Review: Griffin StudioConnect for iPad
For many amateur and professional musicians alike, the iPad has become an extremely convenient and versatile device for handling a variety of music recording and composition needs. The portability of the device combined with its intuitive touch screen interface has created a market for a wide range of apps that allow musicians to easily manipulate controls and adjust settings when recording and mixing both studio and live performances, and the analog audio and Core MIDI recording and playback capabilities in iOS have allowed the iPad to integrate into a digital studio alongside other equipment ranging from microphones and guitars to keyboards and MIDI sequencers.
Griffin’s new StudioConnect ($150) is the company’s new flagship audio accessory for iPads, designed to facilitate connection with both analog audio and MIDI components in a single accessory. Borrowing its general shape from the earlier Loop stand, StudioConnect combines a unique dock, MIDI and guitar connectors, and dual monitoring options into an attractive, streamlined product.
StudioConnect is made from a mix of matte and glossy black plastics with an integrated stand that can support the iPad in either portrait or landscape orientations—an important feature for an accessory designed to be used in a studio environment where easy access and visibility of the iPad while performing other tasks is necessary. A flexible Dock Connector cable connects to the iPad in both standard portrait or either landscape orientation and charges the iPad using power from the included wall adapter. Both the docking area and the Dock Connector plug are highly case-compatible as well; most users should be able to simply drop their iPad in without having to worry about taking it out of the case, and then simply disconnect the iPad and walk away when they’re done.
In front of the iPad docking area is a prominent chrome volume dial and a 3.5mm headphone port for previewing the audio output from whatever recording or mixing app is being used. RCA-style stereo outputs on the rear provide a line-level output, unaffected by the front volume dial, for connecting to speakers or to an external mixing or recording deck. The rear of the device also includes a monaural 1/4” high impedance input jack designed for connecting an electric or bass guitar alongside a stereo 3.5mm audio input port for a standard audio source such as an external mixing board. A gain control on the side allows for adjustment of levels from the analog audio inputs. When connected, audio output from the iPad is sent via the StudioConnect instead of the internal speaker, meaning users will need to connect their own headphones or speakers directly to the device to monitor recording or playback.
In addition to support for analog input and output, StudioConnect also provides two standard Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) ports. The MIDI IN port allows for a connection to an external MIDI source such as a keyboard or MIDI controller deck while the MIDI OUT port can be used to send MIDI signals to an external MIDI playback or recording device such as a sound machine or sequencer. A MIDI THRU port is unfortunately not provided here—an omission that will probably not concern most users, but may affect those with more sophisticated studio configurations. It’s also worth noting, however, that some iOS apps can provide a Soft-THRU mode, effectively passing all Core MIDI data through the MIDI OUT port in unmodified form for sending along to another sequencer or patch bank.
Used in conjunction with iOS apps such as Apple’s GarageBand, iRig’s SampleTank or any of the other hundreds of MIDI and analog recording apps available, StudioConnect provides a useful and versatile platform; musicians can integrate it into an existing studio rig for mixing and recording live or in-studio performances or simply use it as a standalone iPad interface for more casual jam sessions or more basic recording needs. With the variety of connectivity options and the appropriate iOS apps, StudioConnect can enable an iPad to be used as a standalone MIDI sequencer and audio recorder, however it’s important to keep in mind that all analog inputs use a single audio channel. This means that users will either need to lay down multiple tracks separately when recording or route audio through an external mixing board connected to the 3.5mm audio input jack. MIDI devices will not suffer from this limitation, however, as the MIDI standard supports 16 distinct channels that can be selected and filtered by a MIDI sequencing or playback application.
StudioConnect offers an impressive design and feature set, with a good set of input and output options and a versatile integrated stand. As a treat for Griffin fans, an illuminated blue ring is also present around the volume dial, recalling the company’s classic PowerMate accessory for computers. Although the $150 price tag may seem a little high by iOS MIDI and audio accessory standards, the combination of a well-considered design along with analog recording, MIDI support, and the integrated stand may justify the investment for serious musicians by providing a simple and attractive one-stop solution for either a casual home studio or as part of a larger studio setup.