As I posted earlier today in talking about the Audiobus update that has appeared, there have been a flurry of iOS music updates today for apps that are now supported the new Ableton Link protocol. This technology is designed to allow Ableton’s Live software to sync with other products but, as Ableton announced a few weeks ago, a number of iOS music app developers have been working away at adding support to their apps.
We already have MIDI Clock sync and Korg’s WIST technology for this job but, in fairness to Korg, WIST didn’t perhaps get the push it deserved and so didn’t get particularly wide support. And while MIDI Clock sync ought to work…. well, under iOS at least, oftentimes it doesn’t. So maybe – given a fair wind and a willingness by developers to add the technology to their code – Ableton Link will provide a more robust solution.
And, as you don’t have to be an Ableton user to benefit from Link – you can use it to just sync compatible iOS music apps together on a single iOS device if you wish – this may be a technology that the iOS music making community will embrace with open arms….
So, today has seen updates for Audiobus itself and this now includes the Link technology. Do note, however, that while Audiobus supports Ableton Link – and can make using it easier between iOS music apps – individual apps used within Audiobus will need to have Ableton Link supported added by their developers; the fact that support is now built into Audiobus itself doesn’t automatically add that support to all Audiobus compatible apps.
However, also updates today are most of Korg’s iOS music apps (including Gadget), Elastic Drums, MoDrums, Loopy HD, triqtraq and iMPC Pro. These has all had Ableton Link support added. Whether inside Audiobus or without Audiobus, once you enable Link within these apps (and there is a menu option in each to allow you to do this), then they should ‘see’ each other and be able to sync tempo and playback, although how the later behaves seems to depend upon the various apps involved…. more on this in a minute.
So how well does this new technology work? Well, having opened all of these apps on my iPad Pro but without using Audiobus at all, I got various ‘Link…’ messages as the apps opened indicating that they were all seeing the other Ableton Link enabled apps. Then, when I set a tempo in, for example, Gadget, all the other apps seemed to adjust their internal tempo to match. Hitting playback in Gadget did not, however, trigger playback in the other apps…. that had to be done manually but, thankfully, once triggered, apps wait politely for the next bar start to roll around before locking into the playback at the right tempo.
I have to admit that I don’t know enough about the technical specifications of the new protocol to know if there is a ‘master’ device here in this setup…. or how you might control this… and, with only a short period of experimentation, I have not tried all the possible combinations yet…. However, the sync seemed tight and I have to say I was impressed.
Used without Audiobus, the only app I experienced different behaviour with was iMPC Pro (at least, I think it was this app that generated this slightly different behaviour) in that it’s transport controls did seem to trigger playback in, for example, Gadget… but the behaviour didn’t seem consistent and it does suggest that there may be some gremlins still in the system here, whether in the Link technology in general or the way it has been implemented in specific apps.
However, there are two other things worth noting that make this new technology even more interesting. First, as I reported earlier, when all the apps with Link support are hosted within Audiobus, Audiobus now adds a ‘Play’ button to the Audiobus control/quick switch strip… and this, when pressed, will simultaneously trigger/stop *all* the loaded apps with Link enabled. This really is very cool and is yet another string to the Audiobus bow that makes it such a useful utility for iOS musicians. Oh, and Audiobus also automatically enables Link within an app if an app with Link support is loaded into Audiobus.
Second, Link is a technology that works across a WiFi network. The other cool thing I’ve been able to try, therefore, is syncing apps via Link between two iOS devices. In my case, this was between my iPad Pro and iPhone 6 and, on the latter, I had triqtraq running within Audiobus. This sync’ed playback with Gadget and a few other apps (including a second instance of triqtraq) on the iPad Pro and, while I’ve not done any rigorous or extended tests, the sync seemed pretty tight. As I changed Gadget’s tempo on the iPad Pro, so the tempo in triqtraq changed on my iPhone – very cool.
The only downside was that, even using Audiobus, I couldn’t get automatic play/stop triggering between the two devices – I had to manually start triqtraq on my iPhone but, again, it waited until the next bar division to start playback and they stayed locked to the iPad apps.
I’m sure there are more demanding tests that could be done with this new technology (indeed, you might well have done so yourself and, if you have anything interesting to report, then please feel free to comment below) and there might be some performance tweaks required somewhere along the way. However, I have to say that, at first sight, this is impressive stuff. I’m not currently a user of Ableton Live on the desktop… but I;d be interested in seeing if other mainstream desktop DAW/sequencer are interested in adding the technology (much like Propellerhead’s ReWire was added to lots of DAW/sequencers).
For iOS musicians the big question is just how widely the Link protocol will get adopted by other iOS music app developers. Ableton obviously got a number of developers onside for this launch and it’s great to see it get off to such a promising start. Here’s hoping that it is (a) easy to implement and (b) that Ableton provide suitable support for those app developers keen to join the party. Watch this space….. but Ableton Link does look like it could be a very useful addition to the world of iOS music making.