Singers or instrumentalists have plenty of brilliant-sounding apps these days running on iOS and Mac. But unless you plan to strip off those socks and play with your toes, you might want a stomp interface.
IK Multimedia’s iRIG BlueBoard could be an ideal solution for Mac and iOS mobile users alike, a $99 wireless box that adds four switches and two expression inputs.
It’s not the pioneer in this territory. On iOS, any USB MIDI interface will theoretically work with the Camera Connection Kit – now supporting the iPhone – though, oddly enough, there aren’t so many popular, currently-manufactured USB or MIDI DIN solution that immediately spring to mind. (Two important exceptions: first, there’s Behringer’s FCB1010, which costs not much more than this and could be used with a MIDI interface even on iOS. Just be prepared to add more weight to your carry-on; the FCB is big and heavy. Second, while it’s pricier, the Keith McMillen SoftStep is also very portable, runs via USB, and provides more expression – though it isn’t wireless, if that matters to you.)
Dedicated devices had until recently gone the Dock Connector route. Griffin Technology’s four-switch StompBox pedalboard used a wired dock connection in a simple but reasonable design. Digitech went much fancier, with a full-blown dock with expression pedal. Each of those gets a nice review for The Register by author Bob Dormon, linked here. (For their part, DigiTech also lets you use iOS as remote control for their programmable dock.)
But Dock Connectors and, worse, docks, seem an invitation to obsolescence. And they don’t work with the Mac, either.
Italian maker IK Multimedia has come up with what seem to be cleverer solutions. Having been the company that led the charge to convince guitarists to use their computers to model amps and effects with AmpliTube, they’ve had an aggressive accessory and app strategy on iOS, including a range of free apps (you only pay when you want to add more models).
iRIG STOMP, their earlier offering, is simple but effective. The idea: swap out the minijack for jack plugs, and add a metal bypass footswitch and volume knob, so you can add an iPhone/iPod touch effect to your existing floor rig. Since it just uses audio connections, no control connection is needed.
For more than one switch, IK announced a Bluetooth-based, four-switch solution at the beginning of this year, but they’re just now shipping it.
It represents a long-overdue move to transmitting MIDI over low-energy Bluetooth 4.0. This isn’t a proprietary controller: it’s just a generic MIDI controller transmitting messages over Bluetooth. As such, you can use any app that can receive MIDI messages. That includes, IK is quick to point out, AmpliTube, VocaLive, SampleTank, iLectric Piano, and iGrand Piano. But it also includes even rival apps, including Apple’s own GarageBand.
IK has dropped the nice metal footswitches found on their iRIG and other interfaces. But the good news is, using rubber pads instead means you can get light-up feedback behind the switches, so you know which effect is active.
And while you might initially be disappointed that there’s no expression pedal, that’s a good thing, too. Not one but two TRS jack plugs on the back let you add your own expression pedals, which I think is a whole lot better than having one molded into the design.
Nerd break here: I’m actually rather eager to see if we can use this as a simple way of loading audio effects in Pd on Android and iOS, stompbox style, and it should be equally useful with desktop.
Smaller than these pics may suggest: 27 cm wide x 9 cm deep (10.6″ x 3.5″), 2 cm tall (less than an inch)
4 AAA batteries for power.
What you need is something with Bluetooth 4 support. That’s iPhone 4S or later, iPod touch 5th generation or later, or iPad 3rd generation or later (including mini).
On the Mac side, Apple quietly added support in summer of 2012 for the Mac mini and MacBooks.
Made in Italy, US$99.99, EUR79.99 pre-VAT, shipping now.
This one definitely makes sense for review, so we’ll be looking at it.
(Oh, and… IK. The name. Just have to remember to think “Bluebeard,” and not “Blue b…” something else.)
Full Compass did a video earlier this year: