Alun Lower takes to the stage with this plug ‘n’ play electronics solution from IK Multimedia
Electronic capability is something I can’t do without on a guitar – I love playing with other musicians, and I’m also a bit of an effects addict. I’ve also known players who prefer purely acoustic instruments, considering aftermarket electronics solutions fiddly, prone to feedback and overly expensive. What IK Multimedia has attempted to do with the iRig Acoustic Stage is offer an unobtrusive, high-performance electronics package that any player can use.
Out of the box, the iRig Acoustic Stage is an impressive-looking piece of kit. Sleek, modern and with refreshingly few wires and add-ons, it looks like a gadget that means business, but won’t take your head off in the process. The main unit itself is very lightweight but reassuringly sturdy – it’ll clip onto a belt or guitar strap without getting in the way, but if it drops to the ground, it feels like it can take the hit. Many guitarists I know are surprisingly clumsy when they’re not busting impossible chord shapes, so that might be good news.
The unit itself is thankfully very simple – aside from the mix and volume controls on the bottom and a phase switch on the side, all you have to worry about are a gigantic ‘cancel feedback’ button and a tone button that cycles through various presets. Great for those of us who just want a plug n’ play solution, but for the tweakers, there’s the option of long-pressing the tone button to calibrate the presets further. I found that the factory default sounded best with the steel-stringed dread I was using for testing, but the process for changing this is simple. Likewise, the feedback control can easily be set to eliminate up to 10 feedback-prone frequencies at the touch of a button. Simple.
The microphone is also impressively easy to install – simply slide it over the soundhole of your guitar, and hey presto! The wire then connects back to the main unit and you’re good to go – unless you also want to run your own pre-existing electronics system through the iRig, in which case you just run another cable from your guitar’s output to the aux in and blend the signals to preference.
Despite knowing from prior experience that IK Multimedia make some stonkingly good products, I admit I was skeptical. With such a simple set-up and innocuous-looking little microphone, the idea that this could transform any guitar into a high-quality stage instrument seemed unlikely. How wrong I was. The sheer clarity and breadth of tone this thing produces is just so impressive.
Starting on the ‘natural’ setting, I honestly forgot I had any other presets to switch to, as this default was so transparent and pleasing to the ear that I happily kept playing until I suddenly remembered I had more testing to do. Of course, no electronics package can be 100%, like your acoustic instrument, but for under £100 this does an extraordinarily good job. The tone is balanced, natural and superbly clear, while keeping the nuances of your guitar’s tone intact. As I was playing a dreadnought, the resulting tone was perfect for strumming along but I also fancied seeing if the ‘warm’ setting could thicken up lead passages and fingerpicking. Sure enough, the setting does what it says on the tin and just adds enough to shift your tone without making it sound like you’ve switched guitar completely. And it was as easy as clicking a button. The ‘bright’ setting too was equally distinctive, working especially well for effects in my opinion. Adding chorus and reverb sounded so balanced and clear, where otherwise I might have had to go and mess around with an EQ to avoid the sound getting overly muddy and boomy.
I also tried blending from my test guitar’s Fishman Presys output, and again the iRig performed admirably, letting the guitar’s own electronic voice pass through or colouring it as little or as much as necessary. Given the option, I think I’d just bypass the built-in electronics and just use the iRig. It works so effortlessly, that I can’t see why you’d bother making it more complicated if you already have an exceptional electronics package or are just getting too much feedback from a nightmare venue, in which case you could just use a piezo signal and give it some colour with the iRig.
The iRig Acoustic Stage is a beautifully simple and simply beautiful-sounding piece of kit. Supremely versatile yet easy enough for even the most technophobic guitarist to use, it’s hard to pick out a single flaw. The only thing I found slightly fiddly was cycling through the nylon settings back to the first steel-string preset, but it only took a few seconds, and I am exceptionally lazy – probably a sign that I’ve been spoiled. It’s not the cheapest solution available but it is certainly one of the easiest to use and best-sounding. It also looks like it could be a little obtrusive at first, but in reality you soon forget it’s even there and just get back to playing. This little device is potentially a transformative factor in your choice of guitar – giving live performers the choice of literally any stringed instrument they can lay their hands on, without worrying about how to set it up for live use. That possibility alone is worth its weight in gold, but to add to that the excellent tonal performance just seals the deal.
IK Multimedia iRig Acoustic Stage
NEED TO KNOW
Manufacturer: IK Multimedia
Model: iRig Acoustic Stage
Includes: Dedicated iRig Acoustic microphone, belt clip, carrying case
Interface Output: USB class compliant audio output via micro-USB port
Power: Battery power (2xAA), USB bus power
Acoustic test results
Pros: Great design, sounds and value for money. So simple to use.
Overall: A fantastic little gadget that could transform the way you play live. Superb.
Look out for the upcoming issue of Acoustic for a full selection of interviews, reviews, news and more in shops or online at www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk.