REVIEW: Sonoma Wire Works’ GuitarJack Interface and FourTrack App

Sonoma Wire Works’ GuitarJack Interface and FourTrack iPhone App!

With a focus on innovation and ease-of-use, Sonoma Wire Works develops computer and iPhone-based software for musicians as well as interfaces to connect physical instruments. They first came on the scene in 2003 with RiffWorks recording software for guitar and followed with additional titles and RiffWorld.com, an online community for their users. By 2008 they earned a NAMM 08 Best In Show Trendsetter Award. Keeping up with the popularity of the iPhone and their penchant for trend setting, Sonoma Wire Works recently released the GuitarJack instrument interface and FourTrack app for iPhone/Pod Touch/Pad (hereafter referred to as just “iPhone”).

THE HARDWARE

GuitarJack is a roughly 2″ x 2″ aluminum-encased interface that plugs into the iPhone’s data jack. One side hosts a 1/4″ instrument jack which can be configured through software for Lo-Z with pad, Lo-Z, or Hi-Z input. The other side has two 1/8″ jacks: stereo mic/line input configurable for pad, normal, or boost, and a stereo headphone output. Input levels can be set across 60dB of gain. Four small rubber feet on the underside round out the features.

THE SOFTWARE

FourTrack is a multi-track audio recording app. Used in conjunction with GuitarJack, the software records up to four individual tracks in true 16-bit, 44.1kHz quality. As a certified GuitarJack app, the software incorporates a GuitarJack control panel which allows full featured access to the interface.

LET’S PLUG IN!

Attaching the GuitarJack is as simple as plugging it into the data jack at the bottom of an iPhone. I have a protective case around my iPhone and while slim, it prevented the GuitarJack from snugging right up to it. This didn’t affect operation, but made for a less solid connection physically. My case is a real bear to get off so in true real-world testing, I left it on. After plugging my Strat into one end and headphones into the other, I fired up FourTrack.

I first clicked on the “Song Tools” button to configure the interface for my guitar. This brought up a number of options including the control panel for GuitarJack. I then accessed the metronome which includes an array of choices including hi-hat, block, pop, and other percussive instruments in varying time signatures, and a few drum tracks. I chose a basic rock drum track, set my tempo (tap tempo also an option), and returned to the main interface. Activating track 1, I slid the record button on and got down to jamming. My guitar came through loud and clear, but the sound was a bit thin and twangy compared to how I’m used to hearing it through amps and other interfaces. I also noticed the slightest bit of latency which is the delay you get between striking a note, and hearing it through the app. After stopping the recording, track 2 automatically engaged in preparation for the next round. After recording four solid tracks, I tweaked levels and panned the instruments to taste. Returning to the song tools, I visited the MasterFX section which offers separate controls for compression and four variable bands of EQ to the overall mix. Finally, I mixed down to a WAV file and zapped my creation over wi-fi to my computer – cool! The end result was a good sounding four track recording that was simple to put together.

True to their mission, the app is fairly straightforward and easy to use. But there’s more. Included in the song tools are ‘AudioCopy’ to copy individual tracks or a full mix to be pasted into other compatible apps, ‘AudioPaste’ for pasting into FourTrack from other apps, and ‘File Import’ to import existing songs/tracks into one or two (mono or stereo) available tracks. ‘Duplicate’ makes copies of existing songs, which one might use to work on variations of an idea, ‘Bounce’ mixes songs down to the first two tracks of the existing song or to a new song, and ‘Taylor EQ’, developed in conjunction with Taylor Guitars, offers basic EQ presets and more advanced variable 6-band adjustments for shaping your instrument’s sound for recording. One thing I felt missing was a tuner. I tested GuitarJack with a number of different tuners I have on my iPhone and they all worked fine, but it would be nice to have this feature within the app itself. My iPhone stayed awake when recording, but would go to sleep while I was working out ideas before recording and I had to continually wake it. This is great for saving battery life but can be frustrating when focusing on song development before tracking. The company is currently addressing this so it should be a non-issue in a future update.

THE FINAL WRAP

The GuitarJack interface is well constructed and compact enough to toss in your pocket. My only concern is with the potentially delicate data connector, especially if you have a case for your iPhone that prevents it from mounting flush. Additionally, with GuitarJack in place, there’s no way to feed AC power to the iPhone so you’ll have to make sure you’re fully charged and rely on battery power. You can’t argue with 16-bit 44kHz quality, but the processed signal lacked the characteristic fullness of my guitar. For laying down ideas, however, it serves its purpose just fine.

FourTrack is well designed as a simple four track recorder with basic features that should be in any multi-track application, namely level and pan control. The compressor and EQ utilities are great for sweetening the sound, but I was hoping for more as far as effects are concerned. You can run through your pedalboard, which I did, but I’d love an all-in-one solution for when I’m in situations where lugging around my stomp boxes isn’t practical. The added utilities for transferring tracks between apps is really exciting as it opens up a whole world of possibilities. Sonoma Wire Works is already sharing their SDK (software development kit) for copy/paste functionality with outside developers and boasts representation of this feature in 33 third party apps. They plan to extend this sharing of resources to include the GuitarJack control panel.

As a package, GuitarJack and FourTrack provide a solid way for guitarists to easily lay down multiple track recordings via the convenience and portability of an iPhone. The features are basic and the sound quality is best for sketches rather than full blown demos, but it works well and has great potential to lead the revolution in multi-track recording on iPhones.

GuitarJack

PROS: Excellent construction. Compact. Multiple input options and versatile input configuration.

CONS: Connection to iPhone potentially fragile, especially if using an iPhone case that prevents full seating. Incoming guitar signal a bit lean and twangy. Expensive.

MSRP – GuitarJack Model 1 $199

Note: The current Model 1 is compatible with iPhone 3G, 3GS, and iPod Touch 2nd and 3rd generation. Model 2, which is compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPod Touch 3rd and 4th generation, and iPad, is scheduled for 2011 Q1 availability.

FourTrack

PROS: Simple, easy to use design. Several useful utilities for moving tracks among various apps. Easy process from recording to uploading a finished song to your computer.

CONS: No tuner and no effects aside from EQ and compression.

MSRP – $9.99 FourTrack

Dan Coplan is senior staff writer at SMG. Dan is a Los Angeles based cinematographer and self-admitting guitar junkie. Email: dancoplan@sharemyguitar.com

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