I reviewed Auria when it was first released in July 2012 – around three months after the iPad 3 became available – and, like many iOS music tech junkies, I was very impressed with the ambition showed by WaveMachine Labs; Auria was, undoubtedly, a bit of a game changer.
Since then, the app has had regular updates and I’ve covered the most significant new features here as they have been added. These have included, of course, Audiobus support, integration of IAA and adapting to Apple’s rapid re-working of both iOS itself and the capabilities of iOS hardware.
And, as 2015 comes to a close, I think it is still fair to say that, in terms of pure features, Auria is still the best audio-only music DAW available for iOS by some stretch. Indeed, you might well argue that, in some respects, Apple’s hardware has just about caught up with the ambition of the app; if there was a limitation that many users battled with it was perhaps that realising the full potential of the recording and mixing capabilities of Auria was sometimes limited by the capabilities of the iPad hardware.
Despite all the excellent audio-based features and the various dedicated audio plugins available, there was one other (very obvious) limitation of Auria in a recording context; no support for MIDI sequencing. For some – those who didn’t use MIDI-based recording – this wasn’t a limitation (indeed, it might have been seen as a positive omission). However, if your music creation involved lots of synths and drum machines and other virtual instruments, MIDI recording/editing is a big deal.
There were solutions at hand (sync’ing a MIDI sequencer to Auria for example) but also competing apps that, while perhaps not matching Auria in terms of the audio recording/processing feature set, did offer combined DAW/sequencer recording environments.
Indeed, three and half years is a very long time in the relatively youthful environment that is iOS music making. The latest iOS hardware is now more capable and, perhaps despite our better judgment, our expectations of what might be possible in terms of music making with iOS have been raised with every new stellar app release. So, impressive though Auria still is, the long-standing question remained; when was it going to fully embrace MIDI?
This question was answered when Auria Pro was announced back in January 2015 and a clear statement that MIDI recording/editing was to be one of the key features of the new version. However, for one reason or another, we have had to wait until now (almost 12 months), for Auria Pro to actually become a reality; Auria Pro launched on the on December 3rd with a full price of UK£39.99.
Auria Pro doesn’t just bring MIDI tracks/support though… there are a whole bunch of other new features and a re-vamp of the visual design. Indeed, as I reported a few days ago, the feature list now looks, on paper at least, as close to a desktop DAW/sequencer spec as we currently have under iOS. So, having now had a chance to spend a few days with the new version of the app, does Auria Pro deliver? Let’s find out….
Auria Pro is stated as requiring iOS6.1 or later and a minimum spec of iPad 4. It almost goes without saying that, the newer your iOS hardware, the better the performance is likely to be. If you are purchasing from scratch, the launch price is UK£39.99. Existing Auria owners can, however, buy an IAP from within the v.1 app to upgrade to v.2 and this is priced at US$39.99 (around UK£27 at current exchange rates). The pricing of this has caused a few grumbles from existing Auria owners who had hoped they might get something a bit more substantial in terms of an ‘upgrade’ discount.
One area where existing users can’t complain, however, is that all IAPs already purchased will transfer over to the new version without any repeat purchases required. Given that some users have invested far more in add-ons and plugins than the base price of the app (just as you might with a desktop DAW/sequencer and VST/AU virtual instruments/effects), that’s good news. Previous IAP purchases can be carried over even if you purchase Auria Pro separately rather than upgrading your copy of v.1, although this is obviously a more expensive route to go down to get to the new Pro version.
As I indicated when posting about the launch of Auria Pro, MIDI sequencing is far from the only significant new addition to the app’s specification. However, it is safe to say that all the previous audio recording, editing and mixing capabilities remain intact and, in places, have also been fine-tuned or improved upon. While the app has had a visual make-over (more on this in a minute), for existing users, the operational aspect of the audio side or Auria will seem very familiar.
If you are new to the app then the basics of this are much as I detailed in my original review back in 2012 so I’ll let readers dip into that post for a quick recap. Instead, I’ll focus here on the newer features introduced in v.2 but I’ll try to mention any existing features if they have been given a tweak or significant upgrade.
