If you’ve ever dug into a sample library or messed around with VST instruments, chances are you’ve heard of the plugin powerhouse that is IK Multimedia. It is well known for creating massively successful plugins like Sampletank, Miroslav Philharmonik, and the ever-awesome Amplitube. For the last couple of years, its R&D department has been hard at work coming up with new products to improve and simplify the lives of working musicians and touring acts in the 21st century, bringing new and incredibly useful tools to the table that you didn’t know you need until you have one in your hand.
Clearly IK knows what real musicians want and need, which is why so many of its products are utilitarian in form and price. I was lucky enough to receive two products aimed at guitar players fresh from the benches of IK’s engineers. Admittedly, these didn’t look too exciting, but once I got to using them, I realized just how handy these little tone tools are.
I received two of the newest products from the fine folks at IK. The first was a tiny unit called the iRig Nano Amp, which doubles as a micro guitar amp and an iOS interface for IK’s iOS version of Amplitube. Admittedly, I do not own any iOS products, so I was unable to test that side of the Nano Amp’s functionality, however, the “analog” side of this little guy is what really took the cake. The second product I was sent to demo was IK’s iRig Acoustic, which is a sort of preamp and pickup system for acoustic guitars without built-in preamps. These two products helped me immensely in the studio over the last few weeks of testing, and I’d like to show you how.
THE NANO AMP; WHATS THE DEAL?
You’re probably asking yourself, “Why do I need a tiny solid-state three-watt guitar amp that’s the size of a swap meet shower radio?” I was asking myself the same question, until the Nano Amp arrived at the perfect time. It came at a time when there were several people coming and going in my house, and I couldn’t fire up the main stack while there was lots of traffic around my studio. I went in my room, shut the door, and flipped on the little Nano Amp. I was pleasantly surprised at the tone, it was crunchy and articulate while getting decently loud considering its size. Cranking up the gain, it provided a good bit of sizzle without getting overly bright, and it was reactive to pick attack, perhaps not as much as a tube amp but it still had a definite “cranked British” vibe to it. Sonically, it had a very mid and high end forward tone, which is unsurprising in a speaker of that size. It’s not unlike plugging your guitar into an old portable transistor radio, expect perhaps it’s a lot more refined. It can be used to cool effect in the studio for tones that need to be thin and small sounding, a bit like the intro guitar on Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” which was actually played through Gilmour’s old car stereo.
One of the coolest things about this little amp—other than the fact that you can play it at all hours of the night—is the fact that you can plug it into external cabinets, all the way up to a 4x12! Plugged into my main 2x12 cab, this little battery-powered beast delivers a chewy and meaty tone that sounds utterly massive, like that satisfying sizzle when a big ol’ piece of steak hits the grill. My only complaint about this amp is that true clean tones are really nonexistent. You can get them, but they aren’t very loud and went into distortion a little too quickly. Other than that, it’s a pretty useful tool that could fool even the most discerning of tone hounds through a good 2x12 or 4x12.
THE iRIG ACOUSTIC; WHATS THE DEAL?
I’ve had an old Yamaha acoustic with me since some of my earliest days of playing guitar. That Yamaha has been all over the place with me, and has served me faithfully so many times live and in the studio it’d be futile to count. I remember it was $99, and my parents bought it for me as a gift, not too long after my very first electric, a Behringer-branded guitar from Costco (yes, it was as bad as it sounds). As cheap as that old Yamaha acoustic is, it’s got a really great tone that some of the most expensive acoustics I’ve played can’t match. Being a $99 guitar however, it did not come with a piezo or pickup system. It was never worth it for me to install one, and for a long time I did a lot of research into mountable pickup systems for the acoustic guitar, and I sort of forgot about it until now.
It’s always a challenge to get a good acoustic tone in the studio. Even with great mics and a great room, sometimes your tone can sound too thin, honky, or boomy. This is where the iRig Acoustic steps in; it’s a great device that helps you get a consistently good acoustic tone both in the studio and on the stage. The name of the game here is consistency: When you can get a million different tones with mic placement, the iRig’s microphone piece clips right onto your soundhole, and gets a tone from inside of the guitar you just cannot get with miking. This is where a lot of the body of the guitar is, and in my opinion is far too unutilized in acoustic guitar sounds. It’s not sterile or thin like a piezo, since it’s actually just a tiny mic that feeds into a battery pack that houses the preamp. You can choose all sorts of EQ responses from “Bright” to “Natural”, and it also has a very useful “Cancel Feedback” function for the kind of feedback that isn’t cool. Additionally, this unit’s EQ settings are optimized for both nylon and steel-string guitar.
As a person who’s always struggled with recording a good acoustic guitar tone, I was really chuffed when I heard how this thing sounded plugged right into a DAW. It had great balance and note separation, as well as clean headroom aplenty. Just be wary when recording with speakers playing a click track, the little clip-on mic will pick those up, along with anything else loud enough that’s around you. When my friend heard it in a mix situation he commented on how good it sounded in the mix. It even picks up the percussive elements of an acoustic guitar really well, since it’s essentially like sticking a mic in the guitar.
If I had anything negative to say about it I would, but it’s just that good for someone who’s looking for a way to get a great acoustic tone anywhere, any time. It’s detailed and clear enough for studio work, and it’s got enough punch and cut for live work.
IK has really been hitting the mark lately with their tone tools. Yes, they may not be exciting as that new brightly colored pedal or guitar, but they are incredibly useful tools wherever your musical travels may take you. Until next time!