Koala Sampler makes sampling simple again.
While, in the grand scheme of life on earth, an iPad is undoubtedly an expensive luxury item, bang‑for‑software‑buck, the App Store is pretty much unbeatable. And, if you already own an iPad (or an iPhone), and are in the mood for an app‑based take on making music from samples — as might have been cutting edge back in the day on a dedicated hardware samplers such as the Boss Dr Sample SP‑303 or an Akai MPC, for example — then Elf Audio’s Koala Sampler (which is also available for Android) is a pretty fine example of the value on offer. Koala Sampler offers the same sort of music production workflow and costs about the same as a large coffee on the high street.
Indeed, the SP‑303 was apparently an inspiration to Elf Audio’s Marek Bereza in designing the feature set of Koala Sampler. In essence, therefore, what you get is 64 pads (organised into four banks of 16 pads labelled A to D), each of which you can record (or import) a sample to. You can then trigger these samples in real‑time, recording your performance into 32 sequences. In turn, these sequences can then be triggered live to create a song‑format performance and this performance can be exported as a finished WAV file.
As shown in the screenshot, these three stages of the process — Sample, Sequence and Perform — are reflected in the UI with three tabs providing access to the key features used in each stage of the process. It’s perhaps not the most beautiful UI you will ever encounter, but it’s logically laid out, simple to interact with and, once you dig in, packed with features. So, for example, you get sample editing options, a range of basic effects that you can apply to your samples, and a set of DJ‑style effects that you can use while triggering your Sequences. Options for sample editing include trimming, pitch shifting, pan, volume, as well as options for resampling samples to another pad with effects applied, merging/appending samples or sequences, a keyboard mode for playing samples chromatically (for melodic or chord parts) with a neat option to constrain notes to a specific scale, quantize functions with swing options, and the option to trigger samples via MIDI.
The workflow is very much like working with an old‑school hardware sampler but with the advantage of the additional visual feedback the iPad screen offers. In use, it’s fun, quirky, very creative, and lends itself brilliantly to certain styles of music creation. And, like the hardware original, it’s also self‑contained; you can go from the first sample to a completed music production without stepping outside Koala.
How can software this good cost so little?
The compact feature set of this kind of sample‑based device (hardware or software) is part of their attraction (more time on creativity, less on option paralysis) but, if you do want to expand Koala’s feature set, the modestly priced ‘Samurai’ in‑app purchase adds some brilliant extras. These include some very effective sample time‑stretch features, a very usable piano‑roll style editor for your sequences and sample slicing capabilities. Again, the screen real‑estate offered by an iPad makes these more advanced features much easier to utilise than they might be on a dedicated hardware unit. Oh, and a further IAP allows you to add AUv3 support if you want additional options to work with Koala alongside other iOS music apps.
Of course, apps such as Akai’s own (more expensive) iMPC Pro 2 are among the alternatives to Koala. However, if you want to experience the classic sample‑pad based approach to music production, then Koala Sampler is certainly an excellent place to start. The workflow is efficient, the UI easy to navigate and there are plenty of features once you dig in (although the Samurai IAP is well worth adding). How can software this good cost so little? I’ve no idea; give it a try while the world is still trying to work out the App Store pricing model.
Koala Sampler offers an efficient and very creative all‑in‑one solution for sample‑based music production. Amazing value for money.