MIDI

MIDI Controllers

LayR – Multi Timbral Synthesizer

LayR – Multi Timbral Synthesizer is developed by Living Memory Software

Available from iTunes App Store

LayR is described as a “massively polyphonic, Multi Timbral Synthesizer” capable of up to 256 voices of multi layered and textured sounds for 64 bit devices. I was a little skeptical initially and expected less. I was wrong. LayR can actually do as it says it can. 

Andy Bull created LayR somewhat by accident. He started out with something else in mind, not looking to create a synthesizer. After experiencing some disappointments with some of his iOS synths in a live stage setting, he ended up making something to meet his needs as a live performer. LayR was born, and here we are today able to enjoy the fruits of his labor. So much juicy goodness. 


LayR launches with a clean, albeit dark, interface showing the general mix functions of whatever layers make up the selected patch or “performance”, as they are called. A performance is a collection of instruments which contain layers of synths. One performance can be as simple or as complicated as desired. The overall results can be astonishing, with layers coming and going in various states and times. There are a lot of excellent presets available that demonstrate the many possibilities and can be great templates to dissect and learn from. Overall it’s an exciting synthesizer that will satisfy. 


Each layer is its own independent synth with 2 oscillators, each with their own shape and phase states that can be morphed, modulated and filtered. There are 2 ADSRs which can be looped from super fast out to 100 seconds, along with a 3rd ADSR controlling the overall volume. Both of the filters (LP, HP, Band & Notch) can be smoothed with a handy mini filter mixer. The 2 LFOs are well behaved and have several shapes to choose from. At first glance it all seems like a standard twin oscillator synthesizer, but that’s forgetting to consider the amazing depth of what can be hundreds of layers playing together in a giant cooperative audio party. You could easily spend days constructing elaborate performances. Pack a lunch.


It’s hard to explain just how much detail LayR is able to control better than the above screen shot. As you can see this is thoughtfully designed with a forward looking layer parameter linking tool. This will be indispensable when one gets ambitious, getting deep into greater numbers of layers with parameters that will likely need to be linked, and really helps with keeping the intended order together without needing to try and remember what was where or having to constantly switch back and forth to make sure certain layers have the same behaviors. Just link them in sets of parameter groups. My inner synth nerd did backflips when I first discovered this clever tool. You can also copy and paste one parameter to another. 

The 16 step multi channel arpeggiator is quite robust. This screenshot (above) should convey how carefully it was designed to give the user a rich midi routing capability that works reliably. Up to 8 event tracks can be set up with their own synth layer, making for some very lively compositions. While getting acquainted with LayR I found some presets that were impressive and inspiring. Some had multiple synths of varied arp events, all playing together with the touch of a single key. Event notes are visible by the flash of the corresponding key as played by the arpeggiator assignments. 

The in-app help can be accessed at any time should there be a need, so even someone new to multi channel arpeggiators can learn to create their own routes for their project with a minimal learning curve. 


Getting back to the graphical interface, its design uses symbols relevant to each parameter control. Most experienced synth users should understand what they mean but it might also be a little unfamiliar to others more accustomed with text identifiers. Those not used to this will become best friends with the top right corner info button within the first hours. Eventually it becomes second nature. The scale and key can be set, as well as an option for a colorful keyboard if all black isn’t desired. The keyboard can be adjusted in size, range, scrolled or locked. 

LayR has 3 sound effects; Reverb, Delay and a 3 Band EQ. The FX are competent and useful but not particularly noteworthy. 

Inter-app audio and Audiobus are supported, but not AU. I feel like the lack of AU support is for a good reason. Might be because the current iOS AU systems can’t quite keep up yet with something so intensive as LayR. Perhaps that will change in the future?

I spent several days digging into LayR and found it to be a wonderful experience. Great sound, nice quality filters, excellent morphing and an overall magnificent synthesizer. It truly excels when put to the test of making many layers of timbres, multi channel arpeggios and wildly evolving soundscapes. LayR is no slouch by any means and should fit in everybody’s collection. 

