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App Works

Making Music On The Move
Published December 2014
By Paul Nagle & Paul White

Apple iPhone 6

Smartphone

The first question I’ve generally been asked when showing people my new iPhone 6 is whether or not it’s ‘the big one’. When I reply in the negative and inform the questioner that this device is not in fact the larger iPhone 6 Plus, the response is usually, ‘well, it’s still rather big!’ And indeed it is. Featuring a 4.7-inch screen and measuring 2.64 by 5.44 inches, it’s substantially bigger than the iPhone 5 with its 4-inch screen and 2.31 by 4.87 dimensions. (The 6 Plus is even larger, with a 5.5-inch screen.) However, as a concession to the iPhone 6’s larger footprint, Apple have also made the device noticeable thinner and lighter. So much so that, in many ways, I actually prefer the feel of the iPhone 5 as it seems more solid and substantial.

One reason the iPhone 6 has the illusion of being much thinner than previous models — since a 0.7mm reduction ought not to be perceivable — is that Apple have returned to bevelled edges. And while it feels pleasant enough in the hand, I kept having the sense that it wasn’t quite the comfortable fit I had enjoyed with my previous iPhone 5. This probably isn’t helped by the power button having been moved to the right side of the device so that it’s easier to reach; even after a week of use, my muscle memory is still fumbling around the top of the device searching for the button.

The iPhone 6 will display five Garageband tracks at once, compared to the iPhone 5’s four — and the iPhone 6 Plus can manage a whopping six!The iPhone 6 will display five Garageband tracks at once, compared to the iPhone 5’s four — and the iPhone 6 Plus can manage a whopping six!While the larger screen makes the iPhone 6 questionable from a phone point of view, having more pixels on the screen makes the iPhone 6 better as a mobile device for running music and audio apps. Where the iPhone 5 had an 1136 x 640 resolution, the iPhone 6 offers 1334 x 750 pixels, and the Plus model presents a full HD display (1920 x 1080). Apps have to be updated to take advantage of the extra pixels, although existing apps look just fine thanks to a high-quality scaling algorithm Apple have included in iOS.

One music app that’s been updated with support for the iPhone 6’s higher resolution is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Apple’s own Garageband. You can now see five tracks instead of four on the arrange view (or six on the Plus), and there’s more space for editing in general. What will also be interesting is whether currently iPad-only apps like Cubasis and Auria are adapted for the iPhone 6 models — the Plus certainly has enough pixels to allow for more sophisticated user interfaces.

Internally, the iPhone 6 is based around Apple’s new A8 system-on-a-chip, which improves on the new 64-bit architecture introduced by last year’s A7 chip (used in the iPhone 5S, iPad Air, and iPad Mini 2). While it still only has 1GB memory, Apple claim that the A8 offers 25 percent more CPU performance and 50 percent more GPU performance, though I’m not sure if this will be fully reflected in real-world performance. Geekbench 3 gives the iPhone 6 a multi-core score of 2908, and if you look at scores for the iPhone 5S, you see figures around the 2540 mark. This reflects a roughly 15 percent increase, meaning the performance improvement between the iPhone 5S and 6 isn’t as extreme as the improvement between the iPhone 5 and 5S. (The iPhone 5 scores around 1280.) It also means that if you’re currently using an iPhone 5S, you might be better off sticking with it for another year, unless you want the bigger screen.

Perhaps the biggest improvement in the A8 concerns higher sustained performance, and Apple claim that the A8 is 50 percent more energy efficient than the A7. This supposedly means that Apple can run the chip at peak performance for longer, since the chip isn’t going to generate as much heat as before, which is obviously great for CPU-intensive music and audio apps. However, perhaps more importantly, it also means these apps won’t drain the battery as vigorously.

