App Works

Making Music On The Move

Published in SOS October 2012
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Reviews : Miscellaneous

Paul White

Focusrite iTrack Solo

Audio Interface For iOS

App Works

Focusrite have developed quite a reputation for audio interfaces, and the iTrack Solo is their first one designed for use with iOS devices, although it can also be used with a computer via its USB 2 connection. The iTrack Solo incorporates 24-bit converters, but is limited to 16-bit operation when used with an iPad. For connection to an iPad, a short adaptor cable is included, and this connects to the Device Link port on the rear of the iTrack Solo. The features offered here are more like those found on smaller home-studio audio interfaces than on consumer iPod products, so you get a headphone output, a stereo line output on RCA phonos, and a sensibly large volume control. There's also a switch for direct monitoring, which allows the input signal to be heard direct, mixed with the DAW output. Input one is a dedicated mic channel with input gain trim and switchable phantom power. Input two is for instruments or line sources and has a quarter-inch unbalanced jack connection, again with a gain trim control. When the iTrack Solo is used with a computer, a green LED on the front panel shows that a USB connection has been established with the host, from which the iTrack also draws its power. When used with an iPad, the iTrack must be powered via its USB input, using a USB charger type of device, which you have to supply yourself. Fortunately, most Apple iOS devices come with one. No additional software is necessary to use the interface with Mac OS or iOS devices (PC Windows drivers can be downloaded from Focusrite).

The designers have built a neat level indicator into the front panel, in the form of an LED ring around each gain trim knob. When the signal is too low, the LED ring is off, but when a signal is detected it lights in green, changing to amber at close to the maximum level. Flashes of red indicate a clip. My tests were done using an iPad 3 and Beyerdynamic DT770 Headphones. There was plenty of headphone level and the phantom power worked fine with my LD 1011 back-electret mic.

When used with GarageBand or similar DAW software, the mic input feeds channel one and the jack input channel two. The sound quality seems pretty clean and transparent; certainly good enough for serious demo work. However, I found the iTrack came unstuck when I wanted to try some guitar-amp modelling software, as the jack input is on channel two but the guitar-amp software expected to see an input on channel one. The amp software had no way to switch inputs and the iTrack had no way to switch outputs, so I simply couldn't use it in that instance.

Overall, the iTrack works perfectly well as long as you accept the above-mentioned limitation. I feel happier that it connects via a cable rather than, as some devices do, by plugging directly into your iPad, leaving heavy XLR and jack cables placing unnecessary strain on the connector. Having to find a source of USB power is mildly irritating, but is a small price to pay for a decent interface, and the iTrack Solo is currently one of the more serious two-channel interface offerings for iOS. Paul White

WaveMachine Labs Auria

DAW For iPad

Auria's Mix view. Unlike the Edit view,  it can be rotated to portrait orientation, to give long-throw faders. Auria's Mix view. Unlike the Edit view, it can be rotated to portrait orientation, to give long-throw faders. Auria's Edit screen with an instance of FabFilter's bundled Pro Q EQ plug-in running in the foreground.Auria's Edit screen with an instance of FabFilter's bundled Pro Q EQ plug-in running in the foreground.

WaveMachine Labs Auria is the first truly professional multitrack recording app to hit the App Store. Priced at a mere fraction of the cost of a desktop DAW, Auria realises the promise of portable recording and mixing with the iPad. For an initial release, the feature set is staggering: 48 tracks of simultaneous playback (stereo or mono), 24 simultaneous tracks for recording (with an appropriate USB interface and Apple Camera Connection Kit), sample rates between 44.1kHz and 96kHz, 64-bit, double-precision, floating-point mix engine, automation, video, AAF import and export, convolution reverb, optional M/S EQ... Wow!

If you're familiar with virtually any modern DAW you'll be able to start working immediately with Auria. To make the most of its potential, you'll need to invest in a supported audio interface (a list is available on the Auria web site). I used a Focusrite Scarlett 18i6 for my testing.

The basic Auria interface consists of two windows: Mix and Edit. While the Edit window can only be used in landscape orientation, the Mix window can be flipped vertically to give you long-throw faders in portrait view. There are icons across the top of the screen to allow quick selection of either window, followed by Undo/Redo symbols and then Menus, which change depending on whether you're in Mix or Edit view. The primary Menu contains the expected project settings — New, Load, Save — with the added feature that you can save a project directly to DropBox. It's here that you also Add Tracks, Mixdown (bounce to disk), and set various preferences. You'll also find AAF Import/Export here. This is all pretty impressive for a Version 1 iPad app. The AAF file format is the best way to get previously recorded sessions from your DAW into Auria. It's especially useful to have when you need to bring in printed virtual instrument or Midi tracks, and of course you may want to export your Auria session and re-import it back into your DAW for final tweaks. AAF (and video) files are accessed via the app window in iTunes.

The Edit view features two additional menus: Edit and Process. Most standard editing features that you would expect of a fully specified DAW are present. Editing audio is accomplished with gestures consisting of pinches, flicks and taps. Anyone with modest experience with an iPad should get used to it quickly, although some gestures can be a little tricky at first. Users can trim, fade and move audio files with one finger. Additional features such as separate, duplicate, cut, copy and paste typically require a tap or two and an Edit menu item. A grid is available to restrain audio to various scales to aid editing, along with a Multi-Select Tool for selecting multiple objects to edit.

