Review: Focusrite iTrack Dock

The recording-studio-in-a-gigbag concept is one of the many awesome things that technology has given to musicians.
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The recording-studio-in-a-gigbag concept is one of the many awesome things that technology has given to musicians. Not only can you record anywhere and everywhere, but you can also work with virtually no hassles or impediments. The Focusrite iTrack Dock ($199 street), for example, provides an excellent, twochannel preamp for your iPad recording apps, and simply adding two microphones, a couple of mic stands, some cables, headphones, and a small tote bag presents a light and easy, onetrip carry-all operation to wherever you want to track. (Whenever someone produces a fully collapsible microphone stand, we’ll have the near-perfect portable studio.) The not-so-secret side benefit of this on-the-go recording gear is that nothing has to be a demo anymore—everything is a master track. Capture your inspiration where it finds you, and either be happy tracking and mixing on the software you have on your iPad, or transfer your moments of brilliance to a more powerful DAW when the time comes. Creation is all around you.

The iTrack Dock follows much the same path as Focusrite’s Scarlett series—which means all operations are dead simple and a manual almost becomes superfluous. The two Gain knobs retain the Scarlett’s trippy “halo” signal LEDs (the circles beneath the knobs glow green for safe levels and red for overload), a Direct button sends your input signal right to the headphones (or the monitor output) to fight latency, 48V phantom power is included for condenser mics, the big monitor-volume knob is certainly hard to miss, and a USB/MIDI port allows MIDI controllers to join the party.

I happen to own an iPad mini, and it fits perfectly into the iTrack Dock housing. (The Dock also accommodates the iPad 4th Generation, iPad Air, and iPad mini with retina display.) The recording software for the test was Apple GarageBand for multitracking and Focusrite Tape for two-track projects.

I recorded an acoustic guitar in stereo, positioning an AKG C 414 XL II near the soundhole, and an Audio-Technica AT2021 pointing at the fretboard near the 12th fret. The Focusrite mic preamps captured a very transparent sound with no grit or obvious coloration. A Shure SM57 dynamic mic used to record the roar of a Vox AC30 sounded pristine as well.

The Dock preamps obviously can’t produce the uber-dimensional and vibey timbres of highend studio gear, but they do manage to translate the personality of the signal chain (source sound and microphone) with very clean detail. For example, I could easily discern the subtle room-sound differences when the C 414’s polar pattern was switched through its omnidirectional, wide cardioid, cardioid, hypercardioid, and figure-8 settings. This is very impressive for an inexpensive mic pre.

Likewise, plugging my Collings 290 direct into the line input captured all of its low-mid chunk, articulate attack, and shimmering highs. The sound was so lovely that I almost didn’t want to plug into the AC30 for the mic test. Other recordings with various condenser and dynamic mics for cajon, male and female lead vocals, group background vocals, and grand piano returned similar levels of detail. You seem to get exactly what you hear in the room. The downside being if you mess up the sound of whatever you’re recording, the fault is going to be all yours. Yikes.

Focusrite really seems to sweat the details to provide recording musicians with pro-level tools at punk-band budgets. The iTrack Dock is wonderfully conceived proof.

Kudos Super compact. Easy to use. Well configured. Mic/line preamps sound clear and transparent.

Concerns May not dig being knocked around.

Contract or transfer your moments of brilliance to a more powerful DAW when the time comes. Creation is all around

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