A couple of weeks ago, I posted a ‘part 1’ iOS audio effects apps roundup where I focused on the more conventional audio effects that are currently available for iOS. While these were very much a personal selection, any of the choices would be obvious to most experienced iOS musicians and there are some brilliant apps to choose from; AltiSpace, VanDelay, AUFX:Dub, Caramel, Audio Mastering, Final Touch…. well, you get the idea.
Classifying effects apps into ‘conventional’ and ‘creative’ types is, of course, a bit arbitrary but, as promised, here is ‘part 2’ of the roundup and this time the focus is on those effects apps that are perhaps designed more to make a sonic statement than to correct, control or subdue your sounds. These are apps for the iOS musician or sound designer who wants to taken their listeners on a somewhat more colourful journey into sound :-)
So, without any further chatter, lets get going and consider my own personal selection of the best creative audio effects apps available for iOS musicians. I’ve reviewed the vast majority of these apps on the blog at some stage so, if you want more details on a specific app, then just follow the links to the full reviews.
Top of my personal tree in this creative effects category is Turnado (UK£13.99) by Sugar Bytes. Turnado is, in essence, an iOS multi-effects processor. A total of 24 different effects types are included, any eight of which can be built into a Turnado effects preset, configured to taste and then manipulated or triggered in a variety of very hands on and creative ways. The effects include various types of delay, reverb, modulation, filters, loopers, amplifiers and DJ-style processes. The app can be used stand-alone or, via Audiobus or IAA, in conjunction with other apps so, if you want to process your synth, guitar or drum app, then Turnado will allow you to do so.
The obvious application is for manipulating drum beats and a number of the effects – stutter, vinylizer and slicearranger, for example – offer some fun in this regard. However, Turnado is easily more than just a beat basher; with the filter options (particularly the vowel filter which is very cool) and the vocodizer, it is also brilliant with harmonic material such as synths, basses, guitars or vocals. It is brilliantly conceived, the interface offers all sorts of intuitive ways to ‘play’ the effects, and the effects themselves are wonderfully creative.
This is an app that any electronic or experimental musician will want in their iOS app collection. The downsides – if there are any – is that is does take some learning (the price to pay for the depth on offer) and the interface is quite busy. This is not so bad on a full-size iPad but I’m not sure it would be quite so much fun on an iPad mini.
Effectrix is another multi-effects app from Sugar Bytes and, in some ways, it overlaps a little with Turnado. However, the key difference here is that you can control the various parameters of the effects via a step-seqencer environment. As the app can be tempo sync’ed to other apps you can, therefore, have all your effects changing their setting in time with your overall project. The results can be creative, very cool and, at times, totally bonkers.
Effectrix is currently priced at UK12.99 and it includes Audiobus and IAA support. The included effects cover reverb, delay, chorus, phaser, filter, distortion, vinyl/DJ effects and various looping options. While it is perhaps not quite as intimidating as Turnado, this is still a deep app. If you are up for the challenge of mastering it, the rewards are well worth it, but for those looking for an easy ride to creative audio mangling, then birdStepper (below) might be a better option to start with.
As the name suggests, WOW Filterbox is a filter effect app, combining various filters, distortion and modulators into a rather neat interface that makes excellent use of the iPad’s touchscreen. While it has an integrated audio player and recording options so you can use the app in a stand-alone mode and apply processing to any audio file, the app also supports Audiobus. It can appear in the Audiobus Input or Effect slot so, if you want to take a timid synth patch from an app in the Input slot, and turn it into a raging beast via WOW in the Effect slot, you can then record the end result via your favourite DAW app sitting in the Audiobus output slot.
In addition, WOW provides MIDI support. It will sync to MIDI clock and you can use the app’s MIDI Learn function to link a hardware controller to WOW if you want to play with its many parameters via hardware knobs rather than through touchscreen control.
Priced at UK£10.49, WOW Filterbox is at the ‘expensive’ end of the iOS music app market but, in the wider context of computer-based music software, is just another example of just how little money you actually have to spend as an iOS musician to buy powerful audio processing tools. If all you do is use WOW as a powerful filter effect full of excellent presets, then it is a brilliant tool. However, if you like getting your hands dirty and really dig in to what WOW has to offer, then there is a really powerful tool waiting to be tapped into.
