Hands-on review: IK Multimedia iRig Pro I/O audio and MIDI interface
Plugging in and wigging out with the iRig Pro I/O, IK Multimedia’s latest audio-MIDI interface for iPhone, iPad, Mac, PC and Android.
With more than 50 million software and app downloads and over two million iRig-branded products sold since 2010, Italian audio technology company IK Multimedia has a market share of approximately 70 per cent in the mobile music creation category.
It has achieved this by continually exanding and evolving its range of music recording and production tools on both the software and hardware side. Each new product broadens and pushes the range forward, building on past iterations and taking advantage of new technological developments and opportunities presented by the host hardware (desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet etc).
Thanks to rapid technological improvements, musicians are demanding increasingly realistic sounding virtual instruments and more authentic-sounding guitar amp simulations.
The new iRig Pro I/O is a case in point in how IK responds to these demands. While the iRig range is often considered to be designed for guitarists, the Pro I/O has a port that can be used by any musician whose instrument can be plugged into it.
The single Neutrik combo input jack takes either 1/4” cable for instruments (it’s also a Hi-Z input, for passive and active pickup configurations) or XLR for microphones, with phantom power available. A minijack on the side enables the connection of MIDI-enabled devices. MIDI data can also be sent both ways: incoming to the device or outgoing to external modules, control surfaces and so on.
This new version of the I/O features an improved high-quailty preamp, capable of recording at up to 24-bit/96KHz. The MFi-certified Pro I/O will happily connect to iPhone, iPad, Mac, PC and Android devices and can be powered either by a standard USB bus or by two AA batteries, which is enough to drive the switchable 48V phantom power for condenser mics. There is also an optional iRig PSU 3A which will also simultaneously charge a connected iOS device, facilitating extended (near-endless in fact) iPhone or iPad recording sessions.
Also new on this Pro I/O are the dedicated headphone output and headphone volume, which operate separately from the input gain control and separate from the attached iOS device. The 1/8” (3.5mm) headphone jack onboard will be very welcome for owners of recent iPhone models (i.e. 7, 8 or X) without a standard headphone input, those phones having Lightning connector only.
All the necessary cables for all intended purposes are supplied in the box, including the Lightning cable for iPhones and iPads and two standard 5-pin MIDI to 2.5 mm cables. There is also a Velcro strip to secure the Pro I/O to a microhone stand or similar. The €550 bundle of full-version IK music software and apps includes AmpliTube for iOS, AmpliTube 4 for Mac/PC, SampleTank 3 SE, T-RackS Deluxe with Mic Room and more.
The gain control on the new model is now marked 0-10 which makes it easier to set approximate levels and make accurate notes about each recording session. The previous version of the I/O had a blank black dial, which worked fine but wasn’t terribly helpful, especially in low-light studio or stage conditions.
A dealbreaker may be that the Pro I/O is a one-channel device. Some people will automatically baulk at the idea of a mono device. Surely two channels in and out is the bare minimum, so at least you can record in stereo? Maybe, maybe not. You don’t always want or need everything to be recorded in stereo. Given that plenty of classic recordings were captured with a single mic pointed at a single source, this needn’t stop you or limit your creativity. Many home and project studio-based musicians are also commonly performing and recording a mono source.
With only one input, you have to think more deeply about the sound you’re recording and those old-school considerations of mic placement and EQ-ing the sound at source become more crucial. There’s a lot less ‘fix it in the mix’ when you get the sound right first time. Also, the headphone output is stereo, so there’s no problem with listening to the playback of your mix.
Granted, the signal metering here is minimal, if basically informative, and you’ll be controlling a lot of settings in software; it’s up to you if these are acceptable sacrifices for such a small, portable, full-featured device.
The neatness of the recording interface effectively being inline with the cable is also a convenience when working remotely or in a confined space - the iRig Pro I/O effectively becomes part of whatever instrument or mic you’re plugging in. The sound goes directly from source to capture device, via the unassuming Pro I/O.
You can get your jazz on with a mic and scat vocal; lay down some doom-metal riffs on your seven-string guitar; pump up your bass for some low-end theory; tickle your MIDI ivories or even capture a full drumkit, live band or bluegrass combo with a single-point, vintage-’60s, mono vibe. All from a device you could easily hide in the pocket of your jeans.
This is arguably the primary appeal of the Pro I/O: that it is so small you can have it with you at all times, ready to capture any idea that pops into your head or record any event that spontaneously occurs. The fact that the quality of the recording will be pristine and HD-quality ensures your mobile recordings sound professional and ready for adding to an existing mix.
Although professional studios will use much higher-quality, higher-cost audio interfaces, the difference between them and the new iRig is not so dramatic. This is the significant upside of exponential leaps in digital audio technology, allied to tumbling component costs. You certainly shouldn’t have to apologise for the quality of your recordings when using Pro I/O, at any rate.
IK’s products also benefit from the fact that virtually everything is made in Italy at the company’s own state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Modena, combining efficient modern-day R&D, design and build processes with the hands-on experience of Italian craftsmanship. With everything under one roof, IK has the competitive advantage of constantly feeding its acquired knowledge gained from developing its broad range of software and hardware devices into more new ideas, perpetually evolving and iterating. There will undoubtedly be a further-refined version of the iRig Pro I/O released by this time next year.
Right now, though, the Pro I/O is an extremely useful, fully professional recording interface that somehow manages to cover every common need the single-point musician might have and do it all from within a tactile black oblong barely bigger than a Mars bar. If mono in/stereo out is enough, the iRig Pro I/O could be the one (channel) for you.