MPC Fly Review

 

Just the thought of combining the swing and productivity of an MPC controller with the intuitiveness and mobility of an iPad is enough to make most producers dreams come true, now thanks to Akai its now possible to make MPC beats on the fly! Both the devices seamlessly combine to create a laptop styled case that protects you’re iPad whilst on the move. Akai clearly see this as a major selling point as they stress this feature in the official information and video however the MPC Fly is much more than just a case. It has 16 genuine MPC velocity-sensitive pads in the typical 4×4 layout to ensure the quality we all know and come to expect. Not to mention the benefit of a well-designed and integrated app which allows you to sequence 4 tracks at the same time.

Before I used the Akai MPC Fly I was quite sceptical about how it would perform, as I’ve mentioned you expect a great amount of quality with MPC controllers, which I couldn’t see being maintained into such a compact and versatile package. Unfortunately I was right, it just doesn’t posses the luxury of other, more expensive MPC units. Perhaps I was being unrealistic to have such high expectations of an MPC controller that costs around $300 in comparison to others for more than triple the price.  But to get the best results out of the Fly it would ideally need to be integrated into a Digital Audio Workstation, the fly as a stand-alone device wouldn’t be able to produce anything at a professional standard.

 

 

The app itself is quite impressive and as I’ve mentioned you can sequence up to 4 tracks simultaneously and has a respectable library or drum samples and sounds that were of a higher quality than I was expecting. You can also adjust each sample through Akai’s sophisticated 16 level mode. As well as this you can also take samples from you’re iPod library, which is a very convenient and beneficial feature. But the greatest advantage is the Fly’s portability and it can be used just about anywhere, although you may receive a few strange looks.

 

Despite an unpromising start I really liked the MPC Fly, it didn’t have the luxury that I was hoping for but at the end of the day it’s still an MPC unit and the feel and swing is almost bread into its genes despite how inexpensive it is. Its also aimed at a varied audience as it could realistically be used by producers making their way to the studio or by the small time enthusiast making beats in their bedroom, either way it fits right in. Also it’s not compatible with 1st generation iPads Watch the official video of it and see what you think.

 

This guest article was written by Steven Williams

 

 

Figure – the Monotribe of iOS

Sweden’s Propellerhead Software isn’t the first established brand to expand into the iOS music arena, and this isn’t the first time Propellerhead themselves dipped their feet in. The differences here is that last time, they worked with Retronyms to port a full version of their ReBirth software to the mobile platform. This time they’ve decided to go it alone and what they’ve come up with, while based on the world-renowned Reason software, is new.

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On the face of it, The $.99 you pay for Figure gets you a simple loop composer, hampered by the inability to save your tunes or export them via AudioCopy/Paste. Reading the complaints about this app online would give you the impression that it’s about as useful as a radio channel for the deaf. I understand that, it’s no Multitrack DAW. But that’s not the point. The simple layout, sparse arrangement, decent sound quality derived from powerful music production tools and low price point make it ideal for those who are new to electronic music production and iOS music. In these ways it feels like a software analogy to Korg’s much-vaunted Monotribe.

Open Figure after a brisk download from the App Store (the app weighs in at 9.5Mb, and is limited to 4th generation devices or later) and you’re greeted by the logo and the message “Powered by Reason” before being presented with the instrument playback panel, including a ribbon-style playback surface, and adjustable rhythm, range and scale step parameters. The rhythm and scale steps are controlled by vertically swiping, the pitch is altered by horizontally swiping up and down the surface (a-la a ribbon keyboard) and the range is adjusted vertically for size, horizontally for position. The rest of the screen is taken up with the buttons for selecting instruments, navigating pages as well as transport controls for playing and recording your loops and automations.

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There are not that many instruments to control. Drums, bass synth, lead synth. That’s about it. The Kit contains a kick, snare, hi-hat and a cowbell. The sounds the instruments make are not fixed, but don’t forget that you can’t save presets. Open the “Tweaks” tab and the playing surface becomes an X/Y controller which controls filter amount and resonance for the bass synth, envelope, delay and ‘bite’ for the lead synth and the less-conventionally labelled ‘Fever’ and ‘Prescription’ for the drums. Adjustments to these parameters can be automated as you record your loops.
You can mix the levels of each instrument easily enough, as well as muting them. The one effect I can see is a global sidechain compressor called ‘Pump’ which is triggered by the kick drum, and as compressors on iOS go, it works pretty darn well.

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This brings me to the sound quality, another part of Figure that leads to a comparison to the Monotribe. As Korg have taken components from their legendary MS-series synths and placed them in their diminutive new instrument, the Figure instruments are powered by synthesizer engines used in Propellerhead’s venerable Reason software.
The synths are instances of the Thor synthesizer and the drums are an instance of the Kong drum machine. These choices may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I have the feeling anyone who will use this app to make music casually won’t complain. Even when using the built-in speaker of my iPhone4 I could tell the bass had some real depth to it, and that the pump was really making the lead and bass parts bounce along. If you have invested in a decent headset, or any pair of headphones other than Apple’s included ones, you are in for a treat!

