Frankly, I’m getting a little sick and tired of everyone trying to turn iDevices into bloody everything. It was bad enough when email started coming in on phones, then text messages too. A guy couldn’t get away! Cell phones with cameras were kind of cute at first, but now you shoot movies and serious photos on the things, and you can do proper editing and post-processing on tablets. I would like to call for a complete and final boycott on multifunction devices such as these, and the crazy, infinitesimal range of applications that extend the use, function and scope of mobile devices.
But let’s start that after I’m done playing with the Behringer iS202 iPad Recording Dock.
I admit it. I laughed when I first saw it. By itself, it looks, well, dumb. It’s incomplete. The angle is all wrong but at first glance I thought, “OMG, it’s an iDustpan!” Then the part of my brain that’s not a sarcastic jerk — really, there is a part — kicked in and realized what it was.
And what it is is basically all the connections and controls you need to convert your iPad or iPad 2 into a self-sufficient recording unit. Then I looked around a bit and found two similar devices (Focusrite iPad Dock Review) and (Alesis iPad Dock Review). I really need to get out more. Yet, I’m in a well-equipped music store on a frequent basis. It’s just getting to the point there’s so much good stuff out there, it’s hard to keep up.
The concept here is sound. Slide an iPad into the iS202 and obtain inputs, connections, MIDI and level control to optimize the tablet as a recording device, upping the ante from the single Lightning connector and headphone jack currently available on an iPad. During a recent trip to Europe, I tried to use an iPad as a multitrack recording device. It worked, and from an audio standpoint, it worked well. However, the time spent connecting sound sources was definitely an anchor around the neck of productivity. The iS202 may be an intriguing concept.
Sadly, the first roadblock pops up immediately. If you have an iPad 1, iPad 2 or third-generation iPad, you’re in the clear. Those who own iPad Air, Air 2 or Mini variations, sorry. Not at this time. This is huge limitation, since the accepted iPads are older, 30-pin design, technology that’s three to five years behind current iPad models. Scouring forums and online sources reveals no reliable way to use the iS202 with current Lightning connectors. Every now and then Behringer throws a breaking pitch into the dirt. Score this one a passed ball.
For the sake of argument and for the edification of those who have older iPads still in working shape, we will ignore this near-total failure to address the current market and look at what might have been.
Connection couldn’t be simpler. Slide iPad into adapter tray, slide tray into iS202, bingo, you’re connected. The iS202 uses a wall adapter or AA batteries, so you could use this dock to record on a mountain in Tibet if that’s essential to your inspirational vibe.
The iS202 dock takes you from two connectors to a veritable plethora of jacks, ports and controls. Let’s run these down.
On the back panel, from left to right:
- on/off switch
- Power input
- Composite video output — for connecting to TV or projector
- USB Mini port — the iS202 can incorporate with a computer and software DAW
- 5-pin MIDI jacks — connections for controller keyboards, etc.
- Two foot control jacks, one for a footswitch, the other for an expression pedal
- Two main output, ¼-inch jacks, left and right
- Two RCA inputs for line and phono sources — the iS202 accepts vinyl turntable inputs
- Two combi XLR jacks for audio input, either XLR or ¼-inch phone plugs.
- Six rotary knobs:
- Gain levels for inputs 1 & 2
- Auxiliary level
- Monitor selection
- Main level control
- Headphone level
- Three push buttons:
- Phantom power for inputs 1 & 2
- Hi-Z guitar input selector for input 2
- Phono EQ selector
Add these physical controls to the various touch screen options within apps and the iPad turns into a dedicated recording unit. Though it integrates with Garage Band, the iS202 supports Core Audio and MIDI, so in theory, any app that also supports either protocol has the potential to make nice with the port.
If only… Lightning connector… sigh…
The preamps stay out of the way. There’s no richness that you’d associate with a high performance preamp, but this is a budget piece of equipment, so there’s no reason to expect anything more than competence. Likewise, none of the other inputs or outputs embarrass themselves.
There some occasional crackles when switching settings or applications. There wasn’t much consistency, so it’s not clear if it’s the iS202 or something the iPad itself emits. Annoying, but not unworkable. There’s nothing about the sound of the device that recommends avoiding it.
To quote Music Group’s page — which still lists the iS202 as an active product — the device is “Road-Ready and Rugged.” That gives me pause. Is the unit well-built for its price point? Sure is. Road-ready and rugged? As in pulled out and set up every night, or even every weekend, for gigs? No. I don’t think so. This is a piece for a desk or, if you have a nice dry place to sit, that mountain in Tibet. Road-ready and rugged is copywriter hyperbole. Again, there’s nothing about the build of the iS202 that should stop you from buying it, but don’t expect it to hold up to elephant stomping or amateur roadie handling.
There is a fair bit of mention of noise within the lower ranked reviews. Some of it is surely the crackling I encountered. However, reading the better scored reviews shows that there may well be level mismatching going on with the negative reviews too. Gain staging is as important here as anywhere, so those without a grasp of the concept may be causing their own problems.
There are plenty of users very satisfied with the iS202. They benefit from the very points that the device is made to address. This is so close to an amazing device, yet for its connectivity. Double sigh…
The lack of Lighting connector support is the most obvious failure, but it’s not the only one. The five-pin MIDI connections don’t support the contemporary world. Desktop keyboard controllers are predominantly USB, so the mini USB connector doesn’t help much. There should probably be a couple regular USB ports here for controllers. It’s as though the entire design concept for the iS202 dates to 2005, five years before there was an iPad.
Well, you get the point. Unless you’ve got a functional 30-pin iPad, take a pass on this one. If you want something more substantial that actually lives up to the hype, check out the Focusrite iPad Recording Dock (Review here)
If you’ve got your heart set on the Behringer iS202 iPad Recording Dock: