Keith White on the iRig Mic

Keith White
5 May, 2011
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This is my first take on a new offering from IK Multimedia – the iRig Mic and VocaLive app. This package is the vocal equivalent of the iRig guitar interface and the Amplitube or Fender app. Basically the hardware component gives you an interface with your iOS device and the software component gives you the ability to reshape the inputted sound in a multitude of ways.

Firstly the microphone: the iRig Mic has a smooth black body and a silver grille at the business end. It feels solid in the hand and has a very useful three-stage gain reduction switch for you to get your input volume right. The cable is much lighter than a standard microphone lead and with good reason. If it needs to go into your iPhone or iPod touch you don’t really want a heavy cable dragging it onto the floor. The microphone is an electret condenser, which means it is self-powered.

A 1/8 inch plug connects neatly to your iOS device and contains a similar size socket which will accept headphones or a connection to an external amplifier. The microphone will work with any iOS app with recording ability. Some users have reported latency problems with other apps, but I tried it with GarageBand on the iPad and it worked just fine.But still, the microphone is specifically designed to work with VocaLive so it’s best to judge how it performs on its home ground.

VocaLive is essentially a vocal effects processor with a number of additional tools. The processor consists of four vocal effects–a vocal harmoniser (Choir), Pitch Fix, D-Esser, and Morph, which provide a cornucopia of vocal variations. Standard effects include delay, phaser, chorus, envelope filter, parametric EQ, reverb and compressor. Any three of these vocal and standard effects can be chained together to produce a particular sound. This can then be saved as a preset or a favourite.

The app ships with a number of presets to give you the idea of what is possible. You can then modify these and save with your own title. Each effect is minutely customisable with realistic knobs and switches that can be manipulated by touch.

As a solo performer I was particularly interested in the harmony capabilities of the app, as I am currently using the Harmony G XT footpedal for my choral effects. The Choir function in VocaLive offers you three additional variations of your own voice. These can be set at any interval in the scale and each part can be given its own volume, pan and tonal setting.

Speaking of intervals,VocaLive will work better for you if you know some basic stuff about scales and intervals. The Pitch Fix function which is very useful for smoothing out minor melodic deviations in your vocals particularly requires some musical understanding. But it’s not essential, and you can learn as you go.

Just like Amplitube and Fender you can import songs from your iPod library into the app. New in VocaLive is the ability to strip the vocal track from the song so you can do the singing. You also get a metronome and a neat vocal warm-up function which plays simple arpeggios for you to repeat until you’re ready to start. There’s also a four-track recorder with a nice retro cassette recorder interface.

The sounds you can produce with VocaLive range from stunningly professional to weird. Kids love the wacky sounds of the Morph effect that alters the pitch and timbre to produce a full range of Dr Who-style voices.

The best way to familiarise yourself with the app is to plug the headphones in and work slowly through the various settings. You’ll need to spend quite some time but you can have a lot of fun on the way. There is a free version with the iRig Mic with one effect (Reverb) and one choral effect (Double) to which you can add other FX as in-app purchases. If you do this one at a time you will finally spend a lot more than buying the full version of the app in the first place. And the Double /Reverb combo doesn’t really give you an accurate idea of VocaLive’s full range. It’s probably better to watch/listen to the demos on the IK Multimedia website.

So what do I think? I’m still considering my verdict. The Harmony
G XT sounds a bit smoother to my ears and I don’t need so much fiddling around to get a really nice harmonic sound.

But if you consider the price differential of around $500 and the fact that VocaLive has a whole battery of additional effects I’m sure I will be spending more time with VocaLive to try and nail those presets. For the price it’s an absolute stunner. It’s rumoured there’s an iPad-specific version in development which might be interesting. And it’s only version 1.0.
VocaLive $23.99 from the iTunes store.
iRig Mic RRP $99 but you can do better

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