IK Multimedia iRig Acoustic
By Phil O'Keefe |
Omnidirectional microphone and mobile audio interface for acoustic guitars and more
by Phil O'Keefe
Recently I reviewed the IK Multimedia iRig Mic Lav, which I thought was a good product, but lamented the lack of a suitable clip that would allow you to use it for recording acoustic instruments such as acoustic guitar. IK Multimedia must have had similar thoughts because they already had a solution in the works - IK Multimedia iRig Acoustic. Marketed as the first mobile mic / interface for acoustic players, it's intended for some of the applications where I wanted to use the iRig Mic Lav, but couldn't due to the lack of a suitable clip. Let's see if it performs as well as its lavalier cousin.
What You Need To Know
- iRig Acoustic is a small omnidirectional condenser microphone for use with acoustic instruments such as guitar, acoustic bass guitar and ukelele. It works with both steel and nylon strings, and is compatible with your iPhone, iPad, Mac or Android device
- iRig Acoustic uses a MEMS (MicroElectrical-Mechanical System) microphone, and the technology is used in other devices you're familiar with, such as cell phones. It allows for very small size, good efficiency and reliability, and fairly accurate sound quality with good resistance to unwanted mechanical vibration - all the things you want and need in an acoustic clip-on microphone.
- The small (1 1/4" H x 1 1/4" W x 11/16" D) pick-shaped MEMS microphone enclosure is made from a slightly flexible plastic; rubber clamp areas where it clips to the lower part of your round soundhole assure it won't mar your instrument's finish. It is easy to attach and remove, yet stays in place quite well, even if you move around when you play.
- The cable length is about three meters, and it terminates in a 1/8" TRRS plug. About three inches from the plug is a small (7/8" L x 3/4" W x 5/8" D) in-line module that houses a 1/8" stereo output jack. This accepts headphones or earbuds, or with the correct third-party adapters and DI box (if needed) as a line output jack for connecting to your amp or mixing board for live performance.
- A nice zippered storage and carrying case is included so you can toss iRig Acoustic in your pocket and take it with you.
- iRig Acoustic's transducer picks up both the acoustic sound of the moving strings, and also the vibration of the instrument's top.
- Rather than being an afterthought, the IK Multimedia AmpliTube Acoustic software is an important part of the iRig Acoustic system. A free version comes bundled with iRig Acoustic, and in-app purchases expand its capabilities with multitrack recording and looping, more acoustic amplifiers and effects, etc.
- I tested the "full" version (currently v.1.01 - $9.99 and is available from the App Store) on both an iPhone 5 and an iPad Mini 2, both running iOS 8, which is the minimum system required for running AmpliTube Acoustic.
- When you first connect iRig Acoustic and fire up AmpliTube Acoustic, you're prompted to calibrate the system by setting the basic level, and then strumming across your instrument open strings for a few seconds until the system finishes analyzing the sound and optimizing it.
- You can save and recall calibrations for different instruments.
- The features of the paid app are impressive, with a pair of modeled solid state acoustic amp sims and one tube model, each with three-band EQ and a variety of effects built-in. You also get a tuner, a feedback eliminator, and a variety of acoustic-specific stomp box effects, including a compressor, graphic EQ, parametric EQ, a 12 string emulator, a body modeler (turn your dreadnought into a parlor!), and a "Bass Maker" octave down pedal to turn your acoustic into a bass. Several presets get you started, and can save your own favorite settings. Many of these features are available as optional in-app purchases with the "free" version of the app.
- There are some options even with the paid version. There's also a recorder (8 tracks are available with in-app purchase) that has a surprising amount of features in its full form - it's basically an in-app DAW. You can buy a looper module, or upgrade the built-in chromatic tuner with the ultra-accurate UltraTuner model.
- The design of the iRig Acoustic's clip only allows it to work with standard-topped, round-hole acoustic instruments. It's not suitable for use with banjo or with f-hole equipped mandolins or guitars. Nor is it possible to clip it to the bell of a horn or sax. A set of optional clips for the iRig Mic Lav would still be useful and allow that product to work with other instruments that won't work with iRig Acoustic.
- While it's possible to use the iRig Acoustic microphone alone with other programs such as Garageband, the raw sound from the microphone isn't as polished as the processed sound coming from AmpliTube Acoustic, which sounds noticeably better. You can also route the processed audio to other apps via Inter-App Audio.
- While you can use iRig Acoustic with your Mac, for best sound quality IK Multimedia recommends instead using it with your iOS device in conjunction with AmpliTube Acoustic. Hopefully they will consider releasing a version of AmpliTube Acoustic for Mac and PC computers in the future. Meanwhile, I'd recommend running the app on your mobile device and routing the audio from AmpliTude Acoustic via iRig Acoustic's output directly to your computer's audio interface.
Many of the things I wished I could do with iRig Mic Lav are possible with the iRig Acoustic. I tried iRig Acoustic and AmpliTube Acoustic with standard and small-bodied acoustic 6-string guitars, a 12-string acoustic, and a nylon-stringed ukelele; it worked equally well with all of them after the initial calibration, which is super-easy to do.
Does it sound as good as studio microphones? Well, no - despite what some of the ad claims might seem to suggest, it's not going to compete with that. What's surprising though is just how well an inexpensive prosumer product like this can emulate that kind of sound. For something you can toss in your pocket, it sounds surprisingly good. This is no doubt due to the software processing involved; iRig Acoustic didn't sound nearly as good to me when running it straight into my Mac and recording the unprocessed output of the MEMS microphone.
The mobility aspect of iRig Acoustic is fantastic. It's so much easier to take with you than a traditional studio recording setup; besides, if you tend to move around when you play it can be hard to stay in the optimal location relative to a stand-mounted microphone. The iRig Acoustic solves this problem while still sounding like a microphone - not a shrill and quacky piezo pickup going direct.
Unlike other built-in pickup or microphone systems, you can move it easily from one instrument to another, even mid-show. Just remember it's limited to round-hole acoustic instruments; I was hoping it would be possible to use it with mandolin and banjo, but it's not suited for either one (although a round-hole mandolin might work). F-hole equipped mandolins and guitars won't work properly with iRig Acoustic, but most players use instruments with round holes that are well-suited to it.
So is it for you? If you're looking for the ultimate in recorded sound quality, stick to your mics, preamps and interface. If you're on the go with your acoustic a lot, or if you can't sit or stand still when playing, it's a no-brainer. IK Multimedia's iRig Acoustic paired with AmpliTube Acoustic provides a small, inexpensive mobile setup that sounds good and that will be ideal for many acoustic musicians.
iRig Acoustic Demo Videos:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.