iOS Music Apps

KASPAR – Review

KASPAR is developed by Yonac

Available from iTunes App Store

KASPAR (resisting obvious children’s cartoon references) launches with a fierce dragon logo before quickly revealing the synthesizer and all its glory. It is an immediate impression that perhaps intentionally conveys to the user that they just released a majestic, mythical beast. This is however no myth.

In order to properly control such power a proper cage is needed to house it. What I’m saying is don’t expect to fully enjoy KASPAR on anything older than an iPad Air. The developer has included this warning in the App Store description. Somehow a couple ding dongs still wrote bad reviews because this powerful new synthesizer doesn’t work well on their old iPad 4s. Who’s fault is that? Come on. There is a very fair warning upfront that they ignored. Makes as much sense as complaining to the makers of a gold fish bowl that their product sucks because they can’t fit their pet shark in it. I’ll detail the recommendations a little more at the end of this review.


KASPAR is a massive synthesizer or really 8 synths in one with 4 touch controlled morphing (or Auto) groups. Each synth has 3 oscillators (totaling up to 24) with multiple waveforms. Dedicated filter envelopes, an arpeggiator, chord maker, 6 dedicated mods slots with 20 possible targets, 2 LFOs and more. With a strong morphing capability, loads of high quality sound effects, there doesn’t seem to be any limits to what you can come up with.

The 4 group morphing unit is controlled by touch and KASPAR can record your own custom morphing shapes that you draw. Each of the groups are x and y controls. The morpher allows for deep sound modulation control with an endless pallet of possibilities, shapes and sizes. Reassign synths easily to any group, control the x and y curve speeds and enjoy manually shaping your sound or set to “Auto” and watch it go on and morph whatever mode(6) and loop(4) type you choose.


In KASPAR it’s all bout layering. So of course there is a screen to make general adjustments to each of the 8 synths, volume, pan, and both FX bus levels. Similar to a standard mixer.


Choose from about 300 presets. Better yet, make your own synth patches from a variety of common and several unique waveforms for each of the 3 oscillators. All have pulse width/ timbre controls, and oscillators 2 & 3 also have ring modulation. The overall combined sound can have noise added with a wide tone control, and a glide option. Play polyphonic or mono with legato on or off. Pretty standard stuff. It’s the variety of unique waveforms that can spice things up. There are some interesting shapes to choose from and they can make serious impact on the sound that synth makes.


As you edit each layer of synths you will find a nice selection of independent filters to enable. All have their own unique qualities. The Fat 70’s, Formant and Comb are very cool. Mix and match your favorites or whatever your final patch design needs. They are all excellent. I couldn’t find anything lacking with the filters. I just wish I could copy a filter setting to use in a different synth layer. Come to think of it, that would be nice to have for the oscillators or other parameters as well.


Each synth has its own set of 2 LFOs and an envelope. Each LFO has 7 possible waveforms. On the Mod page (not shown) you can have up to 6 different modifiers for each synth with 20 possible sources. For a single synth having just 6 mods, might seem like it’s not much, but remember we can make up to 8 layers of 6 each. That means there are up to 48 possible mods throughout the layers. It adds up and doesn’t pose any significant limitation.


The 2 FX busses can both have up to 8 effects units selected. The signal flow is easily adjusted by touch, drag and drop. For those not familiar how busses work, it means you are sending a chain of FX to the overall sound, not inserted to each specific synth. However each synth has bus controls to adjust how much of each busses chain of FX are applied to them. It would be interesting to see what it would be like to have independent FX chains, varying units and parameters for each synth someday. I don’t think even the latest iPad Pro could handle that today? That said 2 busses are nothing to shrug off. The FX units are all high end and custom made for KASPAR. There’s plenty of interesting options and combinations.


Being a stand alone synthesizer, KASPAR wouldn’t be complete without its own recorder. It can also be used to play a imported loop along with whatever sound the app is making.

With such an enormous range KASPAR doesn’t just stop here. Each synth also has its own multi mode arpeggiator and chord maker. Program your own chords to a single key in a snap. That’s become more useful than I had thought it would.

Put it all together and you have one colossal or “super synth”. Even my iPad Air 2 performed well with heavy loads of layers, FX, arps, filters and morphs running with the “Best” audio generation quality at 256 buffer through Inter-App Audio in Cubasis. Yonac really did a good job with efficiency here. They also thoughtfully made sure to include full MIDI services, Audiobus, Abelton Link, and AU plug in.

KASPAR sports up to 12 polyphony (tested with 8), a pleasant interface with after touch and velocity controls. A very playable synth that unlocks layered sounds not seen on iOS until now. It is making summer of 2017 one of the best for synth lovers.

As I mentioned near the beginning of this review here are more device recommendations for this super synth. You should have an iPad Air, iPad Pro, iPad Mini 2 or newer. If you must try KASPAR on an older device like an iPad 4 and are willing to take the risk and not blame the developer, you might have decent results if you turn the buffer to 512 and the audio generation quality to its lowest or “Good” setting. Just know that you probably won’t always be able to use all 8 synths, mods, FX, arps etc.

