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App Works

Making Music On The Move
Published April 2015
By Mark Wherry & Paul Nagle

Flux FX

Effects Processor App For iOS

Flux FX is an ambitious iOS effect processor created by guitar legend Adrian Belew and two teams of developers. It’s compatible with Inter-app Audio and Audiobus, and has been tested with a wide range of iOS audio interfaces and core-USB compatible hardware.

Set against a classy-looking, smoky purple background, Flux FX provides a chain of up to five versatile effects, each with an X-Y pad for performance access, plus a step sequencer for capturing pad motion. I opted to run it from within Audiobus, piping a drum machine (Funkbox) into Flux FX and leaving it running as I explored. I found the factory banks to be an impressive introduction, each bank containing six Performances (sets of stored effect chains, sequences and pad assignments). These are chosen from categories such as ‘Clean/Glassy’, ‘Dirty/Nasty’, ‘Ambience’, etc, and should provide instant assurance your App Store visit wasn’t in vain. At the simplest level, select any Performance and move a finger across the pad to hear what it can do. Things get wilder when you record this motion into the sequencer.

Up to five effects can be chained together and their pad motion automated by the step sequencer.Up to five effects can be chained together and their pad motion automated by the step sequencer.Flux FX’s tape echo effect.Flux FX’s tape echo effect.The factory banks offer everything from hippy ambience to utter sonic destruction.The factory banks offer everything from hippy ambience to utter sonic destruction.The user interface is dense but beautifully crafted. At the top of the screen are three views: Performance, Edit and Sequencer, and from the first of these, you set the input and output levels plus the FX Blend — the balance between raw signal and pure effects. Beneath these sliders is a handy tap-tempo function so you can synchronise time-based effects with incoming audio. Incidentally, some functionality is MIDI-controllable at this stage but a more extensive implementation is due in a future version.

Each of the five possible effects may be set to active or touch mode, the latter requiring you to touch the pad before the effect is heard. With so many on offer, I’ll quickly list them and give an equally quick summary of several favourites.

The effects are as follows:

  • Loopers: Stutter Loop, Reverse Loop, Loop Slice, Sample Scratch.
  • Dynamics: Compress, Pump.
  • Distortions: Overdrive, Distortion, Fuzz, Bit Crush, Destroy, Decimate.
  • EQs & Filters: Ultra EQ, Kill EQ, Lowpass Filter, Highpass Filter, Bandpass Filter.
  • Modulations: Chorus, Flange, Phase, Resonant Drone, Pitch Delay, Octave Shift, Ring Modulate, Auto Pan.
  • Delays: Digital Delay, Binaural Delay, Tape Echo, Scatter Verb, Delay Reverb.

An effect is introduced by dragging it into one of the positions in the chain, all the while keeping an eye on the CPU Load indicator. Multiple effects can be controlled simultaneously by the main X-Y pad, but you can tweak them independently by switching to the Edit View screen where five smaller pads are found, along with each effect’s three most significant parameters. The full range is accessed behind a deeper edit option, which keeps everything neat and full-sized on the GUI. It’s in the deeper screen that you map parameters to the pad for manual performance and sequenced tweaking. Impressively, this process includes upper and lower limits for each parameter, tailoring pad behaviour with some precision. As you adjust any value, it is immediately reflected in the large Fine-Tune dial, enabling better control than sliders permit.

While it would be impossible to describe all the effects, there’s not a turkey amongst them. Whether you start with the simple but effective Pump (it does what you think) or the wibbling ring modulator, abstract experimentation is never far away. I particularly loved the pitch delay with its ascending feedback. Though it won’t out-freak my Eventide Pitch Factor, it makes an incredible first stage in a complex effect chain, perhaps followed by one of the loopers. These, too, are ideal for mashing incoming audio, down to the granular squeal level of ‘Segment’ or the mad, repeats served up by ‘Stutter Loop’.

The delays (and reverb) could be enough by themselves to justify ‘killer app’ status and the maximum delay time is a generous five seconds. In just one example, a single effect combines reverb with delay and thus gives two effects in a single slot. Equally eyebrow-raising, the eight-voice chorus, 24-stage phaser, or the ringing short delay of Resonant Drone all shine individually, but multiplied in a chain they become something else entirely.

All this rather assumes your iPad can cope, but even in this respect I was pleasantly surprised. My iPad Air handled compression, distortion, a low-pass filter, tape echo and delay reverb with a CPU load slightly over 50 percent. Running the sequencer and indulging in a spot of X-Y pad action had it peaking at almost 70 percent, but even this gave no evidence of struggling. In typical use, CPU was lower than that figure but there were times it maxed out. On one occasion, all the effects packed in completely; the solution was to reload the Performance. Overall, Flux FX felt pretty robust.

The third main window is ‘Sequencer View’, which provides an overview of recorded pad motions or a means of adding them step by step. Sequences can be up to 64 steps long and, if you don’t set the sequencer running, can be treated as a series of snapshots to call on any time. To avoid absolute repetition, the sequence includes a Randomizer, which introduces small (or large) variations on each pass. Finally, the Fluxing button randomises the X-Y pad values across all steps. Depending on the effects you have loaded, this could be the sickest trick yet.

