Month: October 2013

CubeSynth – Review

CubeSynth
Developed by: VirSyn
Available in the iTunes App Store

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I have to admit, I am a big fan of VirSyn. They’ve been delivering some of the best software instruments to desktop computers for ages. It’s their iOS entries that have captivated me. I’ll try not to “fanboy”, but holy cow! CubeSynth is fantastic. I’ve enjoyed VirSyns AddictiveSynth since it launch a while back, and I just didn’t expect them to drop this one on us. I’m so glad they did!

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CubeSynth is not at all like AddictiveSynth except for the fundamental features and the ingenious arpeggiator.
This is an additive synthesizer with a deep set of controls to morph sounds. A huge spectrum of sound capabilities await your touch to sculpt, tweak, and evolve dramatic and detailed soundscapes.
4 predefined sound sources (A,B,C,&D) independently controllable with their own draw screens, are where the magic happens. At least that’s a good place to start. There are literally thousands of parameters to be manipulated. With each of the 4 sources are a set of 6 controls you can adjust in extremely fine detail. Up to 512 adjustable partials per voice, numerous Wave Source tools, and options options options galore open up a universe of amazing synth sounds. This is a grand synth of massive functionality. Morphing done right!

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I’ve spent several days engrossed within CubeSynth. It could easily be a big time killer for anyone who loves complex synth controls.
When you open the Sound Source control screens you are presented with a draw screen to manage each if the 6 sound modifiers. Level, Pan Position, Attack, Decay, Filter, and Noise. As I mentioned this is also where you can select wave sources from various types to apply in any combination. Maybe I’m a bit odd, but I find this sort of control to be extremely satisfying.

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Control the harmonic or in-harmonic spectra, brightness, pitch, modulation assignments and so much more.
CubeSynth has 3 envelopes with 64 time/level segments. Again these are touch manipulated and impact how the overall sound morphs.
How each parameter behaves is very detailed and allow a range of short, and subtle to long, spread out changes. You could easily create a single patch that will take on its own life and direction as though its a song of its own by just holding a key or keys.
Like AddictiveSynth before, CubeSynth not only has an insane amount of complex details to control, but also a randomizer. Tap the dice and CubeSynth will make a patch for you. This can be very helpful when you just want to be surprised with something to build off of. It may take a few rolls of the dice, but something interesting is bound to happen.

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CubeSynth shares the brilliant Arpeggiator found in AddictiveSynth. Create sequences up to 64 steps. Each step has its own accent, tie, octave, and key setting. It can trigger single notes and chords with a general Gate, and Accent dials. I’m really glad to see that VirSyn left the arpeggiator alone. It has been my favorite arp among all of my synths. It just can’t be topped in my opinion.
Of course there are also a healthy number of preset arps, and synth patches to choose from. If you liked the dice for the synth, you’ll probably find them just as intriguing when rolling them to randomly create a new arp sequence.
VirSyn says in the app description the randomized arpeggios are “%100 usable”, but I kind of disagree. Many times I’ve rolled the dice and ended up with an arp that just made no sense at all. Sure there have been a bunch that miraculously hit the right spot, but far from %100. Nevertheless, it’s still a great function. Besides it’s more interesting to make something yourself. Isn’t it?

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We can’t have a synth and call it full featured without the obligatory FX banks. In many cases these are pretty generic and just tacked on other synths. Not CubeSynth. Each of the 7 FX are quality options. Not quite as detailed as what’s probably found in your iDAW, or stand alone FX apps, but very capable with excellent sound characteristics. Included FX are: A Hi&Lo EQ, Phaser, Delay, Overdrive, Ensemble, Chorus, and Reverb.
Except for the Overdrive, & Ensemble the FX each have a fair amount of adjustable parameters to fine tune the specified effect.
Reverb for example, has diffusion, absorption, tail delay, and tail stereo controls beyond the standard size and wet/dry adjustments more commonly found in most synth apps. Like I said, the CubeSynth effects all sound very good making them more desirable for use than most synths.

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Complete is really a accurate descriptor of this synth. MIDI, Audiobus, AudioCopy, and a built in recorder round out the list of useful features. Plus the keyboard can be programmed to a lot of scales and all keys.
I didn’t list every specification but you can visit VirSyn for more details and information.

Do I recommend CubeSynth? Yes! I can’t really recommend CubeSynth any higher. I’ve not experienced any problems or shortcomings. It hasn’t crashed on either iPad 3or4 (haven’t been able to try on an iPad 2 first hand, but it does work just fine on iPad 2) the only thing that made me scratch my head was when I was slowly moving a finger up a white key to manipulate the assigned modifier, the closest black key was triggered without ever touching it. Big deal? Maybe. Maybe not.
Inter-App Audio is not yet part of CubeSynth but VirSyn confirmed that it is coming.
!!***!!***!! UPDATE !!**!!**!!
CubeSynth now supports Inter-App Audio. As of 11-25-2013 CubeSynth and VirSyns AddictiveSynth both support IAA.
This is a must have synth. Great sound, great features, great variety. There aren’t a lot of iOS synths that can create enormous evolving soundscapes, rich pads, leads, and all things in-between quite like Cube.
Just get it.

