Welcome to the drum nerd’s guide to harnessing the advanced capabilities of the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad – iOS devices – to make them part of the music-production world. Because they represent new technologies, both their capabilities and limitations are not yet widely understood. Frankly, as I began to pen this article I believed I had a firm grasp on the subtleties of using them as music-production tools, only to find that, indeed, I did not. It was a great learning experience, albeit one fraught with a few sleepless nights staring at the ceiling wondering what I had gotten myself into. By the end, I hope you have a better understanding of how to fold these amazing little devices into your musical life.
Although estimates differ, well over 200 million Apple iOS devices have shipped since the release of the iPhone in mid-2007 and the iPad in April 2010. That’s not even factoring in the 70-plus million units of the iPod touch sold, which has many of the same capabilities of the iPhone – speaker, microphone, Wi-Fi, etc. – just no cellular network capabilities. That’s about 300 million devices in users’ hands. These sheer numbers make it likely that many of you reading this article own one or more iOS devices. So, why not tap into the power of the iOS to make music? Its sophistication will allow you do a great deal more than just update your Facebook status or ignore that call from your boss.
Get ready and hang on, we’re about to dive into how to get MIDI and audio to interface with your cool iOS device, as well as explore some of the great, inexpensive software I’ve discovered that brings music production to the palm of your hand.
CoreMIDI is the protocol that Apple has created to handle communication between iOS devices and external MIDI instruments. iOS 4.3 (released in March 2011) or newer is required to use external MIDI with the iPhone, iPod touch*, or iPad.
Getting MIDI into iOS devices is by far the most confusing part of this whole process. The newness of the CoreMIDI spec and the tight power-consumption limitations of iOS devices, coupled with the widely varying power requirements and design differences of third-party USB MIDI devices, make finding what will function properly a bit of a minefield.
External USB devices have to connect to the iPad by the USB-to-30-pin adapter found in the Apple camera connection kit. You’ll only know if a particular USB MIDI interface works by plugging it in and seeing if the iPad prompts you that it’s either not compatible or it draws too much power. If you don’t get a prompt you’re probably in luck. I have an old Edirol MIDI interface that works great, and one of the current Roland interfaces that doesn’t work at all – go figure. There is no consistency whatsoever.
Notice that I just spoke specifically about the iPad. The camera connection kit is not designed to work with the iPhone. So if you have an iPhone, don’t waste your money on this accessory; it’s not an option.
Fig. 1. iRig MIDI Interface
A solution to this confusing mess is to avoid a USB MIDI interface entirely. Line 6 and IK Multimedia each make a MIDI interface that is specifically designed to work with iOS devices – the MIDI Mobilizer II and the iRig MIDI, respectively. They both street for around $70 and work with the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. Along with having a MIDI thru port, the iRig MIDI has the option of being powered by an external USB charger, which also keeps the iOS device charged. (Fig. 1)