When Korg first released Gadget in 2014, I think it is fair to say that they pretty much smashed it. The app bought a combination of a novel approach, a format that suited iOS beautifully (in terms of features vs ease of use), a very slick UI and an eclectic mix of included virtual instruments – gadgets – that added up to an instant hit. Gadget was a shoe-in for my own personal ‘iOS music app of the year’ in 2014.
What is also bought almost from day 1, was a promise from Korg to add audio recording to Gadget, a move that might turn what was already the most powerful and creative ‘all-in-one’ tool for electronic music production under iOS into something closer to a fully-fledged DAW/sequencer. In the time since, Korg have released numerous updates to Gadget. These have added a range of new features including a whole array of new gadgets – some free and some via IAP – and including integration of Korg’s stand-alone iOS VI’s such as Module or iM1 into Gadget. Gadget was great on launch and has become even better since….
…. but users were still waiting for that audio recording option. So, the announcement of Gadget v.3 a few weeks ago – including the long-awaited audio recording – was greeted with plenty of enthusiasm by the sizeable Gadget user-base. And while not every iOS Gadget user might be in a position to stump up the $199 to also purchase Gadget for OSX – and have complete project portability between their iPad/iPhone and Mac computer, it was still also very interesting to see Korg pushing Gadget in that direction; it marks a considerable faith and investment in the Gadget project.
As I posted last week, Gadget v.3 – for iOS and OSX – is now with us and, while I’ll leave the OSX version for another day (I need more time to explore), just what does the update bring for us iOS musicians? Let’s find out….
While some iOS music makers might have squeaked a bit when they saw the $199 (and eventually US$299) price tag for the desktop version of Gadget, it’s difficult to be anything other than impressed with the price of the update for the iOS version; free. What’s more, all the key new features – including the highlight audio recording – are free; there are no new IAPs required to access these new features for existing users.
Oh, and Korg also have Gadget of a 50% sale for new users (get in quick; the offer ends in a few days) and many of their other iOS music apps also on a significant sale (Module, iM1, ARP ODYSSEi and iWaveStation included) by way of celebrating (and encouraging new users in no doubt) the update to Gadget. Korg are a massive company so maybe this sort of approach is not such a big deal to their overall cash-flow…. but that doesn’t mean we should take it for granted that we are getting a considerable something for nothing in the update and some great bargains across the app collection.
So what exactly does the v.3.0 update bring? There are, of course, a whole range of under-the-hood tweaks that Korg have made to improve performance and stability. Equally, AudioShare support has now been added (obviously useful as a means of importing audio recorded elsewhere to use with the new audio recording/playback features). Gadget now also includes Ableton Live Export so, if you are a Live user, your iOS Gadget projects can be ported to Live to further development or live performance.
Perhaps something that might be less universally embraced is the addition of Allihoopa, the social ‘music sharing’ portal. Some Figure users have been very vocal in their dislike for, and the somewhat obtrusive nature of, the platform. Other, by contrast, obviously enjoy the possibilities it brings…. I’m ambivalent [I tend to ignore it with both hands :-) ] but it is now present in Gadget; take it or leave it as you see fit.
And, top of the update list, are three new gadgets – Recife, Zurich and Rosario – which between them add a new drum machine, generic audio recording and a guitar rig modeller/audio recording – and are all freely available at no extra cost.
The rest of gadget’s operation remains pretty much as before. I’ve no intention of covering all that old ground again here so, if you are new to the software, simply pop over to the original Gadget review for an introduction to the basics; the rest of us will simply wait here for you :-)
Let’s start a tour of the new gadgets with Zurich which is Gadget’s new, general purpose, audio recording tool. If you had wondered how Korg indented to marry audio recording into the scene-based project construction workflow that Gadget is built around, then wonder no longer; Zurich simply follows that workflow. Having created a track using Zurich, you can, therefore, specify a clip length of 1,2, 4, 8 or 16 bars, arm it for record, set recording going, and capture your incoming audio signal. Once completed, that audio clip will then simply play back as part of the appropriate Gadget scene.
The principle is straightforward enough and Zurich rather cute, retro, UI, as well as the tape machine graphics, provides you with the usual Gadget-esq compact control set to get the job done with a minimum of fuss. You can, therefore, select the appropriate input, adjust the input and output gains and apply a single insert effect. The latter offers the usual ‘two tweakable parameters’ and the effects include simple high pas and low pass filters, a compressor, various distortions, modulation options and both talk and ring modulation. These are all very functional but also note that they are applied on play back rather than being recorded on input; the recorded signal is ‘dry’.
There are a few interesting practical things to note about Zurich and that may help you shape your own preferred workflow. For example, if you keep recording audio beyond the specified length of your clip, while the clip will continue to cycle on screen (and any other tracks playing will also), audio continues to get recorded including beyond the longest official clip length of 16 bars.
