BeatHawk v.2.0 review – UVI bring significant new features in v.2.0 of their flagship iOS music app

Download from iTunes App Store I posted a full review of UVI’s BeatHawk iOS music app here on the blog when it was first released. I was hugely impressed with the app. There are drum/groove box apps that perhaps pack in more features than BeatHawk does but I actually think UVI struck a brilliant balance between functionality and ease-of-use with the approach they adopted in the initial release….  and as it allows you to include melodic instruments within your projects, this is, in reality, much more than just a beat/groove box.

Anyway, UVI kept things going forwards after the original release with a number of useful updates appearing. These included changes to the audio and MIDI preferences, a significant memory optimisation for improved performance and the option to use the app as an IAA instrument to complement that of IAA audio. However, recent updates have been more about maintaining compatibility with changes to iOS itself rather than adding further new features or refinements….

BeatHawk – fabulous on first release, it’s even better in v.2.0.0.

However, as I posted last week, while the last 12 months or so has seem UVI keeping things running smoothly as iOS itself progresses, in the background (and I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen most of the TestFlight iterations), they have been busy working on the next major update to the app. And, after all that work, v.2.0.0 of BeatHawk is now available on the App Store as a free update to existing users and, for the launch period at least, at a bargain price to new purchasers; you can pick up a copy for just UK£6.99/US$6.99. So, what does BeatHawk now provide? Let’s explore a little further….

Here’s one they made earlier

For those not familiar with the app, I’ll say a few things about the original release. However, feel free to pop over to the original review that was first published back in February 2015 when BeatHawk was first released [I’ll wait here :-) ]. Operationally, much of that still applies so I won’t repeat all those details here and the other thing to add is that, in subsequent updates, UVI addressed the technical issues with IAA I mentioned, added IAA-based host sync, optimised the app’s performance in various ways and refined various elements of the workflow even further. In short, a very slick app got even slicker.

BeatHawk’s Song mode works as before… but here is shown on the iPhone as v.2.0 brings universal support.

What of those original core features though? Well, what you got on the surface was an MPC-style ‘groove box’ workstation environment for creating beats and grooves. This offered the usual 16 ‘drum’ pads for hosting samples, projects that could contain 16 patterns, each of which could be up to 16 bars in length, quantise options, flexible pattern creation tools, a ‘song’ mode where patterns your be chained together, a library of included samples but IAPs to expand that and options for recording and importing your own sample content. MIDI in was supported and the app also had good export options making it easy to transfer your BeatHawk creations to something like an iOSDAW/sequencer for further work. Audiobus and IAA were also supported.

All this was presented in a super-slick user interface with a carefully-selected feature set and would have been enough to justify the very modest asking price. However, the ‘drum’ pads could, of course, hold any samples you like (not just drums) and, as UVI also added a very neat means of creating melodic parts for individual pads within your pattern, you could easily add bass lines, chord parts or melodic elements to your BeatHawk projects. This element really was well designed and easy to use….  and really meant BeatHawk, while looking like an MPC workstation, was really an all-in-one music production system.

Keep the old, in with the new

So what’s new? Well, the list of new features is very impressive….  we now get universal support (iPhone 5 or newer as well as the iPad), screen layouts optimised for each screen size, a new piano roll editor, automation of parameters via a MIDI Learn system (one of the few criticisms I made of the original release), more AudioCopy options for importing samples, loop markers in Song Mode and support for accelerometer velocity and 3D Touch.

However, perhaps the best news is that v.2.0.0 adds Ableton Link support, Ableton Live Sets export and – top of the list – AUv.3 plugin support; BeatHawk can now be used as a plugin within a suitable AU host. Oh, and just as a reminder, the update – with all these new features – is free to existing users.

The iPhone UI has been very well implemented.

As you can see from some of the screenshots included here, BeatHawk’s now universal nature does mean some changes to the screen layout when used on a smaller iPhone screen (I was using an iPhone 6S) but, apparently, the UI does accommodate all the various screen formats that the iPhone 5 and later can offer. As you might expect, there is perhaps a little more switching between screens to be done but, on the whole, I think UVI have done a great job in implementing the iPhone support….  and this is a powerful platform to have stuck in your pocket while waiting for the bus/train or to keep you occupied during a daily commute.

