must have

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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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.

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