I recently purchased a cheap electric guitar setup so that I could take my third… fourth?… try at learning to play guitar, in the hopes that I can start writing songs. I knew from experience that I would want some sort of audio interface for the guitar (for recording) and that I wanted to use virtual pedals on the iPad (for playing around & recording) so I ordered an IK Multimedia iRig HD 2 at the same time.
A few weeks later I got an email from Fender advertising the Fender Mustang Micro which seemed, to me, like a good idea, because I’d already noticed that it wasn’t 100% convenient to just “pick up and play” my guitar.
At a minimum I needed to plug the guitar into the amp, turn the amp on, and then depending on my surroundings either adjust the volume to not annoy anyone, or also plug in some headphones. On top of that, I was “stuck” wherever I placed the amplifier, which made life more complicated when I moved the amp from one side of the living room to the other. The guitar set I got came with a basic amp with some basic gain options, not much in the way of effects to monkey with for fun, either, so the iRig was necessary if I wanted to experiment with different tones and gain levels.
If I didn’t want to use the amp for practice, then I’d have to use my iPad and the iRig somehow. This meant I’d have to get the iPad out, plug the iRig into the iPad, plug my guitar into the iRig, plug my headphones into the iRig, and then load up GarageBand or ToneBridge and get going. This was a lot of cables, and there was no way for me to do this without headphones: when you plug the iRig into the iPad, your iPad is forced into piping audio out through the iRig’s headphone jack. So if I wanted to listen to my playing without headphones, I’d have to plug the iRig’s headphone jack into speakers somehow. I’d done this with a mini-plug to RCA cable to my amp, but I could also do it with a portable speaker so long as it had wired input. But… so many cables everywhere!
The Mustang Micro seeks to solve this problem. It’s a tiny little device that plugs directly into your guitar, and has a mini-plug output for plugging in your headphones. It has 12 different virtual amps built in, with 13 effects that can be used with each, and has EQ and Modifier buttons to adjust the sound of your guitar with each amp and effect. It’s also fully self-powered with a rechargeable battery. This is a big benefit over the iRig HD 2, which sucks power from a device over USB and cannot be used on its own. In the end, the Mustang Micro takes all the “headache” out of being able to just pick up a guitar and practice with it whenever you want.
The Mustang Micro has Bluetooth support for getting audio into the device. The main use for this is that you can connect your iPad via Bluetooth to the Micro and listen to your lesson videos, or favorite songs, while playing along. You hear both your guitar (with any amp and effects) and the iPad audio in your headset, and the ‘mix’ of the audio for each is dependent on the Bluetooth volume of the iPad. This is pretty slick and very useful.
When I eventually discovered that you can also plug the Mustang Micro into the iPad to use it as an audio interface, I got very excited, but also annoyed: Did I waste $120 on the iRig 2 HD? The Mustang Micro seems to do all the same stuff!
The answer, ultimately is “no”, for one very big reason: when you have the Mustang Micro connected to an iPad via USB, it does not receive any audio from the iPad, it only sends audio to the iPad. If you want to hear what is happening on the iPad, you have to connect the iPad to the Micro via Bluetooth.
Problem solved, right? Nope! Whatever you hear over your headphones connected to the Micro is exactly what is sent back over to the iPad. In other words, with Bluetooth connected to your recording device, you’ll create a massive feedback loop, where your guitar will be playing over itself, along with whatever else you’re playing while recording.
If you want to use the Mustang Micro for recording, you’ll want to plug your guitar into it, and then get audio out of your device some other way. Unfortunately with the iPad Pro, there is only one USB-C port, and no audio output, so there is no other way to get audio out other than the speakers on the iPad itself. You could wear some wireless headphones, but there will always be a delay associated with that.
If you have an external audio interface for your iPad already, and a suitable USB hub so you can attach multiple devices to it at the same time, this may be a non-issue for you. I’m assuming that most people reading this are relatively new to guitar, and recording, and don’t want to buy several devices to record themselves playing at a decent quality.
If you’re looking for a device that can act as an all-in-one recording solution for your iPad, the iRig HD 2 is the best option.
If you’re looking for a device to make practicing as hassle free as possible, and want to easily add more tones and effects to your noodling sessions, the Fender Mustang Micro is the best option.
That said, if you already have a recording environment set up that doesn’t involve an iPad, or you already have a USB hub with a separate audio interface for your iPad that you use for monitoring, the Mustang Micro might be perfectly suitable as a solution for recording your guitar.
If you feel like you have to choose just one, I’d go with the Mustang Micro. While you can’t use it for all-in-one iPad recording, it’s still an impressively versatile device that will not go unused in your toolbox. In the event that you want to do some guitar recording, it’s still a great tool. It’s just not suitable for people who want to do all their recording on an iPad with only one gadget attached.
I’ve seen people online who use the Micro connected via a mini-plug cable to a portable speaker so they can play out in public. Nifty! You could do that with an iRig 2, but you’re still looking at a lot of cables and devices to accomplish the same goal.
Fender Mustang Micro
- Great device for easy “pick up and play” practice
- Lots of built in virtual amps and effects which makes it superior to products like the amPlug series
- Self-powered with a 5-6 hour rechargeable battery
- 1 cable minimum for playing: just the headphone cable
- Not an all-in-one solution for recording music with an iPad
- You can not monitor with headphones and record at the same time
- Allows you to play sound out of a connected iPad’s internal speakers
- You can noodle with virtual pedals without headphones on
- You can record this way if you wanted, but it’s not ideal in my opinion
IK Multimedia iRig HD 2
- Great device for recording to iPad
- No built in effects
- Not powered, requires a USB device to power it
- 3 cable minimum for playing: guitar cable, headphone cable, and USB cable
- All-in-one solution for recording music with an iPad
- You can monitor with headphones and record at the same time
- Cannot play sound out of a connected iPad’s internal speakers
- You cannot noodle with virtual pedals without headphones or an external speaker attached