The Roland Go iPhone mixer won’t rock your world [Review]

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roland go mixer
Like a spider at the center of a fancy audio-cable-based web.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

The Roland Go mixer is a little USB-powered mixer that lets you hook up a whole band’s worth of instruments to your iPhone, and record them. You can plug in almost anything, you can listen direct to the mix with headphones, and you can even pipe in music from an MP3 player or another iPhone via jack. On paper, it seems fantastic. In the studio, or bedroom, though, it proves to be just the opposite.

Connected

The GO’s best feature is its abundance of connections, all of which are arranged around the side if its square puck-like body. You get 1/4-inch jacks for guitar and a microphone, as well as a pair of 1/4-inch jacks for an “instrument” (a keyboard, perhaps). There are also two minijack line ins (for an MP3 player, or a drum machine), and finally a minijack “monitor out,” which is used for headphones, or a speaker.

Look at all those connections. Just look at them.
Look at all those connections. Just look at them.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

On top of the Go are four knobs. These adjust the levels of the incoming instruments independently, so you can set the instrument’s signals to balance the overall mix. There is also a master volume knob which sets the level of the headphones. There’s also a switch on the side which can remove the center channel of any song you are piping. This could be called a karaoke button, because it will remove the singer’s (and possibly the drums) from the mix.

The final connection is the USB port, which can be connected direct to your iPhone’s Lightning port with the included microUSB-to-Lightning cable. Thus connected, it shows up as two stereo inputs, and two stereo outputs. Most music apps will see these in and outputs automatically, so you can just hook this up and get recording. The problems come when you try to use it.

Weird interface design

If you ever used an audio interface to hook up a guitar or other instrument, you’ll be familiar with how they route their sound. A signal comes in from your guitar, is made available to any apps that you use, and then the resulting output from that app is piped back through the interface’s outputs. This is how you can use the iPhone or iPad as a guitar amp simulator, for example — the clean signal goes in, and the processed signal goes back out, to headphones or a speaker.

The Roland Go doesn’t do this. The sound comes in, as usual, but the sound from the guitar amp sim app, for example, doesn’t come back out. All you hear is the direct feed from the input aka. your clean guitar signal. If all you’re doing is recording, then this is fine. You can monitor the mix before it is sent to your iPad, and the iPad’s recording hardware can be as slow as it likes, without introducing any delay (known as latency) in your headphones.

But it also limits the usefulness of the Go, because you still need a standalone audio interface to do a job that the Go could do too, if it was designed that way.

The odd thing here is that any audio you do play on your iPhone or iPad — in the Music app, for example — is sent out to the headphones as you’d expect.

Odd volume behavior

Another oddity is that the iPhone’s volume switches still appear to work, although they actually don’t. Here’s a bit more detail on this: When you plug in an audio interface, it can disable the built-in volume controls, in favor of a hardware knob on the device. In this case, using the iPhone’s volume switches does nothing. It doesn’t even show the little volume graphic.

Alternatively, an interface can use the volume buttons as usual, in which case the graphic appears, when you use the iPhone’s own buttons, and the volume level changes. With the Go, the volume switches are disabled, but the graphic still appears.

Roland Go sound quality

The sound is just fine. The Go does a decent job of mixing the incoming instruments and creating a stereo output, which is then sent to the iPhone for recording. You can record this into any app, including the Music Memos app, although you might prefer to use the excellent AUM app for more flexibility (and a stronger input signal, oddly). Bear in mind that the recording will be a stereo mix of all the instruments. It won’t separate out the microphone, the guitar or bass, the keyboard, and the drum machine, so you can’t go back and edit these parts later.

To Go isn’t a proper studio tool, then. It’s more of a neat gimmick to get a quick-and-dirty recording of a group of musicians. And if that’s what you want to do, you might be better off with a decent, well-placed microphone hooked up to your iPhone instead.

Plasticky

The final problem with the Go is that it feels flimsy and plasticky, like one good drop onto a concrete floor would crack it open.

Summing up

So would I recommend the Go? Not really, although there are a few scenarios where it could be useful. If you’re recording a video of a group of musicians, then you could use this to send the audio directly into the iOS camera app. On the other hand, if those musicians are professionals, then they probably already have a way to send you a good stereo mix for the purpose.

Mackie's Onyx BlackJack is better in almost every way.
Mackie’s Onyx BlackJack is better in almost every way.
Photo: Mackie

If the Go’s very specialized feature set fits you needs, then you may consider it, although at $99 there are better options. The Mackie Onyx Blackjack, for instance, is the same price, but works with XLR mic inputs, has phantom power, has excellent pre-amps, and works as a proper USB audio interface. On then other hand, the BlackJack has only two input channels.

Still, if you’re in the market for this kind of thing, you really should study other options before buying this.

Price: From $99

Buy from: Amazon