One final point before I dig in…. while Auria Pro has a whole host of new things added, as yet, one of them is not support for the new iOS9 Audio Units (AU) plugin format. However, WaveMachine Labs head-honcho Rim Buntas has indicated that Pro will eventually support AU; it’s coming but is not included in this initial v.2 release.
Hey, good looking
For all the host of new features that are included within Auria Pro, perhaps the thing that strikes you immediately is actually the visual re-design. Unlike an app such as Korg’s Gadget, which brings a somewhat different take to the working environment, Auria Pro is organised in a fairly conventional fashion. It does, therefore, follow a path trodden by the majority of desktop DAW/sequencers (Logic, Cubase, MixBus, ProTools, Sonar, MixCraft, etc.) with the bulk of the action split between the Mixer environment and the Edit (project/arranger/timeline) environment. In terms of basic structure, this is no different from Auria v.1.
What is different, however, is the actual graphics. Gone is that rather retro (old-school hardware in pixels) and oh-so-last century look and in comes a darker, sleeker, ‘I belong in the post 2k-era’ appearance. Personally, I much prefer the new graphics and, while much of this is cosmetic and subjective, Auria Pro looks like a more modern piece of software… and that makes me feel better about using it. Dumb, I know, but making music is a creative process and if you spend lots of hours looking at a piece of software, it’s kind of nice when it appeals to the eye.
I did the bulk of my own testing on my iPad Pro and, as you might expect, on the larger screen, the various controls appear at a nice size. Adjusting faders and rotary knobs within the Mixer, for example, is pretty easy and the app works nicely with a stylus or Apple Pencil if you prefer to keep your fingers out the way so you can more easily see what’s going on.
I did, however, also test Auria Pro on my iPad Air 1. This was more just to compare the CPU performance than anything else (more on this later) but, obviously, things are a little more ‘compact’ on the smaller screen format but still very useable. Auria has always crammed quite a lot of ‘stuff’ into each screen – it’s a fairly busy app – but, even on a standard iPad screen size, it is still a workable environment.
Yes, MIDI sequencing has now finally arrived within Auria and, while it suffers from some of the same difficulties that befall MIDI editing on most of the current crop of iOS DAW/sequencers (this is one area where, as yet, the touchscreen is perhaps as much a negative as a positive), as a first iteration, this is an impressive MIDI debut.
Thankfully, WaveMachine Labs have not tried to re-invent the wheel here. Creating a MIDI track and doing things such as clip-level editing are therefore, identical processes for MIDI as for audio. Once you have created a MIDI track, tapping on the track’s FX button opens the usual Auria Channel Strip pane and it is here that, for MIDI tracks, you now have the MIDI Control tab/pane and can both configure the track’s MIDI settings and, if you intend to use a MIDI destination within Auria Pro itself, select the virtual instrument to be used with the track.
Tapping the Instrument field produces a drop-down selection list and this includes the three virtual instruments built in to Auria Pro; the Lyra multi-format sample player and the FabFilter Twin2 and One virtual synths. Scroll down this list and you will also see any IAA-friendly virtual instruments you have installed. You simply pick the virtual instrument you wish to use and, if you tap the small ‘e’ icon, you are then taken to the instrument’s own editing panel. For Auria’s own virtual instruments, that appears as a separate window within Auria Pro. For IAA instruments, as you would expect, the app opens externally and you get flipped to the usual interface for whatever app it happens to be.
MIDI recording is also very straightforward and works as you would expect. There are also all the basic MIDI quantize and MIDI data editing options you might need (and a few that are not so basic as described more fully below) that can be applied at the clip level or to just select sets of notes. There are some very useful options here including MIDI velocity presets such as fixed velocity, humanize and crescendo (this last one is great for things like EDM drum rolls).
At the note level, Auria Pro’s MIDI editing is done via a fairly standard piano roll style editing environment… and, while perhaps not the prettiest editing environment I’ve ever seen, it is perfectly functional. You can zoom horizontally and vertically to see exactly the level of detail you require but, as with all touchscreen MIDI editing, this is one area where fingers and gestures actually don’t trump a mouse. A stylus or Apple Pencil are an improvement though and, as with other MIDI editing environments, that would be my personal preferred way of working in Auria’s piano roll.
