It’s a good time to be a tech-savy guitarist. Recently, the App Store has seen the release of packages allowing you to turn your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad into a full-blown guitar amp simulator. Apps like Frontier Design Group’s iShred Live and IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube offer a large assortment of effects pedals, amplifiers, speakers. and even microphones that you can mix and match to come up with custom tones that are all your own.
To be able to use these apps, however, you need a way to plug your guitar into your iOS device and to hear the results. I tried out two cables designed for such a purpose: IK Multimedia’s $40 AmpliTube iRig and Griffin Technology’s $30 GuitarConnect Cable. Even though both worked as advertised, the GuitarConnect ( ) provided a better design than the more expensive iRig ( ), while sound quality was a mixed bag.
The iRig is a simple, barrel-shaped device with a short cable that plugs into your iPhone or iPad’s headphone jack. It also has inputs on both ends of the barrel—on one end for connecting a 1/4-inch guitar cable, on the other (next to the built-in cable) for plugging in your headphones.
The GuitarConnect takes a different approach. It includes a 3.5mm headphone plug on one end of the six-foot long cable, while the other end splits into a Y, with a headphone input and a 1/4-inch plug that goes into your guitar or bass—eliminating the need to provide your own guitar cable. Because of its design, I found the GuitarConnect to be much more flexible than the iRig, allowing me to move around more with the headphones plugged in near the guitar jack and the six feet of cable to the iPod/iPad/iPhone.
Once plugged in, I was surprised at the difference in sound quality between these two cables, however. When first comparing the cables, I tried using a distorted lead preset in the AmpliTube for iPad app. The GuitarConnect helped me play blistering solos with impressive sustain and heavy chords that would make Tony Iommi jealous. Using the same presets and speakers with the iRig, I had a hard time getting the crunch and fuzz to sound as full and face-meltingly heavy. Switching to a clean sound, however, I had a hard time getting the GuitarConnect to play nice—it sounded overdriven on clean settings using a modeled Fender Blackface Deluxe Reverb amp with the volume on the amp set to five and no pedals effects active.
Using the guitar’s volume knob on the GuitarConnect is also not a viable option—the signal noisily cuts out as you move down from 10 to around eight on your guitar’s volume knob. The iRig was much better at providing clean tones and I was able to adjust the volume using the guitar’s volume controls.
Macworld’s buying advice
Both the GuitarConnect and iRig allow you to plug your guitar into your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. The iRig is more expensive and requires you provide your own 1/4-inch guitar cable, but has better overall sound quality, with a good clean twang and a decent enough heavy tone for all but the most metal of maniacs.
[James Galbraith plays a mean guitar when not serving as Macworld Lab director.]