Despite IK Multimedia bringing a universal iRig to Android, there were still limitations. Fortunately, the iRig UA looks past that bringing Amplitube and portable guitar effects processing to all Android devices
When IK Multimedia announced the iRig 2 and its compatibility with Android I was over the moon. Finally I thought I’d be able to make the most of AmpliTube on my Android smartphone. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case as despite the devices compatibility with some Android devices, AmpliTube was still limited to just Samsung smartphones. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any decent alternatives because there are, but they don’t offer the same low latency as IK’s own solution.
In comes the iRig UA, a completely universal iRig device which works with most Android smartphones and tablets. It’s a pricey alternative to the iRig 2, but it comes with its own dedicated AmpliTube app which retains most of the functionality of the main app found on iOS and Samsung devices. It also has native Android connectivity too meaning it processes sound through your smartphone’s microUSB port rather than the microphone/headphone jack like with the iRig 2. This helps with both latency and audio processing, something that’s quite noticable between the two.
The iRig UA differs from the iRig 2 in more than just the way it connects to your devices too. According to IK Multimedia, the iRig UA features a “first-of-its-kind built-in digital signal processor (DSP) that solves the Android platform’s issue of manufacturer fragmentation and OS latency”. This is achieved by moving all of the processing to the UA rather than relying on the software to do the job. This allows for a much better sound quality and as already mentioned, latency free playing.
With the launch of the iRig UA, which IK say is expected to roll out in the second quarter of the year, they’ve also launched a new AmpliTube app into the Google Play Store, compatible with most Android devices. AmpliTube UA is a new version of its popular app which works along side the iRig UA and helps with the processing, as well as offering a fairly simple interface for musicians to create the perfect set up using the apps various amps and stomp boxes. These can then all be saved into various presets which can be activated in an instant.
Now, one of the main appeals for me with the iRig 2, was the ability to have my instruments running through the device, play around with virtual effects, and the have it running out to an amp. This is the first time IK has done something like that and I, along with many on-the-go musicians, probably found that feature pretty appealing. Unfortunately the iRig UA goes back to a similar set-up as the original iRig and iRig HD offering no output to your amp. There’s headphone support, which is great for a quiet practice session by yourself and there’s an auxiliary input too which allows for external MP3 players to connect to the device so players can play along to music. You can also use an auxiliary cable with either a 1/4inch adapter, or a lead which has 3.5mm one end and 1/4 the other, but the lack of native 1/4-inch output to your amp is pretty disappointing.
Usability of the entire setup is pretty great. You can connect the device fairly easily, it’s powered by your smartphone’s battery too which means no need for fiddly battery replacements for the device. From a pretty long play-session it also doesn’t drain your smartphone’s battery too quickly either which is nice. As I run a device with Android 5.0 I was able to play music via Google Play streaming through the UA and while most devices would push the audio volume through one output, I was able to fine-tune the volume of the music with the volume of the guitar output using both the phones volume settings and the little volume dial on the iRig UA. This made it much easier to hear what I’m playing while keeping the audio track at a more reasonable volume.
For those who aren’t on Android 5.0 unfortunately you’ll have to put up with running the sound from your smartphone into the iRig UA using an auxiliary cable, which can quickly lead to a mess of wires, but with most new devices coming with 5.0 out of the box, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting the thru-UA streaming working.
Overall the iRig UA is a very lightweight but well built bit of kit, as you’d expect from IK Multimedia. Due to it’s sound-processing features it is a little pricey at the €99.99 mark, a price I’d personally consider quite high for a device which lacks thru-amp capabilities like the iRig 2 which us currently sitting at a more reasonable €39.99. But that being said, the sound coming from the device is absolutely top notch and you do get what you pay for. It’s also worth noting that in terms of sound, the iRig UA is more comparable to the iRig HD, a device compatible with iPhone, iPad, or Mac/PC which also offers high quality audio and active signal processing circuitry, this is also priced at €99.99.
While the cheaper iRig 2 does the job, like with anything, if you pay a little more, you get a much higher quality product, and that’s certainly the case with the iRig UA.
If you’re someone who often practices by themselves unplugged, but would love to crank their amp up to 11 and thrash out some overdriven noise, then the iRig UA not only delivers punchy effects processing, but the sound quality is pretty impressive considering it’s all digital. Though the price, in my opinion, is a little high for my liking, it does offer a fully universal bit of kit for any Android device, and that’s what I’ve been calling out for, for some time. It’s just a shame we have to pay through the nose for this.