Audiobus 2 review – the most eagerly awaited iOS music app of the year finally arrives

Download from iTunes App Storeaudiobus 2 logoIf you have been making music under iOS for any length of time, Audiobus will undoubtedly feel like an old friend. I reviewed the original release back in January 2013, a couple of months after it had first been released and the initial trickle of apps with support for Audiobus started to grow into a steady flow. Since then, that flow has become a torrent and, in all but the rarest of cases, Audiobus support is now seen as a essential feature in an app for many (the majority?) of iOS musicians.

Personally, I think it’s difficult to underestimate just what Audiobus has contributed for music making under iOS. Whether you use your iOS device in a performance context or for composition/recording duties, Audiobus has becomes the ‘app glue’ that allows the various audio signals to be passed between your various apps. It is, if you like, a set of virtual audio patch cables.

Audiobus 2 in action with multiple audio signal chains and multiple apps in the effects slot - just hope my iPad Air can keep up :-)

Audiobus 2 in action with multiple audio signal chains and multiple apps in the effects slot – just hope my iPad Air can keep up :-)

While I’ve no special insider knowledge here, I strongly suspect that the appearance of Audiobus – and the significant kick forward that it gave music making under iOS – had an impact at Apple. If seeing this active community of music-based developers and users all wanting to capitalise on the obvious potential of the technology wasn’t, in some way, responsible for triggering some of the improvements in audio and MIDI handling within the OS, I’d be very surprised…..  No, iOS7 is still not perfect in this regard, but things have most certainly improved.

When iOS7 was announced – and the concept of the OS-level inter-app audio feature introduced – there was some speculation as to where this might leave Audiobus and, indeed, whether it might become redundant. Initially at least, other than saying that they were glad to see the new IAA technology, the Audiobus team just made some very positive noises about taking Audiobus forward but without going into too much detail. IAA has most certainly caught on and, for certain tasks, it is an excellent solution and a great option to have. However, it too is not perfect and there are limitations within iOS itself that obviously restrict just how far IAA can go at present.

Over the last few months, the reasons for the quiet confidence of the Audiobus team in response to the release of IAA have become apparent. Not only has Audiobus not gone away or become redundant (indeed, it remained essential for certain tasks) but, with a gradual trickle of announcements, it has become clear that Audiobus 2 was coming and that it was bringing with it some significant new features. And while IAA is going to remain relevant (and, I suspect, develop over time), Audiobus 2 looked like it was going to take the creative workflow to a new level for iOS musicians.

So, today, after months of speculation, titbits of information and lots of online chatter, finally, Audiobus 2 is with us. Has it been worth the wait? You bet….   let’s dig in.

Audiobus 2 – going in….

If you are using a multi-channel audio interface, you can specify which audio input is associated with each Audiobus 2 signal chain.

If you are using a multi-channel audio interface, you can specify which audio input is associated with each Audiobus 2 signal chain.

There are lots of new and interesting features in Audiobus 2 but one of the less heralded is actually one of the most interesting. As described below, via an in-app purchase (UK£2.99 – er…  just do it and be grateful to the devs at Audiobus for all their work), you can add Multi-Routing to Audiobus. This feature was announced in the pre-launch build up and I’ll talk about it in more detail below. However, there is an aspect of this I hadn’t appreciated until I downloaded the app and started looking through the documentation; Audiobus 2 provides support features for those using multi-channel audio interfaces.

What this means is that when you have two (or more) Audiobus audio routing chains set up, if you are using an audio interface that supports multiple input channels with your iOS device, you can associate a different audio input channel with each of the Audiobus Input slots (that is, the Input slot in each of your Audiobus signal chains).

This has a number of uses but one of the more obvious things is that you could have a vocal mic coming into one hardware input and a guitar into a second. These can then be assigned as the inputs to two different signal chains within Audiobus 2 and, via the Effects slots in each chain, processed through a different set of effects before being passed either to your hardware output (perhaps in a live performance context) or to different tracks on your iOS DAW app. Note that it is possible to use the same app in multiple output slots (at least, this worked fine for me with Cubasis during my testing on launch day) and, in Cubasis, each signal chain is then passed to a separate audio track for recording.

