music apps

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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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. 

Master FX – Review

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Master FX App is made by iMusicAlbum
Available in iTunes App Store

iMusicAlbum has recently been offering quality audio processing options for iOS music production that are highly convenient for many uses.
Their latest is this live audio multi-effects app for external sources such as vocals, instruments etc. Additionally it can be used in the Audiobus effect and output slots, making this a very versatile app.
Primarily Master FX is intended for use with guitars, vocals, or any other instruments that can be adapted to your device where the app will process desired effects. Recording can be done within the app itself as well as your favorite iDAW.
Sadly, at least at the moment I am writing this, Master FX does not support inter-app audio. This means if you use Audiobus to facilitate recordings of external instrumentation that you are only able to record 16 bit audio. Otherwise apart from that this can record at 24 bits. For electronic music 16 bits is just fine, but for live vocals or guitars it is less desirable.

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Master FX comes with 7 effects modules and limiter at the main output. 6 effects can be run simultaneously.
The built in effects are: Chorus, Reverb, Delay, Compressor, Flanger, Pitch, and a 3 band Parametric EQ.
The order of each module can be customized to fit whatever preferences you may have for the signal order. Furthermore, two assignable pad banks (6 each, A&B) can accommodate your presets for quick FX switching via the “Live” tab.
Add to that independent “left/right” channel recording to capture a guitar and vocals at the same time.

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The effects are not simply just wet/dry sliders, but actual independent modules. This means by selecting the module tab the corresponding effect unit opens up full screen to present you with all of its adjustable parameters.
They are still not exactly “specialized” effects such as what you would find in a stand alone effects app (like Audio Reverb, EchoPad etc) but they are each quite good in their own right. For live situations they are especially handy being all in one app, on one screen.

Several carefully crafted presets are included for certain and specific scenarios or instruments in mind. You can also create and save your own preset banks.

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Recording can be done directly to Master FX, and files are easily managed. If you’ve used any of iMusicAlbum’s other apps like the excellent “AudioMastering” app, you will feel right at home with the same style of file manager. Not to mention the whole design of Master FX is also designed with the same uniform interface as this developer’s other audio apps.

For a full list of specs, video tutorials, and app details please visit iMusicAlbum

Managing files in the app is one thing but moving files around needs to be easy too. Anybody familiar with iOS Music production knows that moving files around between our various other apps or cloud services is a must. No problem. Master FX has the bases covered with Dropbox, AudioCopy/Paste, iTunes Playlist & File Share, “Open In” and WiFi tools for importing and exporting with ease.

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I’ve been testing Master FX mostly as it’s intended, by recording and processing audio captured with my iRigMic. I found no issues or problems at all. Even though iRigMic is mono, Master FX, with the right selection of modules and signal path set, did a great job of giving my recordings body and fullness that resembled a stereo recording with no discernible difference.
I am impressed.
I also tried it as an “Effect” slot in Audiobus and had just as good of an experience.

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For an all in one multi FX app, Master FX does a fine job in each of its possible situational applications.
Stable, easy to use and understand it should make for a top choice.
My only gripe is that it doesn’t currently support inter-app audio, and the Reverb and Chorus could be a little bit better. Nothing bad, they are decent, I just feel they are not this app’s strong point.
This is more of a “student of many” rather than a master of anything in particular. If you’re looking for a particular, highly specialized effect type this probably shouldn’t be the first choice. However if you want a collection of good effects to use simultaneously and packaged neatly in one app for live uses with real world instruments or vocals, then this is a list topper. Check out the tutorial on iMusicAlbum’s website (linked midway and top) for the two channel recording. Many of you should find it particularly interesting.

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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