Having already been disappointed by the Behringer iS202 iPad Dock (Review Here), due to the fact it only supported 30-pin connector versions of the tablet, I looked around for something that would suit my iPad Air situation, keeping an eye out for a truly universal iPad recording dock. Stop #2 brought me to the Alesis iO Dock II.
It didn’t, however, alleviate my disappointment. While the iO Dock II adds 4th generation iPad support, it’s still frustratingly only compatible with full-size models. Since the iPad 4th gen was discontinued (for the second time) in 2014, the life of the iO Dock II is kind over except for those with devices already at least two years old.
One of the problems of designing a dock of any type is anticipation of changes to hardware. Apple seems bent on changing the game at every turn. Alesis answered the 30-pin/Lightning connector question by using a cabled connector with interchangeable adapters. No problem there.
The dock itself is sized for the full-size iPad package that ended with Gen 4. It seemed that Behringer’s take — using a cradle to fit the iPad, which then slid into the dock — would have been the way to go, since in theory you could match cradles to iPad models. But that didn’t happen, and Alesis used a direct cradle on the top with the connector on the right, open side instead of the left as with the iS202.
Alesis may recognize that the iO Dock II’s days are fading. While retailers continue to sell the device, the Alesis web page indicates the iO Dock II is out of stock. That alone isn’t necessarily discouraging until you spot the word “legacy” in the page URL. If I was in the market for a new iO Dock II, I would not be holding my breath too hard about now.
Instead, take a look at the Focusrite iTrack Professional Dock. Better features, and supports all current iPads!
Despite the fact that the device slot on the iO Dock II is too big for the iPad Air, there are forum posts that suggest the device works just fine with an Air and showed how the tray could be altered with pencils and cardboard to permit the integration of the smaller iPad. There’s nothing about the tray that seems integral to the performance of the ipad/dock combination. It just seems to be a place for the iPad to sit, so in theory, any iPad would work. Only a few would actually seat within the iO Dock II. There’s no official support, however, except for the discontinued full-size iPads up to Gen 4.
Putting that behind us, though, what about the accouterments of the dock? The first impression is that the Behringer concept is far more convenient. There are no surface mount connections on the iO Dock II. Everything is tucked away on the sides and back. Moving around the unit clockwise, here are the connections and controls the iO Dock II adds to iPad functionality:
- Mini USB connector for USB MIDI
- 5-pin MIDI In and Out jacks
Rear Panel, right to left:
- On/off button
- Power adapter socket
- Footswitch jack
- Phantom power switch
- Hi-Z switch for Input 1
- Gain Control for Input 1
- XLR/1/4-inch combi jacks 1 and 2
- Gain Control for Input 2
- Direct monitoring switch
- Main Out, left and right
While much of the control in a recording setup is through the iPad’s touchscreen, I don’t find the placement of the controls practical or easy to use. There’s no screening to approximate where the gain controls are on the back panel, so reaching over to adjust blindly is guesswork, not to mention backwards. The side level controls are more accessible and natural, although perhaps more set-and-forget than the knobs on the rear.
The iO Dock II gets the edge on sound. Its preamps display more warmth than the Behringer unit, though it’s not a substantial difference. The Alesis is twice the price of the iS202, so better electronics are logical.
However, my experience is the opposite that of many users. There are a substantial number of complaints regarding hiss. Many of these reviews date back far enough that the problem may be from the iO Dock I or from a previous iOS version. Later reviews feature comments such as, “glitches fixed,” and “resolved,” so it may indeed be a done deal. Be aware it was a quantifiable issue at one point.
The build of the iO Dock II surpasses that of the Behringer take on the concept. There’s just something a step up about the feel of the Alesis. However, ergonomically the iO Dock II fails. Rather than getting used to the rear-mount controls with more use, frustration increases, rather than dexterity. My first impression of this layout was confirmed with use and, while the functionality added to the iPad is admirable, the iO Dock II is about as awkward to use as individual device interfaces. The point is to eliminate these, not to make them seem efficient by comparison.
User reviews strongly suggest there’s no problem using iPad Air and Air 2 tablets with the iO Dock II, the only issue being that the device isn’t securely attached within the cradle. That said, this device has one of the lowest user review scores I’ve seen across any product I’ve reviewed. It’s substantial enough we can probably rule out advanced operator error as a source for most of the lowball user scores. Something is up, and when mileage varies as much as user reviews suggest, I’d be cautious.
I really want to like an iPad recording dock, and I really wanted to like the Alesis. I have an Alesis Nanocompressor — two of them actually — that’s approaching 20 years old and I still reach for it regularly. I am fond of much of the Alesis equipment I’ve used and owned over the years.
The iO Dock II won’t be joining them. The control layout is dumb, and, like the iS202, the USB and MIDI integration seem poorly planned.
That said, there are users who rave about this dock. It might be a matter of users on their way up the knowledge ladder in home recording, and they haven’t experienced more efficient ways of working. While the iO Dock II does seem to include work-ability with iPads still selling as new, it’s a big compromise from start to finish. Not recommended.