The iRig Stomp Guitar Controller Review

Anyone who played guitar (or bass for that matter) in the late 1970s or early 1980s will immediately recognize the outline of the iRig Stomp (get it here)- because they had at least a couple they needed to transport everywhere with them. This involved making sure short patch cables worked, 9 volt batteries were on hand, and quite often carrying around a home-built wooden pedalboard if you were a guitarist with several so-called ‘stomp boxes’. Then came multi-effect digital pedalboards, and even microprocessor-based digital multi-effects … and along with them came prices reaching up over $400 for units from Boss and DigiTech.

Now we have the iPad and AmpliTube and the ability to simultaneously control up to four effects and an amplifier on screen. But what happens if you are performing live or recording and need to quickly switch effects on and off? That is where iRig Stomp comes in! It is the sort of device that can change the way you work in the studio or live, provided it does three things: survive the normal stomp-box torture, function as required and described, and add no noise to the signal chain. Let’s take a look!

The Hype:
iRig STOMP is the first stompbox guitar interface for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. For the first time, guitar and bass players can now integrate their favorite iOS signal processing apps into their existing live pedalboard setup for enhanced tone shaping and effects processing using an iPhone/iPod touch or iPad.

iRig STOMP is based on the wildly popular AmpliTube iRig interface and is compatible with any iOS (dare we say decent sounding?) guitar / amp / instrument app. With its compact, standard stompbox shape, iRig STOMP is packed with many smart features found here for the first time in an iOS audio accessory.

The Reality:

Looking at the iRig Stomp, you notice that it is a very simple looking piece of hardware. You have a knob and a switch on the front, a guitar input an AC adapter plug on the right, mono and stereo outputs on the left, headphone and iOS connections on top, and the battery panel on the back. The unit is powered by a 9V battery or by an AC adapter (sold separately). And … that is pretty much it!

Believe it or not, I still have some stomp boxes that are over 30 years old such as a MXR Distortion + and an Ibanez FL-1 Flanger (sadly the Electro-Harmonix Small Stone phase shifter didn’t survive the last move) – and they still work! I had to re-solder a connection on the FL-1 about 15 years ago, but otherwise all I have ever done is feed them batteries. How can that be? Well, they are built like bricks and put tremendous attention to isolating the internal electronics from the rigors of the three most abusive actions: the input plug, the output plug and the switch.

The physical rigors of a stomp box should be obvious from its name – on a stage, you are just trying to hit the button at the right moment to enable/disable your effects and are not concerned about being gentle. Likewise, cords get yanked, tripped over and otherwise abused, and it is critical that the stomp box be able to handle this.

Fortunately the build quality of the iRig Stomp is top notch. When I pulled it from the box I was immediately reminded of my other stomp boxes – it just felt solid and hefty and I immediately was reassured that it wouldn’t crumple in real use. So naturally I put it to the test: I didn’t film it, but I did stomp on it and even stood on it to be sure it wouldn’t crumple. I then carried it around using an audio cable, and plugged and replugged the cables a couple of dozen times and made sure that functionality wasn’t impact.

The next thing that is critical is that the iRig Stomp ‘do no harm’; by this I mean that inserting it in the signal path shouldn’t degrade the audio quality. There are two basic tests I use for this – similar to checking out audio cables in general: I record and listen back to audio without the new component, then repeat with the new component inline but inactive, then finally with the new component inline and active. The best way for me to assess this was to disable everything in AmpliTube that would otherwise change the signal, then simply click the switch on and off. I didn’t notice any difference at all in listening to it live or played back from my recording. I was thrilled by this, because my vintage 1979 MXR Distortion + injects low-level hum into the signal path so I expected some noticeable change.

The last thing is perhaps the most important – that it just plain worked! When you click the switch you want your sound to be modified by the entire active signal path present in AmpliTube. In the hands-on video I demonstrate just how well this works, flipping between presets, changing the gain, and so on. One thing I didn’t notice at first was that the amplifier itself is active in the signal path. When I read the press release from CES in January all I took away was that the effects chain would be active. Having the amplifier itself present means that you can make wholesale sound changes with the click of a button on the fly using iRig Stomp – OR you can just use the effects by switching the amplifier ‘off’. It makes for a tremendously versatile sound system.

One other cool thing is that similar to my old stomp boxes, battery life is preserved by only allowing the switch to activate power when signal cables are plugged in. It is a small touch, but very helpful since iRig Stomp runs on batteries. Speaking of which, installing the 9V battery is rather tight due to the small size of the device, and there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way if you want the battery cover to fit back into place.

The final feature of iRig Stomp is a headphone jack so you can listen to the output without waking the wife/house/neighborhood. My first thought was ‘huh? why not just use AmpliTube with iRig then?’ But then I realized that if you were chaining up other effects units with your iRig Stomp and AmpliTube, you could feed a complex signal chain into the iRig Stomp and then preview the output on your headphones.

It is easy to look at iRig Stomp and think ‘that’s it’? That is because ‘all’ it does is switch the signal path between using the iOS device or NOT using it. But in reality there is much more – it has to stand up to the rigors of BEING a stomp box, it has to have a clean signal path, and it needs to provide reliable functionality with all of the little extras IK Multimedia customers have come to expect. And iRig Stomp delivers admirably on all of those points. The switch is smooth and triggers easily; the sound is clean and clear; and I could stand on it without fear of breakage. And every time I hit the switch it triggered. Who could ask for anything more?

Here is an unboxing video of the iRig Stomp:

And here is a hands-on video of the iRig Stomp in use:

Review: iRig Stomp

Where to Buy: IK Multimedia or (Affiliate Link) or Sweetwater Sound or Guitar Center

Price: $69.99 MSRP, but $59.99 through SweetWater, Amazon and Guitar Center

What I Like: Solid and robust feel; maintains signal path integrity; just plain works!
What Needs Improvement: Battery installation is a bit tight

Source: Publisher provided review sample

Categories: Music Diary, Reviews

Tags: , ,