By Clive Young.
The marketplace for software/hardware interfaces that turn an Apple iPhone into a guitar effect simulator has been crowding up quickly. There’s at least five different hardware solutions that allow you to get your guitar signal in and out of your phone, and even more apps that let you play around with it once it’s in there, simulating a variety of amps and stompboxes. Peavey recently released its own hardware solution, AmpKit Link, teaming up for the software counterpart, AmpKit, with Agile Partners, known for its popular Guitar Tool Kit app. I recently tried the AmpKit app and Link on an iPhone 3G and here’s what happened.
Most of the iPhone guitar interface options out there seem to land at $39.99, and AmpKit Link is no exception. What makes it unique, however, is that it’s a powered device, requiring two AAA batteries in order to run a small headphone preamp inside the unit that defeats (most) feedback by turning the iPhone’s output into a low current signal, thus minimizing crosstalk between the headphone and mic inputs on the iPhone, which share a single, common ground. That said, where there's a will, there's a way--I still managed to hit myself once with feedback during a few hours worth of playing; as a result, from then on, I kept the AmpKit app’s virtual noise gate on. And speaking of the app….
The AmpKit software comes in two flavors. First, there’s Free, which includes a metronome, tuner and simulations of a Peavey ValveKing amp with clean and high-gain lead channels, two mics, and two pedals. AmpKit+ is available for $19.99, and includes four amps, two mics and eight pedals. In both versions of AmpKit, you can make in-app purchases of additional gear, typically ranging from $3-$7.
The software is broken down into five areas--My Settings, Presets, Recordings, Add Gear and Info--and you’ll likely spend most of your time in the first two. The Presets area provides specific line-ups of virtual gear. If you start playing around with the settings and create your own adaptation, they’re saved in the My Settings area and can be renamed.
The Presets area also includes a list of “Unavailable Presets”--sample gear line-ups that you don’t initially have all the equipment for until you make additional purchases. You can try them out using provided sound samples. One thing I appreciated was that when you buy a given virtual item, any preset that it completes the gear list for is automatically moved to your Available Presets. You choose a preset by scrolling through a list--while this makes it easy to find them, it would likely make them more difficult to use during a gig if you needed more than one sound per song.
Gear-wise, the various items sound good, matching up to their real-world counterparts. The distortion sounds in particular are full-bodied with air and presence to them, and they don’t get brittle as they trail off--something I found happened a bit with IK Multimedia's AmpliTube for iPhone. AmpKit definitely caters to guitarists looking to distort and warp their sounds; there’s so many distortion pedals offered that a few sound virtually identical. You can get clean sounds for jazz or pseudo-acoustic playing, but the app plays to Peavey’s core hard rock constituency. I didn’t hear latency issues at all, but to be fair, I’m more of a rhythm player. I don’t have the chops to play speedy, technical material where latency would be a critical concern, so I don’t know if it holds up to Dragonforce-speed soloing, though I suspect it would.
There’s a certain amount of mimicry, design- and name-wise, to let you know what pseudo-equipment you’re messing with—for example, the Colonel amp’s logo resembles that of a Marshall, and some mic choices include Neumann, AKG and Shure simulations like the Germann 87, KGB 451 and 414, and the aptly named Workhorse 57. Naturally, there’s a few real-world Peavey amps in the app, too. All of this points to an interesting potential side-effect--if aspiring guitarists spend hours getting to know simulated gear in an app like AmpKit, it might lead to their buying the real-world hardware down the road.
The Recording area is unique to AmpKit, though the concept of being able to record yourself in-app seems like such a no-brainer that it’s bound to be implemented by competing apps eventually. The recording process is simple enough, and whatever you play is recorded twice: just as you played it with all your effects and such, and as a straight guitar signal which you can reamp through different virtual gear—a nice touch if you’re undecided about your tone. The app can’t do multitrack recording, but you can export your creations or keep them in the app to play against as a backing track.
Most of the gear is pretty intuitive to use—pedals and amps work as you'd expect them to—but the Info area is a great resource when you need it. It clearly explains everything and is well organized, getting you back to the rest of the app quickly. In all, AmpKit and AmpKit Link are both solid iPhone products that sound good and are clearly well thought-out.