Aside from synth apps, the other category of music apps that seems to be particularly well served on the iTunes App Store is that of the audio effect app. These fall into two broad sub-categories themselves and, a few months ago, I did a couple of roundup articles looking at what was available in terms of more conventional audio effects/processors and more creative audio effects/processors.
Of course, new apps are appearing all the time and there are already a few very good candidates I could add to both those roundup articles. One fairly recent possibility is Flection from developer elephantcandy. If you have hung around these pages for any length of time then you will be familiar with some of elephantcandy’s other iOS music apps (for example, I’ve reviewed both Level.24 and UltraPhaser). Flection is their latest app and it definitely falls more in the ‘creative’ than the ‘corrective’ category. So, if you’re fond of some creative audio processing for your sounds, is Flection worth a spot on your already well-stocked iPad?
Elephantcandy describe Flection as a waveshaper effect. As explained rather well within the built-in manual/documentation, waveforms are defined by two main properties; frequency and amplitude. The frequency of the vibration defines its pitch (faster vibration give higher pitch and visa-versa) while the amplitude is the size of the vibration with larger amplitude giving louder sound.
While Flection can do something to emphasise pitch (it has a 3-band EQ so, in a complex sound, you can easily place emphasis on a particular frequency range if you wish), it does its processing on whatever audio you supply it with (live or pre-recorded) so the fundamental frequency distribution is defined by that audio source.
Instead, Flection’s primary function is to allow you to manipulate the amplitude of the waveform. It does this by allowing you to apply any one of some 30+ ‘functions’. Essentially, these are mathematical functions but it is perhaps easier to think of them as ‘amplitude conversion curves’ (rather in the same wave that some virtual synths or keyboards provide MIDI velocity curves).
You can plot these curves on an X-Y graph (Flection calls this a grid) where the input amplitude value appears on the X (horizontal) axis and the output amplitude appears on the Y (vertical) axis. The curves map a particular input amplitude to a particular output amplitude but not necessarily in a linear (straight line) fashion and, as you can see from the various screen shots shown here, some of these curves (functions) are far from linear in nature; they do, therefore, ‘shape the amplitude waveform’ in some interesting and very flexible ways.
Indeed, as you can also take any of these 30+ curves as a starting point, there are a number of adjustable parameters you can tweak (mainly the Alpha and Beta sliders) to influence how the curve is applied. And, as we will see in a minute, as you also get a ‘Perform’ screen, where you can load up to four such waveshaping functions and then blend between them in real-time to process your audio, there are plenty of creative possibilities for taking your source audio and ‘waveshaping’ it into something different.
OK, so that’s the concept, what about the more practical aspects of the app? Well, it is currently priced at UK£7.99, it requires iOS 7.0 or later, is iPad-only, it’s a modest 14MB download (and so ought to squeeze into even the most tightly packed of iPads) and includes both Audiobus and IAA support.
The main user interface is split into to screens; Shape and Perform… and you can move between these by tapping on their labels that appear at the top/bottom of the display. On the Shape screen you get to configure what Flection calls a ‘Sound’. This is basically a preset of the various settings available to ‘waveshape’ your audio and, as well as some Sound presets that are supplied (tap the ‘three horizontal lines’ icon located top-right to see these), you can, of course, also create your own.
The Shape screen is divided into four areas. Top-left is a waveform/spectrum view (you can toggle between various display modes here using the buttons at the top of this section). This section also includes a three-band EQ that is applied pre- any other processing. The middle band is parametric so, as well as adjusting the centre frequency (left/right) and the gain (up/down) if you pinch/stretch you can adjust the width of this band (the Q setting).
Top-right is a swipe-able list of the 30+ default waveshape functions referred to earlier. Again, as shown in the various screenshots, there are some fairly exotic functions available to choose from and, if you tap on one from the list, it is instantly selected as the currently applied function….
… and then appears in the third area of the display located bottom-left; the amplitude function ‘grid’ (er… graph). This ‘Function View’ graph shows the shape of the curve and also indicates the amplitude of both the input signal (in blue along the horizontal axis) and output signal (in blue along the vertical axis). This visualisation takes a bit of working out but, as you are probably going to want to trust your ears rather than your eyes, to start with at least, feel free to not to worry too much about it J You also get standard input and output level meters in this section of the display. You can, by the way, flip the X-Y display between a linear scale and a logarithmic scale if you wish.
