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App Works

Making Music On The Move
Published November 2014
By Paul White & Tom Flint

Focusrite iTrack Dock

Docking Interface For iPad

With the launch of the iTrack Dock, Focusrite are attempting to establish some ‘grown up’ standards so that musicians can make music on their iPad using any Core Audio-savvy application, without having to worry about whether the mic amps are good enough or whether the bit-depth is adequate. Essentially, the iTrack Dock is a two input, two output audio and USB MIDI interface and some basic monitor control capabilities built into an ergonomically shaped plastic dock. It draws its power from the included power adaptor, enabling it to power and charge the iPad through the USB port. That said, it didn’t seem to want to power my little Korg Micro keyboard, which runs happily on my laptop. By contrast my Edirol PCR300, which is a lot bigger and has loads of LEDs, seemed to be happy. Checking the Focusrite web site brings up a list of tested compatible MIDI devices that include many models from Novation, Alesis, M-Audio and Akai, with the majority of what’s out there apparently being fine. Sadly the Korg Micro Keys is listed as being incompatible, and when I enquired why, the reason I was given is that it appears to the iPad as a USB hub and the implementation is only for straightforward USB MIDI devices, which most third-party MIDI controllers are.

App WorksThe iTrack Dock’s back panel features an external PSU input and switch, a  USB A  port for MIDI, quarter-inch monitor outputs, mic and line inputs on XLR and quarter-inch jack sockets and an additional instrument line in, also on a  quarter-inch jack socket. The iTrack Dock’s back panel features an external PSU input and switch, a USB A port for MIDI, quarter-inch monitor outputs, mic and line inputs on XLR and quarter-inch jack sockets and an additional instrument line in, also on a quarter-inch jack socket. All of the connections other than the headphone output are on the rear panel and include two XLR mic inputs and two line-in sockets. Phantom power is switchable for use with capacitor mics and the two line inputs are augmented by a separate high-impedance instrument DI jack for the second input channel. The monitor outputs are on stereo quarter-inch jacks and the headphone socket is found at the right-hand side of the enclosure with its own level control. A sliding Lightning connector accommodates both iPads and iPad Minis, as well as iPad Airs, but sadly there is no adaptor for earlier iPads. If a full-sized iPad is fitted, it hangs out over the top and right-hand side of the unit, whereas an iPad Mini exactly fits the outline of the case.

The iTrack Dock’s dynamic range is specified at 105dB with a maximum sampling resolution of 24-bit and 96kHz. In addition to the phones level control, you get a large volume control knob for the monitor outputs, separate gain controls for the two mic amps and a direct monitor button that adds the output from the preamps directly into the monitor mix for zero-latency source monitoring. LEDs indicate power and global phantom power when applied. For level metering, Focusrite have taken the halo level display from their Scarlet range (green for enough signal, red for too much) and added this to the surrounds of the two gain knobs. This will give you a rough guide, but you should always go by your DAW meters if possible. If you don’t have a suitable recording app you can download Focusrite’s Tape app free of charge from the App Store, although GarageBand seems like a logical choice for more serious compositional work.

No drivers are needed to get the iTrack working — you just slot in your iPad, start your app and you’re ready to go. Both the instrument and mic inputs are clean and enjoy impressively low distortion. What I initially thought was a very low-level hum when miking at a distance turned out to be the tumble drier running two rooms away! There’s bags of headphone level and the direct monitoring also works fine, with the proviso that you may need to juggle your DAW output levels to get the right headphone balance as there’s no DAW/direct mix control. So, other than the incompatibility with my Micro Keys USB MIDI keyboard, the iTrack Dock checks out as being a serious piece of kit. Paul White

SuperMegaUltraGroovy Capo Touch

Chord Detection App For iOS

Capo Touch is the iOS version of SuperMegaUltraGroovy’s Capo 3 music analysis application for Macs. Capo accesses its host’s music library and analyses selected tracks, detecting key and tempo, and generating a set of chord suggestions. The processed track can be slowed to 25 percent or speeded up to 150 percent, without affecting pitch or, indeed, mangling the audio quality too badly. Pitch can be altered by plus-or-minus 12 semitones without changing its tempo, to help with learning parts in a different key.

Once a song is selected, the software displays ‘Building waveform’, ‘Calculating beat locations’, ‘Determining song key’, ‘Calculating chromagram’ and ‘Detecting chords’, with each process taking about 10 seconds for a four-minute track. The interface primarily consists of a zoomable waveform display that can be scrubbed back and forth under the stationary ‘play head’ with a normal swipe gesture. A suggested chord sequence appears below the waveform as chord blocks, and at the foot of the screen is a transport control strip with a bar and beat readout, a metronome on/off button and a slider for altering the speed of the track. Controls for altering the pitch are accessed by swiping the strip across to reveal an alternative strip that has a time counter and plus-or-minus 12 semitone adjuster.

Also on the control panel is a little fretboard icon that can be used to add or remove chords as well as shift them in time or find alternative suggestions. Perhaps most usefully of all for learning new material, a number of regions in the waveform can be defined, making them available for looped playback. These can also be named — Verse, Chorus, for example — to help you know where you are in the track.

