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Sounding Off

John Walden has his say!
By John Walden

In defence of the iPad...

I'm a bit of an iPad fan, but I must say that Peter Wavell raised a smile with his Sounding Off piece in which he documented his own less-than-favourable experience with the iPad (http://sosm.ag/apr14-soundingoff). There were certain points that Peter made that I can fully empathise with and, obviously, we all have different needs from our computing devices; if an iPad doesn't push your particular buttons, that's OK.

Peter expressed his concern that Apple's product line is getting more toy-like. I suspect the iPad isn't his only target here but my own take on this issue is somewhat different. Don't get me wrong, I think the iPad can make a great toy but, amongst other things, I also think it's an impressive piece of music technology.

I cut my own personal recording teeth on a second-hand Teac 144 cassette-based four-track recorder. For me, this was a magical device and the things it taught me have helped move me up the recording food chain to the desktop-computer-based project studio I currently use. However, as well as using a desktop system, I'm now also one of a growing band of iOS-based musicians.

My current 128GB iPad Air cost me considerably less than my original Teac 144 (or the Tascam 488 that replaced it), even without allowing for subsequent inflation. Drop another £100$150 on music apps (and you can get quite a few for £100$150) and that iPad can do service as a guitar amp sim, synth, drum machine, effects processor and recording environment. If required, it can even do all at the same time. If, back in the day, the music shop I purchased my 144 from had had a fully stocked (and lower-priced) iPad Air sat on the same shelf, I suspect my head would have exploded with excitement.

Of course, instead of an iPad, today's aspiring music technology junkies could buy a computer-based system. Whatever route you take, there is still a bunch of other 'stuff' (mics, headphones, speakers, software) you have to acquire alongside the computing platform itself and I'd absolutely agree that the laptop (or desktop) system is likely to be more powerful than the iPad. That said, I love my mobile iPad-based music workstation and, despite its more modest grunt, it's still a capable device for crunching zeros and ones.

However, price and power aside, lots of today's aspiring musicians have bought into mobile devices for other reasons. For them, and for their overall IT needs, it is simply their computing platform of choice. The fact that it can do music technology is, for many, a bonus, but one they can happily exploit with relatively low additional costs for software.

If you dig into the App Store you will discover that software developers — both established names like Steinberg, Korg, Propellerhead, Novation, Arturia and Cakewalk, and a whole raft of indie developers — have created some amazing music software to exploit this mobile hardware. Apps such as Cubasis, Auria, Gadget, Thor, Z3TA+ (some of them ported from desktop versions but available at a fraction of the desktop price) and utilities such as Audiobus are just a sample of what's on offer. Equally, there are apps, such as the brilliant Sector or Chordion, that are so good that I'd love to have them on my desktop system.

I'll qualify my enthusiasm with one last comment. I'm inclined to agree with Peter's statement that an iPad is a direct link between your bank account and Apple's balance sheet. Acquiring apps can become a habit, so much so that I might soon be looking for a branch of Appaholics Anonymous to join. But, given the pocket-money pricing model that operates in the App Store, I'm unlikely to have to sell surplus members of my family to fund my addiction.

Personally, over the next few years, I think mobile computing is going to be the platform on which significant numbers of those new to music technology take their first steps. Of course, like all those music technologies that have come before it, the mobile platform will probably have a limited life cycle before the next shiny, new technology overtakes it. However, until then, there are no games allowed on my iPad. Instead, it is stuffed to the gills with some brilliant music apps. The current generation of music technology newbies are a very lucky bunch.

About The Author

John Walden earns a crust writing production music, contributing to SOS and teaching. He also runs the Music App Blog web site: www.musicappblog.com.

Published June 2014