Note that the Input slots of the two signal chains are using different input channel numbers....

Note that the Input slots of the two signal chains are using different input channel numbers….

Of course, there is nothing new about being able to make multi-channel recordings under iOS providing you have the necessary audio interface inputs but the ability to process each of those incoming signals through a different chain of apps is a big step forward. Having experimented with this feature using my Focusrite 8i6 audio/MIDI interface today, it seemed to work very well and Audiobus makes selecting the required input channel pretty straightforward – this is a very useful :-)

Panel beating

Given that Audiobus 2 has lots of new features, and that it is now likely that folk will have more apps open at the same time, it’s not surprising that the Audiobus Connection Panel – the strip of controls that you see either at the base or the edge of any apps when running within Audiobus – can get a bit busy. If the Connection Panel gets expanded to the point where it extends beyond the limits of the display, it simply becomes scrollable, so you can always get at the contols that you need. As before, you can also swipe the Connection Panel of the edge of the screen if you need it out of the way entirely. Swiping from outside the same edge back on the screen will allow you to restore it.

The Connector Panel has a few cosmetic differences but, for apps that are fully Audiobus 2 compatible, also includes the On/Off bypass toggle.

The Connector Panel has a few cosmetic differences but, for apps that are fully Audiobus 2 compatible, also includes the On/Off bypass toggle.

Aside from some minor visual differences, the other obvious new feature here is an On/Off toggle button for any app that is fully Audiobus 2 compatible. This acts as a bypass switch for that particular app and the audio is simply passed on to the next app in the signal chain for any further processing. I’m not sure if there are technical differences under the hood with this On/Off arrangement compared to the power button icon that appeared under the original Audiobus but, either way, with the option of multiple Effects slots in a signal chain, it’s great to be able to bypass individual apps in such a straightforward fashion.

Links in the chain

As indicated above, one of exciting new features of Audiobus 2 is the ability to have multiple Effect slots within with signal chain. You no longer have to choose which effect you want to apply; you can apply as many as your iOS device will allow before it gives up and goes for a lie down. When adding effects to a chain, there is room in the display for the first four. However, don’t let that stop you; if you add further effects, the central part of the signal chain between the Input and Output slots simply becomes scrollable and you can swipe back and forth to see all the effects within the chain. This works very smoothly.

If you add more than about four effects, the central portion of the signal chain strip becomes scrollable so you can easily move between apps.

If you add more than about four effects, the central portion of the signal chain strip becomes scrollable so you can easily move between apps.

The effects are applied within the order that you add them (essentially, from left-to-right when viewing a chain in horizontal mode or top-to-bottom if the chain is displayed in vertical mode; this orientation changes depending upon how many chains you have open). The only other observation to make here is that, at present at least, you can’t re-order the sequence of effects by dragging and dropping them. Instead, you have to unload them from Audiobus (although you do not stop them running in the background) and then rebuilt the order of effects that you might require. Obviously, if constructing a complex processing chain, think carefully before you start adding apps or you might find yourself having to go back and start again. Still, this is a modest price to pay in terms of effort given the flexibility offered by these multiple Effects slots.

The chain gang

Of course, one of the headline new features is the ability to have those multiple signal chains and, unless you are somehow related to Scrooge, the UK£2.99 IAP is an investment that is well worth making. This really is a sight to behold; multiple strips of Audiobus Input, Effect and Output slots all neatly lined up side by side. I know – I sound sad and geeky – but this really does feel like a massive leap forward.

The screenshot here shows three signal chains all eventually arriving at a different audio track within Cubasis. Now, you could, of course, have already had the various synths and drum machines shown here all running in the background, being triggered via MIDI from within Cubasis and then passing their audio to Cubasis using a combination of virtual MIDI and IAA. What would have been less elegant is the way you configured this and – if your iPad allows – you now also get the additional effects (over and above the limit of 3 insert effect slots provided by Cubasis itself that could be used to house IAA effects) that can be applied to each Input stream.

How many complex signal chains can your iPad take?