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The other upshot of distilling musical behemoths to their core components is price reduction. As much as I’d like one, I can’t afford a Korg MS-10. Also if I were new to music making on any device I’d be a little apprehensive about sinking large amounts of cash into something I may never use long-term. Propellerhead, like Korg, have taken some of the core components from some of their biggest hits and placed them in a much more (financially) accessible product. Strictly speaking you can’t use a Monotribe to create a whole song, and the same principle applies to Figure. You certainly can’t save anything you do create, which means if you find yourself in a groove, you have to record the groove externally as it happens.

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Figure won’t be for everyone, that’s a fact. Does that make it useless? No. If you want Reason on iOS you’re just going to have to wait. If you think the lack of input/output options is an issue that will never be resolved, save your 99 cents for a couple of McDonalds soft serve cones. If you know anyone who wants to venture into the world of music making and all they have is the iPod Touch they got for Christmas, then Figure is worth looking into. For $.99, I think everyone should try it, Electronic newbie and ‘veteran’ producer alike. Who knows, it may be more useful to you than you think.
Even the most prolific producer gets writers’ block from time to time.

Vocal Processing from Izotope, plus Akai MPC coming to Tabletop!

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Wow! There’s been some sizeable news from Retornyms as SXSW draws to a close. They have announced the addition of the classic Akai MPC 2000 as well as vocal and live input processing courtesy of Izotope. The vocal processing will include that (in)famous pitch shifting style heard in songs the world over, and will allow users to bring all manner of live audio into tabletop.

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The big news, for anyone who buys Akais MPC app (to use with the MPC-Fly, no doubt) is that they will get the Tabletop version absolutely free. That sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me, especially after seeing an (unofficial) Roland 303 arrive on the platform before this. Hopefully if Retronyms can get more developers and manufacturers on-side we could possibly see more of our favourite emulations pop up in the Tabletop device list in the future. It’s not clear whether any user-created presets from the original MPC app will also be ported, but if Retronyms can do that, it will increase the appeal of an already great app to astronomical levels.

New features coming to Tabletop

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Retronyms, the developers behind modular audio production app Tabletop have announced some new features as part of their SXSW celebrations. In addition to a retina display update for the new iPad and improved gestures, they have included auto-routing, meaning new apps you add the the table will attach themselves into your project without you making the virtual cable runs. I’m not sure how useful this will be until I actually try the new version.

Retronyms are also planning to release some new devices for the platform over the coming days. I’ll post details on them as they come to hand.

PositiveGrid JamUp review. A little going a long way?

PositiveGrid are pretty well-known in the iOS guitar world for their JamUp amp/effect modelling app. They have also released an interface under the same name. It’s a simple, no-nonsense device paired with an app that definitely lives up to it’s name.

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The interface comes in a simple box with simple instructions and there isn’t a lot to it other than that, as befits the price tag of $19.99.

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As you can tell from the photo this is a small headphone jack-based interface similar to the iRig, and the AmpKit Link I reviewed last year. Like those interfaces the main output is a 3.5mm jack, so it’s more geared towards jamming with headphones than rocking out on stage. The device itself is plastic, and feels like it could withstand the everyday life of a musician, provided said musician doesn’t lose it, due to it’s diminutive stature.

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The JamUp App is universal. At $19.99 it’s priced on par with it’s competitors from Peavey and IK Multimedia (both of which will work with this interface) and it takes up about as much space as the others on my iPad. The app is pretty logical to navigate and pretty good to look at. I’d hazard a guess that there has been as much care put into the design of this app as there has been some of the big synths I’ve written about, but there are one or two rough edges when compared to AmpliTube. The effects pedals look like they have seen a bit of use, which will appeal to some. The thing I like the most about the app though is the virtual effect and amp chain. Place your amps and effects in any order you want in that linear chain, pull them up to take them out of the chain as needed. It’s a simple, but effective touch (and yes, you can take the amplifier out of the chain).

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The controls are pretty easy to adjust as well as being relatively bespoke to each pedal and amp. PositiveGrid have also done a good job of modelling some big name amps and effects that aren’t from Fender. They have included a sampler, a tuner, and a section that allows you to import any song from the music library and jam along to it at your own pace and at a pitch that suits you.

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The sound quality is as good as can be from a headphone-based interface. I found the JamUp worked better with my old, battered amp than Peavey’s AmpKit Link did. I found (oddly enough) that the JamUp had a better signal-to-noise ratio in that situation, though the headphone quality is about the same, which is good. Some people will prefer a dock-based system, but that by no means renders headphone-based guitar setups obsolete or unusable.

The only downside I’ve seen is that the space for presets feels kind-of limited because you have to overwrite what’s already there, which means in time you will have to write over your own presets and I won’t lie, the thought of doing that bothers me. The $2.99 per effect and $4.99 per amp IAP may put some people off buying new gear, but it’s no more or less expensive than it’s competitors. Next time you wonder if the OR 30 is worth $4.99 go to your nearest rock shop and ask for a real Orange AR-30. The one Reason I can think of to choose another app over JamUp is that AmpliTube also allows you to model microphones, in addition to amps and effects.

