Why the iConnectAudio4+ is the best audio interface for iPad and Mac

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iConnectAudio4+ is the best gift you can buy for your iPad. And your Mac.
This is the best gift you can buy for your iPad. And your Mac.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

The iConnectAudio4+ isn’t a new product. It’s been around for a few years. And this isn’t really a review. This article will be more of a PSA, telling you about a unique input device can change how you use your iPad for audio.

The feature that sets the iConnectAudio4+ apart from other USB audio interfaces is that it can connect to two computers at once, and send audio to both. It can even route audio — digitally — between your Mac and your iPad.

What is the iConnectAudio4+?

The iConnectAudio4+ is a USB audio and MIDI interface. That means you plug analog audio sources into it, and it digitizes the sound, then feeds it to a connected computer. It also does the same in reverse, letting you send audio out to speakers and so on.

The box has four analog input jacks and four output jacks. It also had a headphone jack, and two USB B ports for connecting to two computers. In addition, it has two 5-pin DIN MIDI ports, and a USB MIDI host port. (The MIDI part we’ll get to in a bit.)

What makes iConnectAudio4+ special?

Pretty much every other USB audio interface can connect to only one computer at a time. The iConnectAudio4+ can be hooked up to two. I have mine connected to a Mac and an iPad, but you can also use two Macs, two PCs, two iPhones and any combination of these.

This means that you can plug a microphone, guitar or synthesizer into the iConnectAudio4+, and record it on both computers/iPads at the same time (which you’d probably never actually do). But here’s the kicker. You can send pristine digital audio between the Mac and the iPad, direct, in addition to the analog inputs and outputs.

Inter-device audio

It's a nightmare, but you'll grow to like it.
It’s a nightmare, but you’ll grow to like it.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Here’s an example of how you might use this. You have a drum app running on your iPad, and a guitar plugged into a jack on the front of the iConnectAudio4+. You can route both the iPad drums and the guitar into Logic Pro or Ableton on your Mac, and record them. In this scenario, the iPad is just another audio input for your Mac.

What about sending some audio out from Logic Pro, processing it using an app on your iPad, and then sending it back to be recorded in Logic? No problem. And this example shows the advantage of the iCA4+ over Apple’s built-in IDAM. IDAM stands for Inter Device Audio and MIDI. It lets you send audio from an iPad to a Mac, but not in the other direction. Also, IDAM is stereo-only, whereas the iConnectAudio4+ can send tens of audio streams in either direction.

Loopback

How about another example, this time using only the iPad? The iConnectAudio4+ can route an audio stream from the iPad, and back to the same iPad. This lets you capture the main audio output, which could be Skype or FaceTime, and then loop it back into the iPad for recording. Thus equipped, you can record podcasts on just an iPhone, or record YouTube videos, or even record iOS GarageBand’s amazing virtual instruments into another app.

The iConfig app

To achieve all this goodness, you need to use the iConfig app. It looks like something out of a nightmare about Windows 95, but once you get used to its sparse, spreadsheetlike interface, you’ll find it very powerful. For instance, its Audio Patchbay shows a matrix of all the physical and virtual inputs and outputs. You simply click on a node to connect them. It’s really confusing to start with, but after a while you’ll come to like it. Like — not love. It’s too annoying for that.

MIDI

The iCA4+ is also a MIDI interface. You can route MIDI just as easily as you route audio, either between computers, or to and from any connected MIDI devices — drum machines, keyboards and so on. These devices can be connected to the two MIDI DIN ports, or to the USB MIDI host port on the back. And this host port is killer.

You can’t just connect USB MIDI devices together. You can’t plug a USB piano keyboard into a synthesizer and use it, any more than you can plug a mouse into a computer monitor and use it. You have to have a “host” in between to control things. The iCA4+’s host port takes the place of a computer. It also accepts USB hubs. So, you can plug all your USB MIDI devices into a hub, then plug that into the host port, and all those devices can magically talk to each other.

Like the audio part, this works standalone. You don’t need to connect a computer to the iConnectAudio4+ to use it.

iPad caveats

iConnectAudio4+ rear panel shows all its hookups.
The iConnectAudio4+ has all the hookups.
Photo: iConnectivity

In my use, the audio quality of the iConnectAudio4+ is great. I don’t use microphones, except for podcasting, so I don’t need fancy mic preamps. The audio part converts at 24bits, which is more than good enough, and there’s enough gain on board for all my uses, even my guitar. This is easily the best iOS audio interface I’ve used.

But it’s not all good news for iPad users. For one, while the iConnectAudio4+ can power Lightning iPads and iPhones while they’re connected, it cannot power the USB-C iPad Pro. You’ll need to work around that limitation yourself.

The other problem is an iOS problem. The first time you connect a new audio or MIDI device to your iPad, it will learn the names of all the ports on that device. After that, they can never be changed, short of totally resetting your iPad. Unfortunately, the default names for the various iConnectAudio4+ ports are generic and long. Not only will you have trouble picking them out in a list, but in most cases the names are too long to even read all of them.

How to deal with unwieldy port names

The answer is to change all theses names on a Mac before you ever plug in the iConnectAudio4+ to your iPad. And make sure you get everything right before you do. Misspellings will stay forever. And if you ever decide to plug your named gear into a different port, then the old labels will remain. This is an iOS limitation, so you’ll just have to hope Apple fixes it one day.

But apart from all that, the upsides of this box far, far outweigh the small downsides. I love it. I’ve finally been able to forget about routing and everything else when making music. Now I just focus on the music itself. The iConnectAudio4+ is the ultimate do-anything audio problem solver, and it does all this for just under $300.

Buy from: Amazon — $349.99