Month: June 2011

iSyn Poly App Review: I like to Syn

Can we have another cool new synth please for iOS? VirSyn answered with iSyn Poly.
3 Virtual analog programmable virtual synthesizers with 3 oscillators, Filter, Filter ADSR, AMP ADSR, AMP, Key, Modulation routing…settings settings settings to adjust all kinds of beautiful, or crazy sounds with so many possibilities.

What makes me particularly pleased with iSyn is that it has 3 Oscillators rather than the usual (Common for iOS anyway) 2. It may not matter much to a lot of people, but 3 gives me more room to explore sonic possibilities.

Add the 24Db/Oct ladder style Low Pass filter for some of that nostalgic feel.
So many knobs!I love knobs. Its like having more sand in the sandbox to fine tune and tweak, creating unique patches. Its not the end all be all, but cool still. There is of course an arpeggiator built in to iSyn Poly. It’s not as robust as maybe we might have expected from a new synth. It has 5 mode settings, 3 octive range, 1/32 to 1/2 clock, hold, trigger and off modes. Not alot of programmabily here, but it does the job. Can’t forget the nice X/Y pad that can be used live, and is programmable with various settings to apply however you choose, such as pitch, mod, filters, FX, etc, via the pad control knobs.
iSyn Poly isn’t just a virtual synthesizer. It also has a play back type drum machine with well over a dozen different drum style kits from 808 sounding kits to Modular and classic sounding drums on 9 pads. In addition to the many drum choices you control the attack, decay, pan, vol, and pitch for some more bazaar sounds.
Going over the key features is important but I cant list them all, however you can see all the specs in iTunes for the finer details.
Some of those that I think are key, and important to me, and probably you are: Unlimited song projects, Copy/Paste between other pasteboard compatible apps, and Core MIDI compatibility. iTunes file share, white and pink noise, tilt controls, quantize and many more.
The 4 track Sequencer lets you control and record notes and beats in great detail to arrange your song live making it great for automating edits on the fly.
The global effects suite is packaged with some nice FX that includes, phaser, flanger, chorus and stereo/cross delay. Each with individual settings to get the sound your looking for from subtle to dramatic. There is also a distortion function separate from the FX bank with additional control settings for even more effect.
There is a lot of freedom for creative exploration in iSyn Poly. The audio quality is overall very nice, though I have noticed occasional clicks mostly when applying heavy FX, but not many. Some of the presets leave much to be desired. With some creative adjustments of the many settings options and FX, there’s no reason to ignore them. Turn that cheese into something uniquely your own, and save the patch. Really that’s why most of us buy synths for anyway. The joy of creating our own sounds and sharing them in our music.
It seems pretty stable so far, but there was a moment where it locked on to a wild note that wouldn’t stop without exiting the app and restarting.Ow my ears.
While I am enjoying iSyn, its ease of use, streamlined work flow, and its quality, I feel that the touch response in the sequencer screen isn’t as precise as I had expected. This is making note arrangement and editing difficult for me. I really don’t have big hands. I expect though, it will see an update fixing these minor concerns. . 
Is it a buy or pass? I say buy. VirSyn has a solid track record and no version one is perfect. Its a fine addition to any iOS synth lovers collection and proves to be quite useful. It can only get better with the inevitable updates. I hope they add reverb?
4/5 Stars Recommended.

Sunrizer Synthesizer App Review: Beautiful Sounds Rize On The Horizon

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect with this new synthesizer. Would it be highly inspiring or cheesy? Anyone who buys soft synths or iPad synth apps knows it can be a gamble pushing that “Buy” button.