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The whole JamUp package is one of the better ones I’ve seen. It’s definitely helped by an app ecosystem with a good variety of amps and effects based on real instruments. The interface is as simple as they get, no noise-cancelling electronics, irreplaceable cables or 30-pin connectors here. Thing is if all you’re doing is jamming or playing in a small studio I don’t see that simplicity as an issue. I’m not an advocate for throwing things out willy-nilly either, but at $20 if something does go wrong (and it doesn’t feel like there’s anything to go wrong) it’s not taxing to replace. What we have here is an entry level interface, paired with a pretty high-level app. That, in anyone’s book, is a good combination.

The extended programming section of Grain Science

Stand back, I’m going to try (Grain) Science!

DISCLAIMER: There was going to be a video to go along with this post, and there will be once I figure out why my camcorder wants to make life so difficult for me. In the meantime, here’s the post. Hope it all makes sense.

Say you’re a music app developer, and a good one at that. You create a synth that uses the principle of granular synthesis to make sounds ranging from the sublime to the bizarre. It gets a fair heap of acclaim, especially after Damon Albarn’s infamous virtual band Gorillaz uses it in their latest album. What do you do next? For Wooji Juice Apps the answer is simple; make another one.

Grain Science Main Screen

Grain Science, the latest release from Wooji Juice Apps

Grain Science is the latest lease from the company that brought us Hokusai audio editor as well as the aforementioned Sylo synthesiser, and straight away I can tell they’re trying to pull out all the stops. Previous audio apps from Wooji have been released under the ‘freemium’ model, with the more serious features of the app accessed by an IAP whereas Grain Science is $9.99 up front for everything. The visual design of the app is flooring. I was reading a comment on one of my earlier reviews that I hadn’t mentioned how ugly the interface of the app in question was. I assume the interface of Grain Science is what said commenter is used to, because it’s beauty actually takes a little time to sink in before you realise how much work has gone into making the synth look good.

Grain Science envelope control and grain unit

Don't be fooled, there's more than just the knobs and displays on the front to play with...

Grain Science is far far more than a pretty face though. Touch most of the parameter knobs to adjust them and you will see a small atom button on the right hand side of the readout. Tap it and you get a pop-up program screen which allows you to adjust the parameters of that knob in greater detail, and to program an LFO for each knob by dragging, pinching and stretching the graphical display at the top of the pop-up. There is an untold amount of adjustability here.

The extended programming section of Grain Science

Parameters within parameters. There's a Christopher Nolan-themed joke there somewhere...

Sonically Grain Science takes its forefather and expands on it. The things you could do in Sylo, you can take further in Grain Science. There are two grain units to process the sound through, one envelope, one arpeggiator, and a myriad of freely-configurable effects chains and performance controls. You can have any combination of four X/Y pads or 16 mod wheels (in groups of four) to alter your sound on the fly and the inbuilt connection mapper arranges it all with ease. The grain units are both equally specced and you can import your own waves to process via the microphone, line in, ACP, iTunes file sharing or Wooji’s preferred method Dropbox as well as the bevy of waves included in the app. You can then change the grain size, speed and tuning to suit via the knobs and program pop-ups, or hook them up to the pads and wheels.

One of the grain units, with the import wave dialog, and the arppegiator in the background

You won't be at a loss for importing your own waves into Grain Science.

The Arppegiator might fall a little short for some, since it is limited to eight steps, but as with the rest of the synth what is there has been well-engineered and is a sight to behold. The effects section comes on strong as it has in Wooji Juice’s previous efforts. There are numerous options for distorting and crushing, warming and cooling your sound, as well as throwing it around the sonic space between your ears. Again, all the effect parameters can be assigned to pads and wheels using the connection mapper.

A shot of some off the effects in Grain Science

This photo is for illustration. the sections do actually snap into position

The connection mapper, combined with the X/Y pads and wheels are a big part of what make Grain Science an awesome synth to work with. If there is an adjustable parameter anywhere on the synth, you can assign it to a pad or a wheel in the connection mapper. On top of that you can layer multiple parameters onto one axis or wheel in the connection mapper for even more sonic chaos. If the inbuilt performance options still aren’t doing it for you, the latest update (V1.1) brings virtualMIDI to the party, but I really can’t see why you would want to play Grain Science with another controller app. Performance recording is always in the top-right hand corner of the screen and as is traditional for Wooji Juice apps, it will wait until the first note is triggered. Once done you can export your recording via ACP or the ‘Open In…’ command.

The Grain Science Connection Mapper with the connection dialog box

The fun of patching, but without the cables.

Problems? The first version was rather unstable on my iPad1, but since the update I don’t recall it crashing at all. Changing scales on the keyboard will cut any note you happen to be playing, but that is my no means an iredeemable issue. Price? $9.99 which is pretty similar to Wooji’s other premium apps, but considering the build quality and the functionality of Grain Science I’m amazed it doesn’t cost three times as much!