In terms of audio performance, I used Nanostudio as a test application as it offers a CPU meter to see performance (which Garageband, annoyingly, does not). Playing the ‘Rock On’ demo project, the iPhone 6 peaked at 12 percent usage. However, as a not-quite-fair comparison, I tried the same thing with my A7-equipped iPad Air and this time the project peaked at nine percent usage. The reason I would say this isn’t quite a fair test is because the iPhone is presumably running far more background processes to handle those trivial moments when the iPhone is required to act as a phone rather than a recording studio. But if you have Nanostudio, you might try running the same test (from a clean boot with no applications running) to compare the performance of your current iDevice.

While I personally feel the iPhone 6 might not be the most aesthetically pleasing iPhone Apple have made, it’s obviously the most powerful and with the largest displays yet seen on an iPhone. While other manufacturers have offered larger displays on phones running other operating systems, I’m not going to offer any direct comparisons here. As I’ve said before, if the apps you want to use only run on iOS, your only choice is to buy something from Apple, and iOS arguably still has the best ecosystem when it comes to music and audio apps and hardware. Mark Wherry

From £539.

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From $199

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Rode Grip

iPhone 5 Mounting System

These days it seems that making phone calls is the least of an iPhone’s skills. Even the internal mic allows it to double as a passable audio recorder, but add one of Rode’s iXY stereo mics and you have the makings of a seriously good audio capture device. Now Rode have come up with a versatile mounting system that clamps on to the iPhone and offers a number of mounting configurations including horizontal or vertical camera shoe mounting, hand-held pistol grip and free standing. All this is accomplished by means of a very clever piece of plastic ‘origami’, whereby the mount comes folded up inside the framework that makes up the pistol grip. There’s even space to store the included Allen key for changing the shoe configuration.

The Rode Grip in its hand-held configuration.The Rode Grip in its hand-held configuration.The main part of the system comprises a pair of hinged arms that terminate in sections shaped to lock over the edge of an iPhone. A third phone grip point is located above the pivot point, below which is a camera-style shoe mount with a standard 3/8-inch thread. Unfortunately the thickness difference between the iPhone 5 and earlier models means that iPhone 4s won’t fit, but Rode offer a range. The shoe can be removed courtesy of the included Allen key and repositioned into one of two other threaded inserts on the arms of the clamp, allowing for horizontal rather than vertical mounting on either a camera, the pistol grip or any other device with a camera shoe fitting.

Two shoe locations are moulded into the pistol grip, one at the end for normal hand-held use and one amidships for use as a table-top stand. A thumbwheel screw above the shoe allows it to be locked in place in the usual way.

Now it might seem that making all this out of plastic is asking for trouble, but Rode have used the type of structural plastic used for making belt buckles and other robust parts, so accidental damage seems unlikely. There are also metal inserts at the pivot point and at the alternative shoe-mounting points, so thread stripping is equally unlikely.

The Rode Grip is a great example of practical engineering and it does exactly what it is supposed to do while taking up the minimum of space in your kit bag. It is strong, light and versatile. If you make regular use of your iPhone as an audio recorder, you really need to get one of these. Paul White

Triqtraq

Sequencer App For iOS

Many music apps that claim to be ‘fun and straightforward’ are, at best, either one or the other, yet from the moment Triqtraq burst into life on my iPad Air, it looked to be a cut above. It scored right away with its one-screen approach, putting everything needed up front, and if you’ve ever been frustrated by apps that require baby fingers, cotton buds or styli to use properly, prepare to sigh in relief because the screen area is carefully mapped, each item thoroughly accessible.

OK, so that’s my enthusiastic opener — but what the heck is Triqtraq? Well, it’s another of those musical sketchpad-type apps for jamming and improvising with. The specs seem pretty basic: there are four monophonic tracks (A-D), selected by coloured blobs in yellow, blue, cerise and orange. Each has a kit of eight sample-based pads processed by a resonant filter and the most basic envelope imaginable. The four tracks are balanced in a simple mixer and there’s a single delay effect, which if stacked against the competition doesn’t sound like much.

