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    iRig UA Amp Sim Package for Android

    By Anderton |

    Smartphone guitar app adds hardware and goes Android

     

    by Craig Anderton

     

    dscn2933-7acfe27d.thumb.jpg.e2bde4086e58283cd281f959637e3e91.jpgWait! Don’t stop reading just because the sub-head says “Android,” and you assume the audio performance will give you an unwanted (albeit free) echo unit due to latency.

     

    IK Multimedia has created a very successful business by supporting iOS devices, so they must have been salivating at the thought of being able to tap the huge Android market. But while Android OS 5.0 has reduced latency, it’s still not really acceptable for real-time playing—so IK does an end run around the problem by building audio processing DSP into the accompanying hardware interface. I tested iRig UA with a Samsung Galaxy Note4.

     

    Note that the interface itself is not limited to Android, but will also work with Mac and Windows computers (although it won't do ASIO). However, the DSP within the interface that provides the amp sim processing works only with the Android application software.

     

    What You Need to Know

     

    • The onboard DSP means a higher cost compared to a simple, I/O-only interface. $99.99 buys you a hardware interface with 1/4” input for guitar, 1/8” stereo headphone jack with associated volume control,  1/8” stereo input jack for jamming along with an external audio source, and micro-B USB connector (with appropriate included cable) to hook it up to your phone.
    • iRig UA hooks into your phone digitally, so it bypasses the internal audio preamp for higher quality. screenshot2015-08-16-15-29-41-92c24048.thumb.png.3aa03549954ddc18618ebd3b9ffbd62d.pngWith 5.0, you can also stream audio digitally from the phone into iRig UA and bypass the external input.
    • When listening to music, you’ll get more clean volume out of iRig UA’s headphone amp than what’s in your phone.
    • I didn’t have a way to test latency, but it seems like the only possible latency would be from A/D and D/A conversion. This would result in latency under 2 ms. In any event, the “feel” is zero latency.
    • For the best experience, download AmpliTube UA for free from the Google Play Store with four guitar amps, one bass amp, nine stompboxes, two mics, and five cabs, with the option for in-app purchases of additional stompboxes and amps in the $5-$10 range. Or, you can buy all available amps and stompboxes for $69.99.
    • iRig UA works with Android OS 4.2 and up, providing there’s support for host mode USB/OTG; to find out whether your device supports host mode, download the USB Host Diagnostics app from the Google store.
    • The hardware also works as a 24-bit, 44.1/48kHz audio interface with OS 5.0 (also called “Lollipop”; apparently there’s a law that companies must have cute names for operating systems—although when Apple was doing cat names, they did forego “OS Hello Kitty”).
    • The hardware is plastic, which seems like it might belong more under “Limitations.” But it seems quite rugged, and contributes to lower weight for portability.
    • There are four “slots” in the FX chain—two for pre-amp effects, one for an amp, and one for a post-amp effect.
    • Amp sim tone is subjective, so whether you like the amp tones or not is your call. I’ve always liked AmpliTube and IK’s take on modeling, so it’s probably not surprising that I also like the sounds in iRig UA. I can’t really tell whether they’re on the same level as the desktop version of AmpliTube 3, but even without extra in-app purchases, you get a wide range of useful and satisfying sounds.
    • You can navigate the UI even if you’re semi-conscious.

     

    screenshot2015-08-16-14-32-43-04d82ad4.thumb.png.041b61cb2c6784f48bd2e90c98ad739d.png

     Limitations

    • As with similar smartphone devices, the interface connects via the USB port used for charging the phone, so the “battery charge countdown clock” starts when you plug in and start playing. The battery drain is definitely acceptable (even taking the DSP into account), but of course, you’re putting the battery through more charge/discharge cycles with long sessions.
    • I didn’t find any way to demo in-app purchases prior to purchasing.
    • There’s no landscape mode support, so accessing the amp knobs means swiping left and right a whole lot.
    • There’s no tablet version yet, although of course the phone UI “upscales.”
    • You can’t put an amp in an FX slot if you want to put amps in series.
    • For $99.99, I do think IK could have included a compressor/sustainer you can place in front of the amp.
    • In-app purchases culminate in a higher price tag than most Android users expect. However, given what’s in the free software, I really didn’t feel the need to get a bunch of extra stuff.

     

    Conclusions

     

    This is a sweet little package that finally brings essentially zero-latency guitar practicing and playing to Android phones. Some will balk at the price, but given the realities of Android’s audio world, there’s really no way to get around latency issues without the hardware DSP.

     

    Android users who want satisfying tones out of a simple and portable Android setup, along with considerable sonic versatility, now have a solution. While the amp sim options currently available on Android won't make Mac fanbois green with envy, iRig UA stakes an important—and very well-executed—claim in the quest for parity between the two main smartphone platforms.   

     

    Buy at B&H

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     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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