The connection Mapper from Grain Science, and two of the X/Y performance pads

You can play as many X/Y pads as you want, just make sure your iOS gestures are switched off first.

Grain science has loads of potential for the sonically curious and the seasoned synth-head alike at a price that won’t cost the earth, or even an average meal for that matter. Don’t expect it to have the phat basses of Animoog or the lush patches of Sunrizer right out of the box though, because compared to the big synths of 2011 Grain Science is something completely different.

Waveshaper: No, it isn’t what you think it is. [UPDATED]

I like making noises. Some of the most therapeutic moments I have had with iOS music have been playing with noise-makers, so I was intrigued by Damian De Fede’s Waveshaper app for iOS and was very interested to give it a try. There is a bit more to this app than meets the eye, mostly under-the-hood stuff that to me makes this app quite worthwhile.

Waveshaper splash screen

Not as straightforward as it looks.

To my eyes, Waveshaper seems to be based around the idea of granular synthesis. I took it for a Curtis alternative on first glance too, but this isn’t quite like any granular synth I’ve seen. You can import any waveform you choose (although this is limited to iTunes file sharing. AudioCopy/Paste would really be useful here) and you can adjust both the size of the grain and the speed of the playhead to a degree, but you have to process the sound with white, pink or red noise, selectable by buttons on the left-hand side of the screen.

The single main screen for Waveshaper

The recipe for the most sane sound you can get from this app.

The controls for manipulating the sound defy description, but I’m going to try anyway. There are two 1-inch dots connected by a on an X/Y control surface below the waveform of the sound you imported. The playhead moves back and forth over the waveform, the blue dot changes the grain size and therefore how much of the waveform the playhead covers. The green dot changes the speed at which the playhead moves. The white line connecting the two dots in a circle then gives out a waveform representing the sound of the manipulated grain.

When you stumble across a sound you like (and it will be a process of stumbling) you can save it to one of six presets on the right hand side of the screen. You can also record your performance for further processing, but again, the lack of ACP will make getting the sound into another app unnessecarily difficult.

As is the case with most granular synths the sounds you get out of it are only as good as the sounds you put in (relatively speaking) but the audio processing is top-notch, and there has been a lot of work put into making this app sound good. I shouldn’t have to warn you, but do be careful when using this app at high volumes, Becuase the high frequencies can become positively ear-splitting.

Playing back a grain very quickly.

That red background is coloured after blood from my ears. Take care on the high frequencies.

The problems I ran across are ones that could be fixed in a later update. Ways of importingand exporting sounds other than iTunes file sharing would be very useful, especially since users who want to manipulate field recordings will have to rely on another app like Hokusai to record sounds they hear before getting them into Waveshaper, since there is no inbuilt audio recorder other than the performance recorder. The other bugbear I have is that the six control presets are global, and don’t change on a preset-by-preset basis. To me that would make more sense, but for now you could always take a performance recording of that sweet spot you find, but don’t want to save because it will overwrite a sweet spot from another waveform.

Playing with a sound I recorded previously

Can also be used to make pretty patterns... or shonkily drawn pictures.

This is the kind of application that may not appeal to all of you. It’s certainly a step left from Sunrizer and FL Studio, but if you make sound effects, are in a noise outfit or just love to dissect the sounds around you then this is an app you could get into. The controls really invite the user to experiment rather than aim for a specific goal. I like that, but it will not appeal to everyone. Mind you, the whole idea of granular synthesis doesn’t appeal to everyone, nor does noise as a genre. Thing is though, like the genre, this app can be appreciated by people who want to do something different. People who want to explore sound, who just want to sit for half an hour and delve as deep into a five-second .wav file as they can possibly get. And for that, Waveshaper is worth adding to your armoury of audio dissection tools. Eespecially at $5.99.

UPDATE: I have had an email from Damien confirming that AudioCopy/Paste and Dropbox support are intended for a future update. Good to hear indeed!

IK Multimedia Goes All Out At CES!

IK Multimedia is launching a slewth of new products at CES this year all based around iOS devices…

 

The iRig MIX

A $99.99 mobile mixer for the iPhone, iPod touch or iPad for DJ’ing from anywhere, anytime. Just like a pro DJ mixer, the iRig MIX includes hardware-based crossfader, cues, EQ and volume controls. Mix and match between an iPhone and an iPad, or use a single iOS device with the audio split into dual-mono mode. Best of all, the iRig MIX can be used with any audio source — it’s not limited to iOS devices, so it can be used with any MP3 player, CD players or other source. The free DJ Rig app is included with iRig MIX, which allows automatic tempo matching and beat-syncing with an iOS device. iRig MIX will be available in February, with preorders now being taken from the IK Multimedia website. The app will also be available in a paid version and become universal for iPad later on…

 

The iRig MIC Cast

 

This awesome little device is an ultra-compact hardware dongle for all iOS devices that’s perfect for recording podcasts, interviews, lectures, voice memos, speeches and more. Priced at $39.99, the iRig MIC Cast features a stereo mini-jack headphone output for real-time monitoring via headphones or speakers, a mini-switch with sensitivity settings for close or distant sources and an adjustable desktop stand to keep your iOS device upright while recording. The iRig MIC Cast will be available in the first quarter of the year from electronic and music retails worldwide.