Elephantcandy’s LiveFX app (UK£5.99) is advertised as a ‘DJ effects kit’ and, while that’s not such a bad description of what LiveFX does, if you’re not a DJ – but perhaps more of an electronic musician – don’t let the DJ tag deter you from giving LiveFX a closer look.
However, I think the clever design element of LiveFX is that it offers something of the wilder processing options found in Turnado or Effectrix but with a user interface that is closer to Swoopster in terms of ease of use….. an interesting mix.
The essence of LiveFX is that it gives you real-time control over up to four effects and you can apply those effects to either a live audio input, an audio file (for example, from your iTunes music library) or, if used with the included Audiobus support, the audio from another app. As shown in the screenshot, there are 20 different effects options organised into 4 banks of 5 and you can activate one effect in each of the banks at any one time.
For some very accessible ear candy-style effects, Elephantcandy’s LiveFX is just the thing. Creative, fun and a doddle to use for all electronic musicians with a bent for bending their audio. At present, the only downside is that we are still waiting for iOS8 support, including IAA support. Let’s hope that is forthcoming because, while the app is still great for processing live audio sources, LiveFX also has a lot to offer when used with other iOS music apps via Audiobus (and, hopefully, IAA).
Not all the creative iOS multi-effects processor apps are quite as mind-expanding as Turnado or Effectrix. For example, Holderness Media (run by the brilliant Christopher Rice) have a series of apps that fall into this category but which are an absolute breeze to use. My two personal favourites in the current line up would be Swoopster and Stereo Designer.
Swoopster (UK£2.99) is described as a ‘highly playable flanger, fuzz and vibrato effect’. Flange, fuzz and vibrato are pretty standard effects but the ‘highly playable’ bit is what makes Swoopster so much fun. While you can dig deeper into the control set via the app’s ‘Tweak’ mode, the ‘Perform’ mode provides access to four large X-Y touch pads that allow you to use the touch screen to change the effects parameters in real-time. These allows you to have independent control over the left/right channels of the stereo image if required and, as the name suggests, all sorts of ear-candy swooping effects can be created. Swoopster can do subtle, but that’s not really what it’s for. Very creative and just great fun to use.
Having used Swoopster, the interface for Stereo Designer (UK£2.99) will feel instantly familiar. You get the same twin Perform and Tweak modes of operation and the same sort of instant creative control over the effects.
However, the nature of the audio processing offered by Stereo Designer is quite different. Essentially, this app provides you with various ways to manipulate the stereo image of your audio. This includes the ability to take a mono recording and make it seem like it is stereo or to take a stereo audio source and give it a wider or narrower stereo image. Stereo widening is often used in audio mastering and Stereo Designer could be used in that context. However, it can also be used to gently process individual tracks within a mix – making an acoustic guitar recording or vocal sound double tracked, for example – or, more creatively, to whoosh things around the stereo image. With both low and high pass filters, you can also create some interesting EQ effects.
Both Swoopster and Stereo designer include iOS8, Audiobus and IAA support and the results can be fabulous. Indeed, Stereo Designer is one of the most creative stereo imaging effects I’ve ever used on any platform. If it existed as a VST plugin for the desktop, I’d buy it in an instant.
A further Holderness Media app in this list is Echo Pad (UK£2.99) and the blurb decribes the app as a multi-effects processor app. While this is a perfectly accurate description, it is worth stating that this is not ‘multi-effects’ in the way, for example, that Igor Vasiliev’s Master FX is a multi-effects app. While it can be made to do more conventional effects treatments (particularly in terms of delays) perhaps has more in common with Sugar Bytes rather wonderful (and often weird) Turnado. It is much more about creative or special effects – effects that are most definitely there to be noticed – rather than a bit of subtle treatment to help a sound ‘sit’ in a mix.
The main interface of Echo Pad is dominated by a large X-Y control pad with a small number of additional controls accessed along the top strip. By default, the X-Y pad has three active touch points on it each represented by a small coloured circle. The white circle controls the pan position (and, therefore, only works along the X axis) while the blue circle controls the delay (echo) with delay time along the X axis and delay feedback on the Y axis. The red circle controls a low-pass filter (X axis) and high-pass filter on the Y axis. Drag around and enjoy the ride J
However, a quick tap of the FX button brings up a range of other options. Some of these simply add additional delay-style treatments (for example, the multi-tap or oil can delay options) but others bring in different effects. These include a flanger, distortion, decimator and ‘fall’ and ‘rise’ effects. There is all sorts of fun to be had here and some of these effects add a further touch point. For expanding your sound mangling options in some weird and wonderful ways, Echo Pad comes highly recommended.