Capo Touch’s main screen. Capo Touch’s main screen. The Effects section contains EQ presets for isolating bass and mid-range. The Effects section contains EQ presets for isolating bass and mid-range. App WorksThe remaining options are in the Settings pop-up: ‘Effects’ offers a 10-band graphic EQ with presets for isolating bass and mid-range, and a voice reduction tool; ‘Beats’ sets the time signature, the metronome and count-in; ‘Notes’ adapts the chord display for guitar, mandolin or bass and also allows for alternative tuning configurations and different capo positions. There is no Spectrogram — a key feature of the Mac version of Capo — and no facility to generate tab.

The beat detection works well with most conventional pop/rock songs, but being limited to a single time signature means there is no way of correctly displaying something with a change of time signature or even just the odd 2/4 bar or extra beat, which is a shame. Songs that drift in tempo seem to be averaged.

The chord suggestions can be somewhat variable, depending on the instrumentation being analysed. You have the option to change or move them, but it can still sometimes be quicker to just work them out by ear. With some tracks, however, it certainly provides a useful starting point.

Capo Touch is not perfect by any means, but if you are the kind of player who gets short-notice covers gigs with no charts, the looping and slow-playback functions alone would probably make this app seem like a worthwhile investment. Tom Flint

IK Multimedia iRing

Motion Controller For iOS

IK Multimedia’s iRing is essentially a motion-tracking device that uses the front- or rear-facing camera on your iOS device to follow the motions of two reversible finger rings (worn between the fingers rather than over them). Each ring displays a different dot pattern on its two faces, which allows both rings to be tracked at the same time. When using the front-facing camera you need to be within 700mm of the screen, while the rear-facing camera will work at distances of up to around 1.5 metres.

Compatible with the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, the iRing uses image-recognition to track the dot patterns on the two rings to determine their positions in three dimensions. As movement is tracked in all three axes, the two rings can control up to six parameters at the same time. Actually, it can do more than that as the software can also recognise rotation of the dot pattern on the ring. Covering and then exposing the ring can also be used as a control gesture, as can moving it out of the camera’s field of view and back into it.

Music apps that work with the iRing can be freely downloaded, but IK Multimedia are also talking to other app designers with a view to expanding the applications of the device into other areas of music and also into games or fitness products.

For instant gratification, the included iRing Music Maker app, which is similar to IK’s GrooveMaker 2 app, enables the user to produce dance-style music using a library of music loops and pattern-driven lead and bass synths. These are all designed to work together so that music can be created on the fly, even by those with no musical grounding.

The iRing Music Maker app.The iRing Music Maker app.For those who have some previous experience, the iRing FX/Controller app allows real-time control over effects (up to three parameters per effect). It also functions as a MIDI controller with user-assignable parameters, so you can set it to adjust MIDI Controllers, to make Program Changes or to access other common real-time performance controls such as pitch-bend, aftertouch or even MIDI Machine Control. The iRing FX/Controller app comes with a range of DJ effects with additional effects packs available as in-app purchases for very little cost. This app also works alongside Audiobus and any Inter App Audio-compatible apps, but perhaps more relevant for serious studio users is that MIDI Controller data generated via the iRing can be routed wirelessly to your studio Mac for real-time control of projects you have running there.

The iRing comes in a small box containing the instructions and a pair of double-sided rings. The two bundled free apps may be downloaded from the App Store and activated after registering your purchase. The iRing FX/Controller app comes with a resonant filter, but the remaining 15 effects have to be purchased, although buying the lot really isn’t very expensive.

Firing up iRing Music Maker gives you a grid into which coloured squares representing loops can be introduced. Varying the distance using the triangular side of the ring lets you activate up to eight loops, with deck or bass guitar icons choosing between the groove or the bass part. You can slide the blocks around on the grid using the touchscreen to modify the groove, while the in-line ring lets you choose variations on the bass/melody line.

Touch the mixer icon and the in-line ring lets you adjust the selected effect (of which you get four as standard with others being in-app purchases). It’s a lot of fun, with blocks drifting on and off the screen, riffs changing in complexity, filter effects and so on. Twisting the ring or moving it out of sight of the camera causes other stuff to happen — best to just try it and see what happens. In fact I found that using a single ring and switching sides by turning my hand over gave a fair degree of control. In short, lots of fun for parties or for playing DJ, but perhaps not really the right tool for creating original music.

Launching the iRing FX/Controller app displays two icons on the screen that represent the patterns on the ring and their positions as tracked. These let you see how quickly the icons follow the actual movement of the ring, and the movements on the three axes can be assigned to three effect parameters. There seems to be up to half a second of delay, which may be too much for crucial MIDI control applications, but for slow filter sweeps and suchlike it is fast enough. You do have to be careful that you don’t inadvertently buy a new effect or other add-on when exploring the menus, but otherwise iRing is lots of fun. For me it is the motion-tracking technology that is most interesting, not what the existing apps actually do, so I’m really hoping that other companies get on board and make use of what this technology has to offer. Paul White

Published November 2014