I highly recommend LayR. Be sure to check out the developers Website for a more specific feature list and links to helpful tutorial videos. 

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Music Studio 2 Review – Tried and True

Music Studio is developed by Alexander Gross of Xewton

Available in iTunes for Apple devices, and Now GooglePlay for Android


Music Studio has been with us (on iOS) for years. It was one of the very first studio type music apps I ever bought way back when I had my iPod Touch 3G. It has seen steady and consistent updates keeping it on the level with our rapidly growing music needs. Now it’s even available for Android users in the GooglePlay store. I haven’t tried it on an Android, and honestly can’t comment about that version, but expect it works just as well.

This all in one music production suite is packed with everything you need to create music from start to finish. Over a hundred tracks sequencing, sampler, twin keyboards, custom drum & chord pads, 10 effects units, note editor, Automation, Audiobus In & Out, Inter-App Audio In and Out, MIDI, 100 Drum Loops…and more and more.


There is a free, lite version to dip your toes into if you’re not sure about buying straight away. The first thing I noticed was the quality and variety of instruments. Hundreds of studio recorded instruments come packed in with the purchase of the app, and dozens more can be purchased. Every relevant instrument is available, minus only a very few. Whatever might be missing shouldn’t be an issue these days with all the other music apps around filling nearly every gap. With MIDI, Audiobus and Inter-App Audio input/output fully supported, you’re only limited by you’re own collections of samples and instrument apps. This was the first production app I could find a Digerydoo that sounded good.


The twin keyboards can have their own instrument assigned and played. The bank of customizable chord buttons above reflect what’s being used as per your own preferences. Assigning individual percussion instruments or samples to the drum pads can also be used. Trigger and loop away, or record a sample with your device or external microphone and apply to one of the pads to use in your composition. It’s easy stuff.


Some might wonder where the mixer is? Simply put, it’s not here in the traditional sense. However every track can be mixed individually. Instead of a mixer page, just select the track to adjust the pan, level, effects, mute or solo etc. It can be a little bit of a challenge to get used to if you are more accustomed to a dedicated mixer board page, but the bottom line is, nothing’s really missing. It’s just being done differently. Most people aren’t going to be overly concerned with this unless they start piling on several dozens of tracks. Then the missing mixer just might prove to be a bit of a obstacle.

It’s never bothered me, and on the plus side a mixer page is indeed being developed for Music Studio 3. I have confirmed this directly with the developer.

Editing a tracks sequence, or sample is quick and easy. Just double tap the area within the track to bring up either the sampler page or the sequencer note editor page. Quantize, transpose, write, copy and all of that stuff should feel as familiar as it looks. Working with automated FX work much the same way. It’s a very straight forward work flow. This is very intuitive and has a very gentle learning curve. Nothing clunky or unnecessarily complicated. Smooth.


Moving on.

Music Studio 2 also has 10 built in effects units. They have improved over the years and you can assign as sends, inserts or use globally in multiples. As I mentioned above there’s automation. So making creative effects that move with the music are at your finger tips, just like any respectable studio type. All the audio effects mainstays are accounted for. Reverb, Delay, Phaser, Stereo Widener, Filter and so on. I find the EQ a little in the lite side being a simple 3 band, but that’s not much of an issue these days with Audiobus and Inter-App Audio providing such easy access to your other apps that are more specialized. What is available gets the job done and doesn’t sound cheap.


Music Studio is known for its excellent MIDI support. Whether you use virtual MIDI with other music apps, or hardware Music Studio keeps up and makes things easy on you. Reliable is the word.

There are so many great things to bring up, I can’t cover every detail. If you need more specifics, details or exact numbers just visit Xewtons Web Site. You’ll find more than just specs. There’s a thriving user community forum to help answer questions, get support or just share. Assuming the extensive in app help doesn’t put you back on track. No pun intended.

