IK Multimedia StompIO(2)

July 8, 2008

The StompIO hardware controller comes with software: AmpliTube 2, Ampeg SVX, AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix, AmpliTube Metal, and AmpliTube X-Gear. This package delivers models of 51 stompboxes, 27 amps, 42 cabinets, 11 mics, and 23 rack effects (see sidebar), so you should be able to find plenty of live and studio applications for the software. This review, however, will focus on the controller itself.

The StompIO is built like a Pentagon bunker. In a brilliant piece of engineering, IK installed a long metal handle along the I/O side of the IO, so to speak. In addition to making it easier to carry the unit, this bar helps protect the inputs and outputs by running interference between cable ends and any stray feet. All the footswitches feel solid, and even the plastic parameter buttons can be easily and safely operated with your Doc Martens. This is good, because it would be a drag having to program the unit by bending down to the floor and working the controls with your hands, and it would certainly defeat the StompIO’s purpose if you had to place the controller on a table to program it. But, thanks to a large clear LCD screen and a simple, intuitive programming system with minimal layers, all operations and software edits can be easily managed with your feet. In fact, any player used to doing the stompbox dance should master the StompIO in no time.

Six of the ten footswitches allow you to enter edit mode, adjust parameters, exit edit mode, move up and down through the banks, turn on the tuner, and tap tempos. Now, you’re left with four switches (A-D) that can each choose patches from among—count ’em—one thousand banks! That’s right, you could conceivably have four thousand presets on this baby. If you would be happy with a mere one hundred presets, you can set the unit to Stomp mode, in which the Bank switches step through the presets, and the four patch switches can be used to control software stompboxes. These are only two of StompIO’s five Play modes—this thing is deep. Unlike Native Instrument’s Rig Kontrol, however, you cannot reprogram the Bank, Enter, Exit, Tuner, and Tap switches to operate your virtual stompboxes. The good news is that IK has provided six external controller inputs, and you can program any of these—or the A/D switches or controller—to do up to four things at once. IK supplies one solid, great-feeling, continuous controller pedal with the unit, but you must supply the pedals or switches for the other five inputs. Six plastic, but sturdy knobs under the display can be set to control any further parameters you feel you might need to access quickly.

A USB port connects StompIO to your computer. The StompIO’s 24-bit A/D and D/A converters exhibit very low latency, matching my reference M-Audio 1814 Fire-wire drive for quick response and sonic quality. Balanced and unbalanced outputs are provided to connect to an amp, recording console, or house sound system. MIDI In and Out jacks allow integration of hardware processors, as well as control of non-IK software. (A firmware update is in the works that will send MIDI commands through the USB connection.) The box also features digital and headphone outputs. Unfortunately, the master volume control is shared by the main outs and the headphones, which makes it difficult to monitor a different mix than what you’re sending to the house when performing live. To provide the maximum amount of clean power, the controller is not USB powered, and a wall-wart power cable is included.

I found StompIO very easy to use. The software installed with no fuss, and authorization was quick and painless. The manual is clearly written (if typo prone), and I was programming my particular preferences in no time. The unit synched perfectly with its dedicated controller pedal, as well as with a Roland EV-5 and an M-Audio MGear expression pedal. These pedals offered control over wah-wahs, delay blends, and even the cutoff filter of AmpliTube 2’s cool Crusher bit-reduction pedal. I would prefer not having to tap the tempo switch four times to set the tempo, but IK feels this is more accurate than tapping twice.

IK Multimedia took its time developing the StompIO, and that has paid off in a bug free, well thought out, and incredibly versatile piece of hardware to go with the company’s top-flight modeling programs. The package is actually pretty awesome. There’s so much control over so many cool amps sounds and effects that it’s like having your own custom-made Bradshaw pedalboard—albeit without having to pay the high cost for a custom rig made by the team that builds boards for tons of guitar stars. The StompIO package is a “win” on so many levels that it wins an Editors’ Pick Award.

KUDOS: Well constructed. Easy to use. Offers extensive control options. Killer software package included.
CONTACT: IK Multimedia, (954) 846-9101; ikmultimedia.com

The AmpliTube Package

The StompIO comes with IK Multimedia’s full AmpliTube 2 software, as well as its Jimi Hendrix, Metal, and Ampeg SVX versions. You can hear the eerily accurate Hendrix emulations by checking out my online demo at guitarplayer.com.

The AmpliTube 2 amps and effects sound amazing. They are all warm and musical—excepting the pitch shifter, which is harsh and exhibits a zipper effect when attempting whammy moves with the foot controller. I also got a great dub-bass sound from a Danelectro bass through the Ampeg SVX B-15 emulation.

The included X-Gear software allows you to access sounds from all three of these programs through one software application. I find IK’s dropdown menu system less satisfying than Guitar Rig’s drag-and-drop racks, but the AmpliTube crew delivers a tremendous amount of hip and usable sounds. X-Gear also comes with a Speed Trainer that allows you to load in audio files and change their pitch and tempo for play-along and study purposes. You can loop the files at any point to concentrate on a particular section. The Speed trainer also includes a metronome.

If you were to buy these software packages separately, they would run you more than the StompIO software and hardware package. You could almost think of StompIO as buying the software and getting the controller thrown in for free.

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