Right to the point, Sunrizer Synthesizer by Beep Street, a virtual analog synthesizer, arpeggiator, impressed me the first time I pressed a key.
The default preset available at start up is a fantastic ambient pad called “Lifeforms”.  I noticed right away how clean the sound was. Its the first thing I look or listen for with any synth. If I hear clicks, pops, or crackling I tend to lose interest on the spot. Not the case here with Sunrizer at all! I ran through the more than 200 preset sounds and spent time with each to hear its quality and listen for anomalies, finding not one on any. They all sounded equally clean. What was just as impressive as the crystal clear audio quality was that the variety of sounds are very extensive. I honestly didn’t find any that I didn’t like. I cant guarantee that feeling for everyone, but I believe most users would be hard pressed to find much to complain about.
Of course you aren’t limited to the high quality preset synth sounds. There are plenty of tweaking possibilities to turn any preset or just general waveforms into a new instrument patch of your very own. Of course Sunrizer supports copy/paste making it a breeze to use with other music apps on the go.

In this screen shot to the left, what you see is what you get. A clean, simple user interface full of responsive virtual knobs to craft your sound to whatever you desire. Play around with the 2 oscillators, mix them up, add white noise or not. Add some more effect with the 2 Filters each with 8 settings, and 2 routing types. Continue on with the 2 LFOs selecting none at all or up to 10 different settings each. There are 2 ADSR control panels, one for the Filters, and the other for the Amp. Also you can morph the modulator with the virtual Mod wheel to the left of the synth screen.

The included FX are Distortion Chorus, Equalizer, a great Stereo Delay suite with sync and cross.
Even with the FX cranked up I still couldn’t detect any compromise in the clarity of the overall sound. Of course this was while adjusting the AMP setting to avoid overloading.
There are loads of features and specs to go over, but I am going to focus on what I think are most important, but if you wish to learn what every little thing Sunrizer offers check out this spec list via the following link:

On to the Arpeggiator. Some of the better iOS synths offer arpeggiators of excellent quality, but limited programmability. Sunrizer has raised the bar with a huge selection of possible arps to do pretty much anything you might think of or want. The Arpeggiator has a library of 26 distinctly different preset patterns. All the arps are highly programmable. They really do sound amazing, and the freedom factor is sky high. Higher than any other previously released iOS synths to date.
They say its designed for performance and that looks to be very accurate with the MIDI connectivity supporting MIDI mobilizer, and CoreMIDI all in an easy, streamlined interface.
Its not all total perfection, and V1s rarely come totally bug free. the only bug I have detected after 10 hours playing around with it was that after a while as I was playing with various settings and sounds it went a little berserk with a horrid loud unwanted tone. But even that proved to be an easy fix as the brains at Beep Street had that covered by adding a “Panic”button on the top of the screen, which shut off that awful sound and allowed me to move on. Though I recommend that if this happens you should consider just restarting your device.
Overall Sunrizer offers a huge array of excellent analog style sounds, and deep digital textures, all of which are clearly of the highest quality. A tweakers dream with seemingly limitless possibilities and ease of use that inspires the crafting of unique patches for both studio recording and live performances.
Sunrizer really has stormed the iPad and delivered something that all synth enthusiasts will find both useful, and extremely enjoyable.
I recommend Sunrizer as highly as I possibly can. 5 Full Bright Stars! 

Meteor MultiTrack Recorder Hits Earth: Review.


So much had changed with Meteor since I first wrote about it when I first started blogging. Lots has changed for me as well. This iDAW has grown quite a bit. Now Meteor has 16 tracks that can be upgraded to 24 tracks via IAP. Full Audiobus support. Expanded and improved MIDI options, you can buy. New instruments via IAP. Solid FX. Its still got a lot of menus. Meteors workflow might grow on you, but I cant honestly say its grown on me. There are tons of helpful features included to help you make the most of your music projects. Somewhere.

There’s a few things that bug me about Meteor preventing me from falling in love with it and despite my initial joyous feelings, I just don’t get Meteor today. Maybe its me?
The U.I. is all about menus. Sure everything you need is somewhere in one of them, but its just too much for my taste. There is still always noticeable clipping when loops meet. Unlike every other iDAW I’ve used, Meteor has some quirk with playing a succession of copied loops back to back in a track without an audible click at every single meeting point. WHY? Is there a “Knock that shit off” setting somewhere that I can’t find? Every other iDAW I have used plays perfectly without any clicks in the exact same scenario without any fuss. Its beyond my patience level having to find the cause, when it simply shouldn’t be there to begin with, like every other iDAW.

