If you make music exclusively on your iPad, iTrack Dock will be your new best friend (and it can also be a refreshing option for desktop DAW users).
Pros – Compact and affordable – Handy mix of features – Good sound quality
Cons – Not compatible with some MIDI class compliant units
One of the most ‘rewarding’ musical items I’ve ever bought is probably the 4-tracks tape recorder I got (too) many years ago. That was the beginning of a time of discoveries and excitement. Well, somehow the Focusrite iTrack Dock I’ve been testing recently made me think of that good old friend. Apples and oranges? Not really. The path to creativity is often less obvious than we would expect, and sometimes a change in our workflow can bring amazing results.
The basics iTrack Dock is a compact standalone recording solution for iPad that can be used with any Lightning iPad (iPad 4th Generation, iPad Air 1 & 2, iPad mini and iPad mini with retina display). Here are the main features at a glance: – 2 microphone preamps – 2 line inputs and an instrument DI with plenty of extra headroom, – Stereo monitor outputs with 105dB dynamic range plus independently-controlled headphone outputs – a USB port for class compliant MIDI instruments and controllers – Digital conversion up to 24-bit, 96kHz sampling
In use The first thing to do is to adjust the Lightning connector, so to properly accommodate your iPad. In the box, you’ll also find a red plastic mat and some rubber pads that will help make your iPad comfier. The iTrack Dock couldn’t be more straightforward. Just plug in your mic and/or instrument, set your favourite app and you’re ready to record on the iPad.
iTrack Dock features a Core Audio driver, so it works with any Core Audio app like GarageBand, Auria, Cubasis, you name it. If you’d rather start simple, Focusrite throws in a free and easy-to-use 2-track recording app, Tape. The app has also some essential editing and processing features (I wish I had something like this integrated with my old tape recorder!)
The input sound quality is pretty good (the preamps are taken from the Focusrite Scarlett series), and offered enough gain for the Shure SM58 and Neumann TLM49 mics I’ve used for the test (yes, phantom power is included). The iTrack Dock borrows also a handy feature from the Scarlett series: the so-called “gain halo” technology for visual metering of signal levels. It’s not a meter, but it’s a helpful and well-thought alternative. Last but not least, iTrack Dock features a direct monitoring button, that can send your input signal straight to the headphone and main monitor outputs for latency-free monitoring.
Design The unit is lighter than I thought, and Focusrite’s engineers did a great job in terms of design and material. I like the feel of the unit and of its knobs. Needless to say, we’re not talking of a boutique item, so don’t expect fancy metal knobs, etc. That said, it’s a well-built unit and the overall result is definitely pleasing. My only concern would be the Lightning connector. If you keep plugging and unplugging your iPad all the time, I would try to be as gentle as possible with it, that’s all. Also, you may notice that the iPad gets quite warm when plugged in. Focusrite states in its FAQ that this is normal and it won’t be a problem for the device.
MIDI I’ve appreciated the fact that iTrack Dock features a USB MIDI input. It’s a class-compliant one, so most modern devices should work. Not all though, so make sure to check Focusrite’s compatibility list. My IK Multimedia iRig Pro Keys and Akai LPD8 worked fine. Surprisingly, iTrack Dock even recognized my old Oberheim 88 keys controller, using an affordable MIDI to USB adapter I got some time ago.
Studio Pack If you’re just starting setting up your home studio (or if you’re wondering what to ask Santa for) you may also consider the iTrack Dock Studio Pack. In this bundle, besides the iTrack Dock you’ll also get a large diaphragm CM25 condenser microphone (a perfect match for the Dock’s preamps – and it comes with a handy mic stand adapter), closed-back HP60 headphones and a 3 metre XLR cable – literally all you need to start recording music with your iPad. You can get all this for $249. Buy iTrack Dock Studio Pack from Amazon US – Buy from Thomann UK
Conclusion iTrack Dock is an affordable (only $169/€199 – Buy from Amazon US –Buy from Thomann UK) and well-designed all-in-one tool that can help you make the most of the great music apps you have on your iPad. If you make music exclusively on your iPad, iTrack Dock will be your new best friend (and hopefully you’ll experience some magic moments – like the ones I had with that old tape recorder!). It can also be a refreshing option to take a break from your desktop DAW. A different workflow may have an unexpectedly positive impact on your creative process. Try and let us know.
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About The Author
Founder & main editor here at ANR, 'non-musician' and music-tinkerer. His first keyboard was a cheesy Yamaha PSS-270. He still loves it.
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