It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan and supporter of tech hardware and software for singers. Companies like IK Multimedia and TC Helicon have helped to make the voice recognizable as an “instrument” by providing apps and hardware vocal processors to add vocal effects such as doubling, reverb, harmony production, and more. Now vocalists can compete with their guitarists, creating an elaborate “pedal board for the voice” of their own.
I’ve been a vocal effects advocate since the mid 80s, attempting to string together my own pedal effects chain in my teens. I’d buy flangers, delay pedals, distortion pedals to patch together using XLR to ¼ converters; but that’s nothing compared to what we have available today.
The software and hardware available to singers in 2019 is nothing short of amazing. You can run entire effects suites on your iPhone for live or recording. You can even use a pedalboard like the iRig Stomp in conjunction with an Android phone or an iPad to run live effects via an iPad like IK Multimedia’s VocaLive app right on stage.
But, these new vocal setups are not just for the stage; they also works in the studio. Any person with access to a smartphone and an interface such as the IK Multimedia iRig Pro can record an entire song with just a few apps…I’ve done it. You can hear the result by listening to some of the songs I’ve recorded like FALLEN or CASUAL SUICIDE by clicking HERE and scrolling to the bottom of the page.
Speaking of recording, that is out topic of discussion today. I want to give you a glimpse into my most recent recording setup.
If you listen to the demo for the song FALLEN, you’ll hear two singers- myself and my songwriting partner Ryan Wall. We both recorded our vocal parts using a Shure SM7B. The only difference is that he recorded his vocals straight to a MAC using a Scarlett interface (I believe) into the Logic Pro DAW all the way out in California, while I recorded mine in my basement in Southern Ohio into my iPhone 8+ using the Audio Evolution Mobile app as my DAW.
What about my interface?
Well, originally I was using the iRig Pro by IK Multimedia. However, I ordered the HD version right before starting. Before starting FALLEN I also knew I’d be recording piano tracks, so I needed a new controller too. I eventually chose the iRig KEYS IO 49.
I had several keyboard controllers at the time. I had an iRig Keys mini, an Akai, a Behringer, even a Samson, but the only problem I had was that my iPhone was powering the controllers. This limited my recording times to only as long as my iPhone battery would last.
I knew I had to remedy this problem, so I searched for a controller that would power a cell phone or tablet. Sad to say, I looked everywhere but IK Multimedia, and I didn’t find the one I had envisioned in my head.
When I was about to give up, figuring this controller didn’t exist, I saw an ad on Sweetwater for the new iRig Keys IO. So I read all about it. I was shocked. It was a tiny powerhouse and exactly what I needed… but so much more. It didn’t just have the capability to power my iPhone, it also had a combo connector for XLR or ¼ jack AND phantom power, making it not only a controller, but an interface for vocals as well!
In fact, it is the only controller with a professional 24-bit / 96kHz audio interface with a Class A preamp for dynamic and condenser mics and line instruments as well.
The iRig KEYS IO also featured a built-in headphone output for recording and practicing as well as stereo line outputs to run cables from the keyboard to the PA mixer for live gigs.
Yet another important feature for me was its size. It is also the smallest 49-key controller on the market, taking up much less space than other controllers, while still maintaining full-sized, touch-sensitive keys.
Needless to say, I had to have one…Actually two because I also ordered the iRig Keys IO 25. I could use the 25 to sit in my recliner and work on parts before recording on the 49 down in my studio.
I patiently waited for delivery all the while thinking, “will I really be able to use this tiny keyboard to record my piano parts AND record my vocals?”
When I finally got my new toys I immediately set the 49 up and started recording various piano apps to test the feel of the keys and sensitivity. It was perfect; I wasn’t missing the feel of my big bulky 88 weighted key Akai. Considering I don’t program my drum parts (I leave that to Ryan) or do any dj type songs, then controller pads stay unused, so I cannot comment on their use, but the keys I absolutely love.
Next came vocals but I was a little iffy. So I reached out to Derrick Floyd from IK Multimedia. I loved the idea of my IO 49 powering my iPhone, but was scared the preamp didn’t match the iRig Pre HD.
Derrick assured me they were one in the same. IK spared no expense. So, I also bought a Pro HD and have yet to need it, ha-ha. However, I am not eager to part with it because I can slip it in my pocket to use if I am on the road and need an interface:)
So I recorded and it turned out wonderful. FYI- I ise a Golden Age Pre73 Jr. for my preamp, but I’ve also tested recording without ot and only using the onboard preamp from my IO 49. It worked fine and I often skip the Pre73 for recording vocal programs like Metal Falsetto. However, by using both preamps, I get a little different coloring AND I don’t need to use a cloudlifter to boost the output of my SM7B. Good thing because I’ve tried several different brands of cloudlifters and they were all noisy.
All right, so jump ahead and listen to the FALLEN demo again. Besides the obvious demo quality, could you hear the difference in the vocal recording quality between the “two singers”? Nevermind our different tonal qualities, what about the actual quality of the recorded sound on that demo?
No, you cannot.
What about the piano sound? That was a general sampled Steinway piano I bought via in-app purchase in Audio Evolution Mobile. There are tons of great piano app sounds including some great ones in Sampletank, but I chose the Steinway for the test since it was a soundfont accessible within the AEM app. In the end it is personal taste and currently I am using the Ravenscroft 275 piano because it has a distinct sound; but again, sounds are personal taste.
Now let me remind you; this is ONLY the demo, but my vocals and piano were done on my iPhone! (Be patient, the final version will be released soon.)
Bottom line, I absolutely LOVE my iRig KEYS IO and my only gripe is that they haven’t made an IO 61,76,88 yet:)
I’ve since bought an iPad Pro (thanks to Jordan Rudess for encouraging me to get one) and my complete recording setup is super small, easy to move and didn’t cost me $10,000 for a mic, interface,controller, and DAW. I am forever an IK user and proud to wave that flag.
So if you’re finally getting into mobile recording and wish you had just ONE piece of hardware that could function as your interface, MIDI and sound controller, XLR/line plugin, and output, I have found it for you. Check it out at IK MULTIMEDIA