I’ve reviewed a number of iOS music apps from Klevgränd Produktion here on the blog over the last year or two – Vandelay, Squashit, Svep, Roverb, Enkl, Weeel, Korvpressor, PressIt, Esspresso, Tines and Jussi. A number of these are also available in an AU plugin format for these working on an OSX desktop system and Klevgränd took a pretty bold step a few months ago when the also added AU support under iOS; it was great to see… and, in every case, I’ve been hugely impressed with the creative possibilities that these apps provide. In addition, the novel – and very streamlined – user interfaces are ideal for the AU format.
As I posted last week, Klevgränd have now launched a further app; Haaze. Unlike the recent Tines and Jussi apps, which are both virtual instruments, Haaze sees Klevgränd back to their more usual territory of audio effects/processors. And, in the case of Haaze, the app is focused on manipulating your stereo image. As with other apps in their catalogue, Haaze is delivered for both desktop and iOS formats. Under iOS, the app is universal, requires iOS9.1 or later, is a 55MB download and launched with a special discounted UK£3.99/US$4.99 price tag.
It is, like Jussi, also launched in either a standalone or AU format only – no Audiobus or IAA – so, to get the best out of the app, you will need a suitable AU host. This is an approach that some iOS music making old hands might think is just a touch ahead of its time but, personally, I think the strategy is a sensible one… surely AU has got to be the future format of choice for all iOS audio effects or virtual instruments? As with all of Klevgränd’s other iOS music apps, Haaze is a doddle to use as the control set follows the KISS approach that Klevgränd adopt in all their UIs.
Beyond the edge
The ability to manipulate the ‘stereo-ness’ of an audio recording can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the ability to transform a rather flat sounding mono signal into a stereo sound can help bring some additional life to the sound. Equally, pushing an individual sound within a mix right to the edges of the stereo field can help is grab the listener’s attention in an ear-candy sort of a way.
On the flip-side, unless used with care, it is also easy of over-do the effect, whether that’s with a single instrument or, perhaps as part of a ‘mastering signal chain’, when applied to a full stereo mix. A little can certainly go a long way but, apply too much, and the danger can be that you upset the mono compatibility of the track. Surely everyone listens to music in stereo now though? Well, yes and no, and especially no if the sound is coming out of a portable radio or a compact TV where playback will often be in mono.
Over-used, stereo manipulation can lead to instrument balance being changed or, in extreme cases, a sound simply disappearing in mono monitoring. In addition, while stereo widening can be very effective for mid and high frequency sounds, in most music mixes, we want the bass frequencies to remain firmly focused in the centre of the stereo image; push your bass guitar or kick to the edges and things can get a bit ‘hollow’ sounding.
With that important public safety message dealt with, there are all sorts of ways to manipulate the stereo image. At its most simple, you can just make a copy of a mono recording, pan the original and copy to opposite sides of the stereo image, and then simply offset them by a few milliseconds; instant stereo and, on things like mono acoustic guitars, this can work pretty well.
But, of course, there are most sophisticated ways of tweaking your stereo image. On the desktop, there are lots of plugins for doing this kind of thing and, incidentally, this now included Haaze itself as Klevgränd’s plugin is also released in a modestly priced Windows/OSX plugin format. However, under iOS, the choices are a little more limited.
Perhaps the most obvious choice is Holderness Media’s excellent Stereo Designer which I reviewed when it was first released back in February 2014. Despite the fact that this is very much a niche audio processing option, as I said when reviewing the app, Stereo Designer is a brilliant bit of software. If it existed in a desktop plugin – as Haaze now does – I would have bought a copy without a second thought. So, Haaze is up against some pretty stiff competition…. so what does the app offer and how does it compare with Stereo Designer?
In a bit of a haaze
In terms of the stereo processing, Haaze offer two approaches. One is based upon the Haas effect (as described above, a short delay is applied to the left and right channels to create a stereo image) while the other uses EQ (the sound is split by frequency with adjacent frequency bands then panned left/right to create a sense of stereo. Both approaches are fairly classic ‘stereo width’ effects and, in Haaze, both can be applied at the same time.
In terms of the UI, the controls for these two processes are classic Klevgränd; simple, intuitive and to the point. The three vertical sliders are used to apply control the ‘split EQ’ effect and, thankfully, you can apply this EQ splitting independently in the low, mid and high frequency ranges. And while you can, of course, experiment with spreading your bass frequencies across the stereo image, a safer bet is simply to apply a little more of these faders in the mid and high frequency bands.
The rather unusually looking ‘spring’ control can be used to create the Hass (delay-based) stereo effect. Here, you simply tap on the spring and drag left/right to ‘widen’ the spring graphic which, in turn, widens the stereo effect. Usefully, where you drag on the vertical range of the spring controls the frequency at which the effect is applied so, again, to can choose to widen the high, mid or low frequency ranges as suits your purpose. This control does take a little finesse to use – and it would be nice to be able to double-tap it to reset the spring – but you soon get used to using it.
