Studio ready sounds from your iPad

Seems a good time to be sharing our Alesis iO Dock II review. I mean let’s be honest, recording musicians have never had it so good. From affordably priced recording gear through to accessible software programmes, there are solutions out there for anybody of any skill level. It hasn’t always been this way though. What had possibly been lacking in the past has been truly portable ways of recording away from your typical studio environment. Sure, laptops can be packed away and transported around but they’ll still require power and an audio interface if you play on using it for any length of time, or recording anything of any quality.

The announcement, in 2009, that heralded the launch of Apple’s iPad seemed to answer a lot of these questions. Here was a device which could run in much the same way as a standard computer, but in a much smaller, more manageable form factor, with its touchscreen interface offering a wealth of exciting possibilities. Sure enough, in time, big brands in the world of music began launching apps which were specifically designed with Apple’s new toy in mind. From Korg’s iElectribe to its MS20, through to more esoteric apps like Yamaha’s Tenori-on, there was clearly a focus on getting the iPad in front of musicians and encouraging them to start creating.

Yet the more capable the iPad became, the more problems seemed to surface over how useful it was over and above tinkering on the various apps. You couldn’t, for example, make the apps talk to each other so creating a track within a central DAW environment using your different instruments was, if not impossible, certainly frustrating and fiddly. Then there was the issue of recording actual instruments into the device. Adapters like IK Multimedia’s iRig arrived but didn’t produce good enough results to mark it as a serious contender. It was as if we’d been shown this glorious machine and our minds had ran away with the possibilities of what could be done, but the actual capability wasn’t able to match up to our expectations.

Alesis iO Dock II review

Proper connectivity

In 2011, Alesis sought to change that by introducing the iO Dock. Here was a device into which you could slot your iPad and make use of proper connectivity. Basic stuff like 1/4″ jack sockets and XLR inputs. It was sturdy enough to withstand travelling around in a backpack, yet had the features musicians had been crying out for ever since they first saw an iPad.

Now, in 2014, Alesis has launched the second iteration of the iO Dock, the cunningly named iO Dock II. Feature-wise it remains largely the same as the previous version, with the key difference being the way it deals with different versions of the iPad. Apple, in its infinite wisdom, sporadically changes various specifications of its flagship tablet; some use a 30-pin adapter, some use a newer Lightning adapter. Some are thin, some not so much. What the iO Dock II is provide a way to properly fit more versions of the iPad without the need for aftermarket hacks.

Included in the box are two adapters; one for 30-pin and one for Lightning. The unit can still run off a power supply, enabling it to charge your iPad during use, although it can operate without. The same connections are present; two balanced inputs can take 1/4″ jacks or XLRs, while two 1/4″ outputs take care of your signal on its way to a set of monitors. One of the XLRs can be phantom powered, meaning condenser microphones can be incorporated into your setup – perfect for podcasters – while USB and standard MIDI connectors enable you to control apps like Akai’s iMPC using external MIDI gear.

Alesis iO Dock II review

Musical sketchpad

What’s cool about this unit is the way you can truly use it in the way Apple intended the iPad to be – a musical sketchpad. By including the iO Dock into your rig, you can quickly and easily write and demo tracks in the same way as you would in a studio, but using a much smaller footprint. This gets even better for users of Logic and Cubase in their ‘proper’ studios; if you use the Garageband or Cubasis apps on the iPad, your sessions can then be transferred natively over to their bigger, computer-based DAW brothers for further musical development.

It is here that the iO Dock and the iPad come into their own. Say, for example, you are noodling on the sofa with your guitar plugged into the iPad, and you hit upon a perfect melody line or riff. Record it into Garageband or Cubasis using the iPad, then when you’re next in the ‘proper’ studio environment, you simply load up the entire session from your tablet and can begin work immediately.

Alesis iO Dock II review

Another great use for the iO Dock would be to incorporate some of the superb apps from the App Store, like the Korg Polysix (£1,300 for a second-hand ‘real’ one) or iMaschine (£500 for a new ‘real’ one) ready for use in a live setting. The 24 bit sound quality stands up perfectly well, and the iO Dock will also protect your iPad from any nasty accidents.

All in all, the Alesis iO Dock II is a great little product which delivers one thing in abundance – potential. The potential to open up your iPad to a world of new possibilities and performance opportunities. Just like Apple intended it to be.