Flux FX acts like a twisted, multiple-personality, sometimes resource-greedy Kaoss pad. You’re advised to run it on an iPad 4 or better and even then alongside as few other apps as possible. Its talents when harnessed by Audiobus are a delight, not least because you can capture the effected output into another app. Sweet though this is, Flux FX paired with an audio dock of some kind could be most popular as a hardware audio processor. It neatly shunted aside (and outgunned) my Korg Kaoss Pad 3, for example. The manual states that more effects are in development, but there aren’t any gaping holes at present. This is a professional-feeling, imaginative effects processor with an interface as slick as they come. For me it’s the one by which others will now be judged. If your iPad enthusiasm has ever flagged, Flux FX might just be the app to give it a new lease of life. Paul Nagle

£14.99

$19.99

flux.noii.se

Steinberg Cubase iC Pro

Cubase Controller App For iOS & Android

Cubase iC Pro is a remote app that can control Cubase from either an iPhone, iPad, or Android-based device. Once you’ve downloaded the app — for the purposes of this review, I’m using an iPad Air 2 with Cubase running on Windows — you’ll need to download Steinberg’s SKI Remote for Cubase iC Pro from the company’s web site. For iOS users this is a free download (because you pay £12.99$16.99 for the app on the App Store), whereas for Android users it’s a purchase of £11.24$16.99 (because the app is a free download on Google Play or Amazon’s Appstore). The advantage Android users have with this arrangement is that Steinberg offer a 30-day trial version of the SKI Remote so you can try before you buy.

Once you’ve downloaded SKI Remote, you’ll need to add it as a device in Cubase’s Device setup window, where you have the option of setting up authentication so that a password is required when establishing a connection. In a disconnected state, iC Pro will show a list of systems running Cubase, and you can manually enter your system’s IP address if it doesn’t show up.

iC Pro consists of three control pages: Project, MixConsole, and Key Commands, and each have a corresponding Settings view. Two of these pages can be visible simultaneously, and you can also have two Key Commands pages on screen at once. A transport bar runs along the bottom, and a tool bar is provided at the top with buttons to access settings, help, and to disconnect from the current system. The current Project Time is displayed, and tapping it alternates between the primary and secondary Project Time Display modes. The current tempo is also there, and tapping this lets you set a new tempo, which you can adjust manually or by tapping the Tap Tempo button, although this only affects the fixed tempo, not the Tempo Track.

The Project page shows a neat overview of your Project, much like the Overview Line in Cubase, and you can swipe left and right to scroll through the Project — the Project Cursor stays in the middle just like when Stationary Cursors is enabled in Cubase — and you can pinch to zoom in and out horizontally. Bizarrely, the ruler seems only to show minutes and seconds, and I couldn’t find a way to change this to bars and beats (even if the current project time was displayed in bars and beats), which was slightly annoying. The left and right locators are displayed on the time ruler and can be dragged around to change their positions (although this would be easier if they snapped to a bar). Also, unlike in Cubase, where the locator range is displayed in red when the locators are reversed, this doesn’t happen on the remote.

Beneath the overview is a Marker bar where you can jump to specific Markers by tapping them, or add new Markers or Cycle Markers by clicking the buttons to the right of the bar. Markers can be created even if the Project doesn’t contain a Marker Track (they will show up when you add one), although it would be nice if there was an option to automatically add a Marker Track the first time you create a Marker in a Project not containing one.

Cubase iC Pro, showing the Project and Key Command pages.Cubase iC Pro, showing the Project and Key Command pages.Finally, the Project Page Settings offers a few additional options for setting whether Auto Quantise, Precount, Punch In, or Punch Out are enabled.

The MixConsole view looks exactly as you would expect, although there are quite a few ways to configure what you see in the settings. You can set whether to see Record and Monitor buttons on each channel strip or Read and Write automation, and you can also set what channel types are displayed. Changing which Channels are visible on iC Pro has no effect on any open MixConsole windows in Cubase. You can also switch between seeing the MixConsole view or one of the Control Room’s four Cue Mixes, which is a nice touch. Since it’s possible to connect multiple devices running iC Pro to Cubase, you could have a situation where people were controlling their own cue mixes.

The only feature that had me reaching for the online help was when trying to set a fader back to 0dB, since I erroneously assumed double-tapping might do the trick. Instead you have to tap and hold the fader and drag horizontally away from it, whereupon a ‘magnetic’ 0dB point becomes active, making it possible to move the fader back to 0dB. Similarly, when you tap a pan control, a larger pan control is presented, and tapping the control and moving your finger vertically shows a host of magnetic points, enabling you to centre the pan or pick from other positions on the grid.

Last but not least is the Key Commands page, where you can have up to seven pages of buttons on a five-by-five grid, giving you the potential to assign up to 175 Key Commands. To configure the Key Commands, bring up the Key Commands Settings screen, and you can assign a Key Command by simply tapping the button you want to employ. A list of Key Command categories will appear, arranged in the same way as the Key Commands window in Cubase. You can either navigate the hierarchy of commands, or, if you know the name of the command you’re looking for, you can search for it by typing in its name. Buttons can be coloured or renamed via the Color and Rename buttons at the bottom of the screen, and you can also load and save page templates, which can be backed up via iTunes File Sharing.

My only two small gripes with the Key Commands page are that, firstly, in the settings, it would be nice if you could drag the buttons to reassign Key Commands; and secondly, I would have preferred Steinberg to use a tab bar to switch pages rather than a page view control. It would be nice to see the names of the pages and be able to, for example, switch to your Edit page or your Mixer page without having to swipe through the other pages.

I really hope Steinberg expand on the capabilities of iC Pro because there’s a great deal of potential for a remote app that can integrate directly with a sequencer, as Apple have shown with Logic and the free Logic Remote. One feature at the top of my wish list would be a Track page containing Quick Controls and (where applicable) Expression Maps, where you could see the Expression Map for the currently selected Track and switch articulations directly from the screen.

All in all, if you’re looking for an app to control Cubase remotely, and you want something that doesn’t involve smoke-and-mirror-type workarounds for Key Commands and controlling the mixer, Cubase iC Pro is probably the way to go, despite a few quirks. And if you’re using an Android device, there’s nothing to lose by checking out the 30-day trial. Mark Wherry

Free to £12.99, depending on platform.

$16.99

www.steinberg.net

Published April 2015