It is also worth noting what – yet at least – you don’t get. There is no notation-based MIDI editing and no dedicated drum editor. The latter is a big plus in any MIDI sequencer so I’d be surprised if it isn’t on the ‘to do’ list for WaveMachine Labs at some stage. Even so, in terms of basic MIDI recording and editing, this is a very competent first iteration and most certainly on a par with the obvious competition.
Play with me
If you are going to make good use of these new MIDI tracks then you also need some MIDI sound sources. Under iOS there are now plenty of 3rd party choices and, whether via Audiobus or IAA, Auria Pro can send MIDI data to these and receive audio back from them. I tried a number of my more regular iOS synths with Auria Pro mostly via the IAA route. On the whole, things went smoothly enough although I did experience a few gremlins (for example, when SynthMaster Player went belly up on me a couple of times). Interestingly, Auria Pro obviously detects when ‘issues’ occur and I saw the occasional dialog box asking me to type a short message outlining what I was doing when the problem occurred. This is then sent back automatically to WaveMachine Labs and, I assume, will assist with any fault-finding.
What about the three instruments bundled with Auria Pro? Of the three, FabFilter’s Twin2 is the current star of the show for me. If you are into EDM production, this is a great synth with plenty of programming options and a rather cool user interface with lots of graphical editing options. It is also supplied with a rather nice range of presets with further collections available via IAP from the Auria Store. Perhaps the only obvious downside is that the virtual keyboard embedded within the synth’s user interface is a bit ‘compact’ (and especially so on a standard iPad screen); an external MIDI keyboard (or some other way of getting MIDI data into the synth) is pretty much essential for any serious performing. It’s worth it though…. Twin2 sounds great.
One is perhaps a more basic affair in terms of the synth engine. It is, therefore, a little less ear catching but, for straightforward leads or bass sounds, that’s not always a bad thing. It is also easier to get your head around the programming side. Again, there is a decent selection of presets included and a rather compact virtual piano keyboard. If I had to sum One up it would be ‘workman-like’; well worth having and great for solid analog-style synth sounds but without being likely to get anyone too excited compared to other synths you can find on the App Store.
Lyra is perhaps the most interesting inclusion though…. not perhaps for the current crop of presets included with the instrument (although some are quite good) but for the potential it seems to offer. Lyra is a disk-streaming sample-based playback instrument with support for a number of different sample formats including SoundFont 2 and EXS (the format used by Logic’s EXS24 virtual instrument and for which there are lots of commercially available 3rd party sample libraries). In principle, Lyra’s engine offers the capability to play large, multi-GB, sample-based instruments; put the right samples onto your iPad (having allowed for the necessary storage space), and Lyra could get you an experience that ought to match the sample sample-based instrument on the desktop.
Lyra is supplied with a sort of ‘starter pack’ of preset sounds and there are a number of additional sounds available as free IAPs within the Auria Store. These include some extra piano sounds and a selection of drum kits. Some of these are quite sizeable (the Salamander Grand Piano runs to 1.2GB for a single instrument) while others are more modest. I haven’t downloaded them all but there are some excellent options amongst this lot and the best of the pianos are on a par with anything I’ve heard under iOS to date.
Lyra’s interface is styled as per the main app and you get a basic filter, a small XY pad, tuning options, an envelope, a distortion effect and the option to switch between a virtual piano keyboard and a set of drum pads (there are a decent selection of sample drum kits included). There is nothing here to frighten the children; just load your sampled based instrument, tweak if required, and play.
There are some good sounds here but, on first impressions, I get the sense that Lyra is a bit of a work in progress (and that’s something that also comes across from comments Rim has made on the Auria forum). For example, the supplied set of instruments is perhaps a bit patchy. We have a ‘String’ category but, within it, just bass and cello patches; no violin or violas or ‘string sections’. And, while some of the sounds are very good indeed, others feel a bit limp by comparison (some of the brass sounds for example). I can see the potential for some further sample IAPs on the horizon.
