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Making Music On The Move

App Works By JG Harding
Published July 2011

Harmonicdog MultiTrack DAW v3.02

DAW App For iOS

The simplest app title award goes to: MultiTrack DAW. No prizes for guessing what this one does! It is, of course, a multitrack DAW for iOS devices, and allows the user to record and mix up to eight tracks of 44.1kHz, 16‑bit audio in its standard incarnation, or up to 24 tracks after purchasing in‑app upgrades. I tested the program on an iPhone 4, and had enough processing power to put together some decent arrangements, though I never got close to filling 24 tracks of audio: this seemed like an excessive amount for a mobile production program with so few processing options.

The interface is very pleasant to work with, and it's great to carry out familiar audio manipulations with purpose‑designed touch controls. Rather than making the mistake of expecting the user to have pinpoint fingertips, the designers have either included large yet elegant handles (as with transport scrub and fade-in/fade‑out) or used a zoom system, whereby the selected control swiftly zooms to fill the whole screen, where it can be manipulated easily.

Holding your finger on an audio clip (also known as a 'region') brings up a circle of options called the 'Hotbox', and dragging the lasso to one of these activates it. The only exceptions to the touch‑friendly system are the two built‑in, per‑channel effects — compression and EQ — which do have some rather small controls when used on the iPhone.

Since there are quite a lot of apps around that act as virtual tape recorders, MultiTrack DAW needs to go the extra mile to set itself apart. In terms of interface, it does so, but at v3.02 it's not quite there, processing‑wise. The per‑channel effects are a good option, but have some quirks. The compressor has a ratio setting between zero and one, not at all what we're used to, and it seems to have a very 'dead' behaviour that could do with some character. The EQ works, but the Q adjustment range needs to allow even broader strokes, while the curve graph could do with frequency markers to aid in judging equalisation. An option to normalise each clip would be useful, too, since input levels can be hard to set on the iPhone.

I love the forward‑thinking interface design in this app, as it's built from the ground up with touch control in mind, and is intuitive considering how much control is squeezed into such a small screen space. There are also some great practical features, like the ability to use a Zoom H4N as an interface with the iPad and camera‑connection kit, or the sharing of song files with a computer, directly over Wi-Fi.

At the moment, though, it's the lack of mixing tools and effects that hold MultiTrack DAW back a little. It would be a real shame if the developers couldn't add just a little extra in order to stay ahead of the game — a delay, reverb and a master bus with similar effects and a limiter would do it, and would make the app a great choice for mixing demos on the road.

The big question for Harmonicdog, being something of an independent developer in the iOS DAW game, is: can MultiTrack DAW reach its full potential before one of the larger and better‑financed developers creates a more comprehensive app for the iOS market? Without these additions, there's a danger of it being stepped on by the big boys as time passes. The update race is on! JG Harding

Eight‑track version £5.99; upgrade to 16 tracks £4.49; upgrade to 24 tracks £9.49. Prices include VAT.Eight‑track version $9.99; upgrade to 16 tracks $7.99; upgrade to 24 tracks $15.99.

IK Amplitube & iRig Adaptor

Guitar Emulation Software & Connection Hardware For iOS

IK Multimedia's Amplitube software for Mac and PC will probably be familiar to regular SOS readers. If you're looking for something a little more compact, however, Amplitube and iRig might be the answer. The iRig hardware provides a high‑impedance quarter‑inch input for your guitar, a headphone output, and an integral, three‑inch-long cable with eighth‑inch TRSS jack that connects to the iPhone, iPod or iPad, for combined input and output.

The hardware itself is straightforward; no buttons or switches, just plug in and you're ready to go. While the casing is made of plastic, it feels reasonably study and I suspect it would survive in a gig bag. A small warning, though — your average guitar lead is heavier than the iRig and iPhone combined, so make sure you secure both to whatever surface you place them on, or they may easily slide off onto the floor!

The custom‑coded version of Amplitube is available in three editions from the iTunes App Store: Free, LE and the full version. Free and LE each feature one amp but differing numbers of effects, while the full version (which I used for review purposes) includes five amps, five cabinet types, 11 effects, a tuner, a metronome, a single‑track recorder and the ability to play along to an MP3 track.

