Enkl review – Klevgränd Produktion add a monophonic synth to their excellent iOS music app catalogue

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Enkl logoA couple of weeks ago I reviewed the excellent Cyclop from Sugar Bytes. Cyclop is a monophonic synth and is a port of Sugar Bytes desktop synth of the same name. Like all Sugar Bytes iOS music apps, Cyclop is brilliant and it sounds great. Also like Sugar Bytes other iOS music apps (and their software in general), it is most definitely left-of-centre and most definitely deep (or ‘busy’ depending upon your perspective on these things).

I love Cyclop but I think my head is still spinning from writing the review and, for some iOS musicians, the depth available might be… well, just too deep. If that’s you… or it you like the variety that different synthesis engines can bring, then you might be interested in Klevgränd Produktion’s latest offering. Enkl is also a monophonic synth and, while the feature set still has plenty to offer, the vast majority of the controls are all contained within a single – decidedly un-busy (at least it is on a full-size iPad screen) – main page. If Cyclop happens to makes your head spin a bit then Enkl might be a suitable mono synth alternative.

Enkl - a mon synth for your iPad - and also for the desktop as there is a VST/AU plugin version also available.

Enkl – a mon synth for your iPad – and also for the desktop as there is a VST/AU plugin version also available.

Klevgränd Produktion will be well known to regular iOS music makers. Audio effects such as VandelaySquashItR0Verb and Svep and pitch/mod wheel app Weeel will have already found a home on many an iPad or iPhone. The company makes very cool apps with very stylish user interfaces and they are all sold at what are, frankly, ridiculously low prices.

A quick tour

Enkl’s user interface follows the Klevgränd Produktion house style and, this time around, uses a very soothing grey/blue colour scheme. At UK£4.49, Enkl is not going to break the bank so even if you have a fully-stocked iOS synth cupboard, Enkl may well be tempting. The app requires iOS7 or later, works with an iPad, is just a 3MB download and has Audiobus, IAA and MIDI support from the off.

The bulk of the synth engine controls are contained within a single main screen. Down the left and right sides are two identical oscillator, LFO and ADSR sections for the engine’s twin oscillator approach. The three buttons at the top of the screen dictate how the two oscillators are combined; added together, subtracted from one another or multiplied.

Enkl - MIDI, Audiobus and IAA support are provided from the off.

Enkl – MIDI, Audiobus and IAA support are provided from the off.

Each oscillator has four basic waveforms types to choose between – triangle, sawtooth, square or noise – while the filter button for each oscillator dictates whether the central filter section is applied or not. The three pitch sliders control the octave, semitone and cent-level tuning, so you can easily detune the two oscillators in any fashion you might choose.

There are independent LFOs for the two oscillators, each with five possible waveform types, buttons to switch between amplitude or frequency modulation of the oscillator, an ADSR envelope and both gain and frequency controls.

Once the signals from the two oscillators have been combined they pass through the various ‘global’ sections of the engine controlled by the options within the central strip of the main screen. This includes a legato switch, a basic (very; but still quite cute) arpeggiator, the main amplitude ADSR envelope, filter and master volume controls.

The filter features low and high cut knobs, resonance (which applies to the low cut filter and can be controlled via MIDI CC24 if you have a suitable external remote control system) and a filter attack knob that controls the time taken for the high cut filter to reach its target value when a note is played.

The effects in Enkl are fairly basic but work very well.

The effects in Enkl are fairly basic but work very well.

Finally, tapping the FX button does open a pop-up with some extra controls for the delay and EQ options. The EQ looks like a fairly simple three-band affair but, as you can change the cut-off points between the three bands then it is actually quite flexible. The delay is of the ping-pong variety and you can adjust the stereo width of the delays.

Compared to something like a Thor, or Z3TA+ or even Cyclop, Enkl’s synth engine is not challenge for a ‘most complex synth of the year’ award. As I mentioned earlier, that might, for many iOS musicians, be just what’s required. In terms of the range of controls, there are still plenty of creative possibilities…. but no PhD is required to start programming. If you are new to the whole ‘creating my own synth sounds’ process, this might actually seem like a rather nice place to start…. not too scary but with enough going on to keep you interested.

Find the keys

The other interesting feature of Enkl is it’s virtual keyboard. One the main screen, by default, you get a small, one-octave version and a pair of arrows (on the left) to octave shift this. If you tap the magnifying glass icon (on the right~), the lower half of the display transforms into a larger – and more fully featured – virtual keyboard.

This has Scale, Key and Octave settings along the top so, like a number of other virtual keyboards, you can customise the note display and, as a consequence, reduce the likelihood of playing duff (our of key) notes if your fingers (or music theory) are a bit clunky.

Enkl's extended keyboard has some nice features for adding expression to your performances.

Enkl’s extended keyboard has some nice features for adding expression to your performances.

However, it’s the two controls at the bottom of the display that provide the most fun. Here you can specify how the keyboard responds when you move your finger while holding a note down. The horizontal movement can be set to control pitchbend; tap on a C, drag to the right and you get pitchbend up to whatever note you drag to. Equally, the vertical direction can be used to adjust the filter or modulation. The filter control is excellent and this works really well if you want to get some variation into your sound as you play. Both motion controls can, of course, be disabled if you prefer.

Interestingly, as the app offers MIDI output (you can configure this within the Settings menu), you could use the keyboard to play other apps if you wished. Tap somewhere of the screen other than the keyboard section and the larger keyboard shrinks can to the ‘mini’ keyboard as you are returned to the default control screen.

In use

On the technical side, I had no problems using Enkl with a couple of different external MIDI keyboards connected via the Lightning-to-USB cable (including my CME Xkey). Equally, via the Settings options, I was able to specify Cubasis as a MIDI input and Enkl seemed happy enough to be sequenced from a Cubasis MIDI track.

