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App Works

Making Music On The Move
Published July 2014
By Tom Flint & Will Betts

Ten Kettles Development HearEQ

Ear Training App For iOS

HearEQ is a very simple, low-cost app that enables musicians to turn the songs in their music library into ear-training tools. It is compatible with iOS 7 and above, although it has been optimised for the iPhone 5.

The first thing the app does is access your device's music library and asks you to select a song from the menu. Once this is done, the chosen composition appears at the top of the screen, ready to be analysed.

There are two modes of operation to HearEQ: one designed for training purposes, the other for testing what has been learnt. When the Learn mode is active the user is given a strip of 10 frequency bands to cut or boost. Each frequency is accompanied by some helpful descriptions. A 250Hz boost, for example, is accompanied by the words Warm and Boxy, whereas a 2kHz boost is described as Present and Nasal/Honky. It certainly helps to keep these descriptions in mind when performing the ear‑training tests later on.

The test itself comprises 10 exercises, and the ultimate aim is to score 10 out of 10. Shortly after playing commences the 'EQ: on' indicator turns orange to show that the filter has become active, and it is up to the user to tap on the frequency they think has changed, and to say whether it is being boosted or cut. Of course, boosting one frequency area reduces the relative impact of others, and can potentially be mistaken for a cut in a different band (and vice versa), so it is often necessary to toggle the EQ on and off to gain perspective on what the original track sounded like.

After some rather disappointing early results I found my scores quickly improved and was told by the app that I was 'getting better'! Relying on my iPad's speakers probably didn't help at first, so using some decent headphones is recommended, particularly if using the app on a phone, which is unlikely to deliver much. It's also true that mixes vary immensely, so it's important to make sure that the reference song library contains a variety of tracks.

HearEQ may be intended for ear training, but a side benefit is it provides an insight into how the energy of a song is distributed across the spectrum, and is therefore a useful tool for analysing commercial mixes. It is also very easy to use, and makes the experience of ear training enjoyable enough to seem like fun. In summary, HearEQ is a great educational tool and well worth its almost negligible price. Tom Flint

Octa Tablet Tail Monkey Kit

Tablet Positioning System

The Tablet Tail Monkey Kit from Octa is a 'tablet positioning system' that is comprised of a suction cup and a long flexible tail. The hemispherical suction cup attaches to the back of any tablet with a smooth finish. Pressing the chunky pump button a few times evacuates any air from the cup, and when the button is flush with the rest of the hemisphere, the seal is secure. When the button starts to pop out, it indicates that the seal isn't so tight.

The tail itself is three-feet long and made from the sort of snakey, flexible material you might find on a desk lamp, but covered in black rubberised plastic.

Octa suggest that the Tablet Tail Monkey Kit is suitable for attaching your tablet to a mic stand, allowing you to read lyrics or music while recording, rehearsing or performing. Having used it with both an iPad Mini and the notoriously heavy third‑generation iPad, I can say there were no problems with it losing its shape. The tail is reassuringly sturdy in its construction, yet will not overbalance even a bog‑standard microphone stand.

Unfortunately, the suction cup is less impressive. Initially, the Tablet Tail held my iPad Mini perfectly well for a full working day at a time. In fact, I had become so confident in the strength of the suction cup that I forgot my iPad was even attached to the Tablet Tail. Somewhere between two and three days after affixing my iPad to the device — which was comfortably wrapped around a mic stand some six-feet off the ground — my iPad fell unceremoniously to the floor. I didn't witness this calamity, so can't say whether it was a change in temperature, barometric pressure, some kind of vibration or the interference of ne'er‑do‑wells that brought my tablet to grief, but my advice would be to remove your tablet after each session and check the seal at least every day or so. It doesn't really help that the pump button that alerts you to a lack of suction is hidden behind your tablet. When the seal begins to fail, there's an ominous creaking sound. Once you hear this, you might have anything from a few seconds to an hour to act.

After carrying the kit around for a few weeks, the effectiveness of the seal did wear off. I tried cleaning the seal as instructed, but to no avail. It wouldn't hold my lightweight iPad Mini for more than a couple of hours. I have to assume that I must have somehow damaged the suction cup in transit and I'd now have a hard time trusting it to keep my iPad safe during the entirety of a performance or rehearsal. That's not to say it isn't useful, though. Open a collaborative Google Document on your computer and the performer's iPad and you have a lyric sheet that can be updated remotely. Coil the tail on a desk and it's a handy stand. That's not to mention the fact it's also very good at removing the glass from the displays of certain iMacs. I've tried.

In short, the tail mechanism is great, but perhaps a clipping mechanism (apparently already in the pipeline) would offer the kind of reassurance I'd want from such a device. Will Betts

Published July 2014