REVIEW: DigiTech iPB-10

Check out the latest programmable pedalboard from Digitech. Nice display, huh? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a multi effects unit with a display that big. Wait a minute, is that… nah, it couldn’t be… wait, it is! Well I’ll be! The iPB-10 actually holds an iPad, clutching the groundbreaking Apple tablet device to its metallic bosom like, well, like I did when I got my iPad a few weeks ago. DigiTech knows that multi effect units – even their own – have always suffered from cramped screens, but a full-colour, oversized display would be prohibitively expensive to add to such a device. With the iPB-10, DigiTech lets Apple take care of that aspect so they can focus on what they do best: making kickass effects and amp simulations.

[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]Buy the iPB-10 from Musician’s Friend.[/geo-out]

The best way to think of the iPB-10 is as a regular programmable digital pedalboard virtual pedal models plus an amp sim. You can drag and drop up to ten different pedals (out of a possible 87 effects) onto each virtual pedalboard, and change their order by dragging and dropping them – which is incredibly intuitive on the iPad screen. On top of that, there are 54 amp models and 26 cabinets. You can choose to use the amp simulations if you want, such as if you’re recording or going straight into a mixing desk for a covers gig, or you can switch the amp models off completely and just use the iPB-10 for effects. But there’s also another way to use the iPB-10: DigiTech provides a dedicated loop for wiring it up using ‘Four Cable Method,’ where an effects unit is able to accept an amp’s preamp in a loop so that you can place its effects both before and after the preamp. Think of it as separate ‘effects loop’ and ‘front end’ pedalboards controlled within the one unit, letting you maintain your amp’s own natural preamp distortion sound. While some units are capable of doing this by exploiting their inbuilt effects loops, the iPB-10 has a dedicated set of jacks (with a ground lift to zap hum) just for this purpose, alongside a regular external pedal loop which lets you hook in an external effects pedal to incorporate within the iPB-10’s patches. It’s great to see DigiTech officially supporting Four Cable Method on the iPB-10 and RP1000, and it’s also really cool to have the external loop freed up to still use for a pedal.

The iPB-10 offers a huge range of connection options. Alongside the standard 1/4” guitar input you’ll find the 1/4″ amp loop jacks with ground lift switch and 1/4″ effects loop jacks, stereo 1/4″ line outputs with Amp/Mixer switch, output level control (especially crucial for optimising the signal in Four Cable Method), stereo XLR outputs with ground lift switch, 1/8” headphone output, 1/4″ external foot switch control, a USB port for audio streaming, and the DC power input and power switch.

The iPad secures to the iPB-10 by sitting in a cradle and then being clamped down by a swinging bracket. It comes pre-installed with a cradle designed for the first-generation iPad but an iPad 2 cradle comes in the box, and it’s quite easy to unscrew the 1st-Gen cradle and replace it with the 2nd. I’m sure that if the iPad undergoes a substantial redesign in the future, DigiTech will make new cradles available to fit it. As for the stomp switchers, there are ten which can handle either a combination of presets and pedals, or be configured as ten individual switches for ten individual effects. There’s also an expression pedal for controlling volume, wah and DigiTech’s mega-famous Whammy effects.

To get started, download iPB-Nexus from the iTunes App Store. This app is your visual interface to the iPB-10’s guts. iPB-Nexus doesn’t actually process the sounds itself, it merely displays the interface, so your iPad really is just a display for the iPB-10, not the whole brain. In fact, once you’ve settled on your presets, you could conceivably remove the iPad altogether and the iPB-10 will still work perfectly. Great for if you’re playing on the rough side of town… Don’t worry, the LED numeric display will still tell you which preset is active.

Because the iPB-10 generates its own sound, it’s obviously far cleaner and quieter than typical iPad amp sim apps, which tend to suffer from crosstalk, feedback and just plain weak dynamics. If you’re familiar with the RP1000 you’ll be comfortable with the iPB-10’s models, which are inspired by classics such as the Marshall JCM2000, Super Lead, JCM800 and JCM900, the Mesa Boogie Dual and Triple Rectifiers, various Fenders and Voxes, the Soldano SLO100, Roland JC-120, Oranges, Laneys, Randalls, Sunns, Matchlesses and even the Peavey 5150. Then there are DigiTech’s own models, which drop hints as to their inspiration with names such as ‘Brownsound’ and ‘Stonerrock.’ There are even a few acoustic models which are more than adequate in a live setting, and work pretty well in the studio as well. Effects include phasers, pitch shifters, flangers, wahs, compressors, noise gates, choruses, delays, reverbs (including some officially-sanctioned Lexicons) and a whole bunch of distortions based on models by Boss, Arbiter, Demeter, EHX, Guyatone, Ibanez, MXR, ProCo Rat, Roger Mayer and Voodoo Labs, as well as a few DigiTech/DOD classics like the 250 Overdrive/Preamp and the legendary Grunge and Death Metal stompers.

The factory presets are a little bit overbearing, as factory presets usually are, but they give you a good (if exaggerated) overview of what the unit is capable of, and they provide a good starting point for creating your own sounds. The iPB-Nexus app makes it super-easy to move effects around, tweak parameters here and there and create your own patches. Oh and another thing that’s really cool is the ability to create a patch on your iPad when you’re nowhere near your iPB-10. Suddenly get an idea for a cool new effect combination while you’re out and about with your iPad? Just write it up, plug it in when you get back home, and tweak as required.

The only real downside is that it takes a little while to set up initially. Even though I downloaded iPB-Nexus, I had to first download a firmware update so it could talk to the iPB-10. And I have an iPad 2, so I had to fit the other cradle. But these are just one-time hassles that you won’t have to deal with again, and they’re more than worth it when you consider the benefits of having such a huge, player-friendly screen on such a well-equipped multi-effect unit. And although some players online have expressed concern about placing their iPad on the floor where rowdy fans could spill beer on it, the iPad seems pretty secure and well-shielded in there, so I don’t think that’s going to be too much of an issue.

So, the sounds are great, the control method is great, the construction is bulletproof, and the display method is incredibly innovative. I shudder to think how much the iPB-10 would cost if DigiTech incorporated a colour touchscreen in the device in the manufacturing stage, but by using the iPad instead, they really seem to have hit a on the pedalboard of the future. And the fact that the unit features Four Cable Method is such a great additional benefit which will greatly broaden the iPB-10’s appeal.


[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]Buy the iPB-10 from Musician’s Friend.[/geo-out]