When Apple released Garageband for the iPad 2, I was really intrigued. As a musician and producer, I never know when inspiration may strike. And while there are a variety of tools to capture those ideas on the go, nothing quite offered as much creative promise as a feature-rich app that you could sketch out a song for later exploration. While Garageband’s various smart instruments allow you to craft songs with little-to-no songwriting experience, musicians need a way to get their own sounds into the app. Apogee’s latest offering can do just that, and more.
The Apogee Jam is an incredibly simple and beautifully designed audio interface for iOS. Featuring a single 1/4? connector and connecting to the iPad via a dock connector, Jam allows you to get ridiculously clean sound into any core audio-compliant app for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. It borrows technology such as automatic Soft Limit and 24-bit 44.1kHz sampling from Apogee’s other top audio interfaces such as the Duet II and Ensemble to convert analog guitar signals faithfully for use in a variety of software. And, boy, did it sound great!
I connected the Apogee Jam to my iPad 2 and launched GarageBand. The status light on Jam turned green, indicating that the app I launched connected to the device. I adjusted the control knob to bring up the level of my guitar. I selected a clean amp and a 2 x 12? cabinet to emulate a Fender Twin reverb, added some reverb and tremolo and strummed out a few chords. Gorgeous sound exploded out of my headphones. Full of clarity, detail and nuance that I haven’t heard in an iOS app, the combination of Jam with Garageband’s amp simulation and effects technology created an unparalleled mobile experience. So true was the sound I was creating that it was easy to forget about the interface and begin exploring the music and all that Garageband for the iPad had to offer.
Inspired by my success here, I next brought my mobile rig to a few rehearsals with my band. We had been considering folding some electric guitar into our sound. I often switch over to acoustic guitar from bass on a number of songs and elected to lead the experiment with my Epiphone Dot and my iPad. Considering the amount of gear I already bring to live performances, I was hoping this setup could negate the need to lug around another heavy amp for only a few songs.
Instead of using GarageBand, however, I searched for another compatible app for use with Jam and selected the AmpKit by Peavey. With less overhead lower latency than I was experiencing in Garageband, AmpKit features a similar amount of amp, mic and effects customization in an easy to use package. I again selected a clean amp and reverb effects rig and adjusted the controls for running in to our PA system. Again, the clarity of the guitar tone and richness of the bottom end were jaw dropping. Our drummer, who also runs a small project studio who relies on Apogee gear, was blown away. He never expected an iOS-based rig to sound that good. I used this setup for the entire duration of our 4+ hour rehearsal and didn’t experience any stability issues with the AmpKit and Apogee Jam combo. I may have found my ideal mobile live performance rig!
I found that Jam had a few more surprises yet for me. Included in the box is a USB cable that allows you to use Jam as an audio interface on the Mac. Not only could I enjoy the great sound qualities of Apogee’s hardware on my iOS devices, I could use it on Garageband and Logic on the Mac as well. As I do much of my professional recording in Logic, this makes my mobile rig more portable in those instances where I might only need one input. Musicians looking to get started in home recording should also enjoy this versatility as their hardware investment can be used in multiple ways.
Jam is an extremely capable and amazing sounding audio interface for iOS and the Mac. With its simple operation and compatibility with a wide range of apps, you’ll find yourself increasingly surprised with what iOS apps are capable of.
If there is a downside its that there are no first-party apps available for using Jam. At a minimum, you’ll want to pick up a copy of the Garageband app. And if you plan on using Jam live, expect to grab another app. Also of note is the lack of compatibility among some apps, such as IK Multimedia’s Amplitube, which only works with purely analog devices such as their own iRig. Though this is no fault of Apogee’s, it signals how different manufacturers have gone about leveraging Apple’s mobile devices. Apps that use the Core Audio libraries on iOS shouldn’t have any problem using the Jam, though Apogee maintains a compatibility list on their website.
Despite this, Apogee has delivered incredible value in its $99 device. Not only do you get rich, clear audio into iOS, you get a pro-sounding audio interface for use on the Mac as well. Coupled with compatible software, you could take this rig on the road and use it in live performance. While I have yet to see a foot-switch-based iOS device, I’ve seen plenty of musicians using other finger-only devices such as the Pod by Line 6 live and it’s hard to beat Apple’s platform when it comes to user interface design. And even if you just want to rock out at home, it’s hard to beat the clarity and ease of use that Apogee has designed in Jam.
Wired: Incredibly clear sound. Simple operation. Can be used with both iOS devices and a Mac. Inexpensive entry point into Apogee’s legendary gear.
Tired: No first-party apps so be sure to check for app compatibility or just stick with GarageBand.
Apogee Jam ($99)