This new product from IK Multimedia is a little 3 watt amplifier by IK Multimedia of Italy. It’s designed as both a standalone practice amp, as a battery-powered pre-amp for larger systems or as a compliment to the Amplitube series of iOS guitar amp profile apps and other goodies.
Considering most people wouldn’t consider taking the stage with anything under say 70 watts of power (and that’s modest) you get an idea of how loud a 3 watt amp can go, which can be characterised as ‘not very’. Also, anything this little is going to be severely limited by physical speaker size (7.62cm or 3 inches, in this case), as it’s very difficult to get anything like bass tones from little speaker cones – you may have noticed the ‘tweeter’ (high tone) speakers in cabinets are the little ones of any array.
You can run the Nano into headphones, of course, which typically do reproduce better lower-mid and low tones, but this is only an option when you use it as an interface with an iOS device and not as a standalone amp. It’s possible to run the Nano straight into an external cabinet of up to four 12-inch speakers – although I imagine this would suck the power out of those 3 AA batteries pretty fast.
Physically — The all-black Nano (there’s a white version available with a black highlights that looks pretty cool, plus one with a red frame) has a speaker face as you’d expect on a bigger combo guitar amp, two large rotary knobs on the top for Volume and Gain with a stereo minipin Device out jack in between, and on the opposite end 1/4-inch jacks for guitar in and speaker cab-out in, plus a stereo mini-pin for headphones/earbuds; the side under the iRig logo is blank (this is the bottom) and on the face opposite to this there are two switches: amp/device, and normal/bright.
On the back is the battery compartment, and the little rubberised feet mean you can pop out a little stand so you can set it at tilt. Notice no on-off button: plugging an instrument in turns it on, like some effects pedals.
Amp Mode and Device Mode — Amp Mode is pretty self explanatory: plug in a guitar, play. Device mode is a little less obvious. Plug the guitar into the jack as you’d expect, but the Device connector is at the opposite end, between the Volume and Gain knobs. The device (an iPhone or iPad running an app like Amplitube) takes over all the volume, gain and tone functions.
Soundwise — Tinny, in a word. But this would be as you’d expect, as it’s still so far technically impossible to get good lower tones out of little speakers. But you’ll find that if you’re playing the higher register of a guitar or keyboard it’s surprisingly clear, and certainly better than trying to practice without any amplification at all. The combo of volume and gain means you can up one against the other for traditional effects: high-gain low-volume gives you a kind of overdrive or fuzz, which is pretty scratchy, while the reverse gives you a clear tone, just as on a big guitar amp.
Via my iPhone, admittedly with a bass rather than a guitar, but via a bass head in Amplitube (IK Multimedia’s own product) I had more tone control sure (since the Nano has none apart from the switches Bright or Normal, which could really be labelled Bright and Brighter), and also effects, but I could never get the sort of volume to comfortably belt something out.
As an interface into your Mac to record into, say, GarageBand, it’s fine, you can get a clean sound with a bit of helpful signal boost, but it’s also perfectly fine to plug your guitar straight into your Mac’s audio-in port for GarageBand and use the collection of amp profiles and cabs in there – in either case, you need to have the appropriate adapters.
Conclusion — The iRig Nano Amp is little and suffers accordingly: what makes it compact and portable is what makes it sound slight. If I could just plug a guitar into this and play the Nano as a headphone booster, it would be pretty good, but that’s not the case. The headphones only work when it’s a conduit for an app on an iDevice, although I may have been hampered in my case in needing a minipin to Lightning adapter to use it with an iPhone 7.
As a little amp on speaker, sometimes you can get good tones out of it – surprisingly good – especially if you hit just the right combination of Volume/Gain and you’re playing in the upper register, and it’s certainly better than playing an electric without any kind of amplification. But not very much better, I’m afraid.
What’s great — Well, you can actually hear your guitar.
What’s not — Insufficient volume and definitely insufficient bass, but I’ve never heard of anything this small that can do bass any justice, which leads to: limited use as I couldn’t plug my headphones in directly and use it as a headphone amp, which would have sounded better.
Needs — Guitarist who doesn’t mind buying powerful or rechargeable AA batteries in threes, and who desperately needs a little sound out of their electric guitars.
iRig Nano Amp, RRP€49 (NZ price TBA)
System — iPhone, iPad, iPod touch & Mac plus Android smartphones and tablets (for Android compatibility, the device must support CTIA/AHJ wiring standard; works best with Samsung Pro Audio devices).
More information — IK Multimedia