must have

PPG Infinite – Review

Developed by Wolfgang Palm

Available in iTunes App Store

Wolfgang Palm changed the world of synthesizers with the development of wavetable synthesis in the 1970s. Since then he has been responsible for numerous innovations, contributing greatly to the world of synths. Recently he brought his inventions to iOS with a collection PPG apps that have given inspiration and previously unavailable options to many artists, myself included. PPG Infinite goes in a direction that offers massive freedom with intricate sound designing, taking notes from nature by manipulating harmonic and inharmonic frequencies not found in typical synthesizers. 


For about three weeks I have explored and experimented with Infinite, and each time discovered new tonal realms. You might think by looking at the GUI that there’s not much to it. You’d be very wrong. It is simply laid out in a way that shouldn’t intimidate, but also has countless doors to open; leading to more doors and so on. Before you know it you’re reading the various “Help” articles, learning new ways to make something interesting. Just about any sound is possible. Any complaints I’ve seen have essentially been because of operator error or plain old laziness. 

What makes PPG Infinite so special is its ultra deep editing and morphing options. I don’t want to get all “tutorial” about it but to put it simply you can edit individual wave partials by the hundreds. This can lead to many different tones coming and going with their independent frequencies and envelopes while holding one key. A truly infinite audio adventure. Maybe it starts out as a stab that fades out as a drone comes in, then soon after a melody starts repeating with background ambience of any number of various sweeps or random chimes clinking about. You could rather easily have a single patch that sounds like multitrack recordings.


It’s all in how much the user chooses to spend their time in the many mod routing and parameter adjustments as they behave with the noise, morpher, and spectral filtering molders. The two Sine editors have different impacts on the sounds. Sine 1 is where you can create and edit your Sine values as they track in the waveform. Sine 2 is where the structure of the sine 1 volume or amplitudes for each partial is adjusted. All with a detailed wave graphic showing you what’s happening to your sound in real time. Additionally there is a Random panel that allows you to make changes to each sinusoids 6 parameters changing their intensity etc. Hit the “Go” button after making some adjustments and that new overtone variation is set. Adjust and repeat while being careful to save the changes. The in app “Help” does a far better job of explaining how each of these work. I recommend reading as many of these articles as you can. 


With so many editable pieces it’s not hard to get lost. Fortunately you can always revert to the original saved version of your patch and compare it to your new edits with the A B button. There is also parameter copy and paste which will become very useful, especially when you want certain partials to have the same behaviors. 

PPG Infinite’s deep mod matrix, 4 LFOs with 4 common waveforms, envelopes, filtering, morphing, molding and all the highly detailed overtone editing can have a nice delay, reverb or distortion effects added. Want more? You can also import wavetables from PPG WaveTable, and WaveMapper or phonic utterances from PPG Phonem to the Molder to expand even further upon the already massive library of included sound sources. I might add that the Molder being so versatile does make for some seriously wild filtering type effects depending on what source is selected. It’s another incredibly powerful unit that shouldn’t be overlooked.


There’s so much good stuff in PPG Infinite that I can’t cover it all. It’s no lightweight. Be patient and if you think something doesn’t work or can’t be done, take the time to read up on the in app “Help” articles or try contacting support. It can seem a bit complicated at first for some people, but in all likelihood there is a way to do what you want. 

My only complaints are a little minor. First is that the mod matrix is tiny. If there is a way to blow it up, I can’t find it-please correct me if I’m wrong. 

My other complaint is that I’ve experienced some crashes on my freshly restarted iPad Air 2 and no background apps. That is likely something that will be corrected in the near future, and I wouldn’t consider it a deal breaker since this is a very new app. Lastly, (another thing that’s hardly a deal breaker and has no impact on my overall enjoyment and satisfaction) I’ve never been a fan of how PPG’s preset managers are laid out. Other than that PPG Infinite is a marvel. It’s so nice to see something that isn’t another classic hardware reproduction. Infinite brings something new and powerful to this summer’s table of great new synthesizers for iOS.  Don’t miss this one. 