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iSEM – Review

iSEM Available in the iTunes App Store
Developed By:Arturia

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Arturia has the vintage analog emulation thing down. Their TAE (True Analog Emulation) technology they’ve developed is a premium body of work. They have a history of creating some of the very best emulations of vintage classics that have forever left their mark on the music world. iSEM is the latest carefully crafted, vintage emulation of the famous Oberheim Synthesizer Expander Module (S.E.M.) from 1974. The sounds from the hardware back in the day graced legendary progressive rock, and electronic music artists like Tangerine Dream, and Rush. Today we can recreate those synth sounds not only with great ease on our iPads, but also with the same sound characteristics that made them famous. iSEM delivers.

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Attention to detail in faithfully recreating the visual appearance is obvious. All of the original Oberheim functions are neatly placed in uncluttered, and separate screens identified by their own button at the top of the screen. This 2 oscillator sawtoothed legend looks and sounds like the old hardware. iSEM maintains all of the original parameters of the classic that inspired it.
2 LFOs, multi mode 12db Lo, Hi, and Band Pass filter, notch, and 2 ADS envelopes .
This also has some added functionality that expand upon its original, improving the synths overall scope of sound design range.
Noise, Sub Oscillator, Arpeggiator, 8 voice programmer module, FX and more. Here is a link to some more info in the Arturia Official iSEM Trailor

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The modulation matrix that comes with iSEM has 8 source to destination banks. Virtual dials control the parameter selection and how much you want of them in the mix. Very simple to use and immediately satisfying. Combined with the voice programmer (next) there are loads of cool sounds to be made.
The 8 voice programmer module (see above image) allows independent voice settings for each. Select the desired parameter by a virtual knob that cycles through all of the routing options, and apply it’s effect and behaviors via additional up/down sliders. How about that!
Well, maybe it’s not exactly the most impressive thing, but it does give you more room to spice up your sound creations effectively.

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iSEM also comes with some well emulated analog FX. Delay, Chorus, and Overdrive. Pretty much just the basics. These FX actually sound very nice. The Overdrive really packs a punch. Not a whole lot to say here that isn’t probably very obvious.

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Last is the “Pref” section. In this spot you can control the amount of every parameter in 4 banks. Each parameter is selected again by a virtual dial, and the amount by adjusting up/down sliders. So there is really quite a bit that can be done to craft sounds in very fine detail.
iSEM is well thought out and designed for easy use. Full midi mapping control, Audiobus, WIST, and Inter-App Audio ready.
There is no recording function onboard so that also means no AudioCopy.. It works easily with the iRig Keys if you don’t want to use the scrolling keyboard. Play mono or polyphonic by the flip of a switch.
It’s stable, and behaves itself when connected to other host apps just as well as it does all alone. Things were not nearly as simple back in the day of wires and heavy equipment. Considering how things back in those hardware days were so much more complicated, you gain perspective of how truly spoiled we are with today’s technology. Can you imagine the look on Klaus Schults face if you told him in 1975 that his truckload of synthesizers and gear would fit on a device like an iPad? He would’ve Schultsed his pants!

iSEM may not be the most feature rich synth ever made, but it’s not trying to be. This is a special type of sound that is especially suited well for thick leads and warm pads. With over 500 presets there’s a lot to try out, or build off. That’s a lot of presets, and honestly many are totally unnecessary. Several of them sound very much the same.
In closing I have to say that although I am not particularly thrilled with yet another analog synth emulation, iSEM does do an excellent job finding its own place with its head slightly above glut of vintage synth copies we have seen so often. I think we have enough now?
A brand new synth design would be very welcome from Arturia in the future.
If you love that vintage sound, then this is the perfect synth for you. You will get your monies worth. This is a excellent, quality synth and you really can’t go wrong unless you already have a dozen analogs.

Arturia iSEM YouTube tutorial

For those of you synth history fans I included a copy of some interesting historical tid bits that I received from Arturia in their press release.

