App Works

Making Music On The Move

Published in SOS March 2013
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Reviews : Software: ALL

Steinberg Cubasis

DAW App For iPad

Cubasis in all its Cubase-inspired glory. Here you can see the Project View, along with the Tools panel and the Mixer.Cubasis in all its Cubase-inspired glory. Here you can see the Project View, along with the Tools panel and the Mixer.

In the dim and distant past, Cubasis used to be one of the names Steinberg reserved for junior versions of Cubase, but now they've resurrected the Cubasis name for a new app that brings Cubase-inspired functionality to your iPad. This isn't the first time Steinberg have dabbled with mobile applications, of course. In addition to the Cubase iC controller app and LoopMash for iOS, Steinberg collaborated with Siemens, back in 2003, on Cubasis Mobile for the latter company's M55 mobile phone. However, where Cubasis Mobile was little more than a novelty ringtone generator, Cubasis for iPad is a surprisingly-capable audio and MIDI sequencer.

Much of Cubasis's look-and-feel has been borrowed from Cubase (including, surprisingly, the old, pre-Cubase 7 transport icons), but the interface has been designed very much with touch in mind. The main component of the interface is the Project View, which presents a Cubase-style arrange window, complete with the familiar Inspector. Complementing this View are a number of sub-views (for want of a better description) that slide in and out to provide access to a piano keyboard, drum pads, the mixer, various editors, and so on.

Projects can consist of either audio or MIDI tracks, and Steinberg claim you can create an unlimited number of tracks, depending on the capabilities of your iPad. Cubasis offers the ability to record on multiple tracks simultaneously, meaning that it's possible to use the app as a multitrack recorder with hardware such as RME's FireFace UCX. However, only 16-bit audio resolutions are currently supported, and you can only output a Project via a single stereo output.

To help you create your MIDI tracks, Steinberg supply a selection of over 70 virtual instruments based on Halion Sonic, and these can be selected from the MediaBay (where most aspects of Project management take place). A preview button is provided to audition each instrument, and you can double-tap to select it (or, if an audio track is selected, add a new track with that instrument). I would describe the quality of these instruments as no more than adequate, especially when compared with offerings from other apps.

In addition to triggering the built-in instruments, you can play other apps from Cubasis, as Steinberg have implemented full Core MIDI support. In the MIDI Connections Inspector Section, you can set a MIDI input and output port and channel, which will either be hardware sources and destinations (if you have any MIDI devices plugged into your iPad), a Core MIDI Network Session, or virtual alternatives. Cubasis itself creates a virtual port, and I found I had more success using this, and assigning other apps to use Cubasis as an input, than using another app's virtual port from within Cubasis.

MIDI support in Cubasis is currently slightly lacking in one or two areas: you can't send MIDI clock to other running apps, and there didn't seem to be an elegant way to disable the virtual instruments on a MIDI track if I was using Core MIDI instead. My workaround was to turn the volume down to infinity on a given track, but even then I couldn't be sure if Cubasis was still wasting unnecessary CPU cycles on these now-silent instruments.

The Cubasis keyboard with the Analog Bass instrument selected.The Cubasis keyboard with the Analog Bass instrument selected.Editing functionality in Cubasis is provided via the Tools panel, which appears just below the main toolbar and includes the familiar Cubase tools, although these behave a little differently in Cubasis. For example, rather than selecting the Erase tool and tapping the Parts or Events you want to erase, you instead select the appropriate objects (using the select tool to rubber-band multiple objects) and then tap Erase to erase the selection. This works pretty well, although I missed GarageBand's use of multi-touch to select multiple objects.

When you tap to select a Part or Event in the Project View, a number of handles become visible, just as in Cubase, allowing you to resize the object, or apply fade-ins and fade-outs and make overall volume adjustments. Double-tapping a Part or Event opens it in either the Key or Sample Editor, depending on the type of the object. The Sample Editor is pretty simple: you can set selection points, and then perform a few basic processes on the selected material, such as reverse, normalise, and fade in and out. The Key Editor is a little more sophisticated, although it seemed very sensitive to my touch and it often felt as though my fingers were having an argument with Cubasis.