One other thing that’s not clear from the limited time I’ve currently spent with Lyra is whether it can handle multiple performance articulations within a single patch via, for example, a key switching system (as opposed to a velocity-based switching system; this ought to be possible already with appropriate samples). This would be great to see under iOS.
There are already users on the Auria forums reporting some success in importing their own samples into Lyra. This might be particularly interesting for owners of some of the better EXS sample libraries and this is – in principle – something that you can do. However, if the experiences of this few brave souls are typical, the mechanics of it are still not super-slick; some libraries import OK, other have problems. Again, WaveMachine Labs have acknowledged that there is still work to do with this aspect of Lyra… so the potential is certainly there…. fingers crossed that potential is fully capitalised upon. At present, however, simply because of the samples currently available to Lyra, apps such as Module or iSymphonic Orchestra would still have a clear edge.
Of course, there is one further advantage that Twin2, One and Lyra bring; as ‘built-in’ plugins you can run multiple instances of them at the same time. Unless you are using a multi-timbral app such as iSymphonic Orchestra or SampleTank, this is obviously a big positive to overcome the ‘one instance only’ limitation of iOS… well, at least until AU gets a firmer hold.
Keep in time
Auria Pro also includes a Tempo and Time Signature track accessed via the Edit menu when you are in the Edit view. It’s great to see this kind of feature in an iOS DAW and the option not to be locked into a single tempo or single time signature for a whole song is going to be welcome to users in almost any musical style.
With MIDI now included, both of these tracks ought to mean that, even if your project does have a tempo or time signature change or three, your MIDI data ought to follow that change quite happily. You can make changes to both tracks in exactly the same way as you might edit automation data; simply tap on the envelope line to add a node and then move the node as required to set its position and value…. very simple. You also get options for a step change or a ramped change between two nodes.
I can’t say I’ve explored this feature yet in great depth but, with a few MIDI tracks in a project, I did experiment a little. In the main, things worked well enough and my MIDI data adjusted itself to the new tempos (for example). However, I did get some pretty odd results with a MIDI drum clip that was looped so I’m not sure the algorithms sat behind this feature are 100% rock solid yet. Equally, the PDF manual (which is generally very good indeed) is perhaps a little light on any statement about how audio tracks cope with tempo/time signature changes if made after the recording. In my (very brief) testing, I think the answer is that they don’t… unless you have done a bit of a time warp…. more on this below.
What this means is that, in essence, if you have a project where you know there are going to be tempo/time signature changes involved, you are better off creating a click or drum track via MIDI as a guide and getting your tempo and time signature automation sorted before progressing on to recording audio. Some desktop DAW/sequencers allow you to take a freely played audio performance and will then work out a ‘tempo map’ based on that (and turn it into a tempo track)…. Auria Pro is not at that stage yet but this is, at least, a start and therefore great to see.
Auria Pro brings an iOS take on a further common desktop DAW/sequencer feature; audio slicing and warping. All new audio recorded or imported into Auria is automatically scanned for transients (the start of each sound such as a drum hit or guitar chord or sung word; sounds with slow attacks are obviously more difficult to handle).
Once in your project, you can then view – and edit/adjust – those transient markers and there are two new ‘views’ available related to this; Transient View and Warp View, both of which can be engaged for an individual track within it’s panel in the track list, although you do have to zoom in vertically for the toggle button to become visible.
If you switch Transient View on for a track, from the Edit menu, you can then open a further Transient sub-menu with a number of options. This includes options to create transients, edit them, add markers manually and a number of further options for slicing audio at transients. You can also copy transient markers from an audio track and paste them into a MIDI track. This isn’t quite ‘convert audio to MIDI’ in the same way that, for example, some desktop pitch detection processors allow you to do, but it does mean you could take the timing of an audio drum track and use the transient markers to start programming the same drum pattern on a MIDI track.
If you toggle again to Warp View, the transient markers are replaced by warp markers. Whether warped or sliced, you can then access the Audio Quantize panel and this allows you to do similar quantize operation to audio as you would to MIDI, adjusting the timing of your audio performance to tighten it up, add some swing or, as I’ll get into below, apply a groove quantize. There are some powerful options here and, again, this is a fairly advanced desktop-type feature that is now appearing in an iOS DAW/sequencer.