Once you have finished recoding, you can then view the waveform of the entire section of audio you have just recorded, including that beyond the set clip length. You can change the clip length (so, for example, if you just want to pick the best four bars to loop out of a longer audio recording, then that’s possible) and you can adjust both the start and end points of the clip from within the overall audio file. On playback, however you have edited the audio within the clip, the set clip length is what you get and this operates exactly the same as with MIDI clips when played back as part of a scene (the longest clip dictates the overall length of the scene and other, shorter, clips loop their playback to match).
As a slight aside, I did experience some head-scratching when experimenting with setting Zurich’s audio clips to ‘one-shot’ (as opposed to the default ‘loop’) mode. The behaviour does make sense once you work out exactly what’s going on…. but it is not a means of getting a longer audio take to playback over some shorter, looping, clips… at least not in this initial v.3.0 release.
That observation might get you thinking that Gadget is going to slightly box you in when recording audio to working with song sections of a maximum of 16 bars. If you tend to work on your acoustic instrument parts or vocals on a song section basis anyway, then that won’t be an issue. However, if you do like to go from start to finish is a single take, it might feel restrictive.
Fortunately, Gadget does accommodate that approach. If you already have a bunch of scenes created from various other gadgets, once you have added a suitable Zurich-based track, you can disable loop mode in the transport bar bottom-left and then simply engage recording and start from Scene 1. Zurich will then keep recording as gadget moves through each of the scenes in turn and, when you stop recording, will simply divide your audio up into chunks based upon the length of each scene…. In essence, you have just recorded one long audio take and Gadget has simply divided it up in a way that fits its scene-based project structure.
In my own experiments, this seemed to work well and I didn’t really notice any obvious audio artefacts as a result of this process. I’m not sure exactly what is going on behind the scenes within Gadget to make this work…. and whether, for example, my long audio take is actually split into separate audio files ready for playback, or simply streamed from a single audio file. Either way, you might imagine the potential for the occasional audio click if the scene start/finish points happen to coincide with some uncooperative audio peaks. I didn’t experience that…. but, even if it does prove to be an issue, then I’m sure Korg could easily address it with a suitable ‘add short fade in/out’ option for Zurich clips at some stage.
I have not yet had the chance to experiment with a multi-channel audio interface (that is, more than two inputs) with Gadget to see if Zurich can handle some more complex than mono or stereo recording. However, used with an iRig Pro DUO, I was able to record either input in mono or a stereo signal into Zurich. I wasn’t, however, able to record enable more than a single Zurich track at the same time…. although whether that suggests that’s simply not possible at all (and hence stereo simultaneous recording is all that is possible) or whether Gadget simply recognised I only had a two channel device connected and therefore limited what I can do, I’m not sure. If you are currently limited to mono/stereo audio recording, well…. it’s still great to see in the Gadget spec sheet…. and maybe multi-channel audio will be something for another day and another update?
While making your recordings directly into Gadget is one option, you can also import audio recorded elsewhere into Zurich. I simply used iTunes to copy some suitable sample loops over to Gadget but, as mentioned above, AudioShare, Dropbox and AudioCopy options are also supported. Zurich includes an ‘Import’ button located in the bottom-left of the waveform display that allows you to access this feature. It works in a very straightforward fashion but it is worth noting that Zurich doesn’t do anything magical here…. there is no pitch or tempo matching support for example; what you import is what you get so make sure you deal with all the tempo and pitch adjustments required before bringing in your audio.
One further practical point is worth noting. While Gadget includes a metronome (accessible from the Tempo button) and this works fine on playback or when recording, the ‘count-in’ feature didn’t work for me. You can supposedly switch this on from the Settings panel (that is, the main iOS Settings section for Gadget) and switch between a 1 bar or 2 bar count in. Even with this setting made, I still didn’t get an audio count in. Unless I’ve missed something here, this obviously needs attention as it is a feature that most users would want when making audio recordings…. and it is obviously meant to be there.
In practical terms, pretty much everything outlined above with respect to Zurich also applies to Rosario; it records audio in the same fashion. However, rather than a generic effect option, with Rosario, you get a combination of amp modelling, cabinet modelling and two effects, all of which can be used at the same time. The UI is very much ‘guitar floorboard’ in nature and, while record electric guitar is very much what Korg have in mind here, there is nothing to stop you putting any audio source through the gadget should you so wish.
Rosario ships with a decent selection of presets (a bank of 33) and there is also a user folder you can save your own into. Each of the four processing elements – amp, cab, effect 1 and effect 2 – can be individually switched on/off via the four ‘footswitch’ style. Tapping the header labels in each section pops up a selection box of options within each category. For example, within the amp models, there go from ‘AC15’ (go on, guess….) through to Modded OD (not quite so sure exactly what that’s based on but it sounds good) with some 19 options in total. The cab models go from a 1 x 8 through to a a selection of 4 x 12 models with various stops in between. And in terms of effects, will its a guitar friendly selection spanning various overdrives, distortions, boosters, auto-wah, vibe, modulation, delay and reverb.
