One step more into the mobile era with Alesis iO Dock

por Rafael Marfil [PRRM / Triplet]

We can see the whole thing as a chain of events, a timeline sort of thing:

Finally we got our first MIDI controllers! Those were nice times, what before was an onscreen virtual knob met our fingers in the way we had always dreamt of before. Naturally, setting the whole thing up to work with tons of plugins, DAW UI elements, hardware and their totally non-standarized layouts took some of the fun out of it. Eventually they got USB, and together with the almighty “MIDI learn” function those devices made the perfect companion for our desktop and laptop computers, in the studio, as well as on stage. We still coveted motorized faders à la ProControl for ProTools though, as the potentiometes and faders of our USB controllers failed to please in terms of feedback coming from our computers, but ProControl was part of an over the top expensive series of products, economically “unreachable”, so to say, to most of us.

Going live was getting easier on those old days too. Just plug the USB controller and the USB audio interface to your laptop, grab some mics, perhaps a bass guitar or a hardware synthesizer with integtated keyboard, a compact mixer and voilà! We were ready to go! Or were we? Oh, sorry… I fogot to mention the USB cables, the cases, the thick and extra long audio cables (to ensure top quality for our fans), the AC adapters and the strenght of thirty man to take the whole setup to the venue safe and sound.

I could not beleive what my eyes just saw the other day on JazzMutants site… I don’t know if the tears coming out of my eyes are the product of sheer joy because of the über amazing touchscreen MIDI controller, or if these tears are the product of the elevated price tag of the Lemur. They must be kidding! For that money…

Given the case, that we could take part in the early MIDI touchscreen revolution, we still had to carry a mayor amount of stuff around to a gig. Perhaps we would not take our old hardware synth with us on tour, mostly because the achievements of the musical software industry in terms of sound quality, still a standard MIDI keyboard with some potentiometers on board, an audio interface and so on, made it quite uneasy for our tired backs and shoulders to get to the venue in mint condition for our performances.

And then there was… The iPad. Ok, my fictional timeline self has been through a lot of emotions, but this! It can be true! Now we can take a touchscreen computer of moderate power with us without bashing our physical selves anymore. The iPad is capable of doing touchscreen DAW and MIDI control via TouchOSC (among others), an application we can get free of charge (as of now), with a flexibility, that brings many MIDI controllers to shame.

It is also capable, of samplig, synthesizing, programming, arranging, recoding, emulating, innovating, composing and checking our favourite social networks. But as we would expect, it was not specifically designed for music. For MIDI we need the camera conection kit, offering one class compliant USB port with a rather flimsy connector. Not every USB keyboad, controller or interface will work. This is due to the power consumption restrictions imposed by the iPad. For audio, the story is pretty much the same, we get a couple more options, like the AmpliTube iRig, wich looks like a dream for recording guitars and bass, but leaves anything else pretty much left behind. Also, if we get our audio interface connected, name it iRig or anything else, we instantly loose the option to connect a MIDI device, or something the likes of a VGA adapter for audiovisual people out there. There is a walkaround involving a USB hub, of course, the VGA adapter is out of question with this setup and you get to struggle with the power consumption issues, furthermore, which are the advantages of adding a USB cable spaghetti agli e olio to a mobile setup that can run on batteries for hours?

After some years on our timeline and six paragraphs we finally get to the point. This is when the Alesis iO Dock fits the bill.

With a plethora of professional and pro-oriented music and audio applications, the iPad only lacks a proper interfacing system, alias the Alesis iO Dock. Let us go directly the the specifications as of on Alesis site:

AUDIO INPUTS

2 x XLR-1/4″ Balanced TRS
Individual gain controls
Phantom power, switchable
Guitar (high-impedance) switch on Input 2

AUDIO OUTPUTS

2 x 1/4″ Balanced TRS Main
1/4″ TRS Headphone
Individual level controls

VIDEO OUTPUT

RCA Composite (requires compatible apps)

CONTROL I/O

MIDI In (DIN)
MIDI Out (DIN)
USB MIDI
1/4″ Footswitch (function assigned by apps)

The iO Dock boasts full of connectivity, even a good old RCA connector for video! That is what I call listening to our needs. Thumbs up for the people at Alesis involved in the development and design of the iO Dock.

The unit can fit both, the iPad an the iPad2, which I find simply great. The implementation is no less that acceptable, given the differences between the two iPad models. We also get an independent headphone output, both outputs have their own separate volume controls. We are talking pro now.

Did I say talking pro? A comment further justified by the inclusion of phantom power, a direct monitoring switch, footswitch and balanced inputs and outputs. What about the USB port? Let Alesis answer that:

“The USB connection on the iO Dock provides MIDI connectivity between the computer and anything connected to the iO Dock. This includes both the iPad, and the iO Dock‘s on-board MIDI ports. The iO Dock shuttles any MIDI coming from any one source (Computer, iPad, or MIDI ports) to the other two.”

The above means, that we get to use your iPad together with TouchOSC as a full-featured MIDI controller with feedback via USB, fantastic!

Something else that adds to the positive aspects of the product is its price. For 199 USD we get a solid iPad audio and MIDI docking solution with analog video output. One step more into the future.

Pros:

affordable, solid and feature rich

Cons:

it would have been awesome, to get it to be slimmer


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