*supports MIDI, Audiobus 2, Inter-App Audio, and AU extensions with multiple instances.

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Oscilab – Review Updated 9-10-14

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Oscilab is created by 2Beat
Available the iTunes App Store

Oscilab has been on the radar of anticipated new music apps and now finally hits the App Store.
It is a unique wave sequencer where by touch, drag, and sweeps will determine much of the music making experience.

Right off the bat I was feeling great and very happy with how it operates even if it was a little unusual. Didn’t take long to get comfortable with this at all.

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28 wave shapers, 6 channel mixing, FX and great on the fly live sound manipulation for each channel independently via X/Y pads and some pretty nice synthesis and drum options are some of the many features. Everything is easy to find and access. Great interface. I likey!

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Exploring this unique and fun new sequencer has been nothing short of fun.
I really like how easily they made this for doing live tweaks to the sounds. With scenes that can wait until the current one has played out before the next seamlessly enters the flow, and instantly changing a sequence without any drop outs is sweet.

Shaping the sounds wether they are loaded samples or your own synth designs at a whim rocks.
The FX are pretty simple if not a bit bland, but no problem just run Oscilab through Audiobus or IAA and use your other FX apps to…. To…to… Hang on?

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Wait a second? Where’s the Audiobus or Inter-App Audio support?
I assumed it was available, but where?
No…no…..no…..NO!
Just AudioCopy, “Open In” and SoundCloud for sharing….WTF? This isn’t 2009.
Did this cool, fun, impressive app really just get released without the most basic and expected supports for inter app connectivity?
It can’t be? Not again…… Geeeez! How frustrating.

This isn’t happening, is it? Well, I guess so, never mind.
I don’t mean to be harsh, this is a cool new app, but come on. Call me when it can actually be integrated in the most common workflows we actually use these days. Then I’ll finish the review. Until then this ones on hold.

UPDATE

Since I initially wrote this half review Oscilab has seen significant updates with great improvements. I’ll try to be brief and to the point.
Now with Audiobus support and Inter-App Audio, improved midi functionality, and other nice tweaks Oscilab is my new favorite goto sequencer.
I love how simple it is to use. It makes a
To of sense and doesn’t try too hard to be different.

Highly recommended!

Four Of The Best New Music Apps From Q1 2014

It is subjective for sure when anyone proclaims anything to be “the best” in any category. I’ve given this much thought and sincerely feel the following new “must have” music apps released in this first quarter of 2014 are: Sector, microTERA, iVCS3, and Sliver.
In a way this is also a group review in addition to praise.

Let’s start with microTERA by VirSyn

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VirSyn has always offered excellent synth apps. microTERA is yet another to get excited about. In case you don’t already know, wave shaping synthesis is a distortion synth style with finely detailed spectra; bringing a sort of controlled chaos.
This wave shaping synth is not unlike Cakewalks Z3TA. However in my opinion, this one has a better interface and also a superior arpeggiator. Sound designing is very strong with its 3 adjustable sine oscillators, 4 LFOs, 4 (EG) Envelope Generators each with 64 time/level segments, 16 voice polyphony and of course monophonic. Exceptional modulation customization with all relevant routing possibilities.
Also included is the 32 step programmable arpeggiator found in VirSyns other iOS synths.

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This synth also has a collection of outstanding built in FX.
The range of sound types that can be created are as wide as one should expect. The results are often even better and if you’re in a rush or whatever and just want something random just touch the dice until you hear something you like.
It doesn’t have any significant weaknesses and performs well with Audiobus, and IAA.

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Whether you prefer heavily distorted leads that bash through your ears or silky smooth pads that exude living personalities, microTERA does it.
Just another remarkable synth offering from VirSyn.

Next up is Sliver by Alex Matheu

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Here we have a soundscape maker with four by four real time, resizable clip based segments that, depending on your preferences, alter the imported audio. Or the preset audio samples as well.
Each of these 8 total segments or “Slivers” can be automated and placed however you wish.