As I mentioned earlier, Effectrix allows you to control your effects parameter changes using a step-based sequencing system. It is very powerful but, for some users (particularly those new to music technology), it might just be more depth than they really want to face. If that’s you, but you still want a slice of the step-sequencing, audio mangling action, then birdStepper (UK£6.99) from developer birdSound might be just the thing.
You can almost think of birdStepper as an ‘Effectrix-lite’. It provides multiple effects that you can chain together to process your audio and it allows you to confirm changes in the effects parameters in a step-based pattern that will then tempo-sync to any other app in your iOS music workflow.
However, their are fewer effects in total and a smaller number of parameters to worry about. The interface is therefore less stuffed with things to worry about (unless, of course, you find yellow worrying) and the learning curve is not so daunting. The app includes iOS8, Audiobus and IAA support and, while perhaps lacking the details provided by something like Effectrix, it makes up for it in attitude and ease of use. It is also a lot of fun. As a first ‘creative effect’ for an iOS newbie to experiment with, this would be a pretty good choice.
The app’s blurb describes Crystalline as a ‘shimmer reverb/delay effect’ and, as you might therefore expect, this is not the app to use if you are after conventional delay or reverb treatments. Instead, think of Cyrstalline as a cross between a special effect and almost a synth-based source of ethereal pad sounds. It can be used very easily with guitar, vocals, synths and piano sounds, but will work with almost any source. Indeed, used with a solo instrument, such is the ‘size’ of Crystalline’s sound, it is perfectly possible to create a complete piece of instrumental music with just a melody line and the effect. Mixed in at a reasonable level, Crystalline fills a lot of space :-)
Indeed, given the current asking price (UK£2.99), and the fact that 2.9MB is hardly likely to cause anyone’s iPad to tip over its storage capacity, Crystalline is worth a berth on any keen iOS musician’s iPad. iOS8, Audiobus and IAA support are included. Crystalline is a special effect for particular special occasions…. but, when you need to pull that trick out of the bag, you will get some very special results. It is also just a heck of a lot of fun to play with. Highly recommended for those with an experimental streak.
I covered more obvious processing options for vocals back in ‘part 1’ of this roundup. However, there are also times (and musical styles) that need something less conventional and more ‘out there’. One useful tool in this context that has become a bit of a staple in electronic music is the vocoder. As the name suggests, Voice Synth (UK£6.99) is a synthesiser engine where the main initial sound source is intended to be your voice (although it could be any audio source). The engine then takes that vocal audio input – which can be ‘live’ audio or, via the built-in sampler option, a recorded vocal phrase – and allows you to process that through the synth engine and the built-in effects which include EQ, delay, reverb and chorus.
The synth engine features three modes; natural, robot and breath and these filter the original audio in very different ways giving results that the mode labels suggest. The app includes a Tape Deck section that allows you to record your Voice Synth performances and store them in a number of ‘performance storage’ slots. The processed audio can then be exported via email, iTunes File Sharing or iOS pasteboard. However, IAA is supported (although not Audiobus at present) so the app can be used with a suitable host DAW and, in my testing at least, works fine with Cubasis under both iOS7 and iOS8.
Voice Synth is a bit of a blast; it really is a lot of fun to use and, for some drunken robotic voices (you know, when you and your music buddies have had one over the limit on a Friday night), then you can just about pick any preset and get started. The interface is extremely well designed, easy to use and yet packs in a huge range of controls and options without ever feeling cramped or confusing.
However, please don’t do this and then bracket Voice Synth into the novelty app category; it is most certainly not. If electronic music is your thing, Voice Synth is vocal ear candy in an app; you just have to spend a little time with it to learn how to really get the best from it.