The final area of the Shape screen – bottom-right – contains five slider-style controls. Pre-Amp and Post-Amp allow you to adjust the input and output levels while the Dry/Wet slider allows you to balance the unprocessed and processed audio sent to the app’s output.
The Alpha and Beta slides provide adjustment to the form of the selected waveshape and this, in turn, changes the nature of the amplitude transformation. You can, however, also swipe up/down or left/right on the X-Y display area itself and this aslo adjusts these two parameters.
Note that there is also a Bypass button located bottom-right and a DC Filter button. As described in the built-in documentation, you are probably best leaving this switched on as it can avoid some (unintended) audio nastiness with some waveshape functions.
Make some shapes
Having created some ‘Sound’ presets (or explored some of the supplied presets) via the Shape screen, if you then toggle over to the perform screen you are presented with a two-part display. Along the top is a swipe-able list of all the Sound presets (including your own) and you can swipe left/right to find the one you want to use. In fact, you can find up to four of these and then drag and drop them into the four slots in the lower portion of the display.
Then, as Flection is receiving its audio input, you can use the central X-Y pad to blend between these four Sound presets with a single finger. Depending upon exactly what your various chosen presets are, this might induce quite subtle shifts in the sound or, if your Shape treatments are a bit more dramatic, then you might well be able to go from ‘no effect’ to ‘completely crushed’ with a short, sharp, swipe.
Which brings us to the sound of Flection. What kind of noises does this waveshape processing produce? Well, the list of presets gives some clues as to what you might expect. For example, presets such as Fuzzy, Brightness, Megaphone, Muffle, Warm and Noise Blaster all give a pretty good steer towards the likely results.
In use, some of these effects feel like a sort of EQ filter type effect (and, of course, they might well be if the Sound preset makes use of the three-band EQ) while some of the others provide different types of distortion. These range from the fairly gentle to some pretty extreme annihilation. So, what you are getting here is a fairly flexible in one sense (a wide range of EQ/filter/distortion options) but also quite focused in another sense (this is not a multi-effects app in the same sense as something like Flux:FX, DFX or Turnado, for example).
That said, at what it sets out to do – yes, EQ/filter/distortion – Flection does it very well and, whether it’s guitar, vocals, drums of some synths sounds, you can create some very ear-catching treatments if you want to drop in a bit of extra interest within your mix to keep the listener with you. This is quite a ‘specialist’ effect but it can create some great sounds and it is a lot of fun to use.
I spent most of my time experimenting with the app via Audiobus (with Flection in the Effects slot) and via IAA (with Flection used as an insert effect within my Cubasis IAA host). Aside from the occasional (and in common with a number of other apps) loss of communication between Flection and Cubasis when used via IAA (mainly on ‘wake up’ after my iPad was left to go to sleep), the performance seemed very solid. From a technical perspective, therefore, I had no particular issues.
And I do like the sound Flection allows you to produce. It is quite a specialist processor – it does one sort of thing – but it does do that thing rather well and I could imagine sound designers, electronic musicians and mixers looking for a new toy for adding some alternative spot ear candy into their productions would find Flection a very useful tool to have around even if it was not something you used on every production or every day.
I like what elephantcandy do in terms of their iOS apps; no fuss, no real flamboyance, no BS… just solid, workmanlike processors that do the job they are designed to do. I suspect that Flection will, because of its rather specific function, appeal to a fairly select subset of the iOS musician population but, if you are in that subset, already have a decent selection of creative iOS effects apps, and are perhaps looking for some new ammunition, then it is most certainly worth a look.
If you are an iOS music newbie (that is, you don’t yet know that you are a music app addict), and perhaps looking for a ‘first ever creative music effect app’ then perhaps Flection is not the most obvious place to start (I think DFX or Flux:FX might win that particular competition). That said, if you are specifically interested in EQ/filter/distortion effects, then Flection is going to be right up your (sonic) street. Flection manages to be interesting, easy to use, and is capable of some great audio mangling…. specialist perhaps, but very good at what it does.