Following in the footsteps of Native Instruments and Akai themselves, the catchily named BeatHawk from UVI is an MPC-like sampling workstation for iOS. It’s a substantial download, grabbing just under 1GB of your iPad’s storage, and there are numerous invitations to increase this from in-app purchasing deals splashed across the file browser. Avoiding temptation, I concentrated on the two bundled collections: ‘EDM Factory’ and ‘Urban Factory’. Each is packed with drum loops, individual drum hits, kits, instrument multisamples and example patterns.
The interface is based around a single page with a 4x4 grid of pads corresponding to the 16 available tracks. Pad functionality is switched by a series of buttons positioned vertically on the left. Thus, pressing ‘Pitch’ replaces the pads with a two-octave keyboard for chromatic playing. Other pad functions include ‘Mute’ (global for all patterns) and ‘Volume’, which corresponds to Akai’s ‘16 levels’ option — ideal for adding dynamics. Personally I found connecting a MIDI keyboard to be a superior way to play and record. All things considered the design is friendly and accessible, with intelligent use of colour and icons showing at a glance the type of sound on each pad.
It takes only moments to populate the pads with loops, instruments and drum kits, after which recording your first tune is a piece of cake. If you make a mistake, there’s an Erase button ready to wipe and start again, but sadly, editing even simple correction of timing errors isn’t an option because there’s no step or grid editor. While this decision keeps the number of screens to a minimum, it does force you to redo when sometimes a slight nudge would have been preferable. Latency is on a par with most iOS apps; in other words the response is fine for string pads and some keyboard parts but there’s often a noticeable lag when playing percussion. Fortunately, if you play slightly ahead of the beat and enable Quantise it’s usually possible to nail a performance in one go. The MPC favourite ‘note repeat’ is present too, its rate matching the current quantise value.
Favourites amongst the supplied presets include many excellent strings, drum loops and solid synth leads and basses. If you’ve a hankering for something original, importing or recording samples is quite painless and though editing is minimal, you can at least trim and time-stretch. Time-stretch has a range of between 50 and 200 percent, and if the extremes work better for some material than others (rhythms break down, often in interesting ways), the function is useful to have all the same. However, your own audio doesn’t automatically adjust to tempo changes like the supplied loops. In addition, samples can be split and the slices played over the keyboard for a spot of instant remixing. Should you wish a sample to play all the way through on each hit, simply enable the ‘one shot’ option. That’s about as deep as it gets, but if the sampling implementation isn’t sophisticated enough for all needs, you’re free to paste in data using Audiocopy or import from services such as iCloud or Dropbox.
The right-hand side of the main screen is devoted to Track or Pattern editing. There’s no mixer, so this view is your sole means of setting the volume, pan and transpose on a track-by-track basis. It’s also where you’ll find each track’s low-pass and high-pass filter, the ADSR volume envelope, and delay and reverb sends. There’s no provision for recording filter or effect tweaks; indeed, other than notes, the only performance data captured is the modulation wheel and pitch-bend (found on the Keyboard page).
Switching from Track to Pattern edit produces a mini representation of the pads, plus options to copy or select patterns from the 16 available. You can also modify the pattern length (from between one and 16 bars) but you can’t dig in further and tweak pattern length below 16 steps — except as an override in song mode. You’re therefore assumed to be working exclusively in 4/4 at this stage in BeatHawk’s life cycle.
Your patterns can be arranged using a linear song mode that’s one of the most straightforward and interactive to grace iOS. At each step in the song, a pattern can be inserted, either at its original length or truncated/extended as required. Similarly, track mutes can be introduced on each song step and you can overdub across the length of the finished opus later.
Your finished song can be exported, either as a single 24-bit WAV, individual track stems or even a multitrack MIDI file, before being sucked from your iPad via iCloud or iTunes file transfer. Interestingly, exported songs can be re-used like regular samples, and I particularly enjoyed arranging complete mixes on multiple pads, each with different transposition, effects sends and filtering. With 24 semitones of transposition and polyphonic triggering of samples, BeatHawk proved very capable for creating ambient looping washes as well as more conventional arrangements.
BeatHawk is fast, pleasant to use, and the included sounds and effects are well up to scratch. It lacks some features we’ve come to expect — such as a note editor, a mixer and automation — but on the other hand it has a number of interesting applications beyond the usual dance/groove roles. This is a serious app that can only improve with maturity, although it’s also no lightweight, so an iPad 4 or better is recommended.