They charge extra for the EQ. WTF?
No iDAW should ever sell without a decent EQ included. Its a primary tool. Adding a much more powerful EQ like a 10 band and selling that is fine, but to not include a basic 4 band parametric EQ or Graphic EQ is lame in my opinion. That being the case, and unless 4Pockets comes to their senses, I don’t recommend buying it. Get the “Audio Mastering” app instead. Its a better option anyway, so since you have to pay either way, you may as well get the best you can.
Meteor is pretty sophisticated, and powerful with complex tools. It seems to be more of a MIDI oriented machine which could be why I am unable to bond with it? Speaking of MIDI you can record and play MIDI, but not do any editing without buying the MIDI Editor upgrade. Really? There’s just too many hoops to jump through to get simple things done for my taste. I’m not saying Meteor is bad. Not at all. Its just not my cup of tea. Maybe it will be yours?


UPDATE Fall 2011- Paul, From 4Pockets, makers of Meteor sent me the beta with many of the new features that will be in the next app update V1.1.
Most notable new features are that STEREO recording and STEREO tracks with “Pure Stereo Importing” are going to be added. The Editing suite has been upgraded, and so have the FX for stereo inserts, and channels. I love this!

Several additional improvements will be made to the menus, custom color selection for song parts. Midi capabilities like record and playback midi tracks with easy syncing via midi clock with other hardware.

I want to Thank Paul at 4Pockets for sharing this great news with me.

Original Review from June 2011 follows.
In a sea of 8 multitrack recorder apps for iPad, finally someone offers a nice 12 tracks. I should start right off with saying though I love Meteor, those 12 tracks are all MONO. Now before anyone flips out like I did, this doesnt mean everything you do in Meteor has to be MONO. Ill cover that more later in this review.

Meteor is setting itself apart by offering a number of features including a very robust FX collection. It comes with Stereo Reverb, Digital Delay, and Chorus Flanger. Applying these via the 3 global send FX bus’ is where the best capabilities of the FX shine above most any other similar multitrack apps.
You are not limited to only global FX, and can insert (mono) FX effecting only the selected track. They’ve added a nice little “FX Freeze” feature for adding multiple FX to various tracks that while in use reduces what would otherwise be a huge CPU killer.
This is a big deal, as many of the other studio multitrack apps dont really have a solution to this issue. Thus they are more limited in the quality of their FX. Its tough to even find a decent Stereo Reverb, but finally Meteor brings us a fantastic Stereo Reverb without causing the iPads CPU from exploding.

