Several attempts have been made to design a tiny keyboard for laptop-toting musicians. Generally, the results haven’t proven all that impressive: either the unit boasts too few keys, or the keys are too small for comfortable playing, or both. The iRig Keys aims to combat the former (and more musically compromising) complaint by shoehorning in three full octaves worth of keys, one more than the two-octave standard for this general form factor. As a result, of course, the unit ends up considerably larger than its most direct competitor; at about 20 inches long it’s small enough to fit in some backpacks and maybe large messenger bags, but only just.
The way we listen to music has changed dramatically over the last decade. The rise of the MP3 and shrinking costs of storage mean that for the vast majority of us, our music collections live on a hard drive somewhere, rather than in crates or on shelves.
Let me tell you, back in the day, when we bought an effects pedal, by golly, if it was a distortion pedal, it stayed a distortion pedal. These two newfangled pedals can be reprogrammed to just about any effect you desire. (Without even needing to trudge through the snow, uphill, both ways.)
If Jony Ive designed a Bluetooth speaker, it might look like this. Then again, if Jony Ive designed a soup can, it might look like this. The HiddenRadio blends into its surroundings, with no visible buttons or controls. You twist it on its sturdy base to reveal the speaker, and control the volume the same way: more speaker showing means louder music, and you just twist it all the way closed to turn it off. It connects via Bluetooth 2.1 or a hidden aux-in jack, and we got the best results leaving the audio device at around 80 percent volume, and then fine-adjusting by twisting the HiddenRadio.
iTunes wants to be your be-all, end-all media player, handling videos, podcasts, music, and even Internet radio. But it's overkill—using iTunes to play an Internet radio stream is like using a bazooka to kill a mosquito, and it's of almost no help in searching for new streams, either. Radium 3 is a cool music utility that lives in your menu bar and offers quick access to thousands of streaming radio stations and services.
GarageBand puts its ringtone-creation feature front and center on the welcome screen, but using its complex interface can seem like overkill when all you want to do is trim a song to ringtone length and export it to iTunes. iToner does the same thing, with a simple, almost spartan interface. It even bundles a few premade ringtones, but they may be there solely to convince you that you can do a better job yourself.
If you do much multiplayer gaming, a good headset with microphone is pretty much a must. And if that gaming consists of shooters of the Call of Duty variety, a surround-sound headset can make the difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of being dominated by a hyperaggressive 12-year-old, thanks to the ability to pinpoint the direction of important sounds—sounds like, you know, shooting.
If your digital music and videos just aren't loud enough, Boom is a handy Mac app that can crank up the volume—and even nondestructively alter the files, so they'll play louder on your iOS device and Apple TV, too.
Hopefully by now you have a solid grasp of Smart Instruments, and if you don't fret not! We've got instructions for that, too. But if you do and are aching to get your own song out to the masses (or just send it around to your family and friends), read on and we'll show you everything you need to know about making sweet, sweet music with your iPad.