If you don't want to start from a blank canvas, Steinberg provide over 300 audio and MIDI loops to use in your Projects. However, it would be more precise to say drum loops, since there don't seem to be any other instruments covered; and, perhaps more disappointingly, the audio loops aren't able to follow the Project's tempo. This means you have to look at the tempo referenced in the loop's name and then set your Project's tempo accordingly, which makes you feel like you're back in the '90s again, and is a surprising oversight given that other iOS apps (cough, GarageBand) do have this ability.

Cubasis includes 11 effects that can up used as inserts (up to three per track, including the master output) or in one of three send slots. The selection covers all the bread-and-butter effect types you would expect — reverb, chorus, delay, compression, EQ, and even a guitar-amp simulator — and each effect has its own graphical editor, which appears modally in the centre of the interface when opened. A nice touch is the inclusion of a Preview button. If the Project isn't playing, you can press this to trigger a note or play some audio from the appropriate MIDI or audio track, so it's easy to make changes without having to keep opening and closing the editor.

One limitation of the effects is that the amount of control you have over them is often quite restricted. The EQ, in particular, is like an '80s car stereo, providing just two controls for treble and bass. Another slight weirdness is that the sends on a track seem to be 'sent' before any insert processing has taken place. So if you put a filter on a track as an insert and use one of the send slots on that same track to send to a reverb, the signal going to the reverb will be unfiltered.

Once you've finished a Project, you can perform a 'Mixdown' to render your work as either a WAV, MPEG4 or plain old MIDI file. The resulting file can then be shared via email, Dropbox, AudioCopy or SoundCloud, or opened via another application on your iPad that supports a given format. For example, it's perfectly possible to create a MIDI file that can then be opened in Notion to let you see the Project in musical notation.

It's also possible to share the .CBP Cubasis Project file (via email, Dropbox or iTunes), which can then be imported into Cubase after you download the appropriate extension from Steinberg's web site. This is great, since you can start with some ideas in Cubasis when you're on the go, and then load those ideas directly into Cubase once you get back to your main studio. The only slight down side is that imported Projects sound markedly different (especially if they're based mostly around MIDI tracks), and when the Project is imported, by default Cubase insists on opening the editor for every instrument and plug-in used by the Project. To prevent this happening, you need to disable 'Open Effect Editor After Loading it' in the VST-Plug-ins Preferences in Cubase when importing a Cubasis project.

Perhaps the most contentious aspect of Cubasis is its £34.99$49.99 price tag. While £35$50 isn't that expensive in the grand scheme of music technology — it's cheaper than most plug-ins — it is a princely sum in iOS terms. This places Cubasis at the high end of the fiscal spectrum for iOS music apps, alongside WaveMachine Labs' Auria (which is arguably more sophisticated for audio work, though lacking MIDI features), and most likely restricts Cubasis to a smaller group of buyers that will probably be a subset of existing Cubase users. This is a shame, since Cubasis is a very promising mobile music-making tool that could shine if Steinberg iron out the initial quirks and bugs and keeps the app up-to-date. Mark Wherry

Akai iMPC

Sampling Workstation App For iPad

iMPC's familiar interface.iMPC's familiar interface.

With a long and enviable pedigree in hardware sampling and sequencing, the Akai MPC range has finally gone soft. I'm referring to the barrage of recent kit to emerge: the MPC Renaissance and Studio, plus, for the iPad owner, the MPC Fly. This neat little controller has an integral case, drum pads and iPad-ready compartment, but it's the app, iMPC, which is already available, that we're checking out today.

This heavily simplified MPC for iOS runs happily without the Fly and has just four tracks, each with 16 pads to trigger samples. When you put 16 samples together, you've built your first program, but don't worry: Akai supply a selection ready-made, so you can hit the ground running. As well as programs, there are over 1200 individual samples and just under 90 sequences primed and pimped to demonstrate what the iMPC can do. The samples consist of Akai classics and iMPC-specific creations, all categorised according to type. It's enough to get you in business, and some of the drums, in particular, are stonking.

The maximum length for any sequence is 999 bars and, helpfully, each sequence remembers the tempo it's been given. Further conveniences include the handy 'duplicate bars' option, which enables you to build quickly from a short, simple loop into a longer, more complex structure. In accordance with MPC tradition, when you select a different sequence during playback, it's cued to play when the current one ends. Thus you can manually assemble song performances from shorter segments.