The iRig STOMP

This is being heralded as the world’s first live performance stompbox guitar interface for iOS. Now, guitar players and bass players alike can integrate their favorite iOS signal processing apps into their existing live pedalboard setup for enhanced tone shaping and effects processing. Based on the company’s wildly popular AmpliTube iRig interface, the STOMP works with any iOS guitar/amp/instrument app and is compact and durable. Look for it early in the second quarter of this year for only $59.99. Very cool stuff…

Nice work IKM!

Ion’s Drum Master and Drum Apprentice

Ahhh CES…is there a more exciting way to ring in the new year for us tech lovers and gadget freaks?

I’m sure this will be the first of many cool iOS gadgets but enter ION’s drum controllers for iPad. These controllers support full Core MIDI and let you capture your drum ideas the old fashion way – by drumming!

No info yet on availability and pricing but as soon as I find out, i’ll let you know.

ION also have a guitar based controller headed to iPad owners though this one won’t be available until much later this year. It’s called guitar apprentice, check out a photo of it below:

Animoog Path controls

Animoog for iPhone: The same, but smaller.

You heard me sing the praises of Moog Music’s foray into the iOS synth field back in the spring. I loved the design, the tactile prowess and especially the sound. You could be forgiven for thinking I’d taken Animoog as a second wife, or at least that I was nothing more than a stooge and a fanboy.

If you were put off my writing by that review then I’d suggest you don’t continue reading this one, because now Moog have come out with something even smaller and cuter with just as much punch.

The same, only smaller

It’s always good to see the smaller iOS devices getting some attention of late, since the majority of attention seems to focus on the iPad. Moog have done pretty well to squeeze all the sound manipulation elements of the original Animoog onto a screen 1/5 the size as well as a useable playing surface, although some of the buttons are a little too small for my fat fingers. I found whenever I wanted to change the page or the synth presets the tab for the iOS Notification Centre would rear it’s louvred head. The developers have done their best with the virtual knobs I praised so highly on the larger Moog. These ones are still pretty easy to tweak, but you can definitely tell you’re working with a smaller screen.

Animoog Path controls

The path is still good fun to play with

This lack of screen real-estate does have drawbacks, particularly if you’re used to the 10-inch screen of the iPad.
To get around the problem of having little-to-no room for a playing surface Moog have a button that maximises the thumbnail-sized keys into keys that take up two-thirds of the screen and are about two-thirds the size of the ones you get on the iPad. You can resize the keyboard (if your fingers are smaller than mine) and you can still drag the octave slider up and down, but unless you have a CoreMIDI device or a VirtualMIDI controller you want to try you may find play a bit frustrating.

Maximised Animoog kayboard

Maximised keyboard for (relatively) greater versatility

That isn’t the only limitation on Animoog for iPhone either. You can run it on an iPod touch as well as an iPhone, but only 4th generation+ hardware owners need apply. Even then after fifteen minutes of play my iPhone 4 was very warm. Despite the heat there were no dropouts or degradations in the audio being produced, good to see where the emphasis has gone. Another bugbear I have is there’s still no performance record option on either version of Animoog. Maybe now that the iPhone version is done Moog can think about adding that in (hint hint.)

Animoog Preset settings

Notice that 'Animoog Store' section? Say goodbye to your coffee money...

Price? Despite Moog saying it would go up to $9.99 at the end of the year it’s still $.99 as I write this. There is also the presence of an Aimoog Store in the settings section which makes me think you could end up spending a small fortune on in-app purchases in the near future. If I had been in charge of selecting Apple’s apps of the year though I’d still pick both of these in a heartbeat. It seems to me that Animoog for iPhone is a good compliment to the bigger Moog, and with the patch import/export features present in both versions I could easily see myself using the smaller of the two to create patches while I’m waiting for the bus or for take-out meals to be cooked, then coming home and importing my latest creations into the iPad version to play or to further experiment.

At the very least it’ll mean my hands stay warm on cold days.

Geo Synthesiser Review

Jordan Rudess. Some people love him, some people don’t. Regardless of what you think of him, you have to admit that his enthusiasm for mobile musc is rather infectious (see the latest episode of the TouchSound Podcast.) So when Wizdom music, the company Rudess founded released a new app recently I was interested see what it was they had come up with.

Geo Synthesiser is more geared towards playing music than synthesis. The playing screen is very conducive to virtuosic solos or searing leads. I’ve never been tempted to hold my iPad like a guitar before, but I could see myself doing a lot of that in the future.
It’s reminiscent of Mugician, but a lot more flexible. Instead of cramming a bunch of scales into one screen Geo has a manual octave up/down switch, as well as an automatic scale adjustment which lends itself well to some blazing licks. You can add more scales to the screen. More so that you can have in Migucian even, but with the automatic octave switching it’s a little hard to see why.