*Tested with iPad Air 2

FACChorus – Review

FACChorus by: Frederic Corvest 

Available in the iTunes 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.  Sadly there’s not any way to save user presets. Nor does it save your last state when the app is closed and reopened. This could be problematic for some users. 

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 UA V3, this may not be much of a problem. However a lot of users have a workflow that depends on their use of IAA or Audiobus, and missing those supports could be a crucial turn off. Even though AU V3 basically works the same way as IAA. 

It’s early still, so it remains possible that more workflow supports or features might be part of future development. 

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

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. 

Update to iOS 7 now?

That’s the big question. As iOS 7 launches with Inter-App Audio in its list of new features, many people making music with their iPad are eager to try out the new feature. Does it work? Is it ready? There appears to be quite a mixed bag of answers. Should I update now?
Several developers commented around the web regarding whether or not you should update and generally are saying; “No, not yet!” A lot of music apps haven’t updated yet.

I don’t have all the answers myself, but my first couple hours with iOS 7 installed on my iPad 4
(still using iOS 6 on my iPad 3 until the dust settles) have been underwhelming to say the least. I guess I assumed incorrectly what is compatible and what isn’t?
The first thing I tried was to launch production versions of Auria and Nave to see if I could start streaming audio to record. Nope. Didn’t work. Then I tried another synth (Sorry I can’t name it. Its a beta, and I am under NDA) and it didn’t work either. Each I had assumed were compatible with iOS 7 IAA. Perhaps just basically compatible but maybe just not yet IAA compatible?
I also tried Addictive Synth (which by the way does work with Auria through Audiobus now) to Auria with no success. I shouldn’t be surprised having not seen an update for a while for Addictive.
OK? Now what? That’s a bit discouraging. I thought the flurry of updates I’ve been getting recently that mention iOS 7 meant also IAA was part of it. Not so.
I continued testing anyway to try and dig through my confusion and figure out what I am missing.
Next I tested Cubasis with the same 3 synths, and only the beta one worked. Well, sort of. Cubasis recorded MIDI from the beta synth, but couldn’t capture plain old audio. Huh?
Nave however is IAA compatible and works with other compatible apps. Just nothing I’ve tried so far.
The problem is less with the apps, and just that a lot was expected at launch. Oops. Testing out my apps confirmed I’m clearly guilty of that myself.
However, the MIDI it did record was clean and sounded fine. However repeating this test resulted in the connection simply failing during the recording, missing most of my input. Hey! I didn’t touch stop! Oh brother, it doesn’t seem like IAA is ready as I had thought. Doh!

Its too early to be sure of anything, but having tried this out a little bit using my primary music apps without success I clearly have confused iOS 7 compatibility updates to mean IAA compatibility, when it doesn’t. I may have set my expectations too high, too early. A bit of a cautionary tale. Lesson learned.
I still want to know what’s going on.
I’ve searched Apples website for instructions or some kind of helpful information about IAA, and found nothing useful. If you can find anything, I’d really appreciate you sharing the link in a comment. What is compatible? What isn’t? Is there a list anywhere? OH THERE IS A LIST!
Thank you Rolf at Tempo Rubato for this link to IAA compatibles

I think the best advice for now is if you are dependent on a single iOS device to make your music, don’t update to iOS 7 just yet. With more questions than there are answers, its probably a good idea to just hang on to iOS 6 until everything settles. Just in case.
If you have a second device, than you might be alright doing as I have by I installing iOS 7 on only one of them. At least then you can see and try it all for yourself, and not be tied down by the early bugs and incompatibilities. Updates will surely come.

Outside of music production iOS 7 is pretty cool. I think. The icons, App Store, and general interface is a nice new visual treat. I love the way shutting down background apps is handled now. Double click home, and everything that’s “on” is visible showing the last screen that was used. Swipe left and right to view the apps currently running in the background. Shut it “off” by flicking the app image upwards. Cool.
It may take a few minutes getting used to the big appearance changes. Icons look very different in many cases. The parallax background is nifty. Its like the eyes are following you.
Menus are different too and some with new options.
Well, anyway this is more about the music making aspect, not a overall review. I’m just saying, the look is generally pleasing.

Its all exciting and heading in the right direction with IAA, but where’s the roadmap? Is anyone else confused?
Lots to be curious about, making the urge to click “Update” hard to resist. Its up to you.
Nothing to be all puffed up and worried about, but use caution. Little is ready yet, and according to the Audiobus guys there are “Bugs”.
Do you want to be lab rat?

As the hours blend into days and go on, I am learning that while iOS 7 launched, has Inter-App Audio capability in the OS, very few music apps have updated with compatibility. I guess not everyone knew it was coming? Nave, & Magellan, being some of the exceptions to offer compatibility with IAA at launch. No major DAWs to host them though. I did (now realized in error) expect the major DAWs to be ready to host. None that are relevant to me are currently able to do so. Not yet. IAA is just not here yet in any meaningful or useful way, as many had expected. Or maybe it was just me. Whatever.