Some history from Arturia taken from the Arturia official press release:
“Hatched by legendary synth designer Tom Oberheim back in 1974, the dual-oscillator SEM was originally conceived as a way of beefing up weaker-sounding compatible analogue monosynths of the time before becoming a sought-after sound in its own right — so much so that its American creator came up with a series of successive SEM-based instruments, first pairing up two SEMs with a 37-note keyboard and a simple analogue step sequencer to form the Two Voice, Oberheim’s first self-contained compact, duophonic synthesizer in 1975, thereby beating rivals to the polyphonic punch. Programmability came courtesy of Oberheim’s breakthrough Polyphonic Synthesizer Programmer which — when hardwired into the fair-sized Four Voice (featuring four SEMs and a 49-note keyboard) in 1976 and enormous Eight Voice (eight SEMs set across two tiers) in 1977 — enabled the control voltages of many parameters for up to eight SEMs to be memorised for the first time. Though these instruments were undeniably groundbreaking, quickly finding favour with the likes of popular prog-rockers Rush and electronic music trailblazers Tangerine Dream, polyphony was, after all, achieved with multiple SEMs so each voice/module had to be programmed independently, which was quite a daunting task — even by somewhat shaky Seventies standards!

Fast forward, then, to 2013 and the truly 21st Century musical landscape has changed considerably, as has music technology itself. Today, of course, we take polyphony and programmability for granted, though not necessarily that still-sought-after Oberheim sound. Ingeniously, iSEM quite literally taps into all of this and then some, putting more musicality at anyone’s fingertips than its analogue namesake designer dared dream possible back in Oberheim’s Seventies salad days!”

Arctic ProSynth – Review

Arctic ProSynth is developed by: One Red Dog Media

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One Red Dog Media has been delivering excellent music apps for years now. Arctic ProSynth arrives offering a modern subtractive, 4 voice polyphony, synth, vocoder, arpeggiator, and sequencer all wrapped into one neatly designed package. Arctic ProSynth isn’t trying to be anything but itself. A powerful in your face synth that can get loud and rude. Like your crazy old ex, but this is in a good way!

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As you can see from the above screen shot the GUI is clean and uncomplicated. All parameters are tucked away in their respective categories noted on each of the buttons taking you to each screen. Moving between screens is fluid without delays. Quick and responsive, are good words to describe navigating Arctic Pro. Nothing flashy or gimmicky, but don’t be fooled. Arctic Pro has a lot of options available for you to create some big and complex sounds. The type of sound designing Arctic does best are big, brash, and fat.
It wouldn’t be my first choice for pads or delicate types, but that’s not what its about anyway. This is your goto synth for heavy, gritty and blasting sounds.

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To achieve these thick sound types Arctic Pro has 2 “Hyper” Oscillators for you to add increasingly dramatic “oomph”. These things take it up a notch that you don’t see a lot of elsewhere. With the adjustable ADSR envelopes, 2 multi-mode resonating filters, sub oscillator, and 2 LFOs with 3 wave shapes, independently sync-able destinations, and all the usual synth parameters with these unique Hyper oscillators, there is no shortage of creative possibilities. I’ve been enjoying using this to make some vicious bass-lines and leads. The usual scrolling keyboard is present along with a nice selection of scales to set.
I’ve only hinted at the specifications. If you want the full list visit One Red Dog Medias Website or check the iTunes App Store for more details.

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Want to do an arpeggio? No problem. Arctic Pro comes with a 4 octave arpeggiator. Nothing special on this page, but for simple arpeggios it gets the job done. If you want to really get into a detailed sequence, try the built in 4 track 16×4 gated step Sequencer.

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This will allow you to make some more complex arrangements with much more control over the notes and how each plays out. It should not be underestimated. It can be MIDI synced, and has multiple modulation destinations.

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A variety of FX are included for expanding further on whatever you can imagine. There are a delay, reverb, chorus, distortion with 6 types, phaser, 3 band EQ, and the killer vocoder. The FX in general are functional, but not exactly the best I’ve ever heard. To be honest I find the reverb and chorus to be particularly weak. What is cool about the FX is that they can be easily set in any order you like by simply holding the FX named button and then drag and drop. Choosing the order of course impacts how they will sound.
It’s the vocoder that stands out from the rest of the FX.

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Don’t try the vocoder with your built in mic, it’ll sound terrible. Plug in an iRig Mic or whatever you prefer, and then start using your voice to perform. Really, you gotta try it. Its a blast.
Speaking of performing, Arctic is well designed for just that. In addition to the adjustable keyboard you can choose to use the two X/Y pad. They can be routed however you like and add a lot of dimension.

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All in all Arctic ProSynth might not be the most versatile synth, but it is suited very well for those thick sounds. It gets big and loud like few others. There is always a place for a synth like this that specializes in doing something special, and doing it well.
It supports AudioCopy/Paste, Audiobus, and MIDI in&out! Inter-App Audio will be on its way soon.
Don’t let my observation of this being a distant choice for pads or the likes as Arctic is a fully loaded pistol ready to blow your head off in a way that just makes it a joy. We have seen far too many vintage analogue synth emulations or copies of things we have more than enough of. Arctic is different, and its the kind of different to be happy about.
I say get it. Why not? Different is good.
Available In iTunes

Here are some more screen shots.

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