SynthScaper – Review

SynthScaper is developed by iMusicAlbum

SynthScaper can be purchased in iTunes App Store

iOS music has come such a long way since my first cutting edge iPod Touch 3. The technology of the devices and advancements in app development have steadily re-shaped perceptions of how music can be made, serious or not. Sure it was sometimes rough being one of maybe a few small voices trying to take it all seriously, while being scolded for using what many people considered to just be “toys” to make music, but just look at where we are now. Only the most rigid of personalities could still hold a grudge against iOS music production. There have been countless examples of incredible apps come along that discredit the medieval belief that the higher the price tag, or the more expensive a computing device is, the higher the resulting music is regarded. SynthScaper is an example (among others) of innovative app development that should put the “toy” nonsense to bed. If it wasn’t already. 

iMusicAlbums SynthScaper is a mighty sound sculpting toolbox of seemingly endless synthesizing possibilities. This synthesizer was designed for making a huge range of experimental, melodic, and ambient sounds, but not limited to just that. It has whatever you need for nearly any musical project whether it’s something like a simple lead to a morphing sound scape of diverse and complex nuances. 

The first screen seen when opening SynthScaper reveals a keyboard, buttons leading to all of its tools and options and a touch control area for each of the 3 scenes currently installed. Moving the three scenes relate to the spacial relationships of their sounds. The keyboard is highly flexible with a number of options to select that compliment any play style or need. It can be set to behave like a normal piano, or seamlessly glide through the keys, or hold the starting note on first touch position while stretching either direction on the board. A full compliment of scales are available and customization is open to your wants. The keyboard can also be set to take over the whole screen making for a very large playing surface. It can also be split. 

The three independent oscillators can be set to use any of the included waveform options and three layers for each that you can assign preset samples or your own samples and with up to 6 voices each. Of course oscillators have their own multi-routing sources for as many as 6 LFOs, & Envelopes. The variety of options and incredibly detailed controls that are available can inspire your wildest imagination of sounds being brought to life. Go ahead and be anal retentive with your assignments and detail exactly how fast, slow, delayed, loud, panned, or whatever. It is all there. 

As well as highly detailed customized oscillators and layers, the available filters and effects are just as plentiful and controllable. Each oscillator can have up to three different units chained and routed further to two more envelope or LFO mods. With the ensemble of filters, delays, flangers and chorus available, things can get pretty crazy. Mostly just damn fun though. 

What I found very pleasing (other than the great audio quality and sound designing paths) is the way everything is layed out. It’s very intuitive. It all for the most part flows in a way that felt very comfortable to me. I would think just about anybody can figure it out. However for the really deep audio sound designs, at least a basic understanding of synthesizers and how they work might be needed to get the most out of SynthScaper. It can get complicated with the many routing options and then the even deeper options under them. Keeping track of every little thing can get confusing for the uninitiated. With some time experimenting and finding pleasant mistakes along the way, the journey is worth every minute spent. 

To make matters even more complex with your scenes, there are also multiple arpeggiators. One for each oscillator. Basic arps, but don’t underestimate them. The qualities added can be incredible. 

In the interest of making a long story shorter I would suggest visiting the iMusicAlbum website to find out more about all that’s under the hood of SynthScaper. There you will find tutorials, demos, videos etc. I could go on and on about everything this fantastic synth has to offer. 

To sum it up, SynthScaper is a jaw dropping, innovative effort by a developer who clearly understands what people didn’t even know they needed. It fits in any** iOS workflow. Full Audiobus (state saving) , Inter-App Audio and midi support. Dropbox, Audio Copy Paste, and web access for transporting user samples are supported. With excellent audio quality, intricate and intuitive yet highly complex audio designing options, and a very stable engine I highly recommend this to anybody who likes synths. I  believe that this is especially useful to ambient artists, who may discover that this just the sort of thing they’ve always wanted. I did. 