The Mixer has eight subgroups, each with its own dedicated Master Strip featuring EQ, bus compressor and limiter. A helpful output meter displays both Peak and RMS level. Touch Mode automation allows users to control volume, pan, send levels and all plug-in parameters, while in the Edit window users can manually draw automation data. Bundled plug-ins include a Channel Strip from PSP — offering an expander/gate, compressor and EQ — a PSP stereo delay and chorus, and two flavours of reverb (including convolution). Additional plug-ins are available for in-app purchase, to be used as insert effects in the Channel Strip, including the impressive-sounding Pro-Q from FabFilter (which supports M/S EQ), PSP's MicroWarmer and Echo, the THM guitar rig from OverLoud, and WaveMachine Labs' own Drumagog 5. There are also impulse response packs for purchase from MoReVoX. Finally, Video Import is available as an optional feature. The cost of all of these plug-ins will more than double your initial investment, but they add worthwhile enhancement and are well worth considering. Hopefully more plug-in developers will come aboard. Keep in mind that, as this is a 'native' DAW, there is only so much processing power to go around, and you need to manage your overhead just as you would on a desktop computer. Fortunately, Auria has a Freeze button in the Channel Strip to help you do this. There is also a helpful monitor in the Mix window to keep tabs on CPU usage, memory and disk space.

Auria supports two iPad-specific protocols called AuriaLink and WIST. AuriaLink allows ambitious users to sync two iPads running Auria for massive sessions (a good reason to hang on to an old iPad when upgrading to a new model). WIST is a Korg protocol allowing two compatible apps to sync over Bluetooth, with one the master and the other the slave.

For the most part, my testing with Auria has yielded satisfying results. There are a few bugs that need to be addressed, but updates are coming all the time and Auria is already up to version 1.02 after just a month. WaveMachine Labs have plans to add to the existing feature set, and a booming online community of users is amassing a wish list to spur them on. To some extent, Auria is limited by what the iPad will allow it to do, but as the iPad's specs improve, Auria is sure to take advantage of it. I conducted a few stress tests to see how far I could push things.

Forty-eight tracks of audio with the Channel Strip enabled on each track pushed my iPad 3 CPU into the 90-percent range. I then created 48 real-time fades of varying lengths that overlapped, which caused the Disk meter to jump to over 90 percent as well. A few additional Master Strips engaged on the subgroups caused the CPU meter to exceed 95 percent, inducing Auria to beg me to reduce the number of active plug-ins or freeze tracks. This was expected, and turning off some effects or freezing tracks improved things immediately. Considering the amount of great music that has been created over time on four tracks or less, Auria seems fit to satisfy most users' demands. Earlier iPad models will get less mileage, of course (iPad 1 users will only see 24 tracks of playback, four subgroups and no 96kHz sample-rate support), so adjust expectations proportionally.

The fact that you can — if you desire — engage in serious professional recording, editing and mixing away from your studio on a small tablet-sized device that costs a fraction of the price of a desktop or laptop system is something to be very excited about. I don't think that most of us will be selling off our primary DAWs anytime soon, but things have just got a lot cheaper, easier and more fun with the introduction of Auria. Bill Lacey

iDrum Tune

Drum Tuner For iOS

iDrum Tune's standard pitch tuning page.iDrum Tune's standard pitch tuning page.

I recently purchased (and reviewed for SOS) the TuneBot, a revolutionary new electronic tuner for drums. I absolutely love this product and find it incredibly useful for achieving consistent tuning across my drum kit, something that's often considered a black art amongst drummers. In fact, the only fault I could really find was the price. At £99 $99, it certainly isn't a cheap solution.

Now, hot on its heels (and costing only 69p$0.99 at the time of writing), comes the iDrum Tune, an App for iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad that's designed to analyse the frequency of any drum and display it on screen.

Having been so impressed by the TuneBot, I wasn't expecting a great deal from an app costing a fraction of the price, but I couldn't have been more wrong! This is a fantastic app that works brilliantly. The interface is clear, simple and easy to use: just hold your iPhone a few inches from the centre of the drum and strike the head. Within a second or two, the frequency information appears in graphical form, with the strongest frequency displayed in Hertz and as a musical note. This is perfect for finding the fundamental pitch of the drum and keeping all your drum tunings in key relative to each other, or tuning them to the key of a particular song. If you want a little more detail, a Spectrum View is provided that breaks down the frequency display further. This view enables you to clearly see the fundamental frequency spike, plus any other frequencies that are dominant in the drum, which is a useful aid in both tuning the drum and tracking down problematic overtones in a studio environment.

Using my TuneBot as the 'control', to check my readings, I found that the iDrum Tune performed flawlessly, giving almost identical frequency readings to its dedicated counterpart. I was even able to move round the drum tapping the head near each lug to get an idea of which needed tuning up or down to achieve an even tension across the head.

In addition to its tuning functions, the app includes a very well-written guide to using iDrum Tune that also outlines the general principles of tuning drums. The web site and Facebook pages dedicated to the iDrum also offer lots of useful information, and it would appear that the app will be updated regularly (the spectrum analysis is a recent addition), with new features making it even more powerful.

I absolutely can't fault this app. It works exactly as described and performs consistently, which puts it very much in the 'serious and usable' app category. You still need to use your ears and a drum key, but it's unbelievable value at only 69p$0.99, and would prove to be an invaluable aid not only for drummers but also studio engineers and producers presented with an out-of-tune drum-kit in a session. iDrum Tune: like a guitar tuner, but for drums! Mark Gordon

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