For each of the four sections, you get a compact set of controls for tweaking. For the two effects, as elsewhere in Gadget, you get two knobs to fiddle with, each linked to specific parameters based upon the effect selected. The cab section includes a noise reduction control although I’m less clear exactly what the ‘blend’ knob is for (maybe a wet/dry control?). The amp model section has six, very amp-like, options with pre-amp gain, overall gain, presence and then bass, mid and treble EQ. In short, the control set is compact, very much orientated at the guitar player, and easy to use.
My only quibble would be the styling of the virtual knobs as they provide very little visual clue as to the current settings (get your microscope out to see the tiny ‘dot’ position indicator). Maybe some chicken-head knobs would be less of a strain on the eyesight?
Much more importantly, I think Rosario actually sounds pretty good indeed. No, this compact control set doesn’t give you the flexibility offered by a dedicated guitar rig sim app such as BIAS FX, AmpliTube, Mobile POD or ToneStack, but there is not much to grumble about in terms of the quality of the modelling itself. Whether you want super cleans, crunchy blues/rock or more aggressive metal tones, Rosario will offer you something suitable. And, as with Zurich, all the actual recordings are made ‘dry’, so if you want to adjust your guitar tones after the fact to better fit your mix, then that’s easily done.
Oh, and Rosario also offers the same audio import options as Zurich if you want to bring audio into Gadget from elsewhere and process it via Rosario.
Gadget already includes a number drum machine gadgets but Recife is now added to that list. As it is a free addition, it is, of course, very welcome and, as you can see from the UI, what you have is a compact, MPC-style, 16 pad, sample-based, drum machine. Gadget’s other default (non-IAP) drum gadget is London and that only features eight sound/pads in a single instance; by comparison, Recife is better featured all around.
For example, some 30 different ‘kits’ are included and, yes, while they are predominantly aimed at electronic music styles, there is a broad selection of sounds available including the ‘Organic’ kit that is mostly acoustic drum sounds. As well as being able to trigger sounds from the on-screen pads, Recife is happy to take MIDI notes from your external controller and responds to MIDI velocity via that route. You can, of course, also use all the usual Gadget MIDI editing tools to programme your clips if you require.
Aside from loading one of the default kits, Recife then allows you to tweaks those sounds in various ways. Having selected a pad, you can change the sample associated with it from the range supplied (these are usefully organised into drum type categories). You then also get options for adjusting the start time, sample playback length, pitch, pan, level and speed as well as an option for reversing the sample. There are also two groups you can assign samples to thereby limiting related samples from playing back simultaneously (e.g. your various hi-hats).
Add in the usual simple effects options and, all in all, Recife is a very welcome addition to the gadget fold with some cool kits and useful sample tweaking. Perhaps the only missing item from the feature list that folks will already be calling for is sample import. Again, maybe that’s something for another day but, with audio recording a possibility, I’m sure some users would love to be able to record their own drum sounds and then build a Recife kit from them, all without leaving the Gadget environment.
One or two minor comments made above re knob graphics and the metronome, I think Korg have done a pretty impressive job with v.3.0 of Gadget. Yes, the audio recording is implemented in a very ‘gadget’ fashion (and so it should be) so this is still a music production environment that will suit those who like to work in a ‘scene’ based fashion. It is perhaps a less obvious choice for those that like the more obviously ‘linear timeline’ fashion that a more traditional DAW/sequencer offers (although you can still choose to work in short MIDI or audio clips in a DAW/sequencer such as Cubasis or Auria Pro if you wish).
One other (obvious) comment is worth making; Gadget is still an ‘all-in-one’ environment. While you can ‘plugin’ Korg’s other impressive virtual instruments via ‘gadgets’, you don’t get IAA or AU app hosting in Gadget. Maybe that’s something that might come? It would be great to see but would, I suspect, also make for some much greater coding headaches for the Korg development team. That all said, if you are into various styles of EDM, for me, Gadget remains the flagship all-in-one tool music production tool available for iOS. It’s just that, with v.3.0, if you want to add that killer guitar groove via a real player, or that hook-filled lead vocal to complete your song, well now you can.
And, what’s more, if you are an existing Gadget user, you get that additional functionality for free. Oh, and if your not an existing user, but the possibility of audio recording has finally sold you on Korg’s approach, get cracking because, for just a few days, Gadget – and many of Korg’s other iOS music apps – are up to 50% off their usual price.
Gadget was impressive on day one…. it’s just got better with age with each incremental update and, with v.3., Korg are now firmly moving Gadget towards the obvious DAW/sequencer competition. Whether under iOS or on the desktop, it will be interesting to see just how much ground they take on that front…. but, under iOS at least, Gadget 3 is a mighty impressive music production environment.