In conclusion, Music Studio stands confidently with other iDAWs, is priced very well, has better instruments than others, is a stable, quality production app with tons of tools and all delivered with a pleasantly clean interface. It’s great for those just starting out and won’t overwhelm newcomers and pros will like its longevity. It has been reliably developed with excellent consistency by a developer who is listening to his users wants and needs. Despite no separate mixer, all the same parameters can still be adjusted and mixed without skipping a beat. Few limitations and loads of options, Music Studio 2 remains an excellent choice for everybody.

Patterning – An innovative spin on beat making

Patterning is made by Olympia Noise Company

Available on iTunes
  
So you probably already have plenty of beat or groove makers. So do I. Dozens and dozens of apps doing this can be found. So why bother with another one?

Because Olympia Noise Co. gets us. They understand how we want to work and be inspired to work even when doing something as common as laying down a groove. 

  
You start off right away with a brief and helpful tutorial showing the basics. Getting started right off the bat. Feeling comfortable in the same swing. The colors and layout look nice and make sense. I can’t put it any simpler, this just makes sense. Everything felt obvious and was right where I felt it should be. Nothing overstated about Patterning, just a clean and encouraging work space to work out some beats and find inspiration. 

  
So many great kits to explore from tried and true 808 sounds to unusual sounding original kits. Use one, or mix and match instruments, and make your own kit. Explore, tap and groove. Go ahead and have some fun. 

  
Each part can be individually selected. Adjust attack, hold & decay. Make bold tuning adjustments or fine tuned micro-adjustments. Add another ride or tom from another kit. Do whatever, it’s not going to bite you. The variety is very nice and it appears they intend to add more in time. 

  
You get the mixer of course. What beat making machine would be complete without a mixer? None that’s what. They’d suck. Some of you know what I mean. Well this doesn’t suck. It rocks. It also chills and gets funky. With automation and smooth transitions from one to the other Patterning works the way it should.

  
Easy to make patterns in an equally easy to make song. Do it all with a competent suite of sound effects. All neatly placed on one page. 

I see this in my folder for drum machines among several others that do the same thing. Some well, and some I just keep because I might want to use it again some day. Patterning though, is at the top. As if it’s looking down on the others thinking “I can do what you do better, I’m more fun, more intuitive, and just look neater.”

So it becomes the leader of the pack….errrr….folder. You get the idea. It’s a great app, and better than runner up. 

Home run! 

iLoud, iUSBport, and Jamstik Oh my!

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed anything related to iOS music production. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been exploring and expanding.

It’s not always just about apps. We need other things to help us make the magic happen. Being mobile we tend to want things that are compact and easy to carry around, but not lose on quality.
They gotta be reliable, easy to use, fun, and compact.

Our devices sadly have limited memory storage. Once you make your choice on the device with the storage capacity you think will be enough, that’s it. No going back, and it seems like its never enough.
So what do you do? No USB port, and syncing with the PC is not always a practical option.
You need portable mass storage that can be accessed wirelessly, anywhere you are without needing to plug in.
This is where the iUSBport comes in.

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This handy little device allows you to have a mobile WiFi hotspot.
With a rechargeable battery that can also provide power to a connected USB device like mass storage drives, you’ll have all your data saved with you anywhere you go.
I’ve attached mine to a USB mini hub with multiple ports. So I can connect not just my mass storage device, but also my key chain memory stick, or whatever. Mix and match, just beware of how much powers being drawn from your iUSBport. Depending on how much you plug in you can keep it all going about 4-6 hours before needing to plug in to recharge.

The iUSBport is easy to use, just skip their app and use your browser though. Unlike other similar products saying they do the same thing, this has a very handy screen which reads out and informs you of pertinent information. So you know what’s going on and don’t have to guess.
It just works. It also has the capability to connect to existing wifi networks simultaneously (with your Ad Hoc) when it is plugged in at home you can connect and move files among your connected storage units and cloud based storage services like Dropbox. Neat! Always have access to your files, save, move among your apps, devices and do it anywhere.
This is something I really don’t leave home without when I want to work on some music away from it all.