There are two record options, Record and Overdub, with the former wiping previous takes on the selected track and the latter designed to build up your masterpiece over multiple loops. If you make a mistake, you can erase entire tracks or the recordings of individual pads, while small performance errors can usually be tidied up using the Time Correct button. It's your choice whether to make corrections during recording or afterwards. Similarly, Akai's MPC swing adds its characteristic delay of even-numbered beats.

Multiple copies of iMPC running under Tabletop.Multiple copies of iMPC running under Tabletop.The pads feel responsive enough (as iPad apps go) and with Akai's famous '16 levels' option activated, their role is switched from sample triggering to the transmission of 16 different filter values, velocities, note lengths or tunings for the selected pad. In the case of tunings, this provides a means of banging in melodies and bass lines, thus extracting extra mileage from the limited pool of samples available to each track. For more conventional control, a Variation slider provides smooth changes to the same four parameters. Finally, 'Note Repeat', another MPC stalwart, has six repeat choices ranging from 1/8th notes to 32nd-note triplets.

Finished sequences can be exported via iTunes, shared with Soundcloud users and copied to the audio pasteboard, although this last option takes a bit of finding. However, I failed to discover any way to eliminate the constant messages from the iMPC community that litter the top line of the app.

No MPC would feel complete without sampling, and here the implementation is workmanlike but effective. In addition to recording from the iPad's regular inputs, iMPC will eagerly lift material from your existing music library. The 'deck' used for this function has pitch adjustment, a moveable arm, and even scratching, which you can indulge in during recording if you're that way inclined. The resulting sample can be trimmed, named and categorised in a process that's decidedly no-frills. There's no other editing, let alone loop slicing, but you can at least paste in samples from the clipboard.

The remainder of iMPC is quite basic, consisting of a mixer and effects, specifically a bit-crusher, delay and compressor. The effects structure is unspectacular — even compared to other iPad apps — and the UI isn't too slick either. For example, it's a drag to have to navigate to the mixer page every time you want to solo or mute tracks. The only sync currently provided is WIST, the wireless system created by Korg; there's no MIDI sync or other external control as yet. In fact, if this were the whole story, we'd be heading towards a fair but undistinguished conclusion. However, there's an extra twist, or rather an extra app, that makes a difference. This is Tabletop and it's a free download. When iMPC runs inside Tabletop, it gains a piano-roll editor, Core MIDI support and extra effects, plus inter-app audio routing and performance recording. It's rather kludgy at the moment but if Tabletop is developed further and becomes widely adopted, perhaps iMPC needn't rush to grow its own feature set so urgently. Right now, it lags behind many of the more sophisticated apps, but could still prove tempting, especially to hardened MPC fans. Paul Nagle

Neyrinck V-Control Pro

DAW Controller App For iPad

Neyrinck's V-Control Pro aims to be a universal controller for all the most popular DAWs and supports Logic 9 Pro, Pro Tools, Cubase/Nuendo, FL Studio, Tracktion, Studio One, Reaper, Reason, Ableton Live, Final Cut Pro 7 and Sonar. At £34.99, V-Control Pro is one of the more costly iPad DAW-control options, although there is a free version with fewer features.

V-Control communicates with your computer via Wi-Fi, and before you get started you'll need to install Neyrinck's Ney-Fi software on your Mac or PC to get it and the V-Control talking properly.

Once this is done, setup is pretty painless. A settings button allows you to select which computer you want to talk to and which of the supported DAWs you're using. Just tap the DAW name in the list and you're done. My initial tests were undertaken using Logic v9.1.7 on both a Macbook Pro running Lion and on a Mac Pro running Snow Leopard. I also checked the operation with Studio One 2 and Pro Tools 10.

Neyrinck's V-Control Pro running with Studio One 2.Neyrinck's V-Control Pro running with Studio One 2.As with most controller apps, the majority of the screen is given over to eight channels comprising faders (with metering), a rotary control, mute, solo, input monitor and record buttons. The rotary controls operate as pans or as sends, while a 'Win' button opens and closes Logic's Mixer window when in Logic mode. A Group Suspend button toggles fader grouping on and off. Track names are displayed at the top of each channel, and tapping the automation box below opens up a menu of automation modes.

Transport controls inhabit the bottom of the screen and include a button to open a sub-window with extra transport buttons for Punch, Bars, SMPTE, markers, and so on. Tapping the fast-forward or rewind buttons briefly moves the cursor one bar at a time, while holding them down causes the cursor to scroll until you let go. The button with the two arrow heads to the left of the display opens up another small sub-window offering Bank and Channel buttons, though you can also use a two-fingered swipe to flip between banks of eight channels. Most of the key functions are the same with different DAWs, although there are slight changes in the appearance of the GUI to match the peculiarities of whatever DAW is currently being used.