*Tested and used with iPad Air 2 iOS 10.3.3

** Audiobus 3 and Abelton Link are confirmed for next SynthScaper update. 

FACChorus – Review

FACChorus by: Frederic Corvest 

Available in the iTunes App Store and the Mac App Store

FACChorus (Fred Anton Corvest) is a stand alone, versatile Chorus effects app designed to emulate classic physical modules of day’s past. Not unlike the analog Roland Juno Chorus effects (and others) from decades ago. 

FACChorus sports a simple and clean interface resembling a rack mount style with realistic, responsive knobs. The no fuss look may seem a bit dated to some, but fits right in all the same. It mirrors the actual signal path from left to right (input to output) making it quite intuitive. Not that there could really be much to confuse anyone, anyway. Plus, who cares about looks when what really matters it how it sounds.

So how does it sound? Well, it sounds really good, even through an iPads built in mic. Of course better with a plug in mic, USB or in a AU (Audio Unit) setting.  This Chorus unit has a wide range of possible effects from clean and subtle to clinically insane. Most iOS synths and iDAWs have a built in Chorus but lack any real versatility and often even with the most subtle settings, sound overly wobbly. FACChorus can be manipulated to suit any need for vocals, guitars, and of course iOS instruments. Lush, rich and wide. Spacey or water logged, FACChorus gets you there. 

The properly named presets offer a nice range of ready to go effect parameters suitable for most situations. There is now the ability to save custom presets added. 

While this great sounding effects unit supports Audio Unit V3, it does not support Inter-App Audio or Audiobus. Considering that most iDAWs (like Cubasis and GarageBand Mobile) support Au V3, it’s hardly any real concern. Au V3 basically works the same as IAA. 

It’s early still, and it’s already progressing thanks to a dedicated developer. 

That all said, for three bucks you get an incredible sounding Chorus unit that would’ve cost far more in the physical world. 

Keep an eye out for an OSX version that works very nicely with Logic Pro X, and GarageBand for Macs. 

Mood – How to Analog Right

Mood is developed by apeSoft

Available in iTunes App Store

apeSoft continues their offerings of reimagined classics ( i.e. iVCS 3) with Mood. A “personal interpretation” of the Analog Synthesizer by Eugenio Giordani. As apeSoft fans would expect, Mood is a faithful sonic reproduction with several modern additions that make it more than just another virtual analog synth. 

More than just another 3 oscillator VA Synth, ( is there an echo in here?) Mood comes packed with loads of user customizable widgets and supports, like an easy to use sampler, audio unit v3, full midi, Inter-App Audio, Audiobus 3, and so much more. 

This mono or up to 16 voice polyphonic synth does deliver quality at all levels of design and sonic exploration.  With the built in sampler you’ll have many more avenues of sound designing to explore. Dig in to micro details by assigning various widgets to nearly any parameter by a double tap on the knob. I’ve been up very late obsessively tweeking many different things. 

As shown above the aforementioned double tap on a parameters knob brings up the widgets screen to make those specific adjustments. It can get a bit tedious for those not interested in audio designing, but for those who are, it is very welcome. These should look familiar to anybody who has used any other apeSoft offering.  The widgets bring audio designers a mass of possibilities that can lead to some extreme detail in their sound creations. 

With the sampler you are open to many more options in possible sound designs. This is another example of how Mood separates itself from the usual or hum drum typicality of common VA synths. Import samples or record new ones from the environment or people around you. Mix and match with the FM or Wave unit, various effects, sub oscillator sounds, filters or LFOs etc. There’s not much limiting your imagination being brought to audible life. 

Although not shown in this review, there is a full service arp available. It’s accessed a little awkwardly by turning the XLFO wave knob to the lowest right hand wave form. I’m sure there’s a good reason for this, but it struck me as a bit oddly placed. Nevertheless, it is there. It’s possible I’ve had a major lapse of understanding from one too many late nights micro managing some sound I was working on. 

