Monday, 28 May 2012

iPad Accessory Review part 2

Earlier, I looked at the useful audio accessories for the iPad as that is my speciality, but there are a couple of important tools that I use often for general teaching and iPad management that are worth looking at too!

Griffin Multidock
This is essentially a docking station that houses up to 10 iPads. You can use it as a stand alone changing station where you can plug each iPad in using the included right angled 30pin to USB leads. This works well and beats having to plug each one in to a different socket on the wall (which we had to do while we were waiting for it to be delivered - about 3 months!). The other important reason for us  was that you can connect all 10 of the iPads to iTunes at the same time which makes updating and syncing them all easier as they are all in one place. It is quite sturdy, as it is made from sheet metal and has a security bar that locks the iPads in the dock when they are charging, this is a bit of a gimmick as you could break the bar off the housing quite easily, so I wouldn't rely on it too much!
The guide that it comes with misses out an important procedure, so I've made made a clearer one here...

Apple iPad VGA Adaptor
We got some of these adaptors so that we can plug the iPad in to the projectors we have in each room. All I had to do was plug in the 30 pin connector to the iPad and connected the VGA lead that usually plus in to the computer, turned the projector on and there it was - a massive iPad screen! Everything that you do on the iPad is mirrored on the projected screen and the quality is about the same as the computer. Personally, I would connect the audio out to speakers as the audio quality from the iPad speaker isn't that great but it might not be so easy to do with different set ups. This is well worth getting, if you want to use it to teach with especially if you want to show images, web sites, and with the Apple Keynote app you can do presentations with it - I haven't tried this yet, but I've seen it in action and is next on my list!

IK Multimedia iKlip
Although this fits in with the audio accessories review, I found myself using this more for general teaching. 
Essentially this is a holder for the iPad that fits on to any microphone stand and can be used in portrait or landscape mode. As we have lots of microphone stands 'hanging around' this is a great way of having the iPad within easy reach it works best on stands without a boom arm as you can just slip it on, however you can use it to hold the iPad on the up part of the stand and have a mic on the boom arm if you need to use a mic and look at the iPad screen at the same time.
The iPad slips in to it smoothly, without scratching the surface but you need to set the orientation before you put the iPad in as it requires undoing a screw that is recessed behind where the iPad sits. This a bit of a pain as some apps work better in portrait mode or vice versa and it would be nice to change it on the fly, but i suppose its to keep it secure. There is at least a twist lock to tilt it up and down to get the right angle for you to work with. If you are using it with the VGA adaptor for presentations then the adapter hangs out and the weight of the VGA lead tends to pull on it more so it would have been nice to have a little lead clip to stop this from happening. There are other stands and holders out there which I haven't tried but this is one to try out if you have access to a mic stand (or add £20 for a basic stand).

Monday, 21 May 2012

iPad Music Accessories Review

Throughout this iPad project, I have been able to try out and experiment with various products that extend the use of the iPad from a mere tablet. There are some that are specific to music and audio and others that are useful for general teaching that I'll discuss in my next post..

Music and Audio accessories

 iRig is an adapter that plugs in to the headphone socket on an iPad, iPhone and new style MacBooks and allows you to plug in your electric guitar or Bass. It works primarily with the Amplitube free app but can also feed the guitar amp in GarageBand.
We found that using it through a PA produced a lot of feedback and we had to use a fair amount of the noise gate pedal that comes with Amplitube free. The sound was usable and as you get a delay pedal with it, you can create some interesting patterns.
The students in to Metal were less impressed with the free offerings, preferring the amps in GarageBand, however, every time you stop playing when using it with GarageBand it emitted a very short but noticeable squeak! Nothing we changed could stop that and it wasn't happening when using headphones.
We used Amplitube in the final performance of Jupiter and Saturn with an electro acoustic guitar and it worked fine. I think it would be worth investing in the other amps and FX if this is to be the primary function as the free version is pretty basic for seasoned pros!

The iRig Mic is a hand held condenser mic that like the iRig, plugs in to the headphone port of the iPad. It allows you to record anything that is picked up by the mic in to any app that records from the mic, effectively replacing the built in mic with a better quality one. There are 2 IK Multimedia apps that work well with it  VocaLive free and iRig Recorder Free.
The first thing my students noticed when showing them the mic, was the packaging. The guy pretending to scream in to the mic in a classic rock pose didn't appeal to any of the students who I wanted to try it out and put them off before we'd even plugged it in. The microphone itself is OK and apart from feeling a little bit light it doesn't feel too toy-like. Unfortunately the built-in lead does and it being the same width as a headphone lead gives it a home karaoke feel! The sound however, is quite good and the 3 position switch allows you to adjust the input level. when hand-held there is a lot of handling noise so we found it best mounted on a stand. i used it for recording a rehearsal in to GarageBand and although it was in mono it was a better recording than the built in affair.
The VocaLive  software is useful for adding some thickening and reverb to he voice but i didn't pay the extra to get the auto tune function and other more interesting FX which are quite expensive if you just want to try them out!
For me personally, i would prefer the new iRig PRE that allows you to plug in your own mics using a XLR lead.

 The CCK is an important Apple adaptor for music and audio that was originally for connecting you camera to put your photos on to an iPad. With the new iOS installed on the iPad you can now use it to connect a USB to MIDI lead (about £5 on Amazon) or  a USB MIDI controller keyboard (such as the M-Audio Oxygen 25). Both allow you to control various Apps that have included MIDI in their updates (there is a list of apps here). So instead of playing an app with it's own keyboard, you can play it with a proper keyboard. Not all keyboards work with the direct USB approach so check before if you only want to use USB, otherwise you can connect it with a USB to MIDI interface (if your keyboard has a MIDI OUT socket).
I have also used this to send MIDI from the iPad to a keyboard using the excellent (and free) Little MIDI Machine app as a sequencer controlling a MicroKorg. Please message me if you would like more info...

The i/o dock takes the whole iPad for music and audio to another level and introduces some pro features that are what a lot of musicians/ producers/engineering have been hoping for! It has 2 XLR inputs with phantom power  so you can either record two different sources at the same time or one source e.g. acoustic guitar, in stereo using your own good quality mics. These inputs can also be used with jack leads and one can be changed to a DI input for an electric guitar or Bass to plug directly in. It also has MIDI in and out for connecting with other MIDI equipment - i have used this to make the iPad in to a sound module in a studio set-up. The USB is only for connecting to a USB MIDI keyboard (not to connect to your computer).
I used the i/o to record the stereo output of the mixing desk during the performance in to GarageBand and I was impressed with the quality. Listen here to the results.
If you wanted the functionality of all of the above products in one then this is probably the thing you want!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Lewisham College iPad Orchestra Performs 'The planets'

The Final performance of the iPad Orchestra took place last week and was a great feat of co-ordination and teamwork!
As it was a joint ventre with the Media Department and the Music Performance groups (playing in a more traditional band set up), we decided to use the college's TV studio which was set up with two stages and backdrops for projections. 
The music technology students set up the PA system and monitors and as they were relying on eachother for cues they set up around a set of tables and plugged their iPads in to a specially made 10-way Mini jack to 2 mono 1/4" Jack loom which went to the mixing desk so that all of the iPads were in Stereo.
The show consisted of 6 performances (Mars, Neptune, Venus, Saturn, Mercury and Jupiter) with the Band and the iPad Orchestra taking turns to perform.
The Footage was filmed by the Media department students and the feeds were mixed live. The feed from the mixer was recorded and synced with the video. I have re-edited the video in to just the iPad Orchestra performances:




You can download the music here: