Month: June 2013

Thor Polysonic Synthesizer

Thor Polysonic Synthesizer
Made by: Propellerhead Software

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Remarkable, beastly, outstanding, monstrous, unearthly, incredible, you should get this synth.
That was the easiest review ever. Not enough? What? You want me to elaborate?
Oh, alright.

Every time I see a new iOS synth I get very excited. Don’t you? Well you should. Thor is no simple or run of the mill synth. Its a port of course, but a port that still has stones. Instead of a single synthesis type, Thor has 6 oscillator types! What? Yes 6. Analog, FM Pair, Wavetable, PhaseMod, Multi Oscillator, and Noise. Its can make for some nutty but thunderous combinations depending on how you apply them to the 3 available slots.
Add to the incredible selection of synth types, there’s 4 filter types for 3 slots. Then there’s a whole mess of routing options and modulations to dig into. It is a mind blowing collection of options that can lead to some of the most creative synth sounds imagined. Thor is godlike.
Kind of getting ahead of myself here, so ill expand in the order of the interface screens next.

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The functions and parameters that all make up Thor being numerous and complex, are thoughtfully contained in 3 main screens with collapsible and expandable sections. It might seem at a glance like there’s too many hoops to go through in order to make an adjustment, but what’s the alternative? Ive seen some complaints about this. When you think about it and understand how much stuff there is packed into Thor, those complaints boil down to being just nit picky, and painfully trivial. If everything were visible without consolidating, the interface would be a big mess full of tiny buttons, knobs and itty bitty text. What Propellerhead did to keep everything neat, clean and accessible works out nicely.

First is the “Keyboard” screen.
Pretty strait forward and self explanatory. This is where the performing is done. Select Mono or Polyphonic with adjustable portamento. There are 2 assignable rotary knobs and buttons. Adjustable pitch bend, modulation, and strum sliders reside on this screen. The Strum slider is fairly unique to synths & works as you might think. Hold a key or keys and strum away or tap “Hit” for a stab. It all can make for some unique play styles when applied together during recording or performance.
Also on this screen is the “Assist” function which is used to select scales and keys.
It all comes together smashingly for a very satisfying experience.

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Next we have the “Knobs” screen. This is where the magic happens. As I mentioned previously, you have 3 slots to apply any combination of the 6 oscillator types. 3 filter slots for the 4 available filter types, a “Shaper” unit with 9 shapes, a mixer, and all the routing. Plus there are 3 envelops and 2 LFOs.

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You might think it could get pretty crowded with all of these tools, and if it weren’t for the “Expand” function to help control space it would be.
Each piece has additional options for waveforms, speeds, types, in the form of drop down menus neatly contained within each unit. The sound designing capabilities are astronomical. Nothing has been diluted or compromised here at all.
With so many synthesis types available to combine with one another it could seem like Thor is a student of many but master of nothing. That would be an error. Each type can be controlled in great detail. The WaveTable for example is loaded up with many wavetable types for you to select from. No you can’t make your own wavetable, but there’s plenty to choose from. The 4 filter types Comb, LoPass Ladder, State Variable and Formant can be used in any combination (like the oscillators) in 3 separate slots. How you combine and route each of these will offer some sonic dimension that few synths can approach. Thor’s FX units are Delay and Chorus, and pretty darn good to boot.
All of your Thor creations can be moved to or from the Reason version of Thor.
The over used “playground” description seriously applies to Thor in the most sincere ways. This is really not just a playground but more like the Disneyland of sonic realms.

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The 3rd and final screen is called “Routing”. Here we have a comprehensive matrix for some massive routing and modulation options. Tweak signal flow and directions of each parameter with fine adjustments to just about anywhere. Its a relentless range of depth and possibilities. You can be as complex or simple as you wish with your routing. Additionally a micro keyboard is always available on the bottom of the “Knobs, and Routing” screens for you to audition your creations.

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In addition to the matrix on this Routing screen is a 16 step sequencer. One of the more detailed I’ve seen in a synth allowing fantastic control over each note, 2 curves, velocity, gate, and step durations. Select the order, skip notes, change direction, and speeds etc its all there. Super slow 16/4 to light speed 1/64 speeds.

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Thor is a class act. This synth is ridiculously rich with features and capabilities. Obviously I’ve left out a lot in order to keep this all at a decent length. Check out the Propellerhead Software site for more details.
Thor supports Audiobus Input, MIDI, and background audio. It works great with my iRig Keys. There doesn’t appear to be any ACP support, and no built in recording. That will be a disappointment to those who still prefer to do things that way.

To sum it all up I’d have to say that Thor on iPad is a monumental addition to the ever increasing library of pro quality options being delivered to iOS. Thor is complete, playable, and insanely deep. Creating synth sounds with loads of character and life are just the beginning. -(*edit) In case I’m not making myself clear, the resulting sounds can be amazing. Ive been enjoying the strong sonic capabilities Thor puts in my hands. Making thick, evolving pads that breath are my favorites, but any types can be made and sound great. You get out of it, what you put into it.- With over 1000 patches built in there’s plenty of inspiring sounds to mess with, but building from the ground up is where its at. The tools are there, its up to you to make it however you like. Experiment and have fun with it. The only thing that bugs me is there’s no way to share custom patches by email, and the color scheme of GUI is drab to me. Then again I am color blind, so maybe its delightful to others?
This is the kind of synth that will keep you hooked and coming back over and over to design sounds like no other. Its behaved well for me on my iPads 3&4 with no stability issues at all. Its recommended for iPad 2 and up. Sorry iPad 1 owners.
It is a legend born from Reason and having this on our iPads is a dream come true. Synth lovers rejoice! At the time I wrote this Thor is selling for $14.99 (USD) and that’s a bargain for what you’re getting here.

Thor is available in iTunes HERE

Couple extra screen shots:

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Galileo Organ – Review

Galileo Organ
Developed By: Yonac Inc

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Organs in general don’t usually pique my curiosity, much less much interest. Don’t get me wrong, they can bring something special to music, and many classics like Pink Floyd have immortalized the sound. I’ve tried some emulations on iOS, but haven’t ever felt like they offered much, and besides with a little effort most Organ sounds can be made in some of my synths.
Galileo Organ is a whole new ball game. For the first time in my life, an Organ made for iOS has knocked my socks off. This Organ is made by Yonac who also created the monstrous Magellan Synth, so you know its going to be good.

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Galileo is a professional virtual analog Organ design able to flawlessly emulate realistic Tonewheel, Transister, with “leakage”and other styles. It is complete with 3 rotary cabinet types, at 32bit DSP.
Officially it has 11 Organ types, but with some tweaking of the many parameters it is capable of emulating pretty much any Organ in existence. I think?
Somehow they managed to squeeze 3 configurable manuals with their drawbars (Hi, Lo keyboards and Pedals) all on to one screen.
Galileo has 48 polyphony, (I’m going to need more fingers?) brake/speed & slow/fast toggles.
Configurable rotary acceleration, brightness, drum to horn balance, and stereo mic separation.
They threw in just about every Organ related bells and whistles around.
I’m not an expert on Organs so a bunch of the Organ speak, is new lingo to me. I trust my ears, and what I am hearing with Galileo sounds beautiful.

Theres tons of technical specs here, and as usual to save space I suggest you check out YonacSoftwares Blog for the whole rundown.

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Packed with 240 carefully designed presets including a bank by Sunsine, have most bases covered for whatever Organ sound you’re looking for. Does Galileo do Hammond? Yep, and like I said above, pretty much every other as well.
Patch making is where I get the most giddy, and there is plenty of room here to create and save custom patches. Banks can also be shared. Which is very nice of you want to take your creations from one iDevice and put it on another.

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Galileos arpeggiator will feel right at home to Magellan users. Even if you haven’t used Magellan (are you insane?) you’ll find this arpeggiator intuitive. You can run simple patterns, or customize your own. You have control (dedicated note buffer for each of the 3 manuals) over the Hi,Lo, keyboards and Pedals in your Arps. Gate, Octave, Swing and note repeats are also under your command.

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The FX are of a breed that you might not find in most synths, which of course should make sense as this is an Organ. Some are familiar, but others are unique to Organs. They are split into 2 FX screens.

• 4 types of Wah-Wah with adjustable sweep range & emphasis
• Autowah module w/ 5 sweep curves, 3 follow modes, velocity tracking, settable rate, phase and bpm syncing
• Ring Modulator / Tremolo with fast & slow modes and adjustable depth
• Delay, Reverb & configurable FX signal path
The signal path mentioned is a slick touch, drag, and drop window.
The FX all sound great, and I have had an especially grand time messing around with the Wah-Wah.

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Recording and managing files are well done, and again designed in a familiar manner. The “Tape” screen is swiftly navigated making it a painless experience to record, and manage. Adjustable count in, record on touch, fixed record lengths, and all your importing and exporting is done smoothly here.

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No iOS music app would be complete without Audiobus, standard sharing, and MIDI supports.
Galileo is complete with Audiobus Input, and FX slot support. General and Sonoma AudioCopy/Paste.
The MIDI implementation is robust with 3 IO channels, over 130 control destinations, keyboard splitting, sustain and expression supports etc.
All the MIDI stuff is accessed from the “Pref” screen, where you’ll also find 50 or so scales to assign whatever key you wish.
Yonac has done another bang up job with offering yet anther full and complete new music app to enjoy.

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Having enjoyed YonacSoftwares MagellanSynth for a while, it is no surprise to me that Galileo would be of the same high caliber. Its stable, clean, and sounds so damn good. I really can’t find anything to complain about. I am suddenly now a fan of Organs thanks to the sublime design and execution of this app. If you’re a die hard Organ lover, I dare say you won’t be disappointed by Galileo one bit. Even folks like me who would normally be apathetic to such instruments would find this worth a very close look. You’ll likely start looking for ways to incorporate Galileo into your music.
Its just that good.

Highly recommended. Must Have!

Nave – Review

Nave
Developed By: Waldorf & Tempo Rubato

Nave is compatible with iPads 2,3 & 4

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UPDATED 6-14-13
There were a few things I left out when I originally wrote the review below. Only because I was trying to keep things short, and honestly I just forgot. However a couple are pretty important and should be mentioned.
Yes, Nave is a polyphonic and monophonic synth. It has a 4 voice unison mode with adjustable width. It gets really wide, by the way. I find myself using it a lot. As for how many voices in total polyphony is concerned, I have been unable to locate an exact number. From what I’ve experienced it has more than I have fingers. Whatever the case, its plenty.

There’s also the speach synthesis which uses the device talk to text function to create new wavetables. That’s a strange one, but awfully cool anyway. More importantly Nave allows one to import via pasteboard, their own audio files to create original wavetables. That’s sweet.

I kind of just glanced at a mention of the “UberWave” function. It adds a big fat sound quality that puts a lot of edge on it. Its hard to explain, you really just gotta hear it. Its definitely better explained by Waldorf in the manual, but again to keep this short, I’m just going to suggest you visit the Nave page of their website for that and all the tech stuff. The link is down in the review itself.

So there’s a couple more things. Sorry I didn’t mention these before. Nave has a lot of capabilities, and I can’t list them all. Most important is that Nave has an amazing sound quality for some powerful patch crafting and has become my daily synth of choice. Anyone who doesn’t get excited by this synth clearly has no pulse.

Original Review:

Synthesizers just make me happy. Incredibly powerful ones such as Nave, make my head spin with joy.
You’ve probably heard about Nave, seen the videos, or endured my merciless teasing.
Now after 1.5 years of hard work and careful development, Nave is finally finished! As I am writing this it is with Apple pending review to be launched in the iTunes App Store any time now.
I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to beta test Nave for a couple months leading up to this. From day one, I’ve been very impressed with this powerful new synth made just for iOS.
Waldorf has been making great software for a while, but this is their first for iOS. They joined with Tempo Rubato, who you may know of from the excellent NLog Synth Pro.
Pretty solid development team if you ask me.

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Nave is a powerful twin wavetable oscillator synthesizer with a single classic oscillator (with all the basic waveforms) and the pulse racing “Uberwave” function. You have hands on control over numerous options to tweak the many choices of wavetables, (in full screen “Edit” mode) 7 different 3D views. Very fine tuning is easily done by touch to fully customize any wavetable. Full ADSR envelope controls over each oscillator, 2 multi waveform LFOs, fully adjustable pitch/bend wheels and modulation options at every corner. The amount of modulation options really are nothing short of amazing.
At last count there were 500 plus factory presets being shipped with Nave at launch. Nave is pure sound design heaven!

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The integrated ( and beautifully emulated ) Waldorf Multimode Filter with the Drive function that has a selection of 5 curve types to 4 location options offer you amazing control of the wavetable oscillators to craft the wildest of imagined sounds from morphing, teeth mashing leads on overdrive steroids, to silky and mesmerizing pads. The ten source to destination modulation matrix extends sound designing possibilities dramatically. Truly limitless.

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Playing Nave on screen has a couple options. It has a classic, scrolling virtual chromatic keyboard. Then there are the “Blades” which can have x/y modulations, and velocity programmed to them giving you full polyphonic modulation control. I got caught by my wife gesturing my fingers in strange massaging motions over the Blades manipulating the sound in a way she referred to as “Romantic”.
Plugging in your MIDI controller/keyboard (iRig Keys in my case) was about as difficult as just that. Plug in, start playing. All significant parameters can be mapped and MIDI controlled either virtually or with compatible hardware.