Since the app is more about playing sounds there aren’t any extensive facilities for patch creation. There are envelope controls, a filter or two, provisions for harmonic synthesis and some standard effects, but don’t expect to find any oscillators to play with. The sanctioned method for getting patches into Geo seems to be importing a sound into SampleWiz, manipulating it there, then using a one-touch button introduced in the newest version of SampleWiz to transfer the sounds to Geo, but I have seen workarounds floating about the Internet.
This is even less of a limitation when you remember the wonderful standard that is virtualMIDI. I got Geo to control Sunrizer, Arctic Keys, Animoog and nLog Pro with very little fuss, but on my iPad1 the sound devolved into glitch-addled noise almost immediately (and no, that’s not to do with any noise presets I had on the other synths.) This is more of a limitation of the hardware than the software. Even SoundPrism and Polychord have their off-days on my ye-olde iPad.

Geo Synthesiser is well set-up for controlling other apps, so it makes sense that it isn’t set up for much synthesis itself. It’s a bit more useful if you already have SampleWiz, but generally speaking you don’t need any other Wizdom apps for GeoSynth to be useful. The playing surface also lends itself a lot more to leads and solos than many of the MIDI controller apps I’ve seen to date, so if you’re a soloist you should definitely consider this app.

The price of $9.99 seems to be the order of the day for all the Wizdom apps, but they all well-developed and engineered. Geo Synthesiser is no different. It has the same styling cues as MorphWiz and SampleWiz, with buttons big enough for the fattest of fingers (mostly) and a playing surface that feels fluid and more expansive than the screen of your device. You really are get the feeling of quality for your money. I wouldn’t recommend it as a controller if you have an iPad 1, but that isn’t really saying much because there is only so much the first-gen iPad can do with any MIDI implementation. Overall I still think quite highly of Geo Synthesiser, and will use it an awful lot more once the iPad 3 comes out. If you have a newer iPad, or if you have SampleWiz and a spare $10 I can’t think of any reason not to buy it.
Mr. Rudess, you’ve done it again.

76 Loggo

76 Synthesizer review

Well, it’s happened again, the the worst part of it is that I completely forgot about this app for months. After the post-Animoog haze started clearing (although some might say it will never clear) I started once-again to think ‘surely there are are no more synth releases for the rest of the year that will live up to this. What am I going to write?’ and once again I appear to have been proven wrong.

Screenshots of Never Be Normal’s 76 Synthesizer have been floating around since July and once again we see a synthesizer with a stunning interface hinting at a quality product underneath. While this app doesn’t have any grandiose claims made about its existence or any massive build-up of hype to its credit this is definitely worth checking out.

76 is a monophonic synth controlled by a 2.5 inch X/Y pad for note triggering and an even smaller one (about a square inch) for modulation & pitch bending. The rest of the iPad screen is taken up with large controls and a small but very useful patch bank on a second swipe-able screen. The swiping action can be a little annoying when you’re trying to change a parameter and play at the same time. You get two oscillators and a third that can be switched to an LFO. The switch is a toggle, so you can either use three oscillators or two and an LFO.

The note triggering strip is split into three octaves in rows layered above one another and eight or twelve vertical segments depending on the scale settings you select. You can choose from 9 different types of scales and 12 root notes. The ‘root’ in this case is the note in the middle of the note triggering pad.

The patch panel mechanics are a little odd from someone used to apps like the iMS-20. You tap the output jack on one effect panel and then tap the source jack of the effect you want. No holding and dragging, just taps. It works well enough, but that swipe screen still makes life very difficult.

You can forgive this synth it’s foibles once you start playing it though, because it sounds glorious. The analog sound has some grunt to it, and with the LFO you can get a pretty serious wobble on (there, I said it!) The eight included presets are a testament to 76′s versatility. Like any good synth if you put in the time you can make awesome sounds.

I like this synth, I really do. I could use it a lot more if there were an addition or two. The eight included presets are all you get, there are no user banks to save your own presets to. There doesn’t seem to be any provision for getting sounds out of 76 short of a 3.5mm jack, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to control it other than the touchpanel. CoreMIDI would be nice, virtualMDI would be nicer. And that swipe screen setup is driving me nuts. A subtle gold arrow in a similar font to the rest of the controls would suffice if it means I can adjust the parameters without using a magnifying glass and tweezers.
Don’t take this list of criticisms as a negative vote for the app. I’m still infatuated by its AKS-esque charm and warm sound, I can just envision 76 Synthesizer being even more than it already is.