How many complex signal chains can your iPad take?

As this is still launch day, I’ve still not had enough time to know just how far you can take these kinds of setups on my own iPad Air system. Obviously there will be limits but they are not going to be defined by Audiobus but by the current iOS hardware – and that’s something that Apple will, of course, move forward on a regular basis.

Getting in a state

The other headline new feature – Audiobus presets – actually contains two aspects. The presets themselves and, for those apps that support it, the additional element of State Saving. The basic presets – the ‘map’ of apps that you have placed in your Audiobus configuration – already works with any Audiobus compatible app. However, State saving is something that developers are going to have to add some code for; fingers crossed this is something that starts to snowball.

Once you have created a configuration that you wish to save for later recall, you can do this from either the main Audiobus window (tap on the folder icon top-right) or via the Audiobus section of the Connection Panel while working within another app (the Connection Panel contains two folder icons for this; one to create a new presets and another to update an existing preset).

Once saved, a preset can be recalled from the main Audiobus window. Tapping on the folder icon displays a list of all the presets you have created and you simply pick the one you want and then wait while Audiobus does it’s thing. Any apps that are already running will load automatically while for any that are not, you get the usual ‘Tap to launch’ prompt (and I had a few occasions when apps that I knew were loaded still prompted me for this). It’s perhaps not quite as painless a process as loading a project on your favourite desktop DAW and having everything just pop open as you left it, but it is pretty darn close.

Note also that presets can be copied and exported (for example, via email). You could, therefore, send a preset to a musical collaborator and, providing they had access to the same set of apps that you have, they could load up the preset and get the exact same configuration; very cool.

The preset system works very smoothly and, in terms of overall workflow, is going to prove very useful indeed. Note the State Saving info bottom-right for all those apps that currently support this feature.

The preset system works very smoothly and, in terms of overall workflow, is going to prove very useful indeed. Note the State Saving info bottom-right for all those apps that currently support this feature.

It will get even closer to the desktop workflow when more apps support the new State Saving feature. At present, when you reload a preset that contains an app that doesn’t support State Saving, then it will be up to the app to decide exactly what configuration is starts with. This might be a default patch (for example in a synth) or simply the settings that it was last used with (which might not match the settings you used it with when creating the Audiobus preset). So, while the presets get you the right combination of apps loaded (a great time saver), without State Saving there is still some house keeping to be done recalling all the correct app settings.

Having access to multiple Effects apps slots provides all sorts of additional creative options; guitar hero anyone?

Having access to multiple Effects apps slots provides all sorts of additional creative options; guitar hero anyone?

However, if an app supports State Saving – and there are already a number that do – you also get all the app’s setting recalled when you load a preset. Indeed, when you create or update a preset from the main Audiobus window, a pop-up status box appears bottom-left to inform you which apps within the preset support State Saving and confirming that their ‘state has been saved’ – very polite – and, for those apps, it is total recall.

... or how about something a little more scary? I'm sure there will soon be a competition to see who can create the most bizarre effects chain in Audiobus :-)

… or how about something a little more scary? I’m sure there will soon be a competition to see who can create the most bizarre effects chain in Audiobus :-)

Having dabbled a little with this feature today, it really is very impressive. State Saving is going to be something users are soon going to be demanding from developers. Once it becomes the norm, Audiobus presets are going to be a very powerful – and workflow efficient – feature. Bring it on…..

In use

Obviously, I’ve only had a few hours to experiment with Audiobus 2 so far and, while I didn’t experience any bad behaviour worth noting (aside from the issue that the Audiobus team are aware of when setting up the IAP for the first time; there is a simple workaround with a pop-up message to explain it and, apparently, an update is already in Apple’s pipeline). However, given the scale of what has been done here, and the multitude of audio apps that are going to get thrown at Audiobus 2 over the next few weeks, I’d be very surprised if a few gremlins don’t appear. watch this space….

