Review: Focusrite iTrack Dock, iPad Audio Interface — by Erin Barra

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I was excited to review the Focusrite iTrack Dock because I’ve been intrigued by iOS for quite some time and finally had a reason to find out what all the hype is about. I’ve seen my fair share of iPad commercials where symphonies are composed in the back of cabs…

Erin Barra got her hands on the Focusrite iTrack Dock -- see what happened next.

Erin Barra got her hands on the Focusrite iTrack Dock — see what happened next.

Secondly, I’m a fan of the Focusrite product. I have experience with their interfaces, pre’s, controllers (Novation) and software on both the OS and iOS side of things, so the idea of having the quality of their product paired with a low price point and convenience of making music on an iPad was not lost on me.

I’m all about streamlining workflow while still having powerful functionality, so I went into this equal parts skeptical and hopeful. Here’s what I found:

Setup

The iTrack Dock is an iPad recording interface which pairs iOS with studio quality and fidelity. It features a stereo I/O, dual mic pre’s and line in’s, an instrument DI and USB MIDI port, and will also charge your iPad.

Getting the whole thing set up wasn’t very hard. Downloading the apps was as easy as requesting an Uber car for the first time, and they immediately recognized the iTrack Dock as an input source. Tape, which is the iTrack Docks native app, was created for those looking to “put ideas down quickly”, but also works with any Core Audio iPad app.

There are very few buttons and knobs on the unit making things simple, and visually it’s significantly easier to grasp than their Saffire/Scarlett line. The way the iPad fits inside of the interface is really nice and ergonomic making, it easy to see everything and access the touch screen.

As far as portability is concerned I’m slightly ambivalent. It’s definitely small enough to fit into a bag and is super lightweight. That being said it feels like a toy that might break if dropped and lacks the industriousness of their non-iOS product.

Workflow, Functionality and Sound

I stressed both the iPad and iTrack Dock as much as I could and was pleasantly surprised by how far I was able to take things.

At one point I was running a vocal and analog synth through the two inputs while also using a MIDI keyboard to program drums and control Novation’s Launchkey app, which I was running simultaneous to GarageBand and routing the signal via yet another app called Audiobus. It was overkill, awesome, and it worked flawlessly on the first try.

I made like I was in a writing/production session with an artist and sketched out a new composition and arrangement very quickly. I was able get down all my ideas on the fly and stay in the creative zone without having to get overly technical, despite the fact that I’d never used the iOS version of GarageBand before.

The iTrack Dock

The iTrack Dock is designed to pair iOS with studio quality and fidelity.

I’m already a fan of the Focurite pre’s; they’re really clean, sound great on my voice and I find them to be useful in all sorts of situations. The sonic qualities of the iTrack Dock were comparable to other Focusrite products and I was pleased with the way the audio sounded.

It was cool to be able to record at a number of sampling rates and bit depths, and the direct monitoring option eliminated the latency I expected to hear due to the limitations of the iPad’s processor.

Would I use it to cut a vocal for an album? Would I be cutting an album on an iPad? I totally could if I wanted to.

User Base

I think Focusrite pretty much hit the nail on the head in terms of the people they say the iTrack Dock is meant to enable:

“iTrack Dock is the perfect recording interface for songwriters, musicians and home recordists who want to take advantage of their studio gear alongside the simplicity of iPad. Designed to provide a comprehensive recording, monitoring and control solutions for iPad users, iTrack Dock is easy to use and provides all the control and functionality you’d expect in a traditional recording interface.”

I would add….

  • Someone who wants to reach certain fidelity without needing 100% of the power and functionally of a large processor/OS. i.e. writer sketching ideas/demos, capturing a stereo recording of a live show or intimate performance.
  • Someone who wants to step up their iPad music-making game but isn’t ready to pony up the $ to buy a computer and the associated hardware/software.

Limitations

  • Software – The iTrack Dock works with a number of apps (Tape, Garageband, Auria, Cubasis) and their functionality is limited. I didn’t try out the Cubase or Auria apps because their $50 price point deterred me, but I know the Steinberg product is top notch so in some ways I wish I had. Tape, the iTrack Dock’s dedicated app will record a great live guitar and vocal and claims to even Master the track for you when all is said and done. All of the software I worked with functioned off of preset effect chains, so as long as you’re looking for a more macro approach to recording/engineering, you’re good, otherwise you might find yourself frustrated.

    Connectivity on the iTrack Dock's backside.

    Connectivity on the iTrack Dock’s backside.

  • Hardware – when I got the offer to review this product I pulled the trigger on it before looking at the specs. When the iTrack Dock arrived I was bummed to find that my 3rd generation iPad wasn’t compatible with it and there aren’t any adaptors out there to convert the connection. Luckily my very good friends at Tekserve swooped in to save the day and loaned me an iPad Air (insert triumphant horn theme here). It would be even better if it worked with non-Apple tablets as well.

Price

At $199 I thought the iTrack Dock was very reasonably priced, especially for the portability, functionality, fidelity and iPad integration.

I own an Apogee Duet which interfaces with my laptop in addition to my iPad, has the same amount of inputs with considerably better pre’s, but costs three times as much… so it was interesting to juxtapose the two.

All things considered, I think the iTrack Dock is an awesome recording interface. If you’re the type of user its intended for, I would recommend it.

ERIN BARRA:  Singer/Songwriter/Producer/Multi-Instrumenatlist/Ableton-Enthusiast/Nationally-Touring-Aritst. Also visit her on Facebook or Twitter @erinbarra – See more at: https://www.sonicscoop.com/2013/07/30/review-novation-launchkey-49-and-launchpad-s-controllers-by-erin-barra/#sthash.lIlSMaYZ.dpuf

ERIN BARRA:  Singer/Songwriter/Producer/Multi-Instrumenatlist/Ableton-Enthusiast/Nationally-Touring-Aritst. Also visit her on Facebook or Twitter @erinbarra

  • Mike Degen

    Another reason to buy a new iPad.

  • really cool — love how how you really tested its capabilities to the max, useful post!! THANKS! 🙂

  • MusicManInSC

    I purchased it because the orginal add said multi midi instruments or midi via USB but it only will utilize one input. :>( They have now have a list of comparable midi devices. I like th fact that it charges the iPad. I was hoping to use LaunchPad S and LaunchContrl together as a small DJ rig. Its a good start and Great Sound, good output. Looking for more devices that also charge the iPad. Focsrite and Novation Paving The Way!

  • MusicManInSC

    Great Review!

  • garyduke

    Overjoyed with this unit! The layout of the controls is brilliant. The direct monitor switch and volume controls all comfortable and solid. The ability to keep the iPad charged during use is great. I have an RME Babyface but hate the bulky counterweight of the massive breakout cable and having to worry about keeping the iPad charged. Not to mention that afaik I can’t easily enable/disable direct monitoring via the Babyface while in CC mode without leaving my DAW (btw I use harmonic dog’s Multitrack DAW app and it’s simple, stable (never ever ever crashes, unlike Auria) and fastastic.
    Thank goodness Focusrite had the gumption to design and release this interface. I have an iPad Air and don’t mind at all that it extends past the unit. It makes it easy to remove.

  • R. G. Carpenter

    Great review, Erin. You just launched me at lightning speed! I’ve been reading reviews about the itrack dock, but, I love that you were so frank. Great job! I’ll surely pursue my goal of running a mobile studio here, in Liberia.