Moods effects are top notch. The Reverb unit has a vintage or distinctly different modern settings option and sounds very clean. That is until the powerful and grungy Distortion unit is enabled. There’s an excellent Ring Modulator for adding some unique tonal qualities. Of course a very nice Delay effects as well. 

I should mention the filters. The well designed Moog-like filters are as good as any can get for iOS. Personally I think they may be the best so far, but that’s just me. 

Overall Mood is not your ordinary virtual analog synth trying to be a perfect copy of a classic. It’s a loaded baked potato with double the flavor and satisfaction. Is it perfect? Maybe not, but what is? It’s about as perfect as I think it can be minus a few minor UI issues. Its very stable (using iPad Air 2 for this review) and with a quick buffer, it’s largely lag-free. Except for maybe a loaded 16 voice sound with heavy Reverb,  running through audiobus to a DAW with an effects unit in the chain, this synth rarely causes any grumbles or crashes. It’s hard to find any reason to no recommend Mood highly. 

Derek Buddemeyer’s Drum Session – Updated Review

Developed by blue mangoo

Available in the iTunes App Store

Derek Buddemeyer’s Drum Session is a simple, quick and great sounding way to create and edit acoustic drum tracks. 

Packed with 30 sets of acoustic drum samples, and 3600 editable patterns and loops in a very simple interface. The key word here is “acoustic”. This is not a drum machine with artificial or synthetic sounds. No 808 or the likes. This is all about real live drums from the real world. 

Drum Session uses a familiar touch, drag and drop workflow. First you select the Kit, next select the Genre, then select the Groove, and finally the pattern. Touch, hold and drag the pattern (seen in above screenshot) up to the timeline and let go. Bang! You’re getting a track started. Select other patterns and repeat, or hold the desired pattern in the timeline at its end and drag to copy further down the timeline. So easy it’s hard. I mean that it wasn’t intuitive to me right away. That’s my fault for expecting something more complicated. I’ll explain further after this next screen shot.

I spent so much time (needlessly I might add) trying to find the pattern editor button. Where the hell is it? Why can’t I edit in a sequencer style with a piano roll that I’m used to? 

After several hours of insanity I realized finally how disconnected my brain was from the true beauty of Drum Sessions work flow. Instead of dragging the pattern upward to the timeline and cursing in vain for not being able to find the “button”, I was embarrassed to find that the same is accomplished by simply dragging downward to the keys or pads. When I let go, viola. Bingo. See now below.

Holy crap I must’ve inhaled one too many tubes of modeling glue. There it is! The editor. Just how I like it. 

So with that settled I could finally start using this childproof app to its full potential. Editing patterns is pretty straightforward as you can see from the above screen shot. One thing I didn’t like was how dim the sample labels to the far left (brought up to temporary view by touching any of the keys on the further left keyboard) are. Lots of squinting and retouching the keys to bring them back into view for indentifying each samples position. Hey Derek? Could you maybe brighten or increase the contrast or something please? Whatever you decide as long as it’s easier to see would be awesome! 

Full support for Audiocopy, Audiobus, Inter-App Audio. Record, import export etc. Nothing is missing. 

So that’s where I’ll leave this review. Drum Session is a very nice acoustic drum track maker with all the necessary editing parameters. No strange FX or anything, and honestly none are necessary anyway. The samples are high quality and the overall usability is as well. For a non-drummer type like me, this is a very welcome and thoughtfully developed app. I really like this. I think you will too. 

Nice work Derek! 

UPDATED:Feb 5 2017

Any gripes I had have been corrected or corrected improved.  Everything’s come together real nice. Much easier to see things and an already excellent app has become even better.

Addictive Pro – Synth of the year?

Addictive Pro Developd by VirSyn

Available in iTunes App Store

It’s hard to not “squee” like a fanboy whenever I see something new from VirSyn. They just don’t disappoint with their high quality, user friendly, powerful and affordable products. Addictive Pro (not to be confused with the awesome Addictive Synth) is yet another outstanding offering from this top tier developer. 

