Roundup: iOS Synths
Once a rare curiosity, iOS synthesizers are now something of a music production staple. Let’s check out a quartet of recent highlights…
Sugar Bytes Unique £14.99 (iPad)/£4.99 (iPhone)
Sugar Bytes have led the way for developers porting desktop plugins to iOS, offering quality mobile versions of plugins including the Wow filter, Effectrix multi-effect and Cyclop synth. The latest to make the jump is Unique, an analogue-inspired synth that first appeared in desktop form a decade ago. Unique doesn’t feel dated though, with a sleek iPadfriendly interface and solid, rich sound. The synth engine section itself is fairly unremarkable – there are two analogue style oscillators, each with five waveforms. It’s in the filter section that Unique gets interesting, offering a great vowel filter – which allows several formant sounds to be chained together – and comb filter, alongside standard low-, high- and band-pass modes. These are joined by LFO and envelope sections. There’s a sequencer too, as well as an XY performance pad. It’s not the most innovative synth for iOS, but it sounds great and is a bargain price. sugar-bytes.de
Reactable Rotor £15.99
Spanish developers Reactable are originally known for their large, table-like performance surfaces that allow users to create music in a modular, tactile manner. While the cost of the original hardware was in the multiple thousands, an iOS version arrived back in 2010 bringing the concept into the reach of the general public. Now we also have Rotor, which is effectively an improved and refined version of the same system, designed to take advantage of the enhanced power of newer iOS devices.
As before, the music creation environment is modular, offering a variety of synth elements and sample/loop players augmented by a variety of effects, sequencing and control devices. Each of these elements appears as a circular node, which is dragged onto the interface and then connected to a central output hub. Adding extra elements or effects into a chain is a simple case of dragging a node into position between whichever elements you wish to place it. These modules are then edited in a simple rotary manner – interestingly, Reactable are also offering a set of hardware knobs (£34) that can be placed onto the iOS device screen for better control of individual elements, which is a smart idea. In all, the interface is really nice to use and very intuitive.
Rotor automatically keeps every element in key and sync’d to a central bpm, which makes it easy to use but can make things feel a little ‘on the rails’ creatively, as it’s nearly impossible to make anything sound wrong. There are some cool generative tools onboard though, which help to reignite the creative spark. In all Rotor is a quality instrument with an excellent interface, which makes the most of the tactile iOS workspace. reactable.com
Korg iWavestation £29.99
Korg’s ’90s classic is the latest to get the iOS treatment, bringing its glistening, ambient-friendly sound engine to both iPhone and iPad. The original Wavestation’s synth engine combined ‘wave sequencing’ and vector synthesis to create rich, complex sounds, and came complete with a joystick which allow users to animate and morph patches. This architecture is replicated faithfully here; again, the wave sequencer allows for up to 127 individual waveforms to be arranged and adjusted for each sound, with the ability to set up velocity layers and keyboard splits. On the vector side, meanwhile, the virtual joystick is joined by an X/Y pad that makes good use of the iOS interface to create a modern, creative way to morph between waves. This is then joined by a flexible architecture of LFOs, envelopes, filters and effects.
There’s a healthy range of 50 ‘performances’ and 35 patches onboard – split over several ‘cards’ – but a £4 IAP will unlock a massive bundle with over 1,000 performances. The sounds themselves are great – as with the iM1 before it, the digital sound engine sounds incredibly faithful. All the functionality of the original is ported over, and the interface here is actually an improvement on the original, making sound design far less fiddly and more visually engaging. The iWavestation is inter-app audio and Audiobus compatible, but isn’t compatible with the iOS AU format. It’s worth noting, however, that the app does load in Korg’s iOS synth studio Gadget – having both installed on the same device opens up the Milpitas Gadget, bringing full functionality and sound into app. Owners of Gadget for Mac get the Milpitas version as a free update. korg.com
iMusicAlbum SynthScaper £9.99
SynthScaper is the latest offering from the developer behind mastering app Audio Mastering, AltiSpace convolution reverb and ‘experimental studio’ SoundScaper. It’s a sample-based synthesizer designed specifically for the creation of ambient pads and atmospheric soundscapes. It achieves this with a synth engine that allows the easy blending of melodic and atonal sounds, via a three-layer architecture offering six voices per layer. Each layer features three oscillators, then there are six sub oscillators and six envelopes. Each oscillator has its own flexible arpeggiator, and SynthScaper can accept multiple virtual and hardware MIDI inputs at once. There’s also an in-app keyboard too, with split mode and extensive velocity and pitchbend capabilities. The UI can feel a little daunting and unfamiliar, largely down to the sheer amount there is going on, but there’s a decent array of quality presets included and an extensive in-app manual (albeit written in slightly shaky English, seeing as it isn’t the developer’s first language). In all though, SynthScaper is a real gem – the sound is lush, rich and complex, and at just shy of a tenner, anybody with an interest in ambient or atmospheric music should really check this out. http://motion-soundscape.blogspot.co.uk/
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