iPad

Posted on 2011/10/20

Recently, I received an iPad2 as a present from a great friend of mine (thanks for the awesome gift!), so I’ve had a chance to try out several music-making apps. My general impression is that some of these apps are good, but overall the collection of apps I found are just borderline mature enough for me to use for music production. Here are my thoughts about each of the apps I’ve tried, how much I paid and what I thought were good points and bad points about them. I’ve added some audio samples as well.


ReBirth for iPad

  • Price paid: 14.99 USD
  • Overview: This is basically the iPad port of Propellerhead’s ReBirth RB-338, featuring emulations of two TB-303s, a TR-808 and a TR-909. I’ve used both the iPhone and PC/Mac versions before.
  • Likes:
    • Controls fairly intuitive to use, although the TB-303 might be a bit alien if you’ve never seen something like it before.
    • iPad version doesn’t require scrolling and the SONG EDIT and PATTERN BANKS buttons provide a full screen overlay for selecting patterns, etc.
    • Sequencer is very versatile; pattern sequencer lets you input the notes and the song sequencer lets you do automation with all the knobs.
    • Has all the basic effect devices to get you started — delay, distortion, PCF (filter with pre-baked cutoff measure-long patterns) and compressor.
    • Audio copy support allows for easy export of audio data and also supports WIST for synchronization.
  • Dislikes:
    • Unable to load custom mods. In the PC/Mac version of ReBirth, you can essentially convert one or more of the drum machines into sampler(s). For instance, I hardly ever use the sounds on the 808, so I’d prefer to be able to load in extra sounds for the 808 section to trigger.
    • Emulation of the TB-303 is decent for its time but not nearly as nice as e.g. ABL2 or the iOS port, technoBox.
  • Future use: Although its 303 isn’t the best, I’ll still most likely be using this for 303 sounds due to decent distortion as well as temporally fine automation of the filter cutoff. I’ll probably also be using the TR-909 sounds on this app (primarily the cymbal and snare sounds)


Sunrizer synth

  • Price paid: 9.99 USD
  • Overview: A polyphonic virtual analog synth that can be controlled through either virtual MIDI (by another app) or an external MIDI controller.
  • Likes:
    • It’s one of the few (only?) virtual analog synthesizers on iOS that features the supersaw waveform (originally from the Roland JP-8000) that is used prevalently in trance music.
    • Programming the mod wheel was a bit jarring at first, but makes a lot of sense. You slide the mod wheel all the way to the top and adjust all the sliders and knobs, and then you slide the mod wheel all the way down and set new settings for the other parameters. Once you’re done, sliding the mod wheel will smoothly interpolate between the two extremes. You can also copy settings from one end to the other as well. I really dig this feature as it makes programming what the mod wheel does a LOT easier.
    • The synth can play and record in the background, so you can use another iOS app to control it. For instance, you can enable record on Sunrizer (make sure to set the option to start recording only when the first key is hit), switch out to a different sequencer app and play a sequence to have Sunrizer record the audio. This recorded audio can then be exported through iTunes or AudioCopy.
    • The arpeggiator is very versatile and is very fun to play with.
  • Dislikes:
    • I think the overall timbre is a bit dark for the supersaw. I found that sticking in a fully-open low pass filter with moderate resonance helps a bit.
    • A fully open low pass filter does not sound the same as when you bypass the low pass filter entirely.
    • Sometimes the audio engine doesn’t initialize properly when I switch back into the app. I found that I have to go into some other audio app like ReBirth, switch out and switch back into Sunrizer to make it work.
    • I don’t think it’s possible to send the two oscillators to different (L/R) channels to create a stereo spread.
  • Future use: Will definitely be using this synth for my supersaw needs.


KORG iMS-20

  • Price paid: 15.99 USD (on sale)
  • Overview: Emulates the KORG MS-20 monophonic analog synthesizer, but with extra voices and a built-in sequencer as well.
  • Likes:
    • Very versatile analog synth. I’ve so far been able to generate bassline, kick, hihat and clap sounds out of the app. The many ways you can attach patch cables (nicely animated too!) give rise to a lot more possibilities than what I’ve been doing so far in the app.
    • Separate insert effects can be put on each part. There’s a total of 6 “drum” parts and 1 synth part. Any “drum” part can be repurposed for melodic synth usage.
    • Audio export of a looped sequence gives a nice automatic fadeout for the second instance of the loop.
  • Dislikes:
    • The learning curve to program this synth is very high, in my opinion, unless you’ve used synthesizers from that era before. It took me a while to get a decent kick drum sound because the envelope generator that’s attached to the oscillator frequency control does not have a decay parameter I can adjust. Furthermore, the other envelope generator can only send its inverted envelope out to the VCO. I ended up using the inverted output of the original envelope generator along with the modulation generator to get a decent attack on a kick drum sound. The preset kick drum sound uses self-oscillation on the VCF to create the source sound, but that setup requires “warm-up” before it correctly works.
    • For something with so many knobs and such, it is annoying to only have 16 sequencer patterns (each pattern controlling all the parts) to use and no automation of knobs.
    • When exporting song audio (whether to the application storage area or to AudioCopy), it seems to be that the app intentionally starts the “recording” a whee bit early, so audio doesn’t sync up if you then import the audio into another app to play with other tracks. EDIT: The syncing seems to be fine for pattern export.
  • Future use: Will most likely use this for bassline, kick drum and hihat sounds. With so few sounds to work with, 16 patterns should be good enough.