Essentially, csSpectral provides a range of both real-time and offline audio processing options. While there are other options within the app once you dig in, the main performance page provides nine ‘modules’, each with different processing options. The processing includes filters, delays, spectral options, reverbs and ‘cutters’, all with multiple choices as to the specific effect. And, once you get even a couple of these going at once, things can get pretty far out there in terms of sound; this is at the same end of the audio effects spectrum as something like Turnado.
csSpectral is not for the fainthearted; if you tend to strum a guitar and croon, then you probably haven’t read this far anyway. However, for the electronic musician, sound designer or those that just like to make noise and see where it leads them, then csSpectral ought to be on your ‘most wanted’ list. Boulanger Labs have crammed an awful lot of weird and wonderful processing options into a UK£13.99 app. If your experimental streak needs a fix, then csSpectral might be just the hit to give it. Includes iOS8 and Audiobus support but not, as yet, IAA. It perhaps churns through quite a lot of CPU cycles hen you engage all the modules, but this is a brilliant, if slightly bonkers, audio effects app.
Priced at UK£1.99, and at only 3MB in size, Klevgränd Produktion’s VanDelay is an iPad-only app what works with iOS7 or iOS8. Audiobus and IAA support are also included and the app is supplied with a number presets so you can explore what the effect can do when you first get started. Vandelay is a delay or echo effect. Like SquashIt (also from Klevgränd Produktion; see below), all the app’s main controls are laid out in a single screen and, aside from the large dial to set the tempo and (top-right) the Snap settings, everything else is set by ear; there are no parameter values to get in your way. You can make your own call as to whether that’s a good thing or not but, in practice, once you have experimented a little with the interface, this really is a very easy app to use.
The novel thing here is that you get three (user variable) frequency bands that you can apply different delay settings to. If you just focus on one band and mute the other two, then you can get some very effective – and fairly conventional – echo treatments from the app. Oh, and it sounds very good indeed in that role. However, the real fun (and it is real fun) starts once you engage more than one band. Even if you start with something as a simple as a single drum playing on beat 1, by the time you add in something from all three bands, you can create a complete rhythmic pattern. Tonal variation is provided courtesy of the three different frequency band and the results can be absolutely fabulous. This is one heck of a creative tool for what is essentially just a delay effect.
SquashIt is also UK£1.99 and applies the same three-band approach as VanDelay but, this time, uses distortion/overdrive as the key effect. Used with the utmost restraint, this is definatly an effect app that would be at home in the ‘conventional’ category and it is worth a place in the iOS music app kit on that basis alone.
However, through off your inhibitions and SquashIt can be pushed somewhat further. While you don’t get any control over the type of distortion (as you do with some distortion, overdrive or ’analog warmth’ effects that are available on the desktop), the three-band configuration does mean that you can dial in anything all the way to an overdriven fuzz-fest.
Having the three bands also means that it is easy to add distortion in an instrument-specific way. For example, on vocals, adding a little to the high-frequency band, a little less to the mid-frequency band and leaving the low-frequency band at zero gives a nice edge to help the vocal cut through. Equally, you can hype a bass line by applying just a little low/mid-frequency boost. Shifting the balance between these two bands allowed you to either ‘warm’ things up (the low-frequency band) or get the bass to ‘cut through’ a little more (the mid-frequency band). Both approaches were, however, very effective.
With iOS8, Audiobus and IAA now all supported, SquashIt is pretty much a no-brainer purchase for any app-loving iOS musician, especially if you like your sounds a little on the grungy side at times.
At one level, apeFilter (UK£4.99) can be described as an EQ effect and, as every DAW app that you care to think of includes some EQ options, and there are a number of very decent iOS audio effects apps that cover EQ, you can be forgiven for perhaps thinking ‘so what?’ when reading about another EQ app. However, do bear in mind apeSoft’s track record here; this is a developer that doesn’t really do ‘standard’ and, once you dig in, you soon realise that apeFilter is anything but another ‘me too!’ EQ option.
Indeed, while I’m not sure I’m fully qualified to comment on some of the app’s more technical details (I have no idea what a Spectral Grid compiler is, for example), given that you can create an EQ curve with up to 36 peak filters, and that you get very precise control over the settings for each of those filters in terms of gain, frequency and bandwidth, I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to label apeFilter as ‘most surgical EQ currently available for iOS’.
