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IK iRig Acoustic Stage Miking System for Acoustic Guitar

IK adapts iRig Acoustic for live performance

 

by Craig Anderton

 

 Amplifying electric guitars: Easy!

 

Amplifying acoustic guitars...well...uh...

 

That’s the goal of iRig Acoustic Stage, which uses the same special-purpose, clip-on acoustic guitar mic that’s the heart of the original iRig Acoustic. However unlike iRig Acoustic, instead of working with a smart phone/tablet/app, iRig Acoustic Stage mates with a DSP-laden control unit that expands on what’s in the app. The system works with steel string guitar, nylon string guitar, ukulele, and similar guitars that allow mounting the mic in a sound hole.

 

The mic mounted on a Gibson HP 735 R. The green button on the control unit indicates the unit has been user-calibrated specifically for this guitar.

 

What You Need to Know

 

It has the typical classy-looking IK packaging. After all, this is from the same country that brought us Sophia Loren and the Alpha Romeo.

The system packs up in a convenient travel case.

 

  • The control unit has an Aux in, suitable for mixing in the piezo output from your guitar if that adds to the sound. A Mix control and phase-flipping switch augment this feature.
  • If nothing is in the Aux input, then the phase switch affects the output.
  • There are three presets each for steel string and nylon string guitars—natural, warm, and bright.
  • The volume control pushes in so you can’t change it accidentally, but pushing on it again pops it out so you can adjust it easily. Nice.
  • A Cancel Feedback button inserts up to 10 notch filters to tune out feedback. Typically you’d start raising the level until feedback occurs, cancel that feedback, increase the level further until it feeds back, cancel that out, and so on.
  • The control unit requires two AA batteries that give around 15 hours of operation before an indicator tells you it’s time to switch them out. Rechargeable batteries last almost as long before they need recharging.
  • An included belt/strap clip attaches to the control unit’s back.
  • As expected there’s an audio output jack, but there’s also a class-compliant USB output for recording into a computer.
  • In theory, the clip-on mic is “one size fits all” and in practice, it worked on my Gibson J-45, Gibson HP 735 R, and Lag soprano ukulele. I was concerned that it wouldn’t make proper contact with a pickguard present, but it worked fine. IK says that if your guitar is too thin, you can put a few layers of adhesive tape on the clamp to compensate.
  • The system comes factory-calibrated to compensate for acoustic guitar anomalies, but offers a calibration procedure in case the factory preset doesn’t work for you. You can also return to the factory setting if you want.

The control unit. The red Tone button indicates that the unit has the factory calibration. Note the recessed Volume control, which pops out for adjustment.

 

Limitations

 

  • Like all good feedback killers, this does a credible job but you can’t expect to get away with standing in front of your speakers with the volume turned up to 11.
  • You have to deal with at least two cables—the thin one, unobtrusive one from the mic that goes into the control unit, and the 1/4” cable from the control unit to your amp or PA. It would be really cool if “iRig Acoustic Stage 2.0” had a wireless control unit, although I’m well aware of what that entails in terms of cost, regulatory approval, and overall hassle.

 

Conclusions

 

Ultimately, all that matters is the sound. I started off comparing the iRig sound to the Gibson HP 735, which has an internal LR Baggs Element VTC. I much preferred the HP’s sound, which was more balanced and had a higher output. But...long story short, don’t believe the manual that the calibration procedure is “optional” for steel-string guitars! I checked out the online video for the proper calibration technique, did it, and wow—what a difference.

 

Initially, I couldn’t get the guitar to sound right without a medium width, -8 dB notch at around 550 Hz. After calibration, the DSP compensated automatically (which was kind of magical, actually) for the response peak at 550 Hz, and conveyed the HP 375’s rich tone properly. Although the HP 375’s built in electronics still had a more nuanced sound, the iRig Acoustic Stage had its own take on the sound that was equally valid...which also validated IK’s genius move of including a Mix control (with phase switch) and Aux input for your guitar's existing electronics.

 

The Gibson does one sound, iRig Acoustic Stage does three sounds, but put the two together and you have a huge variety of sounds that neither makes by itself. It’s very similar to the options you have when going direct and taking a mic feed, and the phase switch adds another dimension. (Of course you don’t have to use the internal mixing option; you can feed the guitar’s output and the iRig’s output independently to an interface or mixer for stereo.) I found several recording-ready sounds that I would definitely use, generally with the iRig contributing a lower frequency warmth, and the HP 735 providing the definition. I started to wish the Mix control was bigger; it’s more like a trimpot (which is understandable for live performance).

 

Anyway, back to the stage. Although I didn’t have any acoustic guitar-driven gigs during the review period, I do have a PA set up for practicing. For stage use, once you’ve done the calibration you’ll hear that IK has done an excellent job of deciding what an acoustic guitar should sound like, and the DSP does its magic to avoid the “honk” of piezo guitars. Because I could always hear the guitar itself as I played it, to check for tone properly I had to record the control unit’s output. If you’re in a small enough venue that the guitar itself will be heard, then iRig Acoustic Stage becomes more of a support system that adds depth and tone to your instrument through the PA.

 

For recording, although many will still prefer a high-end condenser microphone, if you don’t have that option iRig Acoustic Stage takes care of you better than some built-in systems—or mics that either aren’t set up properly, are influenced negatively by room acoustics, or just aren’t that good. Furthermore, you can always tweak the sound with your DAW’s EQ and other processors.

 

Still, the main reason this exists is for playing live. If your acoustic guitar has no internal electronics, then this is a pretty close to a no-brainer purchase. If you’re happy with your acoustic guitar’s sound when you take the stage, then this may be superfluous. But if not, iRig Acoustic Stage checks off the boxes—tone, convenience, DSP, and ease of use—for under $100. And as a bonus, it definitely has its uses for recording.


Just remember to calibrate your steel-string guitar :)

 

Resources

 

Product landing page with audio examples

Available from Sweetwater, B&HGuitar Center,  Musician's FriendThomann UKAmazon UK

 

Video overview

 

______________________________________________ 

 

 Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.

 

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sailorman  |  April 08, 2017 at 8:44 am
After reading Craig's review, I bought one for my Martin J40M.   Must say I'm impressed.   After the calibration procedure, it really, really sounds good through the band PA.   I used it at rehearsal (rock band) and everyone thought it sounded great.   Haven't used it live yet, will report back on the results.   So far, the best $100 I've spent in awhile.
As to the thin wire from the mic;   yes it is thin, I'd expect that care is needed.   But I'm pretty careful with this guitar anyway, so not too concerned.   I plan to mount the preamp unit to a strap and perhaps coil the extra wire so it doesn't dangle and catch on something.
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bc1970  |  March 28, 2017 at 5:39 pm
Really interested in one of these mostly for live use but concerned cable looks very thin and weak. Did you have impression would stand up to much wear and year, tugging etc or would break easily? Also did it seem fiddly to have a flimsy wire coming out of the bottom of the guitar and into the box in a stage scenario, especially if combined with a second cable to mix signal from guitar' s on board pickup?
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