Musicians have been able to move audio between music apps in a number of ways for some time – Sonoma Wire Works Audiocopy protocol for example – but, as yet, these technologies, while very helpful, haven’t really provided a means to fully integrate your various music-making or recording apps into a coherent (seamless even) working environment.
Given that context, there was a lot of noise on some of the music-based forums when Audiobus was announced. It promised to revolutionise the way musicians could link their various music making apps and pass audio between – and even through – them. Well, Audiobus is now with us, and having spent a little time with the app, a review is definitely required. So, does Audiobus live up to its pre-release promise?
The principle behind Audiobus is very simple. It allows other audio apps to operate as one of three types; inputs, effects or outputs. Users can then establish links between these different types and, with Audiobus managing the process, audio from an app of one type can be passed to one of another type. So, for example, you might have a synth app that you are playing (the input app) and the audio from that app can be routed to your mutlitrack DAW app to be recorded.
Alternatively, the synth app’s audio might first be passed to a separate filter app or delay app (in Audiobus’ effect app slot) where the effect is applied to the audio and then the audio is routed on for a second time to an output app (most obviously your DAW app again).
In addition, your iPhone or iPad audio input can be assigned as an input source in Audiobus (so you can bring live audio from a mic or guitar into the system) and the iDevice’s audio output can also be specified as an output device in Audiobus (so you can attach your iPad/iPhone to a mega PA and let an audience into what iOS music is all about).
Essentially, therefore, what Audiobus provides is a way to route audio from apps that make sound, through apps that can process sound, and into apps that record sound.
Got a ticket yet?
So the principle is simple and, as even a novice to music making under iOS can probably appreciate, if it works, all this is actually a pretty big deal.There is, however, still a hurdle to be overcome; getting other app developers on board. While A Tasty Pixel can do all they can to produce a slick interface to Audiobus and ensure the audio protocols are robust and efficient, they are dependent upon other app developers to integrate the required code into their own apps so that they support the Audiobus format.
Getting the majority of developers on board is obviously going to take time. However, the process is likely to go faster once A Tasty Pixel make the Audiobus SDK publically available. At the time of writing, while they have lots of developers interested, they are limiting the numbers they release it to so that they can offer support to the early adopters while they also ensure that the code is stable (a sensible call but I suspect it involved a great deal of self-restraint).
That said, there are already a number of apps that support Audiobus. These include iElectribe, iPolysix, iMS-20, iKaossilator, Rebrth, Magellan, NLogSynth Pro, WaveGenerator, Sunrizer, Thumbjam, Animoog, JamUp XT, Echo Pad, Multitrack DAW and A Tasty Pixel’s own Loopy HD. There is a full list of the apps currently offering Audiobus support, and which is regularly updated, on the Audiobus website.
For those interested in the recording possibilities Audiobus opens up, informal comments on both the WaveMachineLabs and Steinberg forums suggest that both Auria and Cubasis – perhaps the two iOS DAWs with the highest profiles – will get Audiobus support, although no official announcement on a timeframe has been specified by either developer.
On the bus
Whatever the technology that is going on under the hood, in use, Audiobus is both slick and straightforward. On first start-up, you are faced with the main Connections screen where you can specify which apps you want to place in either an input, effect or output slot. Tapping on any one of these three locations opens a selection dialog that shows all the currently installed apps that might be placed in that type of slot.
Interestingly, depending upon how a developer has chosen to implement Audiobus integration into an app, it can appear in different types of slots. So, for example, NLogSynth Pro is available as an input (where it can make some sound of its own), effect (where it can process the sound from another app) or output (where it can act as a recording device). What’s more, some apps can even appear in more than one slot type at any given time. A Tasty Pixel’s own Loopy HD is one example.
As illustrated in the screenshot, while you are only allowed to place one app at a time in the effect or output slots, you can have multiple apps activated as inputs. Once an app is activated in a slot – and you get prompted to tap again if you select an app and it is not currently running in the background – tapping on the icon will switch to that app. And, for the main screen of Audiobus, that’s pretty much all you need to know.
However, the app has one other very neat little feature and which helps to make it feel so slick. Once you are working in one of your Audiobus-linked apps, a sidebar pull-out menu allows you to quickly switch between apps and, even more impressive, activate key functions in some apps without actually going to that app. For example, when using Multitrack DAW in the output slot but while working in another app (for example, a synth app in an input slot), the sidebar pull-out menu shows miniature playback, rewind and record buttons for Multitrack DAW. You can, therefore, trigger these key transport functions without having to switch back to Multitrack DAW – very clever. This sidebar menu can be toggled on/off so, if you don’t want it in your way while you work in a particular app, then that’s also possible.
But, in terms of learning cure, that is pretty much it. Audiobus does the job it says it will with a minimum of fuss and, for the user, a maximum of ease.
There are a huge number of very impressive apps for musicians that are now available for iOS and the flow of new arrivals seems to be continuing. However, no matter how brilliant any of these individual apps might be, they become even more useful if you can link them together. And in Audiobus, we now have a glimpse of just how – for audio connections at least – that might be done. I sincerely hope A Tasty Pixel can push this technology forward.
Equally, I hope that other app developers realise that this inter-app connectivity adds value to their own products and decide to support the protocol by building it into their own apps. Frankly, given just how well Audiobus works with the apps that currently support it – and the very positive noises being made by the majority of users who have already tried Audiobus – app developers who don’t support it may very well find customers going elsewhere.
Audiobus is a brilliant concept that iOS musicians – particularly those interested in recording – absolutely need. The potential is already obvious. And at £6.99 (or the equivalent $/€ price), Audiobus is well worth buying into. Highly recommended.