While apeFilter has an excellent toolset for correct EQ tasks, it also provides plenty of creative options. MIDI control is included and it is very easy to lock the various filters together and create some fairly dramatic EQ sweeps. With iOS8, Audiobus and IAA support this is both a surgical corrective EQ and a creative filter sweep specialist all in a single app.
With a pocket-money price (the app is currently UK£1.99), Deregulator could be described as a ‘spatial’ processor in that it focuses on stereo delay, echo and reverb effects. These types of effects are, of course, used in a conventional fashion in lots of recording contexts but that’s not what CKEK’s main man – Saveliy Kaliupanov – seems to have in mind with Deregulator :-) It’s wild, weird and quite often wonderful.
The app combines a stereo echo, delay and reverb effects but, as you can probably guess from looking at the user interface, there are some unconventional elements to the way these effects are applied.
Perhaps the first thing to clarify is what the app means by ‘echo’ and ‘delay’ as, very often in mainstream audio processing, these terms are used interchangeably to refer to any audio processor that adds repeats to an audio signal. In Deregulator, that conventional (well, as conventional as the app gets) effect is the echo. In contrast, the delay element is somewhat different as this refers to the app taking pieces/slices of your audio and mixing those back in to the audio output. The result is much more experimental.
However, the real twist in the tail is that many of the effects parameters can be set to vary in real-time on a random basis between minimum and maximum values set by the user. You can switch this randomisation on/off for different parameters (so you can, if you wish, get something almost conventional out of the app in terms of reverb or echo) and you have control over the depth of variability.
This is great fun to use if you like your audio effects to be on the bonkers side of unconventional. Those with an experimental streak will, I’m sure, love it. And, at the current asking price, even if only pulled out for your occasional moments of madness, Deregulator is well worth the entry fee.
Yes, Gliderverb is a reverb app but, while most reverb apps allow you to select a virtual space of various dimension and then pass your audio through it to simulate that audio being played in that space, Gliderverb’s main novel feature is that is then allows you to change the nature of that space in real-time. Even kept to just this simple concept, the results can be distinctly weird; to hear the virtual space size change as you play can be quite unsettling and there is plenty of potential for eerie ambient sound design here.
However, Gliderverb doesn’t just stop at room size changes as there are all sorts of other parameters you can tweak in real-time and a sampler mode to explore also. To say things can get pretty abstract pretty quickly is an understatement… but the results can be beautiful also and, if you like ambient soundscapes, then Gliderverb is a very interesting option.
The app has iOS8, Audiobus and IAA support and will work on both iPhone and iPad. The base app itself is free so you can try before you buy, but in order to unlock all the features (and disable a very regular reminder) you need to purchase the UK£4.99 IAP.
In essence, what WretchUp does is a combination of pitch-shifted delay with feedback and filtering… but don’t expect things to be too subtle here… this is an app for the more experimental audio mangler. If you like to keep things clean and pristine then WretchUp is perhaps not the app for you. The design ethic is very much for real-time experimentation though, whether that’s in a live performance context or for manipulating audio in the studio, that’s up to the user.
With an eye on live use, the interface is a fairly simple affair featuring five large swipe-able control strips; Base Frequency, Delay Time, Feedback 1, Filter and Feedback 2. In use, all you do is supply WretchUp with an audio input and then tweak the controls to taste. This is very much a case of ‘experiment and see what happens’… and sometimes its great, sometimes it’s baffling and sometimes it is downright scary.
WretchUp is not as versatile as something like Turnado not as controllable as something like Effectrix. It is perhaps a bit more of a one trick pony than these apps but that trick is going to be suitably chaotic and sonically challenging to appeal to many electronic music producers or sound designers. It is also very easy to use (if not control) and, for those looking to scare significant numbers of the paying public at their gigs (that is, use the app live), then it would be a lot of fun.
WretchUp is designed for use on the iPhone (and scales fine to an iPad), requires iOS7 or later, includes both Audiobus and IAA support and is priced at UK£2.49.
New effects apps are appearing for iOS all the time and, while this is already a pretty remarkable list, if you discover something new, or think I’ve missed one of your own favourite apps that could fall into this category of ‘creative’ audio effects, then feel free to pop a comment down below and share… and if you can switch me on to something new in this type of app then I’ll happily update the main article….