IK Multimedia iRig Micro Amp, a portable amplifier with versatile tones for guitar players on the go.
This company has been a strong contender in the mobile music space for quite a while. In fact it’s hard to imagine another business with such a complete line-up ranging from iPhone interfaces, to amp modelling software, to speakers and amps you can take when traveling. This time we will check out one of their options of portable amplifiers for guitar, the iRig Micro Amp. Ah, before we forget, they were pioneers in launching one of the first guitar interfaces for iPhone and iPad.
It sports 15W when DC IN powered, or 7.5W when powered by batteries. It comes with the 6 AA batteries, but not with the AC/DC adaptor. However, the specification for that is 9V-15V DC negative inside, so we used a pedal power supply such as the iSpot.
It is small and light enough to be taken around the house while practicing, which is exactly why we thought this would be an exciting piece of gear to try. Provided inputs and outputs could not be more obvious: guitar in, aux in (for CD players and portable music devices), headphones out, speaker out – for plugging into more powerful sets of speakers. Controls are also quite clear and expected: volume, gain, bass, mid, treble. So far so good.
The cherry on top is the fact that it comes with its own clean, drive and lead tones, but also has an USB interface so you can use it for recording and/or with external amp modelling apps. Keep reading then !
Why would you want it ?
There are a lot of use cases for a piece of gear like this, and it is the reason why many brands – like Boss, Fender, Marshall and so on – have these devices out in the market:
- Very practical for practicing guitar around the house or for quiet rehearsals. Of course a full band set with drummer will require more power, but a lot of musicians these days just put a backing track on and then rock out.
- Travelling. Maybe as a carry-on on a plane is a bit of a stretch, but on the road you could just use it to strum some chords and jam with your imaginary friends while your real friends are down at the beach.
- Budget interface for recording and amp modelling. Like the iRig line of products from the same brand, this allows you to record to an iPad, iPhone, PC or Mac. Bonus: the cables are included !! Lightning and USB ! Wow, and a license for the Amplitube CS for the iOS devices or the computer is also included. The device is MFI certified by Apple, so officially recognised as an audio interface for their devices.
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Look And Feel + User Interface
Essentially made of plastic, it is not made to impress your friends who want to see a massive Marshall stack. All these portable amplifies out there are in the same vain. But it doesn’t look cheap despite its price point. It is well finished, glossy and the controls feel robust and durable. It is clearly a piece of gear designed for functionality over looks, which is the whole point of a portable practice guitar amp.
The user interface is extremely simple, with one LED for each of the provided tones: clean, drive, lead. You can cycle through them with a button. When the iOS device is plugged in, it defaults and locks in clean mode so you can use the amp processing from the device. This is where it opens to a plethora of options that go beyond the included Amplitube. Check out our review of the best guitar effects apps for iPad and iPhone for more.
The remainder of the user interface in this case will of course depend on the app you are using. Amplitube itself is very intuitive and feels like a virtual guitar rig with pedals, effects and amps. Worth checking out even if you already have a portable amp like this or another audio interface for your iPad or iPhone.
Overall the unit itself is very easy to use and figure out without even opening the user manual.
Connecting a pair of headsets mutes the speakers and directs the sound to the headsets. Likewise for when external speakers are connected. All very obvious and intuitive. The objective is to have fun playing guitar, not fiddling with complex devices, right ?
The areas we are interested in are the main drivers for picking a portable amp: how long do the batteries last, how does it sound, and how good are the recordings in case you want to capture some ideas for songs while on the road.
The user manual claims 15 hours of use with alkaline batteries like the ones provided. During our tests we used all three options of tones and the connected iPad running Amplitube and it lasted at least for a whole afternoon with a few pauses to rest here and there. Our point was not to try and double check the user manual claim, but rather to verify that it’s good enough not to be a problem. Batteries don’t last forever we all know, but this device did the job to the point we almost forgot it was running on batteries.
The included tones are decent enough. The clean sounds well balanced and the EQ controls are quite effective. The drive and lead positions are a bit closer to each other in tone than we were expecting, even with different settings of gain. So it is the drive that is perhaps a bit more saturated than it should but not to the point of being an issue. As you can expect, it all sounds a bit ‘boxy’ and mid-frequency focussed due to the size of the speaker. And the bass EQ adjustment helps in controlling some resonance in the lowest frequencies. It took very few tweaks for us to get a decent sound out of it. The sound we captured is in an youtube video which follows the next section of this article. It should be noted that with the AC/DC adaptor we used, there was a bit of hum added.
The real advantage of this device is the fact that you can easily connect to an amp modeller on a computer or iOS device. This really opens up infinite possibilities. Amplitube alone will give you Fender, Marshall and other amp modulations to make your neighbours run for the hills – yes the 15W amp looks small but is quite powerful, we almost got a knock on the door, but it was due to sloppy playing more than loudness.
We would expect a device from the pioneers of the iOS guitar interfaces to be as good or better than the other iRig family members. It lives up to the promise. Specs on pair with the market: 24-bits, 44.1kHz to 96kHz sample rate, same for interfaces, lighting and USB. No USB-C, but that is still a bit rare particularly with mobile interfaces of this price range.
The recordings you will hear below include capturing the three included tones with a microphone, and also capturing some USB recordings. All takes were done at 48kHz 24-bits. Important to note that for the USB recordings we had better results with Logic Pro X buffer set to 256 samples. Latency was bearable, and below that we did experience a few glitches in the audio.
We also noted that when the USB device is connected for recording, be it a computer or iOS device, the unit locks itself in the clean mode and the EQ controls become ineffective. The volume and gain still operate, so be sure to adjust that to match your taste in the recording. We adjusted the gain to minimum, and then adjusted the volume until the level was comfortably at around -12 dBFS.
- Amp sound captured via microphone, Clean
- Amp sound captured via microphone, Drive
- Amp sound captured via microphone, Lead
- USB direct recording, Clean
- USB direct recording, Amplitube 80 Metalz A (effects available on the version of Amplitube provided with the device)
Cheerful nod to the folks at IK Multimedia as this thing rocks the house for sure. It punches maybe even above its weight for the category and give players a cool option to rock out on-the-go without much hassle. The stand-out points were:
- Light, neat, simple and effective
- Three included tones independent from external devices
- Option to expand endlessly via external devices and modellers
- Option to use more powerful speakers for a rehearsal with a full band, for example
- Runs on batteries
There is a roadmap for improvement for sure in these areas:
- Adding a tuner, so you can tune even when not connected to an external device
- Supporting USB-C, perhaps by adding a third USB cable in the box
- Adding a handle on top
- Using replaceable rechargeable batteries with AC/DC adaptor included
The IK Multimedia iRig Micro Amp is great contender in the ever expanding universe of portable and mobile guitar amps. Can’t wait to see what’s next ! Ah you can find more info on the product website as well, of course.
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