IK Multimedia iRig HD Review
Update: IK Multimedia have since released the iRig HD 2 which provides the same audio quality with more features and flexibility. Read my review of the iRig HD 2 here to learn more. I recommend the iRig HD 2 instead of the iRig HD.
The original iRig was a cheap and easy way to plug your guitar into an iPhone/iPad. Unfortunately the sound quality was horrible – it was noisy and made an expensive guitar sound cheap. The iRig HD addresses the sound quality issue. While the HD is far more expensive than the original iRig, the quality is definitely worth the extra price.Here are the main features the iRig HD offers:
- 1/4″ Hi-Z input jack
- Three separate output cables: Lightning, 30-pin and USB
- Compatible with all iOS devices and Mac
- Preamp with gain control
- 96 kHz sampling at 24 bit (need to update firmware first)
The original iRig connected to the headphone jack on the iPhone while the HD version connects using either the Lightning or 30-pin connector. The main advantage to this approach is that it provides a digital signal. Plugging a guitar into the original iRig is just like plugging your guitar into your PC/Mac’s microphone input – no matter what you do, it will sound horrible. With the HD it now connects digitally so the iRig can now include a proper preamp and offer far superior quality. This is why three cables are given along with the iRig – due to the fact that older iOS devices use a 30-pin connector while newer devices use the Lightning connector. The USB connector allows you to connect the iRig to a Mac. So no matter what iOS device you have, the iRig HD will work with it.
Ease of use
It can’t get any simpler: connect the appropriate adapter to the iRig (eg: Lightning), then plug your guitar into it. You simply choose the adapter that suits your device (eg: older devices such as the iPad 2 would use the 30-pin connector while the newer devices would use the Lightning connector). Unlike the original iRig the leads on the HD are nice and long so you won’t have your iRig sitting awkwardly close to your iOS device. There is a gain control on the iRig to adjust the preamp, but that’s it. Of course simply plugging the iRig HD to your iOS device isn’t enough – you need to use it with relevant apps. The most obvious app to start with is IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube. There is a free version available on the App Store that gives you some basics with in-app purchases for other effects.
The aspect I like the best about the iRig HD is that you can use it with any app that uses an input. So any music related apps you have you can use your iRig HD. Here are a few suggestions to check out:
- Garageband – allows you to create full band tracks
- Other AmpliTube versions such as: Fender, Jimi Hendrix, Orange
- Music Studio – full sequencer
- Jammit – allows you to remove guitar tracks for music to jam along
- JamUp Pro XT – similar to AmpliTube
Now at this point I want to note that while the iRig HD wasn’t designed for PC use, it is possible to use it with your PC. To do this you need to install a third party driver called ASIO4ALL. Because the iRig doesn’t have an inbuilt output, you need the ASIO4ALL driver so you can select a different output. So connect the iRig HD to your PC, then when loading your DAW or software such as AmpliTube or Guitar Rig, choose the ASIO4ALL driver. Load up the settings and select the iRig for the input and your soundcard for your output. Now the DAW or software will take your iRig’s input, and direct it to your soundcard’s output. Very useful if you don’t have a dedicated audio interface.
The iRig HD is light-years away from the horrible quality of the iRig. While the original iRig was noisy the HD is nice and quiet as it should be. This means when you load up an app such as AmpliTube, the quality of the effects and amp modelling is significantly raised. When I used the original iRig I had to add a Noise Filter effect (as seen in the image below) to my signal chain to try to overcome the noise thanks to the iRig. Now, I can remove that effect which frees up a space for something more useful. So basically the iRig HD is very transparent so you can use your apps without worrying about noise.
If you have the iRig HD, be aware that IK Multimedia released a firmware update which bumped the sample rate up to 96kHz. So I highly recommend updating the firmware to get the best quality audio.
Keep in mind there are plenty of guitar related apps available so you don’t have to use AmpliTube. Some apps sound better than AmpliTube and others don’t – the point here is that the quality of the actual iRig unit is high enough that you will be able to get the most out of any app you use which is something I can’t say with the original iRig.
The iRig HD feels heavier and better built compared to the original iRig. The quality is far superior in essentially every way. What I like about this design is that the actual unit doesn’t connect directly into the iOS device like the Line 6 Mobile In. Having a short lead to connect to the iRig gives you more flexibility when you use your device. It also means you’re less likely to damage the unit.