Applying quantize is obviously different if based upon sliced audio rather than warped audio (the later time-stretches the audio and, as it is applied in real-time, is more CPU hungry) but both have their uses. I haven’t investigated, for example, whether you could slice an audio drum loop and, in some way, then easily take those slices into Lyra to create a drum instrument based upon them…. I suspect there is a round-a-bout way of doing this but it would be nice if there was a specific function for this also.
Again, it is difficult not to be impressed by the ambition of Auria Pro in introducing these transient/slicing features. Having tried to use them, however, I’m not quite sure that the actual transient detection process – auto or manual – is as streamlined or foolproof as it might be. Working with audio tracks from one of the supplied demo songs, even where the audio had what appeared to be some very clear transients within the waveform display, I found myself having to do a lot of manual editing of the transient markers.
Whether the algorithm itself needs a tweak or the means for configuring the parameters for manual transient detection needs greater user control, I’m not sure…. but it does mean the actual potential of the slicing/warping feature set is more difficult to exploit than it might be. And, even if sliced audio could then follow changes made in the Tempo Track or Time Signature Track, there is going to be a lot of preparatory work required…. Ambitious, huge potential but, unless I’ve either been unlucky with my choice of audio or missed something, still some refinements needed.
Yet another desktop-style feature in Auria Pro is groove-based quantizing. The principles here are the same as the more common grid-based quantizing where your MIDI performance is tightened up relative to the musical bars/beats grid and you can choose the note resolution (e.g. 16th beats) and add some swing or ‘humanize’ (random) elements if you so wish.
With groove quantize, you use the (perhaps more natural) performance groove within a groove template and can then apply it to your MIDI performance. Auria Pro ships with a small collection of grooves for you to choose between and, if you have never used this kind of system before, there is something very interesting ahead of you as you take, for example, your drum and bass MIDI performances and apply the same groove quantize template to them to see if (a) you can get them to lock tightly together and (b) to have a natural and musical ‘groove’.
Two other elements of this feature add to the fun however. First, note that you can apply Groove Quantize to your warped/sliced audio performances as well. No, perfect end results are not perhaps quite so easy to achieve as with MIDI data (it will depend upon just how well the transients have been defined within the audio clip) but the potential is obvious.
Second, you can also capture your own grooves, turn them into a groove template, and then apply that template to other MIDI or audio tracks within your projects. So, for example, let’s imagine your drummer really nails his performance and has an excellent ‘groove’ going… but the bass player wasn’t quite on it for some reason… the notes are fine but the timing doesn’t quite follow the drums…. So, you can extract the groove from the drum part and then apply it to the bass part.
This system is described in the MIDI sequencing chapter of the PDF manual but they are also available for processing audio tracks and, as far as I’ve been able to see from my own testing, grooves captures from a MIDI track can be applied to an audio track (and visa-versa). Again, you are a little at the mercy of the transient detection process with audio at present but, with MIDI, things are more straightforward. Groove quantizing is, however, something that can take a little bit of experimentation with…. so don’t let any initial fumbling put you off exploring the possibility. I’m sure this is also a feature that WaveMachine Labs will be keen to see evolve over time.
All mixed up
While all of Auria’s very powerful Mixer features have been retained in the Pro version – including the excellent PSP Channel Strip available (CPU permitting) on every channel – and the automation system is also as before as are options for fader grouping, there are some improvements to this already impressive system.
This is mainly in the audio routing possibilities. The app now offers up to 32 assignable audio buses (a default of 8 is crested in a new project but you can add more). The Aux Return system is now rolled into these buses adding further routing options and you can add further buses via the Mixer Settings window/dialog.
You also get eight subgroups within the Auria mixer and these are great for routing sub-sets of your mix to these ‘summary’ channels – drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals and backing vocals, for example – so you can control the level of whole instrument groups from a single fader when doing your broad-brush mixing.