This is honestly a bit outdated as HyperDrive, makers of my original iUSBport have introduced an even better version with the iUSBport 2. Gotta love sequels.
So check this cool gadget out at href=”http://www.hypershop.com/HyperDrive/”>HyperDrive and all their other cool new stuff.

While I’m at it and speaking of mobility, how about something with great on the go sound? Not headphones, but a speaker that brings the boom in a pint sized and manageable wireless, rechargeable package.
IK Multimedia iLoud.
This 40 Watt audio monitor delivers amazing sound quality and packs a punch.
I’ll make this easy. I tested out several similar portable monitors that came highly recommended. iLoud outperformed them all. None reached the levels of the iLoud by a wide, noticeable margin.

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All frequencies had excellent separation and sounded very clean. The bass isn’t over done and muddy like the others.

For the record I only use it as an audio monitor connected to my iPads. It can be used as an amp (with supported apps) and it also supports Bluetooth.
I don’t care about or use either. I just wanted a excellent mini monitor for my music productions that sounds great and goes anywhere.
That said, I’ve heard from others who complained about “hiss” when used as an amp. The Bluetooth has too much latency and compromises audio quality so I just haven’t bothered.
It’s about the sound, and iLoud does it very nicely. Even when the natural acoustics suck, it still pumps out great sound. I recommend this wireless rechargeable sound monster highly.

Last on the list of cool new gadgets I’ve been spending my time with is the highly anticipated Jamstik.
This is less review and more first impression after having very recently received mine.

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I just pulled it out of the box a few days ago. With giddy childlike excitement, I tore that box open.
I didn’t really know what to expect?
Well, it pretty much explains itself, so….anyway.
It feels like a tiny guitar that is honestly at first glance a little cramped. If you play guitar, it’ll probably feel uncomfortable at first. Spending some time with it to acclimate should lead to that discomfort becoming a memory pretty quick. I felt comfortable with playing this rather fast.
It’s just stupid, crazy fun!
With a built in pocket in the Jamstik housing, there inside it with the rechargeable battery is an Allen wrench, you can use to adjust the action on the compact fretboard. It’s pretty high out of the box, so adjust it however you need it. Easy.
The neck feels about right and familiar being in scale with full sized guitars. Just shorter is all.
Plus strings can be replaced and trimmed as you prefer.
It comes with a decent adjustable strap, two picks, and charge cable.
The weight feels a little light for obvious reasons, but not at all bothersome. In fact it felt like it hung just right for me.
It connects via a simple proxy app that runs in the background through its own wifi network. You change to the wifi network from your device network settings. Just like when you switch networks anywhere. Then open your favorite guitar app and jam away. Sweet!
Again since I’ve not spent a ton of time with my Jamstik, there are things I have yet to fully experience. One concern I had was if there’d be any latency over wifi. It seemed OK. This is something I need to spend more time with.

It does far more than act just as a cool mini guitar. It does that very well. You can use Jamstik like any MIDI controller to trigger multiple loops across the 6 strings and all the frets. It quickly can become a one man band control unit. I’ve only scratched the surface, but holy Schmidt is this thing fun.

I’m very impressed with this sweet device.

The world of mobile music production is going strong, and evolving with some uniquely mobile and practical new quality tools.

Onward music pioneers. The trail is seeing traffic.

Electrify NXT – Review

Electrify NXT is made by Ingolf Koch
Available in the iTunes App Store

…A virtual groove box with drum loops, synths and FX”

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I’ll be honest, I didn’t get along very well with the first Electrify app. When I saw that Ingolf Koch released NXT I was a tad skeptical. After talking to some fellow iOS music artists who have experienced both the old Electrify and the brand new NXT, my eyes began to open. I got a little excited for this new and different follow-up.
When I finally had NXT in my hands exploring it for the first time, I understood why the folks I spoke to were so happy with it.
Electrify NXT is much different, and better.

