In a box in the attic, I have a big acoustic-guitar pickup that never gets used. Apart from sounding a bit brittle, it blocks most of the sound hole when installed, thereby compromising the acoustic properties of my guitars. IK Multimedia’s iRig Acoustic does the same job, but takes a very different approach. The pickup part of the product, no bigger than a large plectrum, clips onto the rim of a guitar’s sound hole without blocking the opening at all. A very thin two-meter cable runs from the pickup to a little junction box which has a stereo mini-jack socket for connecting headphones. Then, a few inches further along the cable, there’s a TRRS 3.5mm jack for inserting into the headphone socket of iPads, iPhones and other similar devices. The whole assembly can be stored in a tangerine-sized zip-up case which is tough enough to protect it from knocks and falls.
Any guitar app can be used with the hardware, but IK Multimedia recommend their own Amplitube Acoustic iRig Recorder app, which has a calibration tool that helps match it with the instrument (Classical Guitar, Acoustic Guitar and Ukulele are the options). It’s free to download and full of tantalising features, but most of these are ‘in-app’ purchases and don’t work until paid for. They include a multitrack recorder, various effects and processors, a loop tool and a drum loop library. Nevertheless, the default amp is well equipped with controls and it’s still possible to do a few basic things like record a performance and use the guitar tuner.
I found that better results were had by turning off the calibration setup and tweaking the flat mic response. Setting up a sound with the virtual amp is merely a matter of balancing the gain and volume controls, setting the presence level and adjusting the bass, mid and treble EQ knobs. There’s also a graphic EQ-style section and the option of applying delay, flanger, spring reverb or chorus effects. In fact most of what an acoustic player needs is included in the free version of the app, although it would be useful to be able to run more than one effect at a time. Installing the pickup on a guitar is incredibly easy. It just slots onto the sound hole (below the high E string) and stays put, thanks to the gripping qualities of a rubberised lip. At first I had concerns that it might get in the way of strumming and pick work, but it sits so flat on the instrument body that there are no serious ergonomic issues.
One definite flaw in the design, however, is the thin cable. A small diameter gives the lead a lot of flexibility, but it’s just a matter of time before it gets trodden on and/or pulled, at which point the core is likely to break. The designers are probably not expecting the product to be used in live situations, but it still needs to be able to withstand a bit of wear and tear.
What’s most impressive about the iRig is the quality of the miniature microphone that’s hidden inside the pickup. One of my favourite finger-picked recordings was achieved using a Audio Technica AT4047 cardioid condenser mic positioned close to the strings and treated with a little EQ and compression, and I was able to get reasonably near to that sound with the iRig. What’s more, even though the mic mounts right on the body of the guitar, it doesn’t pick up much handling noise. For this price, the iRig Acoustic is a really good buy.