Other buttons to the right provide All Mute Off and All Solo Off functions, and below these are buttons for capturing loop start and end points and auto punch-in start and end points. There are also save, undo and redo buttons, plus a further button that is used to open the App's Multi-panel window. The Multi-panel window has four display options, the first being V-Window. This displays your DAW screen and gives you a postage stamp-sized version of the current window and also of any open plug-in window. Tap your choice of window to display it at full size. You still have the transport buttons at the bottom, so this is a useful view for navigating the song if you're starting a record pass from a drum kit set up at the other end of the studio. Plug-in windows can also be enlarged, giving you tactile control over elements such as EQ curves.

At the top left of the Multi-panel window is another button that shows the four display options and gives you access to a very thorough user guide. The four display options are the V-Window just described, as well as Edit, Plug-in and Instrument. Edit provides panels for automation writing and filtering and copy and paste editing, DAW window selection and Screen Set selection. Plug-in shows the insert slots for the selected channel and allows you to select or bypass any one of them. When selected, the controls for the plug-in are presented as rotary controls with all the correct labels, and if they won't all fit onto one page, a pair of Page buttons allow you to navigate additional pages. Instrument works in a similar way, but for Instrument tracks.

During my testing, V-Control linked to Logic on my MacBook Pro on the first try, but in the case of my studio Mac I had to trash the Logic preferences to get the V-Control bank function to work properly. Everything then worked as promised, but did it make life any easier? As a way of remote working or a means of adjusting multiple faders at the same time, V-Control Pro works extremely well. However, I missed having horizontal and vertical zoom buttons; according to Neyrinck tech support, Logic has a bug in its OSC control-surface protocol that prevents them from adding zoom controls, although some other DAW control apps I've tried seem to manage it OK. I also still prefer a physical wheel (or a virtual representation of one) for moving the timeline cursor through the song, although the solution employed here is quite usable. Being able to adjust a plug-in using the touchscreen is initially appealing, but in reality I found it easier and faster to stick to the mouse control method.

Next I tested Studio One 2. Following the detailed instructions provided made setting up V-Control (which appears as a Mackie Control) very straightforward. All the controls linked without fuss, so after a little experimental tinkering I shifted to Pro Tools. Again, the manual made setting up Pro Tools to respond to V-Control painless, and all the fader, button and read-out data translated perfectly.

V-Control Pro works well if your main need is to access faders, pans, mutes, solo, record buttons and transport. It incorporates some novel features, such as the ability to display plug-in and DAW screens, and in smaller studios the small physical size of an iPad means that you can fit it onto just about any desk without it getting in the way. If, like me, you are happy using a mixture of mouse, keyboard and control surface to drive your system, using an iPad App such as V-Control Pro is a very practical way to go, and it's also very cheap if you already have an iPad. I was particularly impressed by how smoothly V-Control worked with all the different DAWs I tried it with, and the manual deserves particular credit, as it makes setting up the controller to work with specific DAWs very straightforward. Paul White

MicW iShotgun

Supercardioid Mini Microphone Kit

The Chinese microphone manufacturers MicW offer an ever-expanding range of high-quality studio and measurement microphones, as well as an intriguing line-up of cost-effective electret microphones designed for use with iOS devices and other portable recorders and cameras. I reviewed the i825 omni lavalier mic in the November 2012 issue of Sound On Sound, and the newest member of the i-Series is the iShotgun, a miniature interference-tube or 'rifle' mic.

The MicW iShotgun wearing its windshield, which protects it from moderate wind noise and the cold. The MicW iShotgun wearing its windshield, which protects it from moderate wind noise and the cold. The iShotgun is marketed as a supercardioid but, inevitably, that's a fairly optimistic description. In reality, it has a roughly cardioid response at 1kHz, with a progressive reduction in directivity in the lower octaves. At higher frequencies, it has a usefully narrowed response, which helps to minimise the intrusion of ambient noise, but with the typical polar lobing associated with all interference-tube designs. This lobing can often be seen in high-resolution HF polar response plots, looking a bit like a squashed octopus, and it can result in a slightly phasey quality for off-axis sound sources that move around the sides of the mic, as the attenuation of different frequencies varies with the relative angle. So, for best results, don't wave the mic around, and try to avoid situations with moving off-axis sources (like conducting an interview at the side of a road with passing traffic!).