Who knows, maybe it’s just the post-Animoog haze talking…

Animoog review

You have heard me go on time and time again about hype. When a product gains incredible publicity towards its intended market, either on it’s own merit, or due to massive PR action, and the people to which the product is geared go absolutely ballistic about it being the next big thing in We saw this kind of thing happen with Sunrizer, we saw it with FL Studio, we saw it with Addictive Synth, we saw it with Arctic Keys, and I saw it with Mixr. Music apps that received much attention from mobile musicians and mobile music blogs alike. Some apps meeting high expectations, others falling short on their first update, but picking up with subsequent ones, and one or two that just far and away exceed the expectations of a crowd of people who must be thinking ‘surely they don’t have any more tricks up their sleeves.’

Well ladies and gentlemen despite the most ridiculous hyperbole I’ve seen anywhere all year the, indisputable biggest name in synthesis have thrown their hat in the ring with something rather special.

I heard that video before I watched it, and it was the sounds that caught my attention. Not since the first time I heard a synthesiser solo at the tender age of nine had a synth reached out and touched my ears like this. I quickly turned back to my computer, alt-tabbed through several windows to my browser and caught the end of the clip. Who was bringing these dulcet tones to the iPad?

Of course, Moog.

Animoog has been hailed by it’s creators as ‘the first professional synthesiser for the iPad.’ Let alone that they clearly forgot about three of the apps I mentioned earlier, and that Moog themselves are already on iOS, thanks to Filtatron. Thing is though, the way this thing sounds and the way it is to play and manipulate, it might as well be. You get a fully adjustable black & white ‘key’ board more resemblant of that on a Stylophone, which does invite the user to slide their fingers up and down as one would a stylus. The difference being that Animoog’s keyboard, like those of Virsyn’s synth apps (among others) also allows you to assign a modulator to the Y-axis of the keys as well. You can create your own scales, as well as choosing from the 22 included scales, you can choose how quickly those notes snap not with a switch, but with a quite high resolution (if a bit small) dial. Such dials, both small and large are all over the synth. It would be corny as middle America to say ‘just like a real Moog’ but anyone who’s played with a Moogerfooger pedal and then gone to Filtatron will know what I’m talking about. You can toggle pitch and mod strips similar to what you would find on any other synth, but it seems like a pointless exercise when you consider how flexible the keyboard is on its own.

The dials and ‘LED buttons’ control recording, delay, thickness (the addition of multiple voices) as well as manipulating aspects of the path the sound travels around the other big part of this app, the scope. Taking up a good third of the screen real-estate, the scope is a retro black and green display that puts me in mind of another synth giant who ventured into the iOS space (you know, the Aussie one. Starts with ‘F.’) Like the one whose light is fair this is touch sensitive, and that’s where the similarity ends. What Animoog users get is a centre point and a line segment around which the sound you play orbits and travels. You can move the centre point anywhere on the screen and depending on the settings you have set for the orbit of the sound, it will gravitate around that centre point in different shape orbits, or follow the paths you can create with line segments on the screen. Tap and drag to create as many line segments as you want. The note can then morph between eight different fully selectable timbres through which it travels.

The point of having path for the sound to travel around is that the scope also doubles as an X/Y pad. Combine that with a completely assignable set of modulators and you can go wild with seemingly endless evolving sounds, represented visually in a way I haven’t seen outside of digital art and media player visualisations. It goes a long way towards making the user forget there’s only one actual LFO.

Needless to say the app allows you to record and overdub your performances, import and export presets, and supports CoreMIDI and VirtualMIDI (Nice to see Moog have been keeping up with developments) As far as I can tell it doesn’t work as a controller, but having this fairly unique method of modulation controlling nLog or Sunrizer would elicit reactions most would deem unfit to print, both in the affirmative and the negative.

On top of all this sonic power, technical reach and visual wizardry, there’s one big (albeit temporary) advantage to Animoog; Price.
Seeing this synth available for $.99 (introductory price. Moog will be raising the price to $29.99 around the middle of November) made me immediately think “If Moog could do this for a dollar, why couldn’t Farlight have done it for $10?” This kind of low introductory price could well set the standard for other synth developers to follow, or at least for them to think about.

Just becuase this synth is cheap and awesome right now though, don’t forget about the others. I don’t believe there is a best overall app in the synth space, because each of the synth apps released for iOS so far all have their own strengths and thus none can really be judged ‘better’ overall. Christian Bacaj’s Electronic Piano Synthesizer is still one of my favourites, and you can’t modulate every single parameter of that. And even when Animoog’s price does go up, it will be similarly priced with the stalwart synths of iOS. Crucially for a big name product, it’s still going to be cheaper than the Fairlight. For $30 Animoog is still totally worth the money, but for $1 I cannot think of anything better.
This might be the most hyped-up thing I’ve said all year, but for goodness sake buy it! Now! Right now, before the price goes up!

Mixr DJ Vs. Djay

2011 has been quite a year for hype in the mobile world, at least when it comes to iOS. The much-vaunted iPad 2 and iPhone 5 have filled our headlines (come on, you can’t tell me you weren’t expecting Apple to do exactly what they did with the 3GS), but for mobile musicians so too have the apps we’ve been raving about. Beep Street, OneRedDog and arguably Virsyn had serious hype over their new synth apps (Yes, Sunrizer only came out three or four months ago), Retronyms whet our appetites for modular environments again with Tabletop, and if you follow me on twitter you’ll no doubt have seen me pestering Wooji Juice apps asking when Hokusai would finally be released.

