iOS based amp modellers and effects processors have been around for a couple of years now but Digitech has taken the idea one step further with the iStomp, a supremely versatile, stand alone FX pedal customisable through the App Store.Tom Quayle checks it out...
The idea of effects units and amp modellers running on Apple's iOS operating system is certainly not a new one. Many companies have been falling over themselves to adopt the latest and most fashionable technology and appeal to guitarists who must have the latest gadget or app for their iPad or iPhone. Often the results have been pretty hit and miss with sub-par tones on hand, leaving the app as nothing more than a fun curiosity for a while. Certainly, the average gigging guitarist would never use such a device in their live setup. Digitech is looking to change this with the introduction of the iStomp pedal, a compact and customisable effects pedal that looks exactly like every other pedal on your board. In other words it really couldn't be any more guitarist friendly!
The unit comprises a well-built, solid outer shell with a standard 9v DC input and stereo ins and outs. Digitech has used a high quality footswitch and knobs giving the whole pedal a professional feel and look. Stereo operation allows you to run a stereo rig or even use the pedal in a studio environment. A customisable, colour LED signifies on/off operation. The innovation with the iStomp is that, unlike virtually every other audio peripheral on the iOS platform, once programmed with the effect of your choice the iStomp can be disconnected from your iPad or iPhone and used on your pedal board in the normal way. This is a superb feature - after all, who wants their precious and very expensive iPhone/Pad on the floor by their pedal board where they're stomping on pedals during a gig?
The iStomp ships as a good sounding overdrive pedal called the Redline but coupled with your iOS device via the included DSC (Digitech Smart Cable), is customisable via Digitech's free app called 'Stomp Shop'. Upon launch the app recognises the attached device and presents you with a range of 22 different effects in four categories that can be purchased and loaded into the pedal. The categories included are broken into Compressor/Pitch/Filter, Overdrive/Distortion, Chorus/Modulation and Delay/Reverb with multiple options in each category ranging from models of well-known pedals to Digitech's own takes on classic effects such as Phasers, Tape Delays, Flangers and Tremolos.
As downloaded, the app contains two free pedals, one being the Redline Overdrive, the other digital type delay called the Total Recall. Other pedals can be purchased for a low price (although more than the average in-app purchase) with each purchase appearing in the lower half of the screen. Once purchased the effect can be loaded into the pedal and the iOS device disconnected. It's a superbly simple process and the app looks great and uncluttered, especially considering that there are quite a few pedals on offer.
For the wary purchaser, each pedal can be used in a fully functioning demo form for a five minute period and this trial can be repeated as many times as you wish until you've made your decision. This is a very welcome addition and gives you peace of mind as you know exactly what you're getting with each purchase. Loading effects is as simple as tapping the effect you want and hitting the load button. It takes about 20 seconds to load the effect into the iStomp, at which point you are immediately ready to play.
I tried almost all of the effects on offer in demo form and was very surprised by the sound quality, both in front of our studio amp and in the effects loop. The initial overdrive setting was fat and crunchy with a very realistic, analogue sound. It responded very well to pick attack and volume changes from the guitar. The Total Recall delay was supremely clean and quiet with a good range of delay times and even an effective ducking delay mode. All of the modulation effects sounded lush and quiet without an overtly digital harshness. The Octaver was equally impressive tracking playing very well and fattening up the sound in a very pleasing way forcing you to play your most embarrassing funk and disco riffs! I can only assume that Digitech will expand the range of effects on offer and if the current sound quality is anything to go by this can only equal more great effects. Digitech also ships the unit with attachable stick-on labels with the name of each effect and control layout for the four knobs.
There are, however, some significant downsides to the iStomp approach. If you like quite a few of the effects on offer, you have no option but to purchase multiple pedals if you want those effects to run together on your board. Whilst a single iStomp isn't an overly significant financial outlay, multiple pedals will soon mount up to the levels of boutique effects that potentially sound much better than the digital effects on offer here. Adding in the cost of all the effects on offer bumps the price up to a pretty hefty sum, considering that only two effects are included for free. For less money there are competitor pedals that include all of the effect types on offer here, plus many more in a small footprint, without the need to attach an iOS device and update the pedal every time - even allowing preset and midi functions.
I think the iStomp has appeal for existing iOS users who want a very simple approach to having multiple effects at their disposal but without the need to switch quickly between them. There are cheaper and possibly more flexible options available that don't require an iPad or iPhone to operate but you can't fault the iStomp on ease of operation and sound quality. If you are an iOS user it's certainly worth checking out.