Hokusai Audio Editor

  • Price paid: FREE (did not get any of the In App Purchases)
  • Overview: A multi-track audio editor with the ability to paste audio from other apps as well as lots of effects with in-app purchase.
  • Likes:
    • Interface is very pretty and clean.
    • Lots of available effects.
  • Dislikes:
    • Does not have a mixing console-like interface.
    • I originally got this to test AudioPaste and to perhaps use this for mixdowns. However, the free version does not support AudioPaste and finding out it doesn’t have a mixing console made it a bit harder to work with mixes this way.
  • Future use: Maybe if I wanted more effects I’d get the upgrade. However, for now, I don’t plan on using this app as it currently does not have a good fit in my personal workflow.


MultiTrack DAW

  • Price paid: 9.99 USD
  • Overview: A no-nonsense multi-track DAW, as the name implies, with some insert and bus effects.
  • Likes:
    • Very simple and clean interface.
    • Has the basics needed for mixdown — equalizer and compressor on each channel as well as a final equalizer and compressor. Newer versions also add delay and reverb bus effects.
    • Has a pretty intuitive interface for fade-ins and fade-outs.
  • Dislikes:
    • Finding where certain features are requires reading the manual, as a lot of them are hidden (like setting the tempo, time signature, etc.).
    • Holding down your finger on a track near the edge of the screen to bring up the context menu will often cut off parts of the context menu, making those items hard to access.
    • A spectrum analyzer and/or 24-bit bouncing would be nice to prepare mixdowns for mastering on a PC/Mac.
  • Future use: Will be using this for combining all the AudioCopied audio from other apps to create a mixdown.


Rhythm Studio

  • Price paid: 1.99 USD (for v1.02, v1.03 is 3.99 USD but was a free upgrade)
  • Overview: An all-in-one synth collection setup including TB-303, TR-808, Casio VL-1, TR-909 (with v1.03) and subtractive synth (with v1.03). Also has mixer, some effects, etc.
  • Likes:
    • The distortion effect sounds really sweet combined with the TB-303 clone.
    • The ability to select any combination of four synths allows for easy jamming.
  • Dislikes:
    • The accent on the TB-303 clone doesn’t sound quite right.
    • I don’t know if it’s possible to automate the filter cutoff on the TB-303 throughout a song.
    • Rotary control is kind of hard for me to use. I prefer linear controls on my knobs since there’s nothing to grab onto.
  • Future use: Probably not going to use this for much any time soon unless they improve some of the issues I’ve listed. Otherwise, other apps do what this does better. However, I’m still holding out hope, since this app is still being worked on.


technoBox2

  • Price paid: 4.99 USD
  • Overview: An app that lets you program two TB-303 clones and two drum machines.
  • Likes:
    • Very nice sounding TB-303, as the developers also make the ABL2, a really good recreation of the TB-303 sound.
  • Dislikes:
    • Unfortunately, the distortion effect they implemented sounds really terrible. There’s just two knobs — one controls the amount of distortion and the other controls the amount of bit-crushing to be employed. However, none of them were good at recreating an “organic” sounding distortion effect.
    • There is no smooth automation of the knobs and controls. You can only set a single value for each pattern.
    • The TR-909 and TR-808 sounds are not very tweakable. For example, you can only change the volume and decay on the TR-909 bass drum, with no options for Tune or Attack like on the original TR-909 and other software clones.
  • Future use: Probably not going to use this until they either add automation or fix the distortion quality. Since I don’t really use TB-303 sounds without distortion, this app doesn’t give me much over ReBirth, even if the ReBirth’s TB-303 emulation is inferior.


