Guitar Jamming: Audio interfaces for your iOS devices

As a musician who is also gadget-happy, I’ve accumulated more guitar input devices for my iPad(s AAPL) than I knew what to do with. So, I’m going to share my experiences with the available options to connect to your axe to your iOS device. These allow you to use your iOS device as an amp, or allow you to record your guitar, bass or keyboard on GarageBand for iOS. One of the ways I use them is if I’m going on vacation and want to play my guitar, I’ll throw one of these in my guitar case with some headphones and be able to jam without bringing my amp. (Not that bringing a Marshall stack into a motel room is without its charms.)
Before I get started, there are a few things you’ll need. Obviously, a guitar, bass or keyboard. If you have a lot of extra money and feel the need to justify a new purchase, maybe this is a good time to pick up this new beauty by Fender. You’ll also need a guitar cable and a set of headphones or speakers. Also, since most of these are designed to be used with GarageBand for iOS, you’ll want a copy of that, too.

iRig ($39.99)

The iRig by IK Multimedia is a fun little device that plugs into the headphone jack of your iOS device. You plug your guitar cable into the iRig. The iRig also has its own headphone jack to act as an audio out. For a long while, the iRig was my only audio interface, and I’ve been very happy with it. However, this interface is the lone exception to the “works well with GarageBand.” While it will certainly feed into GarageBand, I’ve found it’s just way too noisy to use to record with. Why do I like it then? Because it’s designed to work with the AmpliTube suite of products, including the licensed Fender and Slash amp modelers. For general practicing, I love these apps and use them all the time.

Apogee Jam ($99)

The Apogee Jam isn’t cheap, but it is very good. In addition to connecting your guitar to your iOS device, it also connects via USB to your Mac. During my testing it works fine with AmpliTube and the Slash apps by IK Multimedia. It also generates a fairly noise-free interface to GarageBand. The reason this one is a favorite, though, is its ability to connect to my Mac and iOS device. This means that I want to record on either my iPad or Mac, one tool will do the job. Even though my guitar amp has a USB-out, when I lay down bass tracks on my Mac, I’ll use the Jam as the audio interface.

Griffin Studio Connect ($149)

Yeah. You read that right. A hundred and fifty bucks. The Griffin Studio Connect is the most expensive unit I’ve looked at. If you’re going to be doing a lot of recording on iOS, it’s worth it. It has audio in and out, MIDI in and out, a headphone jack, and a gigantic volume knob on the front. It also doubles as an iPad dock. I’m really happy with this. It’s a solid piece of gear and a whole lot better than having input devices bouncing around your desk. While I don’t use MIDI, I love that it’s there in case I do decide to learn keyboards.

The Gig Test: How I use them

The iRig I keep floating around to use my iPhone as a tuner when I go shopping and I’ll usually keep it in my gig bag in case I want to sit outside and play. Due to the pervasive hiss when I record with it in GarageBand, it fails that test.
The Apogee Jam I keep in my studio (I’m lucky that I have a room dedicated to music in the house). It’s where most of my guitars sit and if I want to record on my iPad or Mac, I’ll do it there. My amp does USB out, so I’ll often feed that through the Jam into my Mac. I’m still struggling with a way to record from my amp to iOS GarageBand. I’ve tried using the Camera Connection kit as a USB port, or running the headphone jack in via an interface, and I’ve been skunked every time.
The Studio Connect sits on my desk in my office. I keep a guitar on a wall in my office (why, yes, my house does bear a resemblance to the Stevie Ray Vaughan video Cold Shot, why do you ask?) I use the Studio Connect as an iPad docking station, and keep a set of speakers and a guitar cable connected to it. If I feel like making a little music while I’m in the office working, I have all the tools I need.