Griffin Technology has devised a way to marry the advanced technology of the iPad 2 with the comfort and familiarity of a traditional guitar or bass. Using Griffin’s GuitarConnect Cable, Technophile musicians can now combine the unique recording and performance capabilities of the iPad 2 with the benefits afforded by playing physical instruments (as opposed to the host of digital options available on the iPad 2 through various apps).
The GuitarConnect cable provides a link between a guitar, bass, or any other instrument with a 1/4-inch jack, and an iPad 2, iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. The cable can’t do much by itself, and must be partnered with some sort of supporting software. Griffin recommends the free iShred Live app, and over the course of the review period I used GuitarConnect with both iShred Live and Apple’s homebrewed GarageBand software.
The Griffin GuitarConnect Cable design is straightforward, as cable designs generally tend to be. One end features a standard 1/8-inch jack, the same as you would find at the bottom of any normal pair of headphones. The other side splits into two parts, one featuring a 1/4-inch jack that plugs into an electric guitar, and the other a 1/8-inch line out (which headphones plug into).
The cable is six feet long, which would allow for a limited but acceptable range of movement if not for one key design flaw: the point where the 1/4-inch jack and 1/8-inch line out split provides hardly any room for a musician to move between whatever the 1/4-inch cable is plugged into (the guitar) and whatever is plugged into the 1/8-inch line out.
Each wire extends only four inches from the split. If you’re using headphones it’s not really an issue, but say, for instance, you use the line out to plug into an amp that supports connection via an 1/8-inch cable. Well you’re pretty much glued to that amp unless you have an unusually long connecting cable.
This short split is by no means a deal breaker; it’s just a slight irritation that Griffin should address when it comes time for GuitarConnect 2.0. And, in fact, it’s really my only complaint about the cable overall.
GuitarConnect is grey in color with black plastic casing over the jacks and plug. In regards to build quality and hardiness, it feels like it could go on tour with the most abusive band in town and survive through the encore.
Performance and Fidelity
When I first jacked in using GuitarConnect I was using GarageBand, which is not Griffin’s recommended companion app for the cable. Initially the iPad 2/GarageBand refused to recognize the connection, but after unplugging and re-plugging all of the GuitarConnect wires, I was good to go. It’s also worth noting that I did not have this same problem occur at all while using iShred Live, the app for which GuitarConnect is specifically suited.
I found the audio fidelity to be surprisingly good, especially considering that I was plugged into a headphone port. I ran the sound back through both classic Apple earbuds and a 150 watt amplifier, and in my informal observation, there was no noticeable quality loss.
I can’t say I’d recommend GuitarConnect for flawless, crystal clear recording, or for hi-fi professional work, but if you’re recording into an iPad 2 via an 1/8-inch jack, that’s probably not your primary concern anyways. The sound quality is more than acceptable for the average user, and GuitarConnect satisfactorily bridges the gap to the iPad 2 and its wealth of apps and opportunities.
Speaking of apps, as mentioned before GuitarConnect is semi-partnered with digital guitar pedal app iShred Live. It is featured on the front of the cable’s packaging, with a little blurb in the top right corner that says “Use with free iShred Live App.” Considering that it was Griffin’s app of choice, I decided to try it out as the software component to the cable.
The iShred Live app offers a total of 12 pedals that can be combined in a number of different ways to produce a seemingly endless variety of sounds. Unfortunately variety comes at a price. Three pedals come included with initial download of the app: the “Buzz Kill” noise gate, “Q-36 Space Modulator”, and “HK-2000” delay. The other nine pedals, however, must be purchased via in-app download and cost $1.99 each.
In addition to the 12 pedals, iShred Live also features a customary metronome and tuner, both of which are simple and functional. There’s also a library for user-created presets, an iTunes playback box so users can play along with their music, and a “multi-track” recorder (which also costs $1.99) that is simple and less than functional.
Using iShred Live turned out to be a very uneven experience. On one hand, it has some great pedals and can be a lot of fun. On the other, hitting a pay wall whenever you want to use a new feature (with in-app costs totaling about $20 for access to everything), frustratingly low monitoring levels, and an all-too-frequent freezing problem made me question if this app is worth the money and the trouble.
Over the review period I spent $6 on what was supposedly a free app, just to gain a small part of its additional features. I purchased two additional pedals — the “Adrenaline” treble boost and AutoWah — as well as the recorder.
I must say that all five of the pedals I used were unique and offered an array of customization options. Some combinations yielded nothing but feedback or ended up producing a muddied sound, but that can happen with just about any software that’s being used to digitally alter an instrument’s output.
Playback levels were relatively low in iShred Live, even with my bass and the iPad 2 both turned up all of the way. I know this was not the GuitarConnect Cable’s fault, since I had perfectly good playback in GarageBand.
The playback level issue was nothing compared to the problems I got into with iShred Live’s onboard recorder. This recording component would have been ill-received if it had been free; charging $2 for what turns out to be a nearly featureless add-on was not good practice by the developers. This wasn’t supposed to be the primary focus of iShred Live (as indicated by the app’s name), but it was a paid component of the experience, and really should have delivered more.
Despite these issues, iShred Live almost made it through the review leaving me with mixed, but ultimately positive feelings … then it started freezing. When switching between songs in the recorder, the app would occasionally get hung up, and I’d have to exit it and wait a while before it would start working again. This happened numerous times throughout the review period and is a black eye on what is a serviceable, albeit not phenomenal, guitar pedal replacement app.
iShred Live Versus GarageBand
Considering I reviewed GarageBand just a few weeks ago, and ended up getting back into it for some parts of this review, it was inevitable that iShred Live would have to stand against Apple’s fantastic music app.
GarageBand and iShred Live have different focuses. It just so happens, however, that GarageBand also offers live instrument input and a selection of pedals to alter the sound. This small component of GarageBand that directly overlaps with what iShred attempts provides a much, much richer experience.
GarageBand offers 10 pedals and a wide selection of amp models, and for the most part anything iShred Live can do GarageBand can do better (and for less money). If the opportunity arises where both of these apps can be had, and you really love having the widest selection of effects and combinations available, there’s no reason not to get iShred Live.
However if you can only get one, GarageBand is next to flawless while iShred Live definitely features some rough edges.
The GuitarConnect Cable is an exceptionally useful cord for any digitally inclined musician, and with a bit of imagination could be used for nearly limitless applications. Don’t let my few design complaints deter you; GuitarConnect offers a unique opportunity that any iPad 2 owning guitarist, bassist, or keyboardist should take advantage of.
The companion iShred Live app did not capture my imagination in quite the same way. I highly recommend that any GuitarConnect user get GarageBand first, and iShred Live second, if at all. With that harsh sentiment, I do want to add on that the app has a lot of potential, and I hope that its developers will keep on developing, molding it into the quality application that it’s on the cusp of becoming.