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The filters, size, and FX are each controlled with independent X/Y boxes.
Since everything can be automated in real time Sliver offers some amazing fluid control of the textures. Scrub out new soundscapes with truly expressive results.
It’s basically a hyper creative playground for creating unique new instruments which you can also play out with the built in keyboard.
Sliver is endlessly fun and inspiring.

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Shatter up some new sounds with Sliver. Sample and resample. Record, copy, paste, and send to AudioShare. Sliver supports MIDI and Audiobus input.
I can easily see this innovative app being used to live trip-out all within earshot. Bravo!

3rd up, (and this is not in any significant order by the way) is iVCS3 by apeSoft

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apeSoft, makers of the incredible iDensity, iPulsaret and more, has gone and done something special with iVCS3. This is an emulation of the old hardware arguably made famous by Pink Floyd back in the 70s. This tops my “Holy S#@!” list of cool things.
This machine was largely responsible for the wild sounds and eerie textures heard in Dark Side Of The Moon. It was also seen in Pink Floyd’s movie/video “Live At Pompeii” where Roger Waters was exploring this thing’s sonic capabilities.

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iVCS3 was created in 1969 and is considered the first portable synth. Largely used as a sound FX generator (Dr.Who fans know this) without a keyboard, it was later expanded with a (KS) sequencer and (DK1) keyboard connectivity.
This modular synth is gorgeously recreated and emulated perfectly. That may just be my opinion since I’ve never touched a real one, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it anyway.

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This soft version is complete with not only all the original capabilities, but also loads of new modern uses for us to enjoy on our iPads; unlike anything Roger Daltrey could have imagined back in the day. Built-in dual samplers, MIDI, full Audiobus and IAA support, background audio, Dropbox, really just a huge list of features.
This even has 6 different reverb types including a spring convolution reverb, Quadratic Ring Modulation, delay, and noise generator. The features and specs go on and on.

All (or almost all) parameters are fully customizable right down to the color of the knobs.
The same old-time twist and plug routing exists such as the Trapezoid envelope controlled by a virtual joystick, and the modulation matrix with BattleShip-style pin placements instead of cables. So much to see, do, and hear with iVCS3!

It can be a little confusing at times, but there is a full instruction manual included within the app to guide you on your journey. A spectacular “Must Have”!

Last, but not least is Sector by Kymatica

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Kymatica is another one of my personal developer favorites. You can always count on something innovative coming from this guy. We all know and love his AudioShare app and AUFX series, and now “Sector”!

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Sector is a 32 bit sound engine, Stochastic, sample, slice, sequencer with markov-chain connections.
A 32 step sequencer with adjustable routing and wild probability sample, and slice order or chaos.
Creating glitches, and bizarre time warped sequences in Sector is crazy cool and fun.

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It’s not all just about flipping a coin to see what happens, there is also full standard sequencing control as well. Just tap and map out whatever sounds right to you. Countless musical possibilities abound.
It never gets old.
I think the sporadic randomness is the best part, but all together Sector is a mind-blowing new app that defines innovation.

Sector will have a built-in recorder soon, and of course you can bring your own samples in via the Open In function from other apps like AudioShare. Support for Audiobus and IAA are currently available now, with more MIDI connectivity coming soon.
Awesome!

To wrap this up, you may have noticed a slight trend with these apps. If not that’s ok. I see each if these as being a great representation for the innovative nature of their development.
We have loads of common emulations and even new things that, as great as they are, don’t really push things very far from what most think of as being conventional. iOS music is not just an interesting way to explore making music and having fun doing so. It is an opportunity unlike no other to find ways of being extra creative with the apps that can be made, where they otherwise can’t be.

If you want some new music apps that offer you huge musical inspiration, fun, and a different creative experience, then these are 4 of the newest and best. There are of course others, and there will be more. Check them out. Support great development.

