When I was first trying to learn the guitar, teaching aids were either books or the occasional audio resource. To slightly re-word a well-worn phrase, these were the bad old days and, today, the range of teaching tools available for musicians is varied, vast and a whole lot more engaging.
Anytune Pro HQ – from Anystone Technologies – is a music app definitely falls in the latter category. The principle offered here is quite straightforward; Anytune Pro HQ allows you to take any audio file on your iOS device and adjust either the playback speed or playback pitch (or both) and, of course, the main application of these functions would be so you could slow a song down to more easily work out what is being played and so teach yourself how to play a particular track. This sort of technology has been around for a long time on desktop computer systems but, with Anytune Pro HQ, Anystone Technologies are trying to bring it in a much more convenient format to the iOS masses. Have they succeeded? Let’s find out…. Incidentally, while the app runs on both iPhone and iPad, all the screenshots shown here are from the iPad version.
The main screen of Anytune Pro HQ is dominated by two waveform displays. The lower one shows the entire waveform for the currently loaded track while the upper (larger) display shows a zoomed in view, the range of which is indicated by the large red-outlined arrowhead in the lower display. Located top-right of the waveform area is a button that either says Songs or Hide and this toggles on/off the browser panel. From this panel, you can search through any songs stored on your device to load them into the app. As well as the usual song, playlist, artist, functions for sorting through your tracks, there is also the option to import audio files from Dropbox, from your desktop via WiFi or from email attachments, so there is plenty of flexibility in terms of getting at your tracks.
Once you have loaded the track you wish to audition, pressing the ‘Hide’ button allows you to focus on the waveform displays and Anytune Pro HQ’s main controls. These are pretty straightforward to use and even a first time user is unlikely to get lost here. At the base of the display are some fairly standard transport controls for starting and stopping playback or quickly stepping through the file. Immediately above the main transport controls, is a nicely implemented marker system (termed ‘audiomarks’) so you can place a number of audiomarkers into the file at key positions (start of a verse, chorus or solo perhaps – they appear as a blue shaded rectangle with an arrowhead shape cut out at the base) and then use the controls to move quickly back and forth through the audio file to each audiomarker in turn.
If you just want to practice a particular section of the track, pressing the loop controls button (positioned centrally between the two waveform displays) brings up some addition tools allowing you to define a loop region. This is also beautifully implemented, allowing you very fine control over the positions of the start (A) and end (B) points of the loop. One particularly neat feature here is the step-it-up trainer button – this automatically loops through the defined region gradually increasing the tempo between half speed and full speed with each repetition – a great practice tool. There is also a very useful ‘delay’ feature that allows you to set a short delay between each repeat of the loop.
A pitch in time
Of course, these navigation and looping tools would be only so much froth if the tempo-shifting and pitch-shifting algorithms were not up to scratch. Thankfully, however, they are also excellent. Controls for both these functions are situated between the two waveform displays with tempo-shifting to the left and pitch-shifting to the right. Both offer either incremental buttons or a virtual ‘wheel’ to make finer adjustments so, again, you have plenty of control.
In terms of tempo-shifting, the app does a good job and you can generally slow something down to half its usual speed and still have respectable audio playback, although with these sorts of stretches, there is bound to be some loss of audio quality. This is also a little dependent upon the material; I found I could slow down more simple arrangements (a solo piano piece for example) further than a busy bit of ‘rawk’ where things tended to get lost in the fuzz of overdriven guitars. Even so, the results are generally very good and even slowing down to 75% is likely to be enough for many players when trying to pick out the details in a tune by ear. One other neat feature here; the app displays the tempo of the track (top-left, above the upper waveform display) and, as you use the tempo-shift buttons, this is updated to show the new tempo.
The pitch-shifting options work just as well and, while extreme shifts will, of course, also change the tonal balance of the audio (and induce those ‘special effect’ vocals we all love), shifts of a couple of semi-tones up/down are very smooth. This function is very useful if you want to play along with a track and the recording and your instrument are not both in standard, concert pitch or if you just want to change the key to something you are more comfortable with. One of my favourite live albums of all time – Thin Lizzy’s ‘Live And Dangerous’ (I know, I’m showing my age :-) ) – was originally recorded with all the guitars tuned down to Eb. It sounds great but is then a pain to jam along with without retuning your guitar; Anytune Pro HQ solves that type of issue in a flash.
And the rest
Of the other features, three are worth a further mention here. First, if the track has lyrics embedded within it (or you have added them via iTunes), these can be displayed via the lyrics mode button (the icon that looks like a page of text and positioned to the right of the main transport controls). Second, you can apply EQ to the track by pressing the small EQ mode button (the icon with the little faders). This really is quite a flexible system where you can add multiple instances of different EQ types (shelf and parametric) to adjust the overall EQ. For general practice, I suspect most folks might find this to be overkill but if you just want to brighten up a track or adjust the EQ balance having pitch-shifted it, then the functions are there if you need them.
Third is the LiveMix option. This is accessed via the small button with the microphone and, providing you have a suitable means of getting audio into your iOS device in the first place, allows you to balance any audio input you have coming into your iOS device with the track audio and to pan the two signals within the stereo image – although, of course, there is nothing to stop you simply playing along to your devices audio output if you are happy to monitor in that fashion.
For those looking to build their instrument skills – whether guitarists, drummer, keyboard players, singers or saxophonists – the ability to slow down tutorial exercises (perhaps a drum loop or a guitar riff) is an invaluable practice tool. Equally, if you play in a ‘covers’ band or just want to work out the chords or riffs in the latest chart hit, slowing down the track and looping the key sections, provides a way to dig into what is being played and pick out the individual notes. In both these contexts, Anytune Pro HQ is just the ticket. The interface is simple and easy to use but also has all the key features required to get the job done.
And while Anytune Pro HQ is perhaps not ‘cheap’ in app terms (£10.49 or the equivalent $/€ price), if you think a tool for pitch- and tempo-shifting audio for practice purposes is going to be useful for you, then this really is a very professional app that produces top-notch results – and while there is an ad-supported cut-down version of the app available for free, for serious musicians, the additional quality and options of the HQ version mean this is an investment well worth making.