Review: IK Multimedia iRig MIX Mobile Mixer for iPhone/iPod touch/iPad
Developed to hit an attractive price point, IK Multimedia's iRig MIX ($100) is a small, portable mixing console built for regular consumers rather than DJs, but offers enough app-assisted hardware functionality to appeal to both crowds. A crossfader, cues, EQ and volume controls are all built in, along with microphone/guitar inputs, stereo inputs and master and headphone outputs; IK Multimedia promises that the mixed output is "pristine" rather than consumer-grade, with fine headphone quality for previewing of audio. The iRig MIX also provides connections and options for other purposes such as basic two-channel audio mixing, or live/recorded vocal and instrumental performance using iOS audio effect processing apps. IK Multimedia provides four apps for use with the IRig MIX -- DJ Rig, AmpliTube, VocaLive and GrooveMaker -- all of which are available in both free and paid versions.
The iRig MIX is constructed of lightweight plastic for portability but still feels relatively solid—roughly the same weight as an iPhone 4S, and though it’s larger, it’s also small enough to easily toss into a backpack for travelling, though there are protruding knobs and sliders both on top, as well as on the bottom edge; the inclusion of some type of case would have definitely made us feel better about carrying it around. A panel on the back nicely illustrates the common connection configurations as a quick reference guide. The iRig MIX is USB powered via a micro USB connection on the back; a micro USB AC adapter is included, although any USB power source can be used that is capable of delivering at least 2A of current—basically the same current levels delivered by an iPad USB Power Adapter. Two RCA jacks on the back of the iRig MIX provide left and right stereo channel outputs designed for connection to a pre-amp or powered set of speakers; an RCA to 3.5mm audio cable is included for connecting to portable speakers—users will need to supply the necessary cables themselves for connecting to other audio equipment. Two four-conductor 3.5mm cables are also included for connecting iOS devices or other portable audio devices; the extra connection is necessary to pass audio back to an iOS device’s audio input for some of iRig MIX’s advanced features.
When used with a compatible iOS DJ mixing app such as IK Multimedia’s DJ Rig (iLounge Rating: B), the iRig MIX can mix two audio sources from a single iOS device, allowing the use of hardware-based controls along with headphone monitoring for cueing. In this configuration, users control the actual selection and playback of tracks from the iOS device while adjusting volume and channel settings directly on the iRig MIX. Users can adjust gain, treble, bass and volume level for each channel independently, and take advantage of the cue buttons to monitor and cue up the non-playing channel using a set of headphones connected to the 1/4” jack on the bottom right of the iRig MIX. While some of this can be accomplished using a special split DJ cable, the hardware controls on the iRig MIX offers a much smoother experience than would be possible directly on an iOS device, particularly when working with the smaller iPhone and iPod touch screens.
While the ability to work with a single iOS device can be very useful for casual applications and practice, more serious users will likely want to take advantage of the device’s ability to mix two completely separate sources by connecting an iOS device or other audio source to the second channel. In this configuration, the iRig MIX works like a traditional two-channel mixer, with stereo audio coming into each input, plus separate gain, treble, bass and volume controls for each channel. The cue option can be used here in the same way as with a single source. It’s worth mentioning that in two-device mode, you can actually connect a headphone output jack from just about any audio device to either channel, such as a Click Wheel iPod or other MP3 player or portable CD player.
The iRig MIX also provides a unique feature called X-Sync that can be used to match up beats between two separate iOS devices using the DJ Rig app, allowing for a more seamless transition between tracks when DJ mixing. X-Sync works by passing each device’s audio output to the iOS microphone input on the other device (i.e. device 2 sends audio back to device 1, and vice-versa); the DJ Rig app can then read this audio from the other source and use it to adjust the BPM of the cued track, matching it up to the currently playing track. This works in both directions when using two iOS devices that are both running DJ Rig, but can also be used with a single iOS device and an alternate audio source such as a traditional iPod model, allowing the iOS device to beat sync to whatever is currently playing on the other audio device. It’s worth mentioning that in order to pass the audio back out to the iOS devices for X-Sync, users will need to use a four-conductor 3.5mm cable such as those included in the package.
Although designed primarily with DJ mixing in mind, the iRig MIX can also serve as a general purpose two-channel mixing board for a variety of other audio applications. Users can connect a guitar, keyboard or dynamic microphone to a third channel using the 1/4” jack on the bottom left of the device. This third channel provides only a basic volume control adjustment and cannot be used as a separate DJ mixing channel; users can simply mix the third channel input with whatever is currently playing on the other channels or can choose to pass the third channel audio to channel 1 for further processing on an iOS device using an app such as AmpliTube (iLounge Rating: B+) or VocaLive (iLounge Rating: B). The latter configuration allows the iRig MIX to be used for live performances with iOS-based effects processing apps while allowing the live audio to be mixed with another audio source on channel 2, such as a backing track.
In our own testing, iRig MIX offered impressive sound for such a relatively small and inexpensive device, and IK Multimedia has done a great job of balancing pricing, build quality, and audio quality. As with any piece of audio processing equipment, users will naturally need to play with the settings to get the best results for their particular input and output equipment, but the good news is that the iRig MIX provides the necessary adjustments to accomplish this for a wide range of applications. We tested the iRig MIX on speakers ranging from basic powered computer speakers to a full studio rig and it was able to produce good, clean sound quality across the board. It’s good enough to be used by all but the pickiest of listeners, and will be relatively flawless sonically during live performances.
The iRig MIX is a versatile “prosumer” quality audio mixing accessory at a very accessible price point, with features that will appeal to casual DJs and live performers alike. Even many professional DJs can probably find a place for the iRig MIX for use in smaller gigs or simply for practicing sets in preparation for live gigs with more sophisticated equipment. It’s worthy of our high recommendation with only the relatively modest caveat that users who plan to travel with it extensively may need to find their own case solution or will need to be a bit cautious regarding the various buttons and knobs. Truly “mobile” and “portable” solutions tend to inspire “toss it in a bag” thinking, and though iRig MIX is ready to be carried around, a little protection will go a long way towards keeping it in good shape.