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As for FX, Nave has that covered also. 7 effects units are onboard and sound really good. I actually like the reverb on this synth. A delay, chorus, phaser, flanger, 3 band EQ, and compressor round out the options. I have found each to sound excellent. Though, at times if I had applied the reverb with a few others and played some chords, I got a bit of clipping. Could have just been I forgot to close a background app, or the CPU on my iPad was over burdened. Lowering the amount of reverb used and set to %50 wet vs dry helped. That was on my iPad 3. No such experience was repeated on my iPad 4.

On the same page with the FX, is a competent arpeggiator with better than normal options, but still kind of basic. That’s not a bad thing. I actually like this arpeggiator better than most iOS synths. It has a fair amount of options to make some unique, and melodic patterns including your own notes. Using the arpeggiator with the 2 large programmable x/y pads adds much to experience. Nave is multi dimensional doing everything splendidly.

All in all the specification list is quite large so please check out the Waldorf website for all the details. There’s too many to list here.

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Lastly is the vintage styled 4 track recorder. You could use it to make a whole Nave song, or sketch out some things. I’m enjoying using it to layer on some interesting and varied synth sounds for creative loops. Each track can be panned, leveled, split, and or duplicated.
In loop mode (iPads 3&4) I heard some clicks where the loop ends meet, but they didn’t translate to the recording I made while using Audiobus to an output app. In addition to Audiobus input support Nave has AudioCopy/Paste, “Open In”, & Save to iTunes Folder.
I’ve had no crashes, or weird mishaps at all with this final version of Nave. They did a great job with this ambitious synth, and it is full of impressive bits all around. If anything looks confusing there is a manual accessible from the “?” button on the “Tape” screen.

The amount of tools and options for creating sounds strait from your imagination are fantastic. Nave has become one of my most favored iOS synths and I easily consider it a must have. The audio quality is second to none. This is one massive, beastly synth that raises the bar.
Whatever the price is in your iTunes Store, it is my sincere and honest opinion it’ll be worth it.

Yeah, I recommend Nave. Duh.

Here’s a couple more screen shots from the Wavetable edit full screen. You can even manipulate the colors.

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The Music App Gamble

Something has been bothering me for a while. I have this folder on my iPad (both actually) I call “Music Apps With Potential”. It is full of incomplete music apps that are missing vital, basic functions. I can’t use them in their current builds because each is missing what I (most people I think would agree) consider very basic functions, and supports.
Those which I consider to be very basic are AudioCopy/Paste, midi, Audiobus, and or a built in recording feature. Basically the things that all iOS music apps should never be without. I’m not talking about expansions, or additional features that will increase usability. No, I am talking about the stuff that most of us expect and need in order to use the app to begin with. Stuff that if missing inhibit and or impead use.

It makes me a bit sad actually. So many music apps with great design. They’re innovative, unique, and just down right cool! Some are real game changers.
I knew they were half baked when I bought them, but I did check with each developer to confirm their development plans before purchase. Each of these were confirmed that the vital functions I had asked about, will be added in future updates. The time frames for these promised updates vary from app to app, but each had been confirmed.

With each confirmation I happily supported what I thought to be excellent development and I paid for the app.
Most of the time apps of this type don’t remain in the “potential” folder very long. They usually get the update in a timely manner or as promised. Unfortunately some never get out of app purgatory. Too many for me.
It is a little frustrating to see them there as a constant reminder of how many times I’ve been burned.
Worse is that such great innovations are abandoned and left unrealized.

While this sort of thing is a fairly small percentage of the whole, it is common. For me it’s common enough to make me reconsider ever purchasing another music app that cannot be used the day I buy it.
I understand that developers need to make money, and I have felt sympathetic frequently enough to take the gamble with buying their apps before they were really even close to ready. Always gambling on their word being true. Too many times have I been left holding an empty bag several months or even a year later having nothing to show for it.

They may have excellent reasons but I just don’t care. I see it as a breach of confidence. A hollow word, and an empty promise. It says a lot about ones integrity to break a promise or take advantage of people who will trust the giving of a seemingly honorable word. Even though most follow through, enough don’t and leave me feeling like it is now an undesirable gamble. Risky stuff sometimes. You know what they say about one bad apple.

It’s too risky of a gamble for me anymore. Simply put, after these many unfortunate experiences having lost the gamble, I am done. Finish the app, then I will buy it. I don’t believe I am being unreasonable to expect a product I buy should be finished and ready for intended use. How about you?