I get that only a little time has past since iOS 7 launched, but that’s not what bothers me. A day to us end users, but months for developers and Apple. It’s the months before end users could see the picture that Apple and developers could, which fails to land a logical blow on me. I mean what were they doing? Why didn’t they have more ready? Those where some of the questions which left me perplexed.
Well, turns out that there were big bugs (now information that devs can discuss with their NDAs lifted) in their way right up until the last couple weeks. Some that are still unresolved. With those bugs still in iOS 7 at launch, it does seem more logical now why barely any music apps are IAA ready.
In that case, considering the circumstances, I just don’t see the update being a great idea right now. Not if you were expecting to use IAA right off the bat with everything.

PS- iOS7 is drastically reducing my battery time. With my normal daily workload and activity prior to updating, I was getting 5-6 hours use. After updating the same workload and activity nets me about 3.5 – 5. Hours.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and or experiences with the new iOS 7 Inter-App Audio in a comment here. Advice, concerns, information and whatever is all welcome.

AUFX:Space – Review

AUFX: Space
A High Quality Reverb From: Kymatica
Available Now From iTunes App Store

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Reverb is one of those FX that is found almost everywhere. It’s used in so many settings. From ambient electronic to heavy metal, reverb is in most any music. It’s not just an effect for music, but also something that occurs naturally in seemingly mundane places. Basements, cathedrals, auditoriums, arenas, and caves to name a few. It is often equated to vast space. Sometimes outer space, which is ironic as sound doesn’t carry in a vacuum. Sure that’s not literal when referring to reverb in terms of space with stars and planets, but it does represent the vastness that reverb can convey.

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So “Space” is a good descriptive word when we are talking about reverb. AUFX: Space, is the latest and the first in a series of effects units being developed by Kymatica. You may know of Kymatica from their other highly useful and quality apps like “AudioShare” “BitWiz” and “Gestrument” among others.
What the rest of the AUFX series turns out to include remains to be seen, but “Space” is a great start. Reverb and iOS have not had a long running record of high quality offerings. “Space” aims to change that going forward. Finally a stand alone high quality reverb app is here.

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AUFX: Space is a high quality 32 bit DSP reverb unit with enough adjustable parameters to shape or mimic countless reverb types superbly.
All the standard reverb parameters plus a few more are built in to Space. Spread, Damping, Pre-Delay, Wet/Dry, Scale, Gain, Room Size, Color, and both LoPass and HiPass resonant filters with Cutoff. Very nearly complete. I say nearly because it’s missing a parameter I’ve been seeking for ages in iOS reverbs; “Swirl” or “Chorus” of sorts. Not like a full-on Chorus effect, which I suspect will be offered later in the AUFX series, but a kind that adds a dimension of movement with the reverberations. Maybe it’ll come, but it’s a lot to ask for since it would add more power demands to an already efficient app. No need to over do it, but it would be nice to see for once.

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The numerous highly adjustable parameters I listed from Space have allowed me to make some fantastic-sounding effects that nothing (Aurias Reverb Plug Ins are the exception) in iOS has allowed before. Space scratches the reverb itch.
Deep, rich, warm, and expansive to short, cold, subtle and every effect in-between sound really nice. Unlike most iOS reverb options, which by comparison to “Space” sound very thin, cheap, and like they’re coming from within tin cans. They have been improving slowly, but this is a significant and targeted advancement. AUFX: Space fills a void (no pun intended) I thought might never be filled. I wish I had this 2 years ago.

FEATURES

Process hardware input/output or other apps through Audiobus (input/filter/output slots supported).
Ready for the future inter-app audio standard.
Fully MIDI controllable, including Virtual MIDI.
Background Audio.
Save and load user presets.
Comes with several bundled presets.
Record the result directly in app.
Email recordings or export to AudioShare audio document manager app.
Access user presets and recordings through iTunes File Sharing.

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Using this app with Audiobus has proven to be problem free so far as I’ve experienced on my iPads 3 and 4. In case “clipping” were to happen there is a thoughtful “limiter” function which can be enabled from the menu. It says it adds 10MS to latency, but I haven’t noticed it. You can also save your concoctions to call up later easily from the menu.

The U.I. is simple and uncluttered making usage effortless. Its just you and Space with nothing distracting. The way it should be. With the ability to record directly, run through all Audiobus slots, and MIDI including virtual MIDI, its ready for any project. Not to mention its already built with iOS 7s “inter-app audio” standard in mind and prepared for when iOS7 releases.
When this releases (could be sometime in July) I would encourage anyone who wants a simple yet sophisticated and excellent reverb option to pick this up.

EDIT: 7-23-2013
I wanted to add that I have been using “Space” with my iRig Mic to capture audio recording directly to the app. It was not only convenient, but really sounded great even through the iRig. Just holding on the recording from the menu brings up a option to quickly move files to AudioShare.
The launch price of $3.99 is a steal! Low price compared to others, but by no means is this cheap. Sure you could go spend $10 $20 or more for other stand alone FX, but you won’t get anything better than this.

It will be very interesting to see what Kymatica offers next in the AUFX apps series. I for one am very eager to find out. At any rate, this is a really great start!