Apps are becoming a major part of music’s future. It started with iPhone and iPad app developers creating abbreviated versions of the same software musicians used on computers. Now developers find themselves converting some of the more creative,original apps into software for laptops and towers. Accessing the best of both worlds—powerful computer software and cutting edge apps—requires combining laptop and tablet into a seamless music production/performance rig. The iConnectAUDIO4+ has arrived just in time to facilitate this ambition
The iConnectAUDIO4+ ($349.99 USD MSRP, $299.99 USD Street ) allows you to plug everything into one USB interface: computers and iOS devices; MIDI through USB or 5-pin MIDI; mics, instruments, speakers, and headphones. It can turn your iPad into a touch-controlled plug-in for your DAW, and/or send dozens of MIDI and digital audio channels back and forth between two computers.
Two Multi-host Device ports let you use two computer devices (Mac/PC/iOS) at the same time. There is a Host port for connecting up to eight MIDI peripherals (with Class-compliant devices connected to a powered hub). Audio and MIDI passThru routes audio digitally between two computing devices.
The iConnectAUDIO4+ features four XLR ¼” TRS combo analog inputs, four microphone preamplifiers with 48v phantom power, four ¼” TRS balanced analog outputs, and a ¼” Headphone output with its own independent mix. It has regular 5 pin DIN MIDI in/out, 29 routable MIDI ports for Mac, PC, iOS, 5 pin MIDI DIN and class compliant USB MIDI devices.
iConfig software (Mac, Windows, iOS) lets you set up filtering/routing/merging scenes, which are also stored in flash memory on the device. Capacitive touch user controls allow level adjustment without the software. USB 1 input powers and charges an iOS device, while Input 2 will power a single device.
The audio is high-resolution, with up to 24-bit/96kHz AD/DA conversion. A-D Dynamic Range is102dB (Single-ended), while D-A Dynamic Range is106dB. The iConnectAUDIO4+ supports sample rates of 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, and 96 kHz.
Mac users need to be running OS X 10.4 or later, and configuration of the device with iConfig is limited to OS X 10.6 (64 bit) or greater. Mac OS X 10.7 or later recommended, because in OS X 10.6 Apple’s RTP-MIDI had issues with Sysex messages greater than 256 bytes (up to 256 bytes were fine, but above that messages were not formatted correctly). Windows requires XP SP3 or later. You will also need one free USB port.
Your iOS device needs to be running 4.2 or later and have a Lightning connection (a Lightning to USB cable is provided). iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation, iPad 2nd and 3rd generation need an iConnectivity 30pin to USB type-B iOS Inline Connection Cable. (sold separately).
So much for the specs.
I unpacked the iConnectAUDIO4+ with high hopes for integrating my new iPad with my laptop for performance purposes. I quickly discovered that, despite a brand new solid-state hard drive, the almost ten-year-old MacBook Pro was just too antiquated to work with this piece of modern technology. Shifting to my five-year-old iMac, I plugged in iConnect, which was instantly recognized by Ableton Live as an audio interface.
Plugging in my iPad, I found I could immediately play guitar through Ableton, send it to an app on the iPad and have the additionally processed sound come out of the headphones or speakers.
So far, so cool.
With this quick setup, however, I was unable to process the sound from the apps through Ableton’s plug-ins. I wanted to be able to use the iPad apps in an effects return in Live. That way I could process apps in Ableton and record the processed sound to the Live Looper.
This entailed diving into the iConfig software’s virtual patchbay and/or mixer. After spending half a day trying to figure it out on my own, I called for help. I learned there is a separate White Paper available about the virtual patchbay, but wanting to get this review out soon, I didn’t have time for more of a learning curve.
Mike Loh at iConnect was kind enough to walk me through it, and together we discovered that by setting Audiobus to receive on outputs 5 and 6 of the patchbay, I could place Live’s external audio plug-in in a return channel and set it up to send and return on channels 5 and 6. Anything I sent to that effects return was processed through the iPad app and I could send that processed sound to other return channels. This was exactly the concept I had in mind.
There is a latency tradeoff with this setup, as the signal is going from the computer to Audiobus in the iPad then back to the computer. I found the latency workable, as I do almost exclusively ambient style music without needing to synch to a rhythm.
If you prefer you can separate the computer audio and iPad audio in the virtual iConfig mixer. This still allows separate control of your main audio and iPad signal levels, and cuts down on latency, but doesn’t permit processing of the iPad apps with the Ableton plug-ins, or recording the iPad sounds to the Ableton Looper. Still, if you do much of your processing with pedals, pre-computer, and are running into a guitar amp or two, you may find this setup preferable. You can also do extra processing and looping right in the iPad within Audiobus, though I have found using multiple apps in Audiobus to often be problematic.
Next came MIDI.
I attached a Korg nanoKontrol to the iConnect host input and tried to get it to work with Ableton. No luck at first, until I realized I had to shut down Live and reopen it; everything then worked perfectly. I was able to us the nanoKontrol to adjust send knobs and levels in Live, while also controlling parameters on iPad apps.
Once everything was set up and running, it became about making music. As you can see from the video, I am still getting used to harnessing all the possibilities, but they are enormous. Apps like Adrian Belew’s Flux, Borderlands, and Samplr provide easy access to sounds and effects that would be difficult if not impossible to get with pedals and plug-ins alone. When combined with pedals and plug-ins, these apps offer a sound creation paradise, made easily accessible by iConnectAUDIO4+.
Now to buy a new laptop.