It’s getting harder and harder to avoid recording from home. Bedroom production, once a lo-fi domain, has been forcing studios to make the case for their existence for the better part of a decade now. The second reckoning has been mobile interfaces; now a guitar and a phone might be the only tools you’ll need to get your music on (digital) tape.
TC Helicon’s Go Vocal Microphone Preamp and Guitar Portable Interface for Mobile Devices are two plastic packs that weigh no more than 100 grams each and fit even in the tightest of jeans pockets. They arrive as more affordable competition to the IK Multimedia’s mobile interface juggernaut, the iRig. Both the Go Vocal and the Go Guitar arrive separately, though a joint purchase won’t even set you back $150. The Go Vocal is slightly chunkier, accounting for an XLR output. The top of the casing is a nice matte black, though the rest feels as plastic as you’d expect at the price point.
The basic chassis for both products has the same no-nonsense plug setup as an iRig; input, output, volume dial and a headphone jack. Both use a permanently attached 3.5mm plug as the output plug, which is slightly frustrating considering it wouldn’t have been much of a fuss to make it detachable. For mobile purposes however, it is more than serviceable. Go Vocal is powered by a 9v battery, though it helpfully provides 48v phantom power for condenser mics. More appropriately, the Go Guitar is bus powered, meaning all you’ll need is your computer or phone to leech off. For iPhones 7 and later, you’ll need a lightning cable adapter to plug it into your phone; more an indictment of Apple’s ridiculous removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack than TC Helicon. What makes less sense is Go Guitar’s clip; you’d be hard pressed to find any belt or guitar strap thin enough to slot through it.
Personally, I’d approach TC Helicon’s creative suite of apps designed for use with these devices with caution. At least on the Australian app store, most of their apps feel half baked and pale hard in comparison to GarageBand. Once you’ve actually plugged in however, both the Go Vocal and Go Guitar shine. The Go Guitar produces a mobile tone as powerful as one could expect, while the Go Vocal carries exceptional detail. The Go Guitar’s extra output is also a nice touch, providing a swathe of upgradable digital effects superior to that of a basic Roland Cube. If I was paying less attention to the unit the cord would slip around in the headphone jack, but otherwise no issues were had with the units’ hardware.
While the Go Guitar’s functionality has been seen before; the Go Vocal is something else entirely. For the money, users will be struck by its awesome capability to act as a mobile interface for both dynamic and condenser microphones. Even when pushed, I struggled to really hear any significant losses using an SM57 dynamic mic. There is a slightly tinny quality to its reproduction, although we’re a few hundred dollars from even a low end interface or mixer.
Fundamentally, the Go Vocal and Go Guitar win over the well-loved iRig because they are nearly half the cost. Both are an easy recording solution for getting ideas down on the go, and for beginners who want to dip their toes in the home recording world without drowning in cost. Ideally, they’d be wireless in new models but if it made them less cost effective they’d lose out to the competition. The Go Vocal interface will be the most interesting model going forward; if TC Helicon continues to make affordable improvements, it may have a market killing product on its hands.
Hits and Misses
Strong reproduction via GarageBand
Great battery-less power system
Flimsy and unusable belt clip
Underdeveloped TC Helicon associated apps