Addictive Pro is a ‘hybrid synthesis algorithm’ based instrument with wavetable spectrum synthesis of up to 12 oscillators, with a virtual analog, noise spectrum, FM and ring modulator synthesis engine.  Further refinement of the sound is had with its well emulated classic analog filtering. A mouth full, I know and we are just getting started. 

Part of what makes this so great is the familiar or intuitive user interface. Start out easy with the ‘easy control’ to begin your trip. Two large customizable X/Y touch controllers dominate this first screen separated by the 4 major randomizable control sections; Wave, Mod, Arp, & FX. Tap the dice for one or all and receive something new and likely unusual. This will get you started very fast with no fuss. It’s also pretty entertaining to roll the dice. If you don’t like what you get, tap the parameter die again for a new roll. Repeat as necessary. Don’t give up too quickly though, you just might end up with something unexpected if you take some time to dig down and start tweaking specific pieces. Explore and you will be rewarded.

When you start to dig in you will likely start with checking out the tabs to the right of ‘easy control’. Here on the wave a, wave b, spectrum a, or spectrum b tabs you will find some real meat to bite into. Draw on the wave or spectrum to make broad or fine adjustments. Change the harmonic content from a wide selection of presets. Select the base set of harmonic partials. Set and configure oscillators. Or hit the randomizer again to roll the dice for something new. Need help? All screens have a “?”(Help) to tap that (as shown in above screen shot) will briefly describe each parameters behavior. More detailed instructions can be found at the developer website, linked at the top of this review. 

Each parameter field has some form of a menu to open. As shown above, touch the “Configuration” box to bring up the options for that parameter. Wave a, and b can be wildly different and further mapped out sonic realms can be explored and designed in great detail. The Stereo Width and Fatten are two nice parameters that should not be ignored. The ‘shadow oscillators’ and stereo impact can be manipulated for a delicate or brash effect. 

The virtual keyboard is pretty standard with programmable key and scales. Aftertouch controls can be assigned and routed. Adjust keyboard size, lock it etc. I think little need be explained here? Pretty standard stuff. 

The Mod section is where things get fun. 9 banks of modulation options with general base value controls and further detailed controls are revealed when touched and selected. Assign, route and edit values for modulation. LFOs have 6 wave form options, phase and delay rates. ADSR, Analog Filters and more can be found for a powerful set of modulation tools. 

I just wanted to show the Mod section without the “?” Help turned on. 

The Arp section has the usual and excellent VirSyn arpeggiator but with a added twist in Addictive Pro. It’s a 4 part polyrhythmic arpeggiator. This is very cool. Basically a 32 step sequencer with 4 separate parts, or ‘tracks’. This is a special feature in my opinion, for any synth. This is an amazing way to create grooves and melodies with intricacies not commonly provided. Each part can have a different clock or pitch with a step offset to make rich sequences. Individual run switches that when selected are always in time. Each part also has its own “Quick Edit” set of parameters to customize the sound. It’s really a remarkable feature with huge possibilities to explore. Plus you can record right here in the app. 

Most synths have FX of mediocre quality. VirSyn doesn’t skimp on the FX like other do. Each of the 7 FX banks sound very good. You won’t get a better reverb unit that is built in to another synth. When VirSyn says “Hi End Reverberation”, they aren’t over selling. It really is hi end. Not quite as hi maybe as a stand alone dedicated reverb app, but still very nice. All of the FX units are well done, and don’t sound like last minute cheap add ons. 

To sum it up, Addictive Pro is a highly capable, powerful synthesizer packed with all of the tools and parameters you need to make just about any type of sound. A sophisticated hybrid, wavetable oscilator synth that is stable and complete. Supports Core MIDI, Inter-App Audio, Audiobus 2, Abelton Link and more.  If there’s only one iOS synth to buy so far this year, it’s Addictive Pro. Short of a remarkable new release from another developer I’d call this the Synth of the year!