With a slim black body roughly 8.5mm in diameter, 120mm long and weighing only 20 grams, the iShotgun is a very compact microphone. A 3.5mm, four-pole standard headset plug protrudes from the base, allowing it to be plugged directly into smart-phones. Laptops, tablets and DSLR cameras with standard three-pole 3.5mm input sockets are accommodated via a supplied extension/adaptor cable (see below). In both cases, the mic's signal appears on both channels. Plug-in power is required to drive the internal impedance converter, of course, but that is commonly available and the iShotgun has been tested with iOS devices including the latest iPhones, iPads and the iPod Touch. It also works with most laptops and tablets, as well as many DSLRs, including Canon's 5D and 7D, Sony's Alpha 6 and 7 Series, and Nikon's D7000.

Supplied in a compact plastic carry-case, the iShotgun comes with a surprising array of accessories. A long foam windscreen protects the mic from moderate wind noise, and a hot-shoe mount with integrated shock suspension allows mounting on DSLR cameras. It can also be mounted on small tripods, if necessary thanks to a threaded socket on the base. Two extension cables — a three-metre straight extension with four-pole headset plug/socket, and a half-metre coiled extension cable with standard three-pole 3.5mm plug — are also included, as are two headphone/mic splitter blocks (one in-line and one T-shaped). For situations where two mics are needed (for interviewer and interviewee, or for stereo productions), a Y-adaptor is also included that feeds each mic to its own recorder channel. Finally, there is a neat 220-900mm telescopic mini-boom pole that can be screwed into the hot-shoe suspension!

I used the mic with both a Canon DSLR and an iPod Touch, achieving very usable results in both cases. The sound quality is good, with a healthy sensitivity and negligible noise, and although it sounds a little on the lean side, this tonality minimises handling noise and helps with voice clarity. The laws of physics still apply to this mic, of course, so the closer it is placed to the source, the better the sound quality will be! But the interference tube does provide a useful degree of improved directivity at upper-mid and high frequencies, and the iShotgun is a useful addition to the MicW range. Hugh Robjohns

IK Multimedia iRig Stomp

Guitar Interface For iOS

IK Multimedia were one of the first companies to get behind iOS as a serious musical tool, but even the best software often needs some form of additional hardware component to get the best out of it. The iRig Stomp may look like a typical guitar effects pedal, but it is actually a guitar interface that will work with the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, and is compatible with most iOS signal-processing apps for recording, practising or live performance. It can be incorporated into an existing live pedalboard setup or even used in place of one, as long as you have a place to leave your iOS device connected where you won't tread on it!

App WorksThe iRig Stomp is built into a tough aluminium case and has a traditional footswitch with LED indicator, as well as an input gain control. Your guitar plugs into a quarter-inch jack socket on the right, there's a stereo output on the left, again on quarter-inch jacks, and a special four-way mini-jack cable is included to connect it to your iOS device. A second stereo mini-jack socket provides a phones output. There's no USB option for computer connection, though. Power comes from a 9V battery, and to get you started you can load up the free version of Amplitube that's available from the Apple App Store. On-board active circuitry matches the guitar impedance to the input stage, and also provides plenty of low-noise gain, leaving adequate headroom. The footswitch bypasses Amplitube (or other compatible iOS app) for live performance and also mutes the headphones output.

The Stomp feels very solid, in a familiar stomp-box way, and delivers clean audio quality, which I guess is all it really needs to do. It worked fine with Amplitube Free and Amplitube Fender Free, as you'd expect, but it also functioned immediately with AmpKit, which is not an IK product. I sometimes wanted the headphone output to be a little louder, but I know the health and safety people have been putting pressure on manufacturers to moderate headphone output levels, so that's something you have to live with.

Given that the Stomp is so affordable and compact, it occurs to me that it would also make an excellent backup for the gigging guitarist, in that if your amp blew up during a gig, you could plug the iRig Stomp into the PA and finish off the evening confident that you'd still have access to decent guitar sounds and effects.

The iRig Stomp pairs beautifully with its software counterpart and could be a godsend for the mobile guitarist. Paul White

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