Where Triqtraq scores over most other musical ‘quickie’ apps is in its thoughtfully streamlined feature-set and clever use of the screen. This soon becomes apparent when you load a few of the factory kits and begin to populate the 16 patterns available to each session.

Poly-rhythmic heaven: each Triqtraq track has its own loop length and playback speed.Poly-rhythmic heaven: each Triqtraq track has its own loop length and playback speed.Vary the notes with the slider, after first eliminating those you don’t want with the slider.Vary the notes with the slider, after first eliminating those you don’t want with the slider.Record filter changes Kaoss Pad-style — for as many tracks as you want.Record filter changes Kaoss Pad-style — for as many tracks as you want.Notes are entered either in step mode or by tapping the on-screen pads, having first selected a track or tracks to record into. Another Triqtraq strength is that it’s your choice how many tracks you record or edit at once — the colour-coding ensures you never get lost. Patterns are up to 16 steps long and, having entered a few initial notes, you can begin to change the characteristics of the triggered samples, for example, by varying the pitch, filter, level, decay, pan and send amount to the delay. Furthermore, you can automate these changes directly in each pattern. There’s a helpful button to painlessly clone the current pattern in order to make variations, and pattern swapping takes place on the next step, all smoothly and in real time.

The real fun starts when you realise that not only do the four tracks have their own individual loop lengths and playback speed, but that every parameter automation sub-track does too. There are expensive hardware synths/sequencers not capable of that! This cool feature transforms Triqtraq into a fabulous tool for generating polyrhythms and patterns that take a very long time to repeat themselves. With a few finger gestures you can loop individual sections of a track (or tracks) and introduce moving accents, filter sweeps or staccato passages. This flexibility extends to the automation of the global delay and, although it’s the only effect, I never felt short-changed.

With pad-based input, entering pitches is quirky but arguably more effective than trying to play a tiny on-screen keyboard. There is a keyboard, but it acts as a filter for notes that are entered with a slider. There’s a chord function too, but since the tracks are monophonic, its purpose is to provide a major or minor triad from which you choose a note. The note filters are remembered for each track, which is a nice touch.

Should you want to arrange your patterns, the queue function offers a playlist with up to 16 steps. You select a pattern on each step that can be repeated up to 32 times before progressing to the next. Even though there are just four tracks, it’s surprising how often you reach for the mixer to quickly mute some of the mayhem.

There are a number of factory kits and a stock of over 400 usable samples. New kits or samples can be loaded at any time (even during playback) from categories such as Drum, Percussion, Bass, Keys and User. With 28 kicks, almost 50 snares, 87 synth-basses and an assortment of pianos, strings and bells, there’s plenty to get you started, but that isn’t the extent of Triqtraq’s appeal. It also has one of the easiest methods of sampling I’ve seen on the iPad, and building new kits by making noises into the built-in microphone is as fast as it is inspiring. For the first time in my life I became a human beatbox without feeling like a tit. If you have a ready-made collection of samples, they can be imported via iTunes or pasted in from other applications. The app is also WIST-compatible and can be opened within any Audiobus or Inter-App Audio host.

One thing I’d recommend is a visit to the iOS Settings page to turn off quantisation. This will disable the (rather unnecessary) latency that’s added by default. Ordinarily, notes played in real time are delayed so they always fall on the beat, but in my case this usually made recordings one beat late.

Triqtraq started its life as an iPhone app, which grew to accommodate the iPad. In such cases there’s always the chance it’ll be compromised for one or both — it isn’t! If I could add just one extra feature, it would be a metronome. Although you can make your own quickly enough, I felt it was a waste of time to do so each session. However, I’d hate to see Triqtraq become bloated, because at the moment it’s a delight to use, serving up surprisingly complex loops and patterns for export to a variety of destinations, including Dropbox. Above all, it’s one of the best jamming tools I’ve encountered on the iOS platform. Oh, and at a bargain price too! Paul Nagle

Published December 2014

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