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Electrify NXT is more than a sequel, it is a completely new app. Redesigned appearance, workflow, audio engine, and tools to provide a greatly improved product. A product that does its job very well.

Loaded up with hundreds of presets, samples, loops and effects, it has a nice FM synthesizer, 8 sampler drum kit, multi track sequencer, automation, sampler, and mixer. All utilizing the intuitive touch interface splendidly.

The polyphonic FM (Frequency Modulation) synthesizer has 11 algorithms and wave-morphing oscillators. Full envelope, and LFOs, all with easy multi-effects routing. Creating classic FM type sounds from scratch is a snap. Having this built-in synth is very good for quickly crafting sounds, melodies or sound effects. Use presets or create and save your own.
It’s a good, capable synth, but I wouldn’t say it has infinite sound possibilities. At any rate I’m glad it’s included.

“Nearly all parameters of instruments and effects can be modulated by envelope, LFOs or by real time parameter sequencing.”

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The drum kits can have 8 samples loaded to the 8 pads. Tap out your own beats using those pads, or just touch the sequencer steps you want them in.
The looper/slicer is indeed strong and is excellent for rearranging and redesigning your beats perfectly. Including a clip editor, creating custom loops is fun and simple. Just the way I like it. Beats and sampling made easy.
With over 1600 full loops and individual clips covering a wide variety of styles and sounds to choose from there will be no shortage of options for your sequences; or use your own samples of course.
Everything can be set to play in perfect sync and on the fly. Load the screen with blocks of samples and quickly activate or deactivate what’s playing and when however you like. No interruptions.

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As you can see from the above screen shot, customizing the background can be done. Piece of cake, but I’ve experienced some occasional crashes when using my own custom backgrounds. Going back to the default options resolved the crashes.

NXT offers a sweet list of several effects to use. Each effect is well done and can be modulated, tweaked and adjusted. With little x/y pads for each in the chain for some added convenience.
Usually offering FX in this quantity ends up with mediocre quality. Arguably the same could be said here with some, however they have a purpose and are functionally sound. I don’t think there’s much reason to complain. The variety of FX are very nice to have.

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Collectively all the tools offered in NXT are well done. Sequencing is easy. Sound design, sampling, arranging, mixing etc, it’s all incredible. I could go on and on in detail about the vast amount of pieces that make up NXT, but this would become unreadably long. That said, I encourage you to visit the developer website for all the details to fill in the blanks.

Clearly I like this app. It is however not perfect. It won’t be a hit with everybody. Much of whether or not one may like or dislike NXT has to do with individual workflow and preferences. Its a sequencer not a DAW. While it is intended for use in live performances, there are still a few minor issues that might make that scenario a bit unattractive at the moment. Little things that wouldn’t be too bothersome in the “studio” (where ever that may be) may be very problematic live. One example is when previewing a sample, I’ve had it fail to stop playing. That can really get in the way.
A “UNDO” option would be nice. Despite the recent update I’ve still heard some audio drop outs when leaving the clip editor. Not as much as before though.
The GUI has on rare occasions paused briefly during the switch from one thing to another. Such as from the main front screen to the mixer etc. On the other hand, there has been little to complain about in general.

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Updates have been steady and coming with bug fixes, various improvements, and new features. As is, this is still my favorite sequencer workstation and I think it’s the best new sequencer of 2013.
As time goes on it will only get better.

Where iOS workflow is concerned NXT is well rounded, but not yet complete without current support for Inter-App Audio. It does have integrated AudioCopy/Paste, Audiobus, and MIDI.

Electrify NXT is one ambitious groove box with a lot of power.

*Quotes taken from Ingolf Koch iTunes App Store description