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

Best Music Apps Of 2013

Each year innovation is pushed to new heights for new iOS music apps. Some years and some apps more than others.
2013 has been a strange year to me, in many ways personally, but also in regards to what I’ve seen in music app development.
Not bad or anything, but it felt incomplete to me. Maybe?
It seemed like this year had been a little weak. Maybe not?
Could be simply that some things just didn’t get finished in time? Well, I am familiar with that having delayed my own work a few times to the point where my album “Chapters” can’t be released until a few weeks into 2014. I get it, stuff happens.

The thing I think was most glaringly missing in the iOS music app world was not one new, innovative iDAW. I sincerely expected to see something new this past year. Nope. Well, yes there were a couple new iDAWs released but sadly none were even close to being half as good as what already exists. Nothing that was breaking any new ground, or offering any new options. Total lack of innovation in this category for 2013.

There is no shortage of excellent iDAWs to choose from, just nothing new worth celebrating.

We did see some huge changes in how we can make music. Inter-App Audio arrived with iOS 7 (and a few bugs) and took the way we record and connect our music apps to a new level. Much remains to be seen, but it’s definitely headed in the right direction. At least we can now record at industry standards with IAA supporting 32 bit floating point, depth. This won’t matter much to a lot of people, and for many reasons. It does matter to me, but the reasons for that go way off topic. Let’s just leave it at that. Cool?

So it hasn’t been a silent year, or a disappointing year. Just a bit odd.
Nevertheless, several innovative, excellent, and exciting new music apps did arrive in 2013.
That all said, the following is my take on the best new music apps released in 2013.

iDAW
I think I covered this topic, there were none to speak of.

Best Drums

“STIX Electronic Drum Synthesizer” by, Alexander Smith.
This category is always thin compared to the rest. For me this was the most interesting and innovative.

Best Sequencer

>”Electrify NXT by Ingolf Koch

This fell into my hands a bit late. The original Electrify was an app I bought a long time ago (relatively speaking) but never bonded to. Electrify NXT is a whole new thing. Despite some reports of continued stability issues, I still choose Electrify NXT as best in the category. This app has a lot of good things going for it. Sequencing, sampling, looping, and a built in FM synthesizer. Loaded with effects, factory loops, and everything you need to mangle it all up. Electrify NXT is loaded with features and functionality. Compared to the other candidates in the “Sequencing” category, Electrify NXT is most useable as is. Not to mention it’s far more intuitive and easily understood.

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Best Audio Tools

Audio Mastering App by, iMusic Album

Auria may have the best mastering plugins and automation to make the job very detailed, but you’d have to spend an arm and leg to get them. This app has an excellent set of tools to master your final mix, including multi frequency stereo imaging. This is a budget mastering option, but it doesn’t sound like it. I find myself using it most of the time. It just needs automation.

Best Sound Effects

“Swoopster” by Holderness Media

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Here we have a fun and trippy flanger/fuzz effects stand alone app. Independent channels, or linked, fuzzy, or flanged, or throw it all on the mix, Swoopster delivers.

Best Synthesizer
It’s a tie! “Nave” by Waldorf Music and “CubeSynth” by VirSyn

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It’s been a great year for iOS Synthesizers. Choosing a single “best” synth was giving me indigestion. So I choose the two I find myself going to constantly and could not live without.
“Nave”
A super strong entry in the growing wave table synthesis category, developed by Waldorf and Tempo Rubato. Create, and tweak your own wave tables from recordings and even a nifty text to talk feature. Hefty routing options and extremely versatile make Nave one massive synth.

AND

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“CubeSynth”
VirSyn took additive synthesis and sound morphing to a new level. Extremely detailed parameter controls, tons of powerful sound designing tools, and oodles of interesting and endless combinations make the Cube one of the greatest iOS synths ever. Very underrated I think because so much of its power is not made obvious, but it’s all in there.