Auria’s Track Freeze feature is retained in this version and works pretty much as before for audio tracks where it allows you to temporarily render an audio track – plus all its effects/processing – to an audio file for playback and, therefore, freeing up some CPU resources. As your project builds, and things get more complex, this can easily become a necessity.
As before, you access the freeze feature by tapping on a track’s FX button and, in the Channel Strip window, hitting the snowflake button. The difference in Auria Pro, of course, is that this system also works for MIDI channels. Given that the current PDF manual runs to over 200 pages, I was kind of surprised there wasn’t a really detailed description of the Track Freezing feature and how to make best use of it. For those working on older iPads, I suspect this would be a feature they might have to make regular use of.
There is, however, now also an alternative to freezing; Bounce Track In Place. You can, as before, perform a standard track bouncing exercise in Auria by selecting those tracks you want to bounce, muting everything else, and recording your selected tracks to a new audio track. You could then remove the original individual tracks from the project although, of course, the downside is that you then lose the ability to change how those tracks have been mixed; you are stuck with the bounced version. It does, however, save you some CPU resources.
Bounce Track In Place allows you to do this process in a more streamlined fashion for a single MIDI or audio track and, having selected a track, you can access the feature from the Process menu. The upside of this approach is that it simply replaces the existing track and all its plugin/effects/virtual instrument processing with an audio-only version of the same thing and, at the same time, removes the original track from the project. You can consider it as a ‘convert all track/processing to simple audio’ feature. It doesn’t offer the flexibility of being able to ‘unfeeze’ the track (it’s destructive) but, if you are sure about the track’s contents, then it gives you a combination of lower CPU load but retains the ability to adjust mixer levels for each track. For MIDI tracks note that you need to be using one of the internal instruments or an IAA instrument; synths feeding audio into Auria via Audiobus will not work with this feature.
Having given the new Bounce Track In Place system a quick workout it does seem to work well and, again, for those with complex projects or older iOS hardware, this is another route by which you can manage the resource loading of your projects. However, seeing this new feature did get me thinking….
Quite often when working on a project I might focus on one instrument group at a time. So, let’s say I’ve done all my instrument parts and am ready to record vocals and backing vocals. What might be really neat is a ‘freeze all selected’ option that allows you to select any combination of existing tracks and, as one step, gets Auria to render those as a temporary single stereo audio file. While I was tracking my vocals, therefore, the only other thing Auria would have to handle is the playback of this single stereo audio stream. Even on a modest hardware platform, that ought to allow some further work to get done. Once the next phase is done, you can ‘unfreeze’ everything and work out what to do next (which might involve freezing a different sub-set of your tracks). And, yes, you can create the equivalent of this using the existing features… but having it as a single step function could be very useful.
As before, Auria allows you to generate final mixes from your projects in a fairly flexible fashion. Combined with the app’s automation features, this is, and always has been, quite a sophisticated mixing environment.
However, once a project is completed, as well as the final mix, making some sort of project archive is also good practice. Auria Pro provides various options for this including iTunes File Sharing. However, this release also introduces the ‘Save Project to Other App’ feature within the Save project sub-menu. One element of this is that is supports compatible iOS storage drives such as the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive.
While these are not particularly cheap, if you need the security of knowing your projects are backed up while on the move, or just archiving quickly so you can make space for the next project, this looks like a neat solution…. and Auria Pro is one of the first non-photo/video editing apps that actually allows you to directly use a storage device connected to your iPad. I haven’t been able to test this functionality as part of the review but I’ve already read comments online from those that have tried it with some success.
There are all sorts of other detailed features that I haven’t touched upon in the review and that either continue from the previous version or are new in Pro…. but, hopefully, I’ve given a flavour of the key new developments.
But, all that shiny new stuff included, how does Auria Pro actually feel in use? To repeat my comments from earlier, I think the new UI is a big improvement. This feels slicker even if, in practice, you are doing the same tasks in the same fashion. The general cosmetics in the Mixer and Edit windows have obviously had the most attention and the results are good… but there is perhaps still some polish that could be added in the various menus.