As you might expect, the number of modelled components is cut down compared with the desktop editions. The main sonic bases are covered, though, with clean, crunch, lead and metal guitar amps, plus a bass amp and a corresponding set of cabinet types. If the range of amps, cabinets and effects is not enough for you, there are additional 'in app' purchases to expand the selection. These include a Fender bundle (also reviewed on this page, costing £8.99$14.99) as well as a four‑track recorder and mastering section (£5.99$9.99).

So how does mobile phone Guitar Rig sound? Well, pretty good actually and, for existing iOS device owners, Amplitube iRig is a fabulous practice tool. I particularly liked the Fender‑ish 'clean' amp, which features a very nice tremolo, while the metal amp, combined with the distortion or overdrive pedals, provided something suitable for a shred‑fest.

Things do tend to get a little hissy at higher gain settings, and while the Noise Filter effect is very good at taming this, it can also steal a little of your top end. Response to your playing dynamics is also perhaps not quite as convincing as some of the more high‑end digital modelling options, but this is not surprising, given the comparatively modest processing power that's available.

The interface, while compact, is easy to navigate. Switching amps and cabinets or dropping a pedal into one of the three available effects slots is very simple, and there's a useful 36‑slot system for storing presets, too.

For personal practice, I'd have no hesitation in recommending Amplitube iRig. It provides a great range of sounds, in a format that is compact and fun to use, and I suspect that this is IK Multimedia's prime aim for the package. However, it also does a respectable job when hooked up to a power amp or a PA, and while I'd hesitate to use it for a critical recording or live performance, using it for rehearsal or in an emergency situation is fine.

Amplitube iRig may not have the 'muso' credibility of a Marshall stack, but it is a whole lot easier to get in your pocket! John Walden

Amplitube iRig £29.99; Amplitube app £11.99. Prices include VAT.Amplitube iRig $39.99; AmpliTube App $19.99

IK Amplitube Fender

Guitar Emulation Software For iOS

I'm quite the Fender enthusiast, so I was pretty excited when I heard that IK Multimedia had released a set of Fender emulations specifically for their iOS version of Amplitube. The real‑world models that have been squeezed into the app include the Pro Junior (15W, 1x10), the Deluxe Reverb (22W 1x12), the '59 Bassman (50W 4x10), the Twin Reverb (80W 2x12) and the Supersonic (100W 2x12). On top of this, there are both condenser and dynamic microphone models to choose from, giving you a smooth or 'biting' tone, respectively.

The core software is iOS Amplitube, and owners of that should buy the Fender emulations through in‑app purchase rather than as a separate app. The Amplitube software itself is great: it's simple to use, and wonderful for practising.

Testing with a Fender Strat complete with Custom Shop '54 pickups, the amps were all good approximations of their real‑life counterparts. The famed Fender clean tones are all there, and though they're subtly less 'lively' than in the full‑blown PC and Mac versions of Amplitube, they're astonishingly close, considering.

Because of the way Amplitube for iOS is laid out, you can mix and match each amp with the speaker cabinet of one of the other combos, making for some interesting sounds. I was even able to get pretty close to the sound of my custom amp by using the Pro Junior and 1x12 setting, but of all the speaker cabinets I found the 4x10 my favourite, as it brought all of the amp models to life with a lovely signature Fender sparkle.

This app is pretty useful as an educational tool too. The one Fender amplifier I've never had the chance to play with in real life is the Supersonic, and from the app I can hear that it's capable of a very heavy form of distortion because of its double‑gain layout — a pleasant surprise!

Issues with the software are relatively small: it's a little too noisy (especially when you crank the gain up), and the built-in noise reducer really kills that Fender sparkle. Also, if you're using the volume setting to adjust the amount of overdrive on some models, it's a hassle to keep adjusting the master volume down or up, so an auto‑compensating volume (rather than an output compressor) would be nice to see in an update.

Despite some niggles, it's great fun to have all these familiar Fender tones so close by at all times, and coupled with Amplitube's multitrack recorder (which can be added via in‑app purchase for £5.99$9.99) and the ability to record with the iPhone's mic, it's a great thing for making demo tracks or practising. JG Harding

Amplitube Fender £8.99 including VAT.Amplitube Fender $14.99