The app list now includes a rapid scroll bar - great if you are an app addict :-)

The app list now includes a rapid scroll bar – great if you are an app addict :-)

One other really neat feature that helps in use is that the selection list when inserting apps now has an alpha list down the edge for fast scrolling; very useful if you happen to have a lot of Audiobus compatible apps on your device. Incidentally, do read the ‘help’ documentation from start to finish; there are a few practical pointers in there that are required knowledge to ensure a smooth workflow.

Frankly, however, a few teething troubles – should they appear – will not dent my enthusiasm for Audiobus 2. The potential is blindly obvious and the only catch right now is that we have to wait for other developers to catch up will full support for Audiobus 2 and, in particular, the State Saving feature.

I was surprised just how many apps I could get running together on my iPad Air system. No, I haven’t done anything approaching a full stress test (not really my area of expertise) but for the kinds of routine usage I can imagine requiring, it really was a very smooth experience right from day 1. If you are using older iOS hardware, then I suspect the temptation to run more of everything might just be another incentive to start saving for a newer device. Audiobus 2 is a cheap as chips but it is unlikely to do anything to help your bank balance :-) The Settings options do, however, provide you with a larger number of audio buffer sizes to choose from so, if things do start to get a bit scary in terms of CPU loading, you can always experiment here.

In summary

I’m not sure I need to add too much here. Audiobus 2 is a brilliant concept and, if you take your iOS music making seriously, then you will already own it. If you don’t already have it installed for some reason – maybe for those just getting the iOS music technology habit – then don’t hesitate. Buy the app and buy the IAP – Audiobus 2 is, like Audiobus 1, the ‘app glue’ to help your other iOS music apps work together….  except v.2 is superglue :-)

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that, for iOS music making, this is a massive release. Like the original, Audiobus 2 is a game changer and, if you haven’t done so already, nip along to the Audiobus forums and make sure you say ‘thank you’. A ‘must have’ app that comes with the highest recommendation.

Audiobus 2


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    Comments

    1. AudioBus is the most important music app because of what it allows other music apps to do. I don’t think there’s any question that we owe the rush of great music apps last year – not to mention Apple functionality like IAA and Virtual MIDI implementation – to the influence of AudioBus. I like the design of the new app and it was a classy strategy to make 2.0 a free update, and then give people the choice of paying $5 U.S. if they want to add a feature like multiple signal chains. I may buy it despite the fact that I’m not even going to try to use it on a device like the iPad2.

      State saving is a more exciting idea to me, but one that’s going to take some time to get working. There aren’t that many apps yet that properly support it, but this will come in time. But all in all, the update looks great, and it’s another great day for iOS music!

    2. I would have bought the IAP even if I never planned to use it (I will – it is awesome) just as an additional thanks for the countless hours of enjoyment Audiobus has enabled me to have.

      My prediction is that we’ll see a whole slew of apps that support state saving in the very near future. Why? Because I would bet that Michael and Sebastian in their continued brilliance have also made it reasonably easy for app developers to implement this feature.

    3. Hi Jeff/Joe – thanks for your comments – much appreciated. The Audiobus team absolutely deserve our support for what they have created over the last couple of years – and our thanks for what they have enabled us to create (in a musical sense) via their technology. And they seem like a very together/grounded company with time for their user base. It’s great to see…. Best wishes, John

    4. Jayson Vein says:

      Only thing I don’t like about the update is I can’t use Audiobus on my ipod 4th generation. Or maybe it is a 3rd gen. Anyway, that was a dissapointment, it still works on my 5th gen so that is good.

      • Hi Jayson… I suspect AB2 might be yet another incentive for some folks to cough up yet more money to Apple for new hardware :-) Such is life….. Best wishes, John

    5. Cheers John!

      To anyone thinking that their old iPad isn’t going to handle the new multiple chains you’re wrong, the reality is that there is a huge performance boost under the hood and I’ve heard several reports of performance being _improved_ overall and multiple chains are working really well!

      So don’t hesitate, get in there and have some, more, fun :)

    6. Brandon says:

      Jayson, if your ipod is an 8 gig 3g, it is actually a 2nd gen. I had this problem too, and apple quietly took the 8 gig 3rd gens out of circulation. If it makes you feel better, i have problems with ab2 on my ipad 2, AND on my iphone 5s.

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