As you may have noticed, the market for iPod accessories has been booming with all sorts of products, and music applications are benefiting greatly from this trend. Our friends at Sonoma Wire Works are known for providing easy to use, high quality products for beginners... and for those brave and creative enough to break from the standard modus operandi and do things like recording a full release with iPod music applications!
Hit the road, GuitarJack
GuitarJack Model 1 is a solidly built hardware interface housed in an aluminum chassis that offers a no-nonsense way to get audio in and out of your iPod touch / iPhone. In fact, it is the first device that I know of that offers Line in and Line out connections with iPod / iPhone devices.
Before talking functionality, I'd like to clarify that though the packaging only states compatibility with iPod touch Second (8, 16, and 32 GB) and Third (32 and 64 GB) generations, it also works well with iPhone 3G and 3GS. I did this review with my 32 GB iPhone 3GS and it worked really well. Note that GuitarJack Model 1 does not work with iPad, iPhone 4 or iPod touch Fourth Generation, as Apple changed the pins on the 30-pin dock connector on the new devices; Model 2 is already in the works and will be compatible with the new devices -- it is expected to be available in the beginning of 2011.
When first plugging GuitarJack in, a pop-up window appeared stating: "This accessory is not optimized for this iPhone. You may experience noise caused by cellular interference and a decrease in cellular signal strength." It first appeared to be a cause for concern, but having seen this before with products such as car chargers and iPhone dock radios that work just fine, I suspected that it would be OK.
I noticed that there was in fact a bit of noise caused by cellular interference -- this is normal when not setting your phone to Airplane mode, and is the reason why Apple would only allow for the manufacturer to state official compatibility with noncellular phone devices despite the fact that by simply disabling the phone feature you can avoid RF.
To get started, you simply plug GuitarJack into the iPhone's 30-pin dock connector. This connection allows software-hardware communication, provides more control, lower noise and all around higher quality connection from any external device. It is a much better option than a 1/8" TRRS plug used to connect the iPod's/iPhone's headphone/mic input, which has a lot more inherent crosstalk. The ability to have software-hardware communication currently makes GuitarJack the only accessory capable of recording in stereo and simultaneous instrument and voice on the iPod touch and iPhone.
You can use GuitarJack's 1/8" input with a mono or stereo battery-powered condenser microphone such as RØDE's NT4, and you can use any unpowered dynamic microphone such as a good ol' SM57 with an XLR to 1/8" adapter. The iPhone can't provide enough current for phantom power.
GuitarJack in use
I tried GuitarJack's headphone output with both headphones and a satellite/subwoofer computer speaker system, and it performed perfectly. I enjoyed listening to music from my iPhone's iPod library, and making use of other apps such as Peavey's AmpKit, Planet Waves Guitar Tools (tuner function), and Peterson iStroboSoft. Right out of the box, if you don't have an app such as FourTrack (see below) that's optimized for this product and allows multitrack recording, you can use GuitarJack to record straight into the Voice Memos application included. It seems that due to the programming of the free app, playback will only route through the iPhone's built-in speakers.
When first plugging the guitar to the 1/4" input, I had to figure out how to physically position everything, as the weight of the guitar cable would sometimes pull down the iPhone and risk unplugging GuitarJack. Luckily there is a good solid grip from GuitarJack's connector that holds the guitar cable tightly in place... a good solid design there.
And now the questions that keep us real: how does it sound and how does it feel? It sounds great! And it feels really good too, considering the limitation of the iPhone platform. Being well acquainted with playing into a DAW and experimenting with buffer sizes, I can say that GuitarJack is set up at a usable (if not fantastic) latency setting. The fixed buffer size is 512 samples, which has approximately 25 ms of latency. The idea of possibly implementing a way to toggle between 256 and 512 buffer sizes in future versions has occurred to the creators. As it is, the response is pretty great considering you're essentially playing into a pocket-sized computer.
There are no knobs or switches on GuitarJack, but there's more you can do with it, like switching the input impedance in the analog domain via software controls to provide options for a better sound. That feature's accessible via the control panel in a free app called Taylor EQ, and also in...
FourTrack is a fantastic app on its own, and now with GuitarJack's high quality sound, we have the start of an extremely portable recording revolution.
When first opening FourTrack you find four tracks (big surprise...) with vertical faders ranging from minus infinity to +18 dB, a rotary pan switch, a Rec Arm button that lights up red with a track is record enabled, a wide and thin horizontal time line shuttle with a time readout above it, a "Slide to Record" 2-way switch, a Play button, a Song Tools button and an information button.
By pressing the Song Tools button in FourTrack you can access a bunch of features that look like app icons. There are two pages' worth, including: AudioCopy, AudioPaste, File Import, PromoTracks, GuitarJack (control panel), Taylor EQ, Settings, Metronome, Duplicate, Bounce, Mixdown, and MasterFX.
The GuitarJack control panel, like everything else, is pretty intuitive and simple to use. Here you will find three tabs called: 1/8" Input, Both Inputs, and 1/4" Input. In the 1/8" Input tab you can select Input Modes: Mono (L), Dual (L/R) and Stereo, Gain (L) with a continuous virtual horizontal fader that ranges from -48 dB to 0 dB, and three buttons: Pad, Normal and Boost.
The second tab, called Both Inputs, enables both hardware 1/8" and 1/4" inputs, and here you can select gain for both, Impedance for the 1/4" input (Lo-Z Pad, Lo-Z, and Hi-Z; the software actually switches analog components inside GuitarJack!), and 1/8" Range offers three buttons for signal adjustment: Pad, Normal and Boost. When you choose this tab, tracks are record-enabled in adjacent pairs. The third and last tab, called 1/4" Input, has only the gain and impedance controls relevant to the 1/4" input.
I was particularly happy with how easy it is to integrate Sonoma Wire Works' other apps, such as the InstantDrummer packs with their very high quality loops. After you create a drum track, you go to the familiar Song Tools tab and simply press AudioCopy. Then, when you're in FourTrack, you press AudioPaste and it will recognize the saved drum track, import it at the correct tempo, and you're all set to record to your backing track.
GuitarJack is the best sounding device I've heard in its class, and the additional apps from the same manufacturer are ideal complements -- I just wish they had an amp simulator app that integrated seamlessly within FourTrack. A good workaround is to simply use a dedicated hardware amp simulator like one of Line 6's POD products in the signal path after your guitar and before reaching GuitarJack.
This hardware/software system is worthy of applause for the creative possibilities it offers and for its high quality. I have had a blast playing with it, and look forward to future Sonoma products!
Prices: GuitarJack, $199; FourTrack, $9.99; Taylor EQ, free; InstantDrummer Tropical Sun, free
More from: Sonoma Wire Works, www.sonomawireworks.com
Fernando Curiel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Editor of Recording's Spanish-language sister publication, Músico Pro, and an avid guitar gear junkie.