In terms of the Ableton Link support, this seemed to work pretty well…  but I did have a little head-scratching at first. This was mainly down to the Preferences settings within BeatHawk. For example, when using BeatHawk alongside Patterning, both loaded via IAA within AUM, in order to get the Ableton Link support to work, I had to enable Ableton Link in BeatHawk but also disable the IAA/AU Sync Timeline Position setting. There was also a little thinking to be done about song mode vs pattern mode between both apps….  but, that done, things locked very well and tempo changes I made were reflected in both apps. When used alongside other AU apps, the AU sync seemed to keep things in order and the Ableton Link option doesn’t then appear in BeatHawk’s Preferences options.

BeatHawk’s Export options have been expanded within the new release.

Used as an AU plugin within Cubasis, BeatHawk happily followed the Cubasis tempo and timeline. On the iPad at least, the way the AU UI has been implemented is pretty good and it really doesn’t change the overall workflow within the app at all.

Ableton Link can now be activated within the Preferences menu.

I did experience a couple of issues and hopefully UVI will be able to address these. The first of these was AU-related. When I quit a Cubasis project that included BeatHawk, and then re-loaded it again later, BeatHawk didn’t reload with the project. I’m not sure whether this is something that can be resolved or whether the issue lies within Cubasis, BeatHawk or the current AU spec itself….   but from a workflow perspective, ‘total restore’ of an entire project within the AU host – including BeatHawk’s own project, would obviously be a good thing.

The second, which might or might not have been AU related, is that I found I had to re-store my IAP sample pack purchases, despite have updated BeatHawk rather than deleted the app and then re-installed it. I only noticed this when I tried to load some IAP content when using the app via AU in Cubasis. However, once I went and checked in the stand-alone version of the app, I then restored the content…  and it also then appeared when used as an AU plugin.

The AU support seems to work well…. as seen here within Cubasis.

As mentioned above, in the initial release, BeatHawk didn’t really offer any external control and/or automation options. V.2. seems a comprehensive – and very easy to use – MIDI Learn feature added. Once MIDI Learn mode is enabled, those parameters that can be automated become highlighted. If you tap on one of these, a further screen opens that allows you to specify a specific MIDI CC number to link with the parameter. However, you can also just move a control on your connected external MIDI keyboard/controller to establish the link. This worked a treat with my compact Alesis QX25. Do note, however, that the connections for pad parameter such as the HP and LP Filters are pad-specific rather than generic (i.e. a connected controller doesn’t currently adjust the LP Filter for all pads, just the active pad when you made the connection). This might be a nice option to see added to the system.

The MIDI Learn screen looks a bit daunting…. but it is a system that’s actually easy to use.

When exporting from the Song screen, BeatHawk now offers a good range of options including a stereo mixdown, multitrack audio, MIDI export (useful if you want to edit the MIDI parts elsewhere and Ableton Live Sets export. The latter seemed to work fine when I tried it but, as I’m not really a Live expert, I’d be interested to hear from any BeatHawk users who have tested this more extensively that I have. Feel free to leave a comment below….

The new piano-roll style editor is accessed via the Pattern tab; just tap the Step Editor button that is placed at the bottom of this section of the screen. This is actually rather nicely implemented. You can choose to see the piano roll for just a single pad when you get the usual pitch/note scale along the vertical axis. This would work for ‘pitched’ instruments as a conventional piano-roll editor. Alternatively, you can get a view where you can see all the pads along the vertical axis….   and this would work best for drum pattern programming/editing.

The new piano-roll editing is perhaps the highlight of the v.2.0 update…. It’s inclusion will undoubtedly broaden the appeal of the app amongst those not from a more MPC workstation background.

You can also split the view to see MIDI CC data. And with both note and CC data, you get a basic set of editing tools along the bottom of the screen for adding, moving, editing, deleting, etc. any of the data. You can also use the usual iOS zoom in/out pinch gestures to get more/less detail on the screen while editing. This sort of detailed pattern editing was ‘missing’ from the original release, and while I didn’t feel this was too much of an issue at the time, I have to say that I’m now glad to see it here. It’s another element to the BeatHawk feature set that moves it beyond the more typical ‘MPC clone in software’ tag and makes it more worthy of belonging to the ‘all-in-one EDM music production’ category.

You can switch between a single track (pad) editing approach or, as shown here, see all pads at once which is more suitable for drum pattern editing.