I’m no stranger to DJing on the iPad, and many developers have already tried to create the best platform for mixing music on iOS, but this latest release from DS Media Labs might have them all beat

Pretty enticing, is it not? I was certainly beset by it’s design and proposed featureset. Mixr could win the hearts and minds of iOS users on it’s looks alone, the thing is that for DJs looks are secondary to performance, and when it comes to a good-looking performer in this space Mixr is not alone. Enter the Apple Design Award winner of 2010: Algoriddim’s Djay.

And so, with the arrival of the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system along came Mixr, even better-looking in the flesh (as it were) than the mockups. And now it’s here to challenge Djay for the crown. I think I may have stumbled upon the biggest face-off of 2011.

Mixr Vs Djay

Mixr Vs Djay

DS Media Labs’ app faces some stiff competition from Djay. The feature set is just as comprehensive. All the requisite features are there, hot cues, 3-band EQ with gain, live effects, BPM detection, monitor mode for headphones, the things most people require in DJ software. On the surface they almost look identical. Don’t be fooled though, the little differences in execution will be what make or break Mixr, depending on what you prefer.

In Mixr, for example, the pitch slide can alter the pitch by up to 25% each way. In Djay you can have it alter the pitch by up to 75%. Mixr has quite a useful set organising system using the drag & drop method used to create folder on iOS to build virtual record crates. Djay solely relies on the organisation of your iTunes library. Both apps will allow you to scratch on the turntable, but Mixr’s turntables respond more like a CDJ would where as Djay’s spin down and back up like those SL-1200s you know and love. They also allow you to use the tonearm for quick track seeking. Djay will work reliably if you’re on an iPad1 and have a few apps in the task bar you just need to keep open. Mixr doesn’t (not that that’s going to be as issue for most people. If you’re running Mixr and nothing else it goes like clockwork.)

I’m usually quite cynical about BPM detection because in my experience it doesn’t always work. Neither of these apps get it right 100% of the time, but if you have a good sense of rhythm you can usually pick up the slack if you’re using monitor mode without anyone being the wiser. The big surprise that hit me on Mixr was that there was no ‘Sync’ button. Nevertheless as I kept putting tunes on I found that what Mixr has is a quite comprehensive tempo module, accurate to .01 of a bpm; you can tap out the tempo of your track in the event of the BPM detection not performing so well and then set the same value on the opposite deck exactly. It’s a lot more of a manual process, but I like it. The wait time when loading a song into Mixr is vastly decreased if you’ve already put it in a crate, so when it comes to pulling up a track out of the blue, it won’t take forever to load up. If you’re just pulling a song straight out of the iTunes library though both apps will take their time about loading it, which will no doubt be sped up on newer iPads. Mixr’s Hotcue system has a handy A/B loop feature I was easier to find than it was in Djay.

Setting up a crate in Mixr is straightforward if you’ve ever made a folder on your iPad. Fine-tuning your set in the playlist editor also works really well – you can just drag & drop a whole crate onto both decks and have Mixr play itself and Djay also has a similar auto-mix feature, but if you’re going to do that then what’s wrong with a playlist?

Form here on, things get nit-picky. There are little things I expected Mixr to do because Djay did them. For example that trick Djay does when you go to spin the turntable to get a cue point and the waveform viewer zooms right in from a shot of the entire song to a tiny segment – I find it much easier to get the cue point just right with that than I do with Mixr. The pitch sliders in Mixr are harder to make fine adjustments with too. I found myself forever correcting the speed because every time my finger left the screen it would shift the slider (the thing is with the power of Mixr’s tempo module you can almost do without the sliders), moving the progress bar of the song rather than the tonearm of the turntable to skip quickly through tracks. Then there are the slightly bigger problems. The current crop of effects on Mixr is limited to delay only whereas Algoriddim have shoehorned LP/HP filters, delay, reverb, a flanger, and a partridge in a pear tree into Djay. Not only that, but Djay also packs CoreMIDI support so it’ll work with Numark’s iDJ and MixDeck hardware. Admittedly the update for Djay with all those effects has only been released recently, and when it comes to app updates the voice of the crowd is impossible to ignore.

Comparing these two DJ apps really does feel like comparing Traktor and Serato. You’re either going to prefer one or the other. There will be some DJs who will choose Mixr in a heartbeat for its crate editor, and some will choose Djay because they prefer the fine cueing system over that on Mixr. Some people will prefer the hands-on approach to beat matching that Mixr has to offer. If I had to choose only one I’d probably choose djay, but then two days after I plunked down $20 on that an update to Mixr will come out that will level the playing field.

Mixr is not a waste of money, not by any means. It’s one of the best mobile DJing platforms I’ve ever laid eyes on. I’ll just re-iterate the point I made near the start of this article: it faces stiff competition.

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