I find the Mixer screen pretty easy to use and, even if you have lots of tracks running so you have to swipe left/right to see things, it flows quite nicely. On the iPad Pro, that extra bit of screen size does make a difference here through. With my iPad Air 1 sat beside the iPad Pro, CPU grunt aside for a moment, I know which iPad I’d rather work with Auria on; this is quite a busy, feature-rich app and a bigger screen is an advantage.
The same is also true of the Edit screen. Here, the upside is all about doing detailed editing work whether audio or MIDI; more screen is better.
Auria Pro is supplied with a single sample project that features a mixed audio/MIDI song and there are a small selection of other demo projects available as free downloads from the Auria Store. The default project has quite a lot of audio tracks, a few MIDI tracks and (quite interestingly) only uses channel effects on a small subset of the channels. Some of these are used on the sub-group channels though so the processing is actually being shared (for efficiency) between several audio channels.
Playing back this default project on both the iPad Pro and iPad Air 1 showed a predictable difference in both CPU and Disk loading meters. In terms of CPU, while both iPads showed some variation as the project played, the iPad Pro tended to hover around 6 or 7% while the Air 1 was closer to 15% and peaked quite a bit higher than that in busier sections. As I added more effects/processing loads then things started to warm up a bit in terms of CPU usage but, on the iPad Pro at least, it took quite a lot to get things to eventually get a bit cranky.
However, the thing that – perhaps unsurprisingly – got the CPU meter dancing most effectively was adding additional virtual instrument tracks. That said, with twenty-odd audio tracks and a dozen virtual instruments – a combination of Auria Pro’s own and some beefy IAA synths, I hit a CPU load of about 60% on my iPad Pro with the occasional higher spike. If that’s the point at which track freezing or bouncing becomes necessary then… well… that’s actually quite impressive.
With the basic demo project, the Disk meter showed about 20-25% on the Air 1 but, on the Pro, it never really budged from 0%. Either there is something wrong with how the iPad Pro hardware interacts with this meter in Auria Pro or there is some considerable performance advantage here either in terms of audio data being preloaded into RAM (?) or the performance of the flash storage. Guesses and/or observations from readers are welcome….
I had no issues connecting various bits of hardware to my iPad Pro and getting Auria to work with them. I did most of my testing with the iRig Pro Duo and the audio I captured within Auria Pro was clean and tidy. Equally, the app happily worked with a couple of different external MIDI keyboards.
Things were not 100% plain sailing however and Auria Pro did go belly up on me on a few occasions (even after installing the 2.0.1 update that appeared on the App Store as I was putting the review together). In the main, the problems seemed to be connected to using IAA apps but not exclusively so and other users have also been reporting some initial gremlins. I’m not sure any of us should be too surprised about this given the scale of Auria Pro. No one wants to see bugs in software but if Wavemachine Labs had managed to make Auria Pro bug free from day one, it would probably be the first software developer to have ever done so with what is such an ambitious – and in iOS music tech terms – cutting edge project.
Ahead of its time?
When Auria was first released for the iPad back in 2012, not only was it game changing, but I think it was also a little bit ahead of its time. It was an ambitious bit of software created for hardware that, at times, couldn’t really keep up.
Three and half years later, how does Auria Pro fare? It is also hugely ambitious. No, not all the new features included are, as yet, fully fledged and I’m sure there is still plenty of scope for the future development pathway. However, this is – right here, right now – in terms of basic paper specification, very close to some of the low/mid-range desktop DAW/sequencers. It’s not Cubase Pro 8.5 or Logic Pro X but step back down the desktop marketplace a little way and, in terms of features at least, it then stands up pretty well.
Is it still ahead of its time? Well, its ahead of the iOS competition in terms of feature set but, on an iPad Pro at least, while I think Auria Pro is still pushing the performance boundaries, with the various CPU-saving options, this is a platform you could do some pretty serious audio+MIDI music production within. If you happen to be running older hardware (and my only comparison here can be with the Air 1 as I don’t have an Air 2 or iPad 4 available to me), then I think that you are going to find yourself depending upon those track-freezing facilities quite often if you want to build some bigger projects.