Take a sample

While there is nothing new to say on this front, I would like to say a few words about the IAP sample content that UVI have in the BeatHawk store. Sample libraries are very much part of UVI’s DNA so it is hardly surprising that there is a reasonable selection of add-on sample content for those users that want it. I’ve purchased a few of these for my own use and, on the whole, I think the content is excellent. No, these are not huge sample packs – they are, after all, designed very much with the compact format of most iOS hardware in mind – but, on the flip side, neither are they very expensive when compared to typical prices you might pay for a larger, desktop-friendly, library.

BeatHawk has a good set of sample library IAPs that are suitably priced given their iOS friendly format.

Of course, given BeatHawk’s import options, you could just bite the bullet and get any desktop sample content you might wish over to BeatHawk on your iOS device….  Like any audio import process, that requires a little work on behalf of the user and, as most of us don’t like work (!) and just want to make some music, the IAPs also offer an element of convenience. Anyway, the choice is your but, if you are a dedicated (rather than casual) BeatHawk user, I suspect an IAP or two would be well worth adding if there is something that fits your musical preferences.

Play the field

While v.2.0 retains the essential approach that UVI started with, this is a significant update to BeatHawk. On the surface, it certainly still looks like the same app within its MPC-style ‘drum pads’. There is, therefore, an obvious comparison with apps such as iMPC Pro or iMaschine 2. However, while all these apps most certainly do the drum/groove box thing very well, all of them – BeatHawk included – actually offer something more than that.

Indeed, given the very impressive way the piano-roll editing feature has been integrated into the BeatHawk feature set, it clearly is now crossing over into the ‘all-in-one’ electronic music production app class without any major gaps in the feature set. That perhaps puts it alongside apps such as Gadget. Korg’s mega-EDM app is, of course, about to get a significant update of its own and, in fairness to both apps, Gadget is considerably more feature-rich and expensive than BeatHawk.

Amongst other new features are some ‘scale’ options for use when programming melodic patterns.

Perhaps a ore obvious comparison in the ‘all-in’one’ category of apps is with something like Oscilab (a personal favourite of mine) and Triqtraq (also brilliant). These apps are, however, also somewhat left-field in terms of their approach; BeatHawk’s MPC-pad environment is perhaps something some users would find more conventional and familiar?

In truth, I’m not sure there are winners or losers here. All of the apps I’ve just mentioned have their merits. All are also capable, in one form or another, of creating complete electronic music productions albeit without audio recording for adding your vocals (although, of course, that’s one feature Gadget is about to add). Perhaps the obvious difference between them all – and the thing that, price aside, might steer folks in one direction or another – is their respective workflows. Gadget is slick, but also quite deep (and at a higher price point) while Oscilab/Triqtraq are slick, perhaps slight ‘unusual’ in terms of their approach (and cheaper than Gadget).

The MIDI Learn system is a welcome addition…. but it would perhaps be more efficient if you could make some of the controller assignments ‘global’ so they operated on every pad.

In contrast, BeatHawk is closer to the latter in price point, but brings workflow elements that might be familiar if your background is in MPC-style hardware or software emulations on a desktop. BeatHawk is certainly a match to any of these apps in terms of the slickness of the UI and, as with the original release, this remains a great workflow with a carefully chosen feature set; deep enough to get some sophisticated music made but not so deep that you lose yourself in options that you only rarely use. It’s a feature of the app that should not be underestimated.

In summary

UVI have done an excellent job with the v.2.0 release of BeatHawk. The array of new features have moved the apps forward in a number of ways and also bought it right up-to-date in terms of iOS music technology. AU and Ableton Link are very welcome additions and bring practical workflow enhancements for those wanting to use BeatHawk with other iOS music apps. However, if you want an ‘all-in-one’ environment, perhaps the highlight addition is the new piano-roll style editing. This has been integrated into the existing feature set brilliantly and, as with the rest of the app, offers just enough features and no clutter.

Aside from the update being free to existing users, UVI also have the app on sale for new users to celebrate the update. If you have not yet taken a punt, but want to give the app a try for yourself, then you can, for a limited time, grab your own copy for just UK£6.99/US$6.99. And iPhone users can now also get involved. For more information, check out the demo video below and then hit the download button to see more via the App Store….


Download from iTunes App Store

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