If you want a quick and easy way to connect your guitar to your iOS device, then the iRig HD is a great option at a good price. The quality is far superior than the original iRig which means it is much more useful. The fact that you can use it with pretty much any app means you are free to use your guitar with your iOS device now and in the future as more apps are created. I recommend the iRig HD if you regularly use an iPad or iPhone because there are so many good quality apps available that work well with the iRig. The only time I would suggest getting a different type of device (mentioned later) is if you need flexibility to connect a microphone or MIDI device as well. Keep in mind the iRig also allows level line input from other instruments such as keyboards so it’s not just for guitar.
- Excellent sound quality
- Compatible with every iOS device
- Works with all iOS apps
- Built in preamp control
- Able to work with Windows by using ASIO4ALL driver
- Limited to 1/4″ input only (no microphone or MIDI)
- Requires use of the device’s headphone jack (which means no iPhone 7 support)
Who is it for?
iOS device owners – have a look at the App Store and you will see a huge number of guitar related apps. A few were mentioned earlier and there are new apps coming out all the time. You can now realistically use your iPad to produce high quality multitrack recordings with a few simple apps. The iRig HD is a good entry point that allows you to make the most out of all the apps available. It’s relatively cheap and has great sound quality.
Who isn’t it for?
Guitarists wanting flexibility – if you mainly play acoustic guitar or sing as well, you might want to look at one of the alternatives such as the iRig PRO that offers microphone input or MIDI input. Some devices even allow multiple inputs at the same time so don’t feel that this is the only option you have. I recommend the iRig HD as a starting point so you can get a feel for the quality of apps available. Then you can decide whether you want to invest in more expensive devices that allow more flexibility with inputs.
How to get the most out of it
While the iRig was designed to use with the AmpliTube range of apps, they aren’t your only options. While the apps are free to download, most of the effects and amp models cost money as in-app purchases. So instead of starting off by spending money in the AmpliTube apps, check out other apps. There are a few free options and other paid options that offer very similar options as the AmpliTube apps. Don’t just stick to these type of apps however, check out other types of apps such as multitrack recorders or jamming apps. Apps like Garageband or Jammit allow you to make the most of the iPad and either write or jam along with songs. So don’t just stick to modelling apps or you’ll miss out on what other apps offer.
Update: since the iRig HD 2 is now available and it provides the same audio quality along with more features, I highly recommend reading my review of the iRig HD 2 before deciding on a device.
At this point there are a good number of iOS based guitar input devices. While the iRig HD is good, it may not be the best for your situation. For example what if you also want microphone input or MIDI input? What if you want multiple inputs to turn your iOS device into a fully fledged recording studio? There are a lot of options available so here is a basic rundown of a few choices I’ve noticed so far:
The original iRig
I do not recommend buying the original iRig. The sound quality is terrible so even though the price may seem appealing, you will regret buying it. You need to also watch out for the massive number of counterfeit copies out there. One of my students bought a counterfeit without realizing it and it lasted one day before failing. That $6 iRig you see on eBay might sound like a bargain – but in this case it’s almost definitely an unreliable fake.
The main difference between the iRig HD and the iRig PRO is that the PRO allows input for an XLR microphone, guitar input and MIDI input (only one at a time). So if you feel you need flexibility to switch between recording guitar, microphone or MIDI, the iRig PRO may be a better choice for you compared to the HD.
This device is similar to the iRig HD and allows you to connect a guitar or stereo line in. It connects using the 30-pin connector or Lightning via adapter.
This really turns your iOS device into a full recording studio. Unlike the other devices mentioned, this one encases your iPad. It’s clear why when you see how many inputs/outputs the device has. I’ve read mixed reviews about the iO Dock and haven’t managed to get my hands on one yet to review, but it’s worth considering if you want more flexibility than the other devices mentioned.
For most people, this device is far too expensive and over the top. For a small minority of people, it’s probably just what you’re looking for. This $1,300 unit offers the most inputs and flexibility. So if for some reason you want to do all your recording using an iPad, this unit looks as if it’s the top of the range. Personally I think you’re better off with a laptop, but for some people this will be all they need. Fortunately you can also use the Quartet with a Mac so you’re not limited to the iPad.
Products that use the iOS device’s headphone jack
I recommend avoiding using any device that uses your iOS device’s headphone jack to connect the device (like the original iRig). No matter what the company says, there is a limit to how good the audio can sound. Make sure the device you buy either uses a 30-pin/Lightning connector or a USB adapter. Avoid the headphone hacks at all cost.
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