With inter-app audio gaining traction amongst iOS music app developers, it’s great to see more audio effects apps beginning to appear with IAA support. The IAA format makes it much easier to use these effects as insert or send style processors within iOS DAW apps such as Auria or Cubasis. IAA isn’t quite a ‘VST for iOS’ but, for now at least, it is probably about as close as we are going to get. That said, within the limitations set by the OS itself, IAA works well.
Given that context, last week I was excited to see that Holderness Media had launched a new iPad effects app – Swoopster – that includes both Audiobus and IAA support right from the off. Of course, Holderness Media are the developers behind Echo Pad, first launched about a year ago but which I’ve never got around to reviewing for the blog. So, as Echo Pad has also recently had IAA support added, I thought I’d better put that lack of a review right and start with that…. A review of Swoopster will, however, follow in the next few days.
Visit my pad
Holderness Media describe Echo Pad (UK£2.99) 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. The latter mimics the more conventional approach that you might expect in a traditional hardware effects unit – delays, reverbs, compressors, EQ, modulation, etc. It is excellent as an all-round ‘use every day’ kind of processor. In contrast, Echo Pad, while it can be made to do some of these 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. Also by default, pan aside, the effects are only active while you are actually touching these control points; release your touch and the effect is instantly switched off. You can toggle this behaviour using the FX Hold button and, with this engaged, the effects stay on even when you release the touch point controls. Having this option is neat as it opens up all sorts of additional possibilities.
If you tap and hold the blue touch point without moving it, an additional control panel opens. This contains a range of quite detailed additional controls for the delay effect, allowing you to tap a tempo, sync to a particular BPM, adjust the delay time, add wow/flutter or tape hiss and to adjust the delay time and volume of four repeats. There is a lot of flexibility here for crafting some quite complex delay treatments.
And there’s more
So far, so not so multi-effects; we have a well-specified delay with HP and LP filters. 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. Some of these effects add a further touch point. For example, the flanger gives you a control over flanger speed (X axis) and time (Y axis), while the decimator controls sample rate (X axis) and bit rate (Y axis). The filter options provide control over the filter frequency (Y axis only).
Most of the other effects are simply applied; there are no additional user settings but there are some excellent options amongst these. The stereoizer produces a very addictive stereo widening effect, the two distort options add some grit while the rise and fall options do some interesting things to the pitch of the delay repeats. Tapping the Options button (located top-right) opens a further collection of settings. Some of these are global such as the input and output level and you can also, via the Utility button, configure the inputs, etc. However, there are also options here for setting a reverb level and decay and configuring the LFO routing. This can be used to apply the LFO to the output filter, delay time or both.
It doesn’t stop there. While Echo Pad includes a recording option (you can record a live audio input and any processing you might apply to that), it also includes a audio looper options. Tapping the large Audio Looper button initiates record and tapping again will stop it and begin loop playback. Obviously this requires a bit of practice to get the timing right like any looper device, although Echo Pad does include a ‘loop sets BPM’ setting that makes things a little easier. By pulling down and then releasing, you can engage an overdub mode to add to your original loop, while touching and holding for half a second clears the looper. Once you have captured a suitable loop – with or without overdubs – you can then just play with the effects to process it in various ways.
This isn’t Echo Pad’s only ‘looping’ option though; the Motion Looper allows you to record the movements you make with the effects touch controls. These can then be looped, retriggered (by dragging down) or stopped (simply tap and hold of half a second). Again, there are some excellent options here whether you sync the timing of the audio and motion loopers together or deliberately offset them to some degree. Tucked just off to the left of the X-Y pad – and almost out of view initially – are two ‘scratch loop’ tools. Drag these onto the main performance area and you can sample a further loop into either of these. Once they have content, tapping and dragging them around the performance area generates some interesting turntable-like scratching effects; again, plenty of creative possibilities here once you get your head around the tools.
Included in the Options page are both save/load and import/export options. The former allow you to save/load your own effects presets (or load one of the various presets supplied with the app). However, the Export option allows you to use AudioCopy or AudioShare to save an Echo Pad recording, main loop recording or audio held on either of the scratch loops. This is all very useful and if you want to use Echo Pad as a way to generate some audio loops for use elsewhere, this makes it easy to do so.
Echo Pad is fun used as a standalone app and just sampling loops for a little creative mangling. However, using it within Audiobus or as an IAA effect in either Cubasis or Auria opens up a whole range of other possibilities. I’m not sure I’d use it over and above AUFX:Space, AUFX:Dub, AudioReverb or Master FX for more conventional delay and reverb treatments but – like Turnado – Echo Pad does excel at more creative and/or experimental treatments.
Used within the Audiobus Effects slot, I had no problems processing an Input slot app such as a guitar amp sim or synth, and then passing the audio to a suitable DAW in the Output slot. The Audiobus support seemed very solid. Equally, I was able to add Echo Pad as an IAA insert or send effect within Cubasis and process audio within my Cubasis project. Unlike some other IAA-compatible apps, Echo Pad only seemed to include a single button on its IAA control panel for flipping back to Cubasis; there were no transport controls.
In addition, during my testing, I did experience the occasional gremlin where Cubasis and Echo Pad seemed to briefly stop communicating with each other. I’m not sure where the issue might lie here but, as we are all aware, IAA is still pretty new technology so it is hardly surprising if the occasional glitch occurs. Hopefully, these will disappear with time and future updates. All this said, it was occasional and neither app went completely belly up on me so it didn’t really impact on my workflow other than being a minor quirk to work around.
The results are worth it though. Echo Pad can create some excellent effects – sometimes wonderful and sometimes just plain weird – but if you have anything of an experimental streak within your musical preferences, then I think you will enjoy what this app can do.
At UK£2.99, Echo Pad is well worth a punt. The interface makes it easy to experiment with and, while it is not a tool for conventional ‘multi-effects’, for more creative and experimental processing, it has plenty to offer. The obvious comparison is with Turnado. Echo Pad is perhaps easier to find your way around (although both require a little digging in to really get the most from) and the large X-Y pad is very easy to use and experiment with. In contrast, Turnado probably has a greater range of effects options available and, with its Dictator mode, perhaps puts more mangling options under a single finger than is possible with Echo Pad. Turnado does not, as yet, support IAA though.
I suspect, however, that if you like your music experimental and electronic, you would probably like to have both apps in your collection. There is a bit of a learning curve involved with both (more so for Turnado) but, once you have scaled that curve by spending a little quality time with either of these apps, there are creative rewards to be found. For expanding your sound mangling options in some weird and wonderful ways, Echo Pad comes highly recommended.