iPad 2 and a free app called iPB Nexus. The iPB10 itself is an absolute tank: made of heavy metal with the weight to prove it, inspiring confidence that it won't break in a hurry. There are 14 sturdy footswitches on the board, labelled A to E, and 1 to 5, as well as 'stomp, 'amp', 'up' and 'down'. The lettered switches toggle five on-screen pedals on and off, while the numbered switches let you choose between the five on-screen patches. The 'up' and 'down' buttons move through banks of patches, while 'stomp' and 'amp' activate or deactivate the appropriate effects loops.
The iPB10 comes fitted with a tray for the iPad 1, and you'll need to use a screwdriver to replace it with the included iPad 2 tray if that's the model you have. The iPad docks underneath a metal frame, which is very sturdy indeed. All you need to do to fire it up is plug the hard-wired dock connector into the iPad, lock the device in place, open the free iPB Nexus app, and power up the board. It might surprise you to hear that the sound processing is carried out by two Audio DNA chips in the pedalboard, not by the iPad itself: the iPad is effectively just a controller and display.
There are 87 pedals, 54 amps and 26 cabinets emulated in the iPB10, so you won't be left short of effects. The total number is similar to that found in the Digitech RP1000, although the RP1000 only had a single Audio DNA chip. All of these emulations are unofficial, save the Digitech and Lexicon models, but the interfaces are very close approximations.
I won't claim to have tried all of these effects and amps in real life, but the ones I've tried and those I own are emulated nicely enough. The control ranges of many effects feel slightly different to their real-life counterparts: one of my personal favourites — the Boss DM2 — is emulated by the iPB10, and the digital version is a little tamer than its wayward physical counterpart.
There are stereo balanced and unbalanced outputs on the unit for sending the sound to your desired form of amplification, be it guitar amp or PA. If fed to a PA or interface, the amp and cab simulations give the player a huge sonic palette to work with.
When playing with the clean channel of a tube amp (I tested with a customised Fender Pro Junior 1x12 and the wonderful but sadly discontinued Orange Rocker 30 combo), I found it nice to have an amp simulation active, but the cabinet simulation off. Playing through a dirtier channel, I found that having both off was nicer. Switching off both the amp and cabinet simulation should be ideal, in theory, as you are already playing through both, but I found that the gain pedals, in particular, felt a little more responsive when playing into a virtual amp head on the app, if the real amp was running clean.
In v1.03 of the iPB Nexus app, there's no way to globally bypass cabinet or amp emulations. I think having these switches in the settings menu would be really useful, so I could use my home-crafted effects chains with a real amp without having to remove the emulations manually.
I had a couple of niggles about the hardware too. The on and off switch for the expression pedal doesn't have a hard click like the other footswitches, and I found myself turning the wah-wah on and off by accident a few times even after calibrating the pedal. It's nice that there's no delay when switching individual pedals on and off, but there is a short delay when changing patches, which is a shame, although it's understandable given the amount of processing involved. Zero delay would be nice, as you'd be able to switch between whole amp and effect setups in an instant.
For the price of this unit, you couldn't really buy a lot of high-end effects pedals or a lot of tube amplifier. In fact, you might only get about four decent pedals for this money. For some people, though, four effects is enough. The choice between multi-effects units and individual stomp-boxes is very much down to personal preference, and if you fundamentally dislike the former, you probably won't be converted just because this one uses an iPad as the interface.
In the past, I've been put off multi-effects units by their unfriendly interfaces, but this model solves that problem. Given how excitable I can be on stage, however, I don't think I'd be comfortable having my iPad on the floor. I have a nightmare vision of a Dr Marten's boot missing the 'C' button and ploughing into the screen, and I don't think an iPad is as likely to survive a spilled drink as a traditional pedal. In a studio, however, the device allows the guitarist to craft a huge range of tones away from a computer, using familiar controls and footpedals. Coupled with a nice tube amp or using the built-in emulations, the iPB10 puts quite a formidable arsenal of sounds at your feet, so if your studio is lacking a piece of amp-emulation kit and you already have an iPad, you might find that it fits the bill.
J G Harding
£429 including VAT.$499.
Synthesizer For iPad
The press release for Animoog claims that it's the "first professional synthesizer designed for the iPad”. It's certainly designed for the iPad, unlike emulations of existing hardware such as Korg's iMS20, and cost-wise it's several times the price of many apps — although it's still not an expensive purchase.
Animoog is touted as an 'anisotropic' synthesiser. I had to look it up, but 'anisotropic' means 'having a property that has a different value when measured in different directions'. In this context, that refers to Animoog's ability to morph the current patch between eight chosen timbres, and to apply modulation using the touch-sensitive X-Y controller display, which gives an almost psychedelic animated visualisation of evolving sounds.
The area that holds the X-Y display can also show the keyboard scale, as well as Envelope, Modulation, Timbres (where you can select the eight timbres that are used by your patch) and Setup, which allows you to set up comprehensive MIDI communication, among other functions.
To the right of the main display is the 'module' display, which hosts the controls for the all important Filter, Patch and Orbit modulation, and the 'Thick', Delay and Record modules. Although there's a wide range of controls available for morphing sound, I was disappointed to find out that these were simple 'analogues' of the knobs found on typical hardware synthesizers.
Having turned off multi-touch gestures, as instructed in the manual (which has to be downloaded from the Moog Music web site), I found I couldn't pinch to zoom anywhere on the interface, making reading the legending on some of the smaller controls more difficult than it should have been. Also, double tapping did not access a magnified version of a control as I expected, making operation somewhat fiddly. Messing about with tiny controls adds to the nerdy joy of synthesis, but this app was apparently designed for the iPad, and so should at least offer the option to change parameters in a more touchscreen-friendly way.
An example of how a touchscreen can be utilised to enhance the visual aspect of editing patches can be found in the Envelope/Modulation section: the Amp, Filter and Mod graphs will expand to fill the screen if you double tap them. Moog Music and other developers should endeavour to make a lot more of these visual editing techniques, in order to afford easier access to the parameters on offer.
Animoog has a potentially frightening complexity, but there are plenty of presets to get you going. The all-important sound does not disappoint, and is rich, multi-layered and easy to manipulate via the X-Y pad. The keyboard allows for aftertouch-style expression by sliding up on each key, as well as velocity sensitivity by striking higher or lower up the length of the key. The filter also has the required effect and, although it's a little conservative for my liking and can't be pushed over the edge into uncontrollable feedback, is particularly nice in low-pass mode.
As you might have gathered from looking at the interface, one thing Animoog doesn't allow you to create so easily is simple, straightforward sounds using the basic building blocks of subtractive synthesis, so if you just want a single-oscillator buzzing bass line, you may need to look elsewhere for a traditional synth. Animoog is all about complex, evolving and interactive sounds with a flavour of old-school Moog synthesizers, so if that sounds good to you, this app offers just what you need.Mike Watkinson
£20.99 including VAT.$29.99.