Enkl working within Audiobus. The audio itself was fine but I did have some minor issues with fast app switching from within Enkl.

Enkl working within Audiobus. The audio itself was fine but I did have some minor issues with fast app switching from within Enkl.

The app also seemed to work OK within Audiobus and I was able to stream audio from Enkl in the Input slot through to Cubasis in the Output slot (and via an effect or three) without any particular issue. However, I did have a problem with the standard Audiobus ‘quick switch’ strip in Enkl. It was displayed OK but I couldn’t get any of the apps show to ‘expand’ their view (for example, to show the Cubasis transport controls) or actually use it to switch to other apps that were currently loaded. Once I used the Home button route and moved to another app, the Audiobus strip was working OK in those apps… so it was just a behaviour in Enkl (on my test system at least). If this is a genuine ‘bug’ then I’m sure it will soon be addressed… but it is not a major issue in terms of getting stuff done.

Enkl worked very smoothly via IAA when using Cubasis as my IAA host, both inserted on an audio track and a MIDI track.

Enkl worked very smoothly via IAA when using Cubasis as my IAA host, both inserted on an audio track and a MIDI track.

Via IAA, and using Cubasis as my IAA host, Enkl worked very smoothly as either an audio IAA source or as a virtual instrument insert on a Cubasis MIDI track. When used on an audio track, I was also able to run a MIDI rack in parallel to that to sequence my Enkl performance and then, if required, record the audio output onto the audio track prior to mixing.

Enkl with the IAA control strip located top-right. This worked very smoothly on my test system.

Enkl with the IAA control strip located top-right. This worked very smoothly on my test system.

So much for the techie side… what about the sound? The app is supplied with a very good crop of presets (accessed via the ‘slider’ icon button located top-left) and these are organised into some useful categories. You can, of course, create your own presets and there is a folder already created for those to sit within.

As a monophonic (one note at a time) synth, Enkl is perhaps going to be most obviously used for bass and lead sounds. In that capacity, it doesn’t disappoint. The bass and lead preset categories do a good job of showing what the app is about. Presets such as Fat Bass, Bad Bass Stab, Bass Sort Of 303 and Ugly Bass sound great through a decent pair of monitors. In the Lead category, Knife Lead, Magic Glass, Floor Filler and Evil Saw would also happily sit in your next dance-friendly club tune.

Enkl is supplied with a good crop of presets to get you started.

Enkl is supplied with a good crop of presets to get you started.

Indeed, while Enkl can easily to ‘digital’ and ‘harsh’, there are lots of the presets that have a very pleasing ‘warm’, analog sort of feel to them. I’ve no idea now the filter is designed but it does a decent job here and, considering the app is currently towards the lower end of the iOS synth app price range… well, is sounds like considerably more than UK£4.49 suggests it has any right to.

The Audiobus quirk mentioned above, there are a couple of other observations I’d make on this initial release. First, I don’t think the app yet includes a MIDI Learn feature. As mentioned above, the manual does list some MIDI CC numbers that can be used for external control of some of the parameters… but that does depend upon you being able to configure your external controllers to send the required MIDI CC numbers. MIDI Learn would be preferable for most users I suspect….

Enkl worked via either an audio track or, as shown here, a MIDI track via IAA in Cubasis.

Enkl worked via either an audio track or, as shown here, a MIDI track via IAA in Cubasis.

Second, I did find one or two of the switches a little fiddly to control. This was particularly noticeable within the Settings menu when toggling on/off the various MIDI options. I’m sure this is something that can easily be tweaked in a future update though.

In summary

These (very) minor comments aside, otherwise, this first release of Enkl is very impressive. At what is, frankly, a pocket-money price, it provides a good, no nonsense, monophonic synth with enough options to keep you interested and an engine that can create some excellent tones with the options for bass and lead sounds being particularly good.

Enkl is perhaps not in the same class as a Thor or a Z3TA+ in terms of the options it provides you with and, as a monophonic synth, nor is it as powerful or flexible as Cyclop. However, it is also very easy on the eye and easy on the brain. The programming is not an intimidating experience and that means it will suit those who either don’t want their heads expanded by their synth engine and those that want to be able to work on their sounds fast. That doesn’t mean that it won’t appeal to the more seasoned iOS synth fan however… Enkl will do a decent job in also any context simply because it sounds good…

Enkl is a good reminder that you don’t always get what you pay for… but, in the rather mad world of App Store pricing, it’s a reminder that works in your favour because, with Enkl, you get way more synth than the current asking price has any right to deliver. At UK£4.49, Enkl has a budget price but not a budget sound. Whether you need another iOS synth to add to your collection is, of course, a matter for you to decide, but in Enkl, Klevgränd Produktion have given us a bit of a mono synth bargain. Oh, and if you like the iOS version, then you could also try the desktop version. This is available in both AU and VST plugin formats and you can find more details on the Klevgränd Produktion website.

Enkl


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    Comments

    1. I wasn’t going to buy this, but then I saw that stalk of celery in the video and I thought, “No stalk of celery would be caught lounging next to an inferior synth. Everyone knows that celery has a refined ear”.

      Now, had it been a sweet potato, I would have warned everyone to stay away. Sweet potatoes only endorse lo-fi synths.

      Seriously, though, if I were to compile a list of the best “budget” synths for iOS, Enkl would be near the top.

      • Hi ZenLizard…. it is a very cool little instrument… A mostly pointless – but quite difficult – thing to do would be to compile a list of personal ‘top 10 iOS synths’. We really are blessed with some fabulous choices now on the App Store…. best wishes, John

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