Genome MIDI Sequencer

  • Price paid: 12.99 USD
  • Overview: A MIDI sequencer app that can be used to drive other iOS apps supporting Virtual MIDI or an external MIDI device.
  • Likes:
    • VERY polished interface. The beautiful interface essentially teaches you how to use the app from the first moment you open it.
    • Can create lots of sequences and each track is sequenced separately.
    • Supports key events as well as a plethora of control messages such as mod wheel, etc.
  • Dislikes:
    • I don’t know if it’s possible to resize (i.e. change legato/staccato of) selected notes. Currently, creating a slightly more staccato pattern requires drawing at higher resolution, which means higher chance of mistakes.
    • The scrolling is kind of annoying since you can only scroll an octave at a time. This means that often times I have to zoom out more than I have to to work on melody lines.
    • I couldn’t figure out how to copy an entire pattern without entering the pattern editor. This would save a lot of time for the style of music I make.
    • There are display glitches in the app. Sometimes the app will flicker and the song sequence display will often lag behind what is actually being played.
    • I don’t think this app supports swing beat. It would be nice if it did because then I can use swing beat in my songs since both ReBirth and iMS-20 support it.
  • Future use: Will definitely use this to sequence the Sunrizer, especially since I can feed multiple tracks into the same channel, separating mod wheel usage from note and even bass note tracks.


XENON Groove Synthesizer

  • Price paid: 4.99 USD
  • Overview: Another all-in-one package. This one includes one polyphonic “kitchen-sink” synth, two monophonic virtual analog synths, a polyphonic wavetable synth, a drum machine, a mixer and effects.
  • Likes:
    • Versatile enough and enough different synths to create decent prototypes of songs.
    • Song sequencer is very easy to use; ability to copy entire sections of sequences in the song editor view is very nice.
  • Dislikes:
    • Note editing in the pattern sequencer leaves much to be desired. This is because single tap will remove a note, but double tap allows you to edit the velocity. This leads to lots of mistakes when I edit melodies, because I keep mistapping. Furthermore, to exit out of velocity editing mode, you have to tap again, which makes the interface entirely too dependent on tap timing in my opinion.
    • I’m not sure if you can set note lengths.
    • Overall, the sound quality of the synths is a bit disappointing. The drum machine isn’t very versatile, so I find you have to rely on the pre-built samples a lot. The wavetable sounds for the hybrid synth and the PCM synth are only okay.
    • There’s no automation of parameter values in the sequencer.
  • Future use: Overall, this app feels like a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none. I’ll probably use this for just prototyping out song ideas when I come across something, but I’m not planning on using this for the final workflow.

[soundcloud url="http://soundcloud.com/hightrancesea/korg-ims-20-test"]

This was my first attempt at using the KORG iMS-20 to produce something song-like after about four hours playing with the app. The two melodies and the bass were all done as “percussion” tracks. The kick bass drum in this instance is still using the filter auto-oscillation technique. The app’s audio export automatically added a fadeout and a second instance of the loop.

[soundcloud url="http://soundcloud.com/hightrancesea/korg-ims-20-test-2"]

Here I’ve added a hihat and clap to the mix and tweaked the bass drum a bit. I used the app’s built-in SoundCloud uploader for this one.

[soundcloud url="http://soundcloud.com/hightrancesea/korg-ims-20-test-3"]

I tried something different for this one. The kick drum now no longer uses ringing of the low pass filter to generate the sound. Also sped up the tempo and tried to see if I can get something freeform-sounding with this.

[soundcloud url="http://soundcloud.com/hightrancesea/song-1-wav"]

I took basically the second iMS-20 track and imported it into MultiTrack DAW and used it to add in a track from ReBirth (for the snare, crash cymbal and 303) and a track from Sunrizer (supersaw which I played and recorded using its built-in arpeggiator). These tracks were then EQed, mixed down and uploaded to SoundCloud using MultiTrack DAW’s sharing feature.

[soundcloud url="http://soundcloud.com/hightrancesea/technobox2-test"]

I created this track entirely in technoBox2 and uploaded it to SoundCloud using the app as well. While the TB-303 sounds pretty good, the distortion effect doesn’t sound all that “hot” to me.


[soundcloud url="http://soundcloud.com/hightrancesea/glimpse-of-fields-of-light"]

I redid the supersaw part from two songs ago using genome MIDI controlling Sunrizer now, for a bit more melodic content instead of just arpeggiation. I also tweaked the mix a bit and then did the mastering on my Mac using Record.

[soundcloud url="http://soundcloud.com/hightrancesea/xenon-groove-synthesizer-test"]

My first attempt at something in Xenon. The phrase in stereo left and the bass were done on the two monophonic virtual analog synths. The supersaw-sounding part on stereo right was done using the hybrid synth and the piano was done using the PCM synth. The song was exported into MultiTrack DAW as a single track, where I tweaked the EQ a bit, added some compression and uploaded to SoundCloud.

[soundcloud url="http://soundcloud.com/hightrancesea/xenon-hhc-test"]

Tried doing something more happy hardcore-ish. Had to dig through a bunch of kick samples before settling on this. Still not too happy with the sound of the kick, though. The bassline was done using the two monophonic synths, one for each channel. The piano was done on the PCM synth and the lead was done on the hybrid synth. Mixdown and upload was again done on MultiTrack DAW.

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