Most Needed App

“AudioReverb” by VirSyn
Why is a reverb app most needed? Well, it is my opinion that reverb has been a weakness in iOS music for too long. Sure Auria has a few excellent choices, even a fantastic Convolution Reverb, but what about non Auria users? Nothing? 2013 was the first year we had a few excellent reverb stand alone apps show up. VirSyn delivered the most impressive sounding of the bunch. It uses a remarkable algorithmic reverb with the high quality impulse response (real reverberations) recordings to combine for a very natural sounding effect. It doesn’t sound like an effect laying on top of something artificially. It sounds like a natural part of the music. That is something iOS music has been missing for a long time. No more suffering with “FreeVerb” or other cheap algorithmic knock offs. A quality option is here.

Instrument Emulation

“Galileo” by Yonac Inc
I may not be the biggest fan of organs, or even really have a complete understanding of them but I know when something just sounds great. Yonac Inc crafted this organ for iOS to have a sound that is emulated perfectly. They took an old time instrument and added modern extras, FX, and tools to make this the most impressive organ emulation I’ve ever heard. Some friends of mine who are organ aficionados schooled me on the topic, and insisted I not leave this one out. I wouldn’t have, but thanks anyway guys.

iOS Music App Of 2013

AudioMastering App, by iMusic Album

WHAT? Really? Yes! You can have some of the most amazing synths, drum machines or whatever’s, but if you intend to complete, polish, and make your production sound it’s best, you must have a way to master it all. Speaking as an iOS music production purest, it is my opinion and perspective that without a quality set of tools to master all that music from all those amazing apps, you’re just playing around. Not counting those who master on their computers. That doesn’t count.
The Audio Mastering App has a 10 band EQ, Harmonic Saturator, 3 band Stereo Imaging, and a Loudness Maximizer with adjustable ceiling. Up to 24 bit processing, dithering, multiple file conversion options and more. This is an affordable, and quality tool.
It just needs automation so adjustments can be made in real time.

Honorable Mention

WOW Filterbox by SurgarBytes

AUFX:Dub by Kymatica

Thor Polysonic Synthesizer by Propellerhead Software

iSEM by Arturia

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That wraps it up. I’m sure not everyone will agree with my “Best Of 2013” choices, and that’s OK. I considered many factors that are most important to me and that I think relate best to the iOS music production purest.

As always, I am looking forward to the things to come in 2014! My biggest hope is to see a big time iDAW that does a good job of delivering the most complete, under (but not limited to) one roof production environment.

LATE ADDITION

Best Potential

“Stroke Machine” by Wolfram Franke

This colorful new sequencer arrived in the nick of time. There weren’t a lot of new or innovative sequencers in 2013. It’s a surprisingly capable new sequencer. It looks like a toy, but it’s not. This is a very effective sequencer with bright future. There were some early hiccups, bugs and whatnot. Mr. Franke did a great job cleaning things up and released an update with loads of fixes and improvements. That’s encouraging. However, not enough yet as it is still lacking certain things, and suffering from some anti-intuitive procedures. Additionally as I dig in further this app is frustrating me to no end. Notably there are problems with sound selection, samples, and pattern or kit changing.
Look out for my review where I’ll go into detail on the good, bad, and frustrating in the Janurary issue of “Apptronica”.

NOTE: I had spent a lot of time with Stroke Machine prior to writing this and chose it for the “Best Sequencer”, but I was wrong on some crucial points I overlooked. Now that I’m really digging into this app as I write my review for Apptronica, I’m finding that there were big problems with this app , I had completely missed. Completely!
A reader brought to my attention some serious flaws. Initially I dismissed his complaints and thought everything was fine. Nope. I was wrong. So Mark, wherever you are, sorry about that. I also thank you for not just letting it go.

Stroke Machine is still something special and potentially huge. It just isn’t there today, or yesterday as I had originally thought. So I must do the right things. 1- Apologize to everyone for my error. 2- Give credit to Mark (see comments) for hitting me upside the head and waking me up. 3- Correctly apply a functionally superior app in the category of Best Sequencer where it truly belongs. As imperfect as it is. 4-Did I mention I’m sorry about my mistake?