We shouldn’t be surprised about this. While developments in desktop computing power have slowed in recent years and focused as much on energy efficiency as increased CPU/disk performance, Apple’s iPad/iPhone technology is still in it’s youthful growth stage; changes in processing capabilities are moving rapidly with each annual iteration of the hardware and software developers – WaveMachine Labs included – are going to push the boundaries of that hardware in order to give us users all those sophisticated features we have been nagging them about. As with the original Auria, Auria Pro is one of those apps that gets closest to those boundaries.
Is that a good thing? Well, yes, but then you have to expect that, occasionally, you will ask the software to do something that the host system can not quite deal with. This is a different issue from the presence of any bugs that might still be sitting in the Auria code – those should, of course, be dealt with – but even if the app was bug-free, it is possible to get Auria Pro to push your iPad out of its comfort zone. If the trade off between access to the sophisticated feature set and living on something of the iOS music making cutting-edge doesn’t suit you personally and/or financially…. well, that’s always going to be your call; don’t choose Auria Pro as your iOS DAW/sequencer platform.
What of the alternatives? The obvious comparison is with Steinberg’s Cubasis. This has, of course, combined audio and MIDI since it first appeared and, while it can not match the shear number of features offered by Auria Pro, it does include those ‘core’ features that make up perhaps 95% of what multi-track recording is all about. There is no groove quantize or transient detection or tempo track and, in particular, I think Auria’s channel strip features are superior to the equivalent features in Cubasis.
While Cubasis has been regularly updated by Steinberg, the last major update was really v.1.8 about 18 months ago when the (very good) automation system was introduced. I’ve no insider knowledge of when we might see v.2.0 or what it might bring but, at present, I think it is far to say that Cubasis (bugs aside) is software that now seems to sit comfortably on the last two or three generations of the iPad hardware. So, the choice here is one that gives you a somewhat more constrained feature set but is perhaps not pushing the hardware quite so hard as a result.
You do, therefore, pay your money – and both apps are currently selling for the same price of UK£39.99 – and take your choice. Note that at this price (and, of course, without considering all the associated hardware, or add-on equipment/software required), there are some decent versions of desktop DAW/sequencers that are not so far removed with Reaper, Tracktion, MixBus and MixCraft being some obvious examples. iOS vs desktop? Let’s save returning to that debate until the new year when it’s time for a little crystal ball gazing :-)
So who should consider stumping up for Auria Pro? Well, for the well-heeled iOS music maker, who is already using an iPad Pro, even at UK£39.99, it probably isn’t such a big ask. For those whose pocket money and/or disposal income is more limited, it is probably a more difficult call.
I’m pretty sure I could get work done with Auria Pro on my iPad Air 1. I’m not saying it would be my preference to have to be watching the CPU meter as soon as I loaded up a few synth tracks (particularly some of the more demanding IAA apps) but – initial bugs aside – it would be workable… just go into it with your eyes open and a realistic attitude. Things should be easier for owners of the Air 2 or iPad Pro and, on the latter with its bigger screen, it is easily possible to see the considerable potential of Auria Pro. Yes, there is some fine–tuning that might be required in some areas, but this really is a desktop feature set in an iOS DAW/sequencer app. Many iOS musicians have been asking for it… and now we have got it…
If I was an existing Auria user, the decision to upgrade would probably come down to whether I thought my existing iOS hardware would give me an acceptable platform on which to exploit the new v.2 Pro. It is undoubtedly an impressive piece of software but, with great power, comes great… er… resource demands. On older hardware, a responsible and realistic attitude might well be required.
So, we can add some qualifiers about a preference for newer iPad hardware, and some further qualifiers that, in this early release at least, there are still some gremlins to be sorted out but I will repeat what I said earlier; Auria Pro is a hugely ambitious piece of software for iOS and WaveMachine Lab deserve some considerable credit for continuing to push the boundaries.
Change is the only constant in the world of iOS music making and Auria Pro is a considerable change in where the bar sits for an iOS DAW/sequencer. Perfect? No. Ambitious? Yes… here’s hoping WaveMachine Labs can continue to deliver on that ambition because, in raising their own sights, they will also raise those of others – developers and users – as to what is possible on this platform. Auria Pro is an impressive beast of an app.