In addition to the 3 excellent  FX suites that are included, there is the option to purchase more FX units via the in app store at a modest price around $3 each. This helps keep the cost down and if you really need or want more you can add them anytime.Those additional FX are Compressor, Graphic Eq, Distortion, and Video Import. More are on the way.
But Meteor doesn’t stop at offering just great FX, it also has a 12 channel integrated mixer to tweak and fine tune every detail track by track. 2 Level indicators at the top help avoid blasting out speakers by showing you in real time how much sound is being pumped out. Of course you have full comand of pan, volume, mute, solo, all 3 FX send bus levels here.
By the way the mixer and FX can all be automated. Nice.
The Integrated Sample Editor does all that one would expect. Slice and dice imported audio files, insert silence, fade in or out, tweak FX, Normalize, numerous quantize settings, and create new clips in a non destructive environment. Of course you can also record audio directly from the iPad internal mic, or use any other compatible microphone such as the iRig Mic that I use with monitoring toggle.
I could spend a lot of time talking about every little feature but Im going to stick to the more important things in my review. I will note quickly some other critical and/or desired features. Meteor has full pasteboard support allowing copy/paste in or out between other compatible apps. Theres a Metronome with various settings to suit your needs, automatice delay compensation, and iPod library importing of songs, or samples from your iPod, and exporting compressed .CAF or non compressed .WAV file formats.
The overall user interface takes full advantage of the multitouch capabilities of the iPad, and is laid out logically and intuitively. I find nothing to be complicated or confusing. This interface brings a pleasant work environment that promotes an even more pleasant ease of work flow. All menus and drop downs are easy to find, and if you do find yourself lost at any point there is in app Help, and even further support via the video tutorials.  
Now on to my concern about MONO tracks. Personally I prefer and need stereo tracks. After some email exchanges with Paul, the big brain behind Meteor, I have come to appreciate why he chose MONO over Stereo.
You just cant have all the high quality FX and Stereo tracks at the same time. It would literally crash the CPU. Its just one of the limitations of the iPad so far. Paul did mention without promising anything that he will try to figure out something to provide better stereo systems or whatever, I am no tech expert. So for now Meteor is kind of a 6 stereo track recorder. I mean that in order to get the stereo effect you need to place the same audio file in two tracks running simultaneously. Yes, this does eat up tracks very fast, but thankfully he thought of that and the solution is a mix down facility to turn those two tracks into one. It’s quite easy, and it works great. No compromises in audio quality. However it is a slightly tedious extra step to consider that doesnt really fit in the desired workflow perfectly.  I am very interested in seeing what solutions he comes up with to eliminate this issue.
Overall Meteor Multitrack is an elegant design that proves to be highly capable despite device limits. Its proof that creative app engineering can bring consumers a very potent audio work station that covers most of the major functions you find in some desktop DAWs. While nothing on iPad is close really to competing head on with any desk top DAWs, Meteor shows that we are nearing a new era of music production in an entirely new way. In the end its all about audio quality. Does what I make on my iPad sound as good as anything else? I think the answer is yes. Meteor is a considerable leap forward, and I say should be part of any iPad musician’s arsenal of music apps. At $19.99 it’s certainly an excellent value, all things considered. Plus, you are not only getting a fantastic music production application, but are also buying from a developer who cares deeply for his products and design. User input is encouraged, acknowledged, and in some cases implemented. Customer service is stellar, and that’s important. You dont want to get anything and then find your concerns being totally ignored. It doesn’t feel right, and fails to inspire confidence in the product you paid good money for. That is something you will not worry about here.
Thumbs Up…5 Stars…Buy it. Use it. Love it.

Interview with Sound Trends

Looptastic FREE by Sound Trends LLC<br />When I first discovered it was possible to create music using simply an iPhone or iPod Touch, I was immediately interested. It didn’t look like much back then; most of what I saw were complicated and underpowered mini studio type apps of questionable audio quality. But all that changed for me when I discovered Looptastic by Sound Trends. It was fun, easy, and sounded great.  It created an opening for everyone who loves music to get their feet wet.

It wasn’t long before my initial discovery was overshadowed by even more complex, yet simple to use multitrack studio apps, notably, another Sound Trends app called Studio HD. It was especially deep, and more powerful than I had expected. It was loaded with FX, layerable tracks, automation, loads of pre set loops. It also allowed a great deal of creative freedom that inspired me to go further into composing with other synthesizer apps and to bring in my hand made tunes to build full compositions from scratch. I hardly ever needed to even use my PC for transfering audio file thanks to copy paste features. It screamed freedom. Studio HD is where I really committed to my music using my iPad exclusively.   These guys really have it together, and you can see the love for what they do in their design.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Aaron Higgins, the master engineer and head honcho at Sound Trends, and all around nice guy.  In addition to the following interview, I even did a little beta testing, and experienced first hand how much both Aaron and his equally brilliant partner Kord Taylor care not only about their product, but also about creating an opportunity for everyone to enjoy a great musical experience.  Here’s Aaron with a little about how they go about doing that.

