Regular iOS musicians will be familiar with development team Wooji Juice through a number of iOS music apps including the excellent Mitosynth which I reviewed here on the blog about 18 months ago. Back in November, Wooji Juice released a new app – Ferrite – and, in the spirit of trying to shorten my personal ‘catch up’ list of apps I need to review, I thought it was about time I got around to seeing what the attraction (doh!) of Ferrite might be.
In terms of what it is…. well, Ferrite is an audio recording app. It provides a very slick ‘record it now’ interface that allows you to capture audio in double quick time and it also offers a multi-track environment so that you can layer multiple audio recordings, apply some effects, edit the contents of each track and create a mix from the finished project.
This might make Ferrite sound as if it is a DAW (audio only; no MIDI) aimed at musicians but Wooji Juice are keen to point out that that is not really their intention with Ferrite. Instead, they are aiming for something that offers the convenience of a simple audio memo recorder but with the editing capabilities of a multi-track editing environment and pitched firmly at the podcaster, radio/audio journalist and other, voice-dominated, audio applications.
The iron age
Ferrite is a free download and is universal so it will work fine on both iPad and iPhone. Given the target audience, iPhone support might be quite significant as it gives you a multi-track recording/editing environment in your pocket at all times. The app is an 18MB download and requires iOS8.0 or later.
For many users, the free base app may be enough – you get plenty of tracks and the scope to record quite long projects – but there are two IAPs (each UK£7.99) that can add FX/automation options and unlimited tracks/duration. I suspect that once you try the free app, if you do decide the tool is useful, then the IAPs would be a good investment.
A wide range of audio formats are supported including both compressed (lossey) and uncompressed formats. You can record audio using the iOS hardware microphone or via a suitable external mic. Audio can also be imported from other sources such as DropBox, iTunes File Sharing, AudioShare or from your music library; if you want to build an audio project before adding a voiceover or two for radio shows/podcast applications, Ferrite will therefore have you covered.
Strong as iron
The strength of the app is a combination of two key elements; the ease with which a new recording can be initiated – the app starts up ready to go; one tap and you are recording a new audio file – and the streamlined editing options once you start to assemble any audio recordings into a project.
When you capture a new recording, it is added to the app’s media library and this contains both audio recordings and projects. A single audio recording can be used in multiple projects and any edits made to an audio clip that is placed within a project are non-destructive; the original audio file remains unchanged. This is a very flexible combination and, again, would suit podcasters (for example) who often re-use certain audio elements (title music/audio or audio jingles, etc.) as it makes for very efficient use of storage space.
Once you create a multi-track project, the editing environment is very clean. Audio can be loaded/imported into a project, tracks created and clips then arranged as required. You get the usual timeline view with tracks arranged vertically but this a time-based view only; there is no musical beats/bars to see. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t use it for music recording/editing but it’s obvious that’s not the prime design criteria here.
The clip editing tools are, however, a joy to use and there are some nice uses of the touchscreen here that would be great to see in some of the more mainstream DAW/sequencers. Clips can be easily trimmed, faded in/out, copied, pasted and crossfades are automatically applied where two clips overlap. Clips can also be split but the highlight for me was the Strip Silence command that (very Cubase-like) splits an audio clip automatically taking out periods of silence based upon a user-defined threshold; very neat and a much better solution that faffing about with a noise gate.
Each track offers volume, pan and a mute/solo button. There is also a Setting button (spanner icon) for each track and this pops open a further panel with additional options. What you have access to here depends upon whether you have purchased the FX/automation IAP (I had access to this for the review).
Ferrite includes a compressor, high and low pass filters, a noise gate and a ‘warm amplifier’ (a rather nice tube-style distortion effect I think) but you also get access to a number of Apple-based effects (these are, I think, built around AU technology) that also include compression, EQ, distortion and a basic reverb. If you happen to have any 3rd party AU effects installed then these will also be visible for selection. That said, Wooji Juice do state a health warning about the current AU support within the app and, in my own testing at least, trying to add any of these non-Apple AU plugins sent Ferrite into a spin and tossed me back to the Home screen. At present therefore, Ferrite isn’t really an alternative to MultitrackStudio as an AU host of choice.
The automation options work pretty well and you can automate pretty much all the effects parameters. Automation data can be added on the fly during playback or by adding nodes to your automation curve at the current cursor location. The whole system is nicely implemented and seems to work well.
Perhaps the only unintuitive part (initially at least) of using the multi-track mode is how you add a new recording to an existing project. However, if you simply tap on a track and choose ‘import’ from the pop-up options that appear, you can then make a new recording. Once completed, it can then be added to the project and it appears in the correct spot along the timeline. It’s an easy process to learn but not very ‘DAW-like’ in approach.
The other element within the track Settings panel is the ‘ducking’ options. Ducking is the term used to describe one piece of audio (for example, a music track) being automatically lowered in volume when another piece of audio (for example, a voice-over) is also in playback. This is a very common practice in audio production such as radio or podcasting and the fact that the process is made so easy in Ferrite again demonstrates the target user that Wooji Juice have in mind.
When configuring ducking, you can identify a track as the ‘duck king’; when this is playing, other tracks can be set to ‘duck’ in level. You can also set a track to ‘duck off’ (!) and these tracks will ignore the presence of the ‘duck king’ and their level will not be dropped. There are extra controls for setting how the ducking process responds so you have plenty of options here. For those working with the spoken voice, these tools would prove very useful.
Once your project is completed, you can export it in various ways and formats but the IAPs open the options up considerably. This includes options for sending your audio to the Camera Roll as a video (with a cover image) and, most usefully, archiving your project as a ZIP file. You can specify the output format via the app’s main Settings dialog.
Rusty old iron
There are lots of elements of Ferrite to like. The design is minimalist and modern and, for the features it includes, in the main, the touchscreen design is really well thought-out. Of course, this is an app designed for the audio producer rather than the music producer and that is abundantly clear in many of the design decisions. If your podcasts involve more than just a record button (eek!) then Ferrite is well worth a (free) download to check out.
For the more music-based readers – and myself included – while I can appreciate what Ferrite has to offer, it is perhaps a case for wishfull thinking. I can’t help but wish that Wooji Juice had added those extra features that might have made it work a little better as a music-based DAW (tempo/bar/beats, a more standard approach to triggering recording on a track, options to loop playback, a mixer screen, etc.). I’m sure that would actually involve quite a lot of additional development work but, given just how smoothly the audio editing environment works, I’m sure it would be a recording environment that would appeal to lots of music producers. Yes, you could use it ‘as is’ but I suspect that just a few extra features would make that a much more attractive proposition.
I really like Ferrite. It provides a simple, streamlined, means of capturing and then arranging multi-track audio. As per the design brief, it is a tool more suited to podcast and voice-based projects rather than music production but, in that context, it does a very good job.
I’ve no inside track here but, if Wooji Juice did expand the Ferrite feature set with musicians in mind, I suspect they would get a good response…. and there are certainly elements to how Ferrite functions that the developers of some other popular DAW/sequencers might do well to take note of.
Oh, and don’t forget that it’s a free download for the base app. Ferrite is a very attractive (doh!!) app…. what’s not to like?