Smite Matter: At the start of iOS music apps it seemed to be received by many people as nothing more than a novelty, but today we see far more capabilities. What has surprised you the most since then?
Aaron : “Perhaps the biggest surprise is how far the industry has come in just a few years. This is true on both a technical level and in the popularity of the hardware and software. There are too many innovative and fun apps on the iPhone and iPad to mention. It is very exciting to be part of this market.”
Smite Matter: I can’t imagine the complexities of developing music software. As simply put as possible, how do you approach your designs? What’s most important to you when updating or starting a new app project?
Aaron: “One of the most important things we worry about is the overall workflow of the UI. We sketch out and throw away a huge number of ideas before settling on something. We painstakingly worry about the visual ground that people need to cover to accomplish certain tasks. We send out lots of beta versions and look for feedback. Our work is never truly done as there are always ways to make it better.”
Smite Matter: You put a lot of cool, useful sound FX in your music apps, while avoiding overloading the device CPU. I believe they all take advantage of an XY touch controller. No virtual knobs. Is this a personal choice, or are there certain advantages with the XY touch controls for FX?
Aaron: “Knobs are really great in the physical world, where you can easily feel and control them. On a touch screen, we really love the XY pad because it is more direct and obvious than a virtual knob. It also makes it easy to control two parameters with one finger. No matter where you put your finger, something interesting happens.”

Smite Matter: Some users may not understand whether or not they can use your included loop sets from your Studio HD or Looptastic apps in their “songs” that they wish to sell. What do you tell them?

Aaron: “We sincerely hope that the next hit song is made with one of our apps. With that in mind, we grant the rights to make finished tracks with our bundled content without having to pay anything or get further permission.”

Smite Matter: I feel a bit like I’m in a small group of willing recording artists to take the iOS leap for creating all of my music cradle to grave. I don’t use any computers except for file storage. Do you think this will become more common, and how will it influence your designs?

Aaron: “Every day, iOS music production becomes more and more of a reality. That said there are still a number of key challenges to overcome. Audio Copy and Paste is a great start in sharing data between apps. It is still a long way from being able to host a plugin and do real time processing. We are also looking forward to solutions that make it easier to import and export material in a variety of ways.”

Smite Matter: I’ve seen recently that some developers are willing to compromise fidelity by only allowing mono tracks instead of stereo in order to offer more tracks or “better” FX.  Do you think they are making a mistake with choosing mono over stereo?  

Aaron: “Stereo is very important in mobile apps because most people use headphones to listen to their device. We believe it is important to strive for the best possible quality because users are comparing the sound of our apps with the music in their iPod library.”

Smite Matter: Some developers seem to ignore the creative freedom that the iPad and iPod offer and don’t add copy paste functionality between apps. Forcing users to go back home to their PC to move files around.  How do you feel about that?

Aaron: “There are so many great tools on the iPad and iPod, it is hard to imagine only being able to use them in isolation. Audio Copy and Paste is a huge improvement over not being able to share files between apps. We also support MIDI Clock to synchronize apps and play them together.”

Smite Matter: I would love to see a developer create a fully capable digital audio workstation with all the features and trimmings of a computer DAW for the iPad. I think of it as the holy grail of music apps. How far off do you feel we are from seeing a similar fully featured iPad DAW?

Aaron: “One of the things I love most about mobile music apps is that they are more fun and approachable than a computer based DAW. This is because the iPad gave app developers the chance to start with a clean slate and reconsider the music making process. The things you can currently do in Logic or Ableton Live are mind blowing and sometimes intimidating. Computers will continue to be more powerful than an iPad for many years. In the next two years, I believe you will see an iPad-based DAW capable of doing the more important 80% of what you can do on a computer.”

End of interview.

Follow up. Purists beware.

Wow, I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens in the next two years. Things are changing every day. More powerful, creative, high quality, professional, and capable music apps arrive pushing users minds and devices CPUs to their limits. Those remaining and fairly niave folks still in the “toy” camp will find themselves far behind the curve. It’s time for everyone to take notice. This is happening, and fast.
Thank you Aaron, and thank you and Kord again for your fantastic app.  I think all of us are looking forward to what’s coming next from Sound Trends.