And, aside from repeating that you can use both effects at the same time, and that the Mix controls lets you adjust the wet/dry balance of the app’s output, then that’s about it in terms of the controls. See, I told you it was simple….
So, given the options available, just how does Haaze sound? Well, very good indeed. I did most of my testing using the app within Cubasis but I applied the plugin on a range of different materials including mono guitar and vocal parts, a stereo piano, stereo drums and a ‘full mix’ (as a ‘mastering’ style effect). IN all cases, I was impressed with the results obtained and, while I didn’t do anything too rigorous in terms of mono compatibility testing, some simple switching between stereo and mono monitoring didn’t suggest that Haaze – if used sensibly – was causing too much grief on that front. Incidentally, it might be rather nice if Klevgränd could add a mono/stereo monitoring switch to the app’s output to facilitate that A/B comparison.
For example, applied to a mono guitar part, applying a bit of mid and high Split EQ spread really did open up the guitar part and give a sense of a stereo recording. However, push either of these faders up above half way and, when solo’ed, for my test recording at least, things started to sound a little over-cooked. However, dropped back into the full mix, and I did feel I could push the processing a little harder on an individual instrument before things got out of hand. The same applied to the Hass ‘spring’ controls; pushed to extremes and the effect was a bit too obvious but, if you stay on the safe side of subtle, it really is a very effective process.
Applied to an existing stereo sound source – such as my stereo drum kit – Haaze did, if anything, an even better job. Again, the options for frequency selective processing are extremely useful if you want to keep your kick drum fully centre while giving the rest of the kit just a bit more of a stereo spread.
Applied on the stereo output buss to a whole mix, Haaze is a little bit addictive and, while this is most certainly an easy way to add a bit of a wow factor to your mix, I’d most certainly advise caution. I’ve no idea what the exact details are of the split EQ process (other than 16 bands are used) but, to my ears at least, on the full stereo mix at least, I found I had to keep the levels very modest for things to stay natural. In this role, I think I preferred the results from the Haas spring….
So, what about that comparison with Stereo Designer? Well, that’s actually quite an easy one as there are some very obvious feature differences between the two apps despite them both being ‘stereo image’ processors. Let’s start with the obvious facts. First, both apps are currently selling for exactly the same price of UK£3.99/US$4.99 (no help there then in trying to decide which one to buy!). Second, Stereo Designer offers Audiobus and IAA support but not, as yet, AU support. In contrast, Haaze is AU ready but doesn’t offer Audiobus or IAA. For some iOS musicians, that might already provide a basis for a decision one way or the other. That said, I’d love to see the Holderness media apps get AU…. but I don’t think Klevgränd are going to go backwards and support Audiobus or IAA any time soon.
Beyond that, the key difference between the two apps is obvious from the respective UIs and reflects some very clear design philosophy decisions on behalf of the two developers. Like all Klevgränd’s apps, Haaze is designed to emphasis ease of use over depth of control while still delivering effective results. In contrast, Stereo Designer offers a much more comprehensive control set, giving the user more options (and that might be a positive or a negative depending upon your point of view) and it includes some great real-time control options. That more comprehensive control set also means a somewhat finer level of control over the effect created and, as the app also offers mid/side processing, there are all sorts of interesting possibilities that may appeal to the more advanced user.
Both are very capable though and I guess these design differences will mean the two apps might appeal in different sets of circumstances or to different types of user. In the case of Haaze, this is very much a design that gets results quickly and with a minimum of fuss. For some users, that might be all they need…. for the control freak, then perhaps Stereo Designer’s approach might be more attractive. In short, the two apps – which both stereo image processors – are designed with different users and/or applications in mind….
Host with the most
I did most of my own testing via Cubasis. I encountered no technical issues with Haaze and was able to run multiple instances of the AU plugin without any difficulties, both as an insert effect and, if you wished, as a send-return effect. However, I also gave the app a brief run out in a few other AU hosts including AUM, Auria Pro and MultitrackStudio. Again, the app worked fine and would, I suspect, behave just as well in most of the popular iOS AU hosts.
Haaze is another audio effect which almost any iOS musician could find a good home for. While an app like Stereo Designer perhaps offers a deeper level of control, that’s not really what Haaze – or indeed most of Klevgränd’s iOS music apps – is about. The minimalist design means you get results fast and, for some music makers, ease or use is just as important as depth of control…. providing, of course, that the results themselves are good and, with Haaze, they most certainly are. Given the insanely modest price of both apps though, I’d have no hesitation is saying that both Haaze and Stereo Designer are worth owning…. and I’m still hoping that both iOS AUI and a desktop version of the latter will be forthcoming.
I don;t have to wait for a desktop version of Haaze though. It’s already here and, having been lucky enough to give it a try under OSX, it works just as well as the iOS version. And while the UK£3.99/US$4.99 price for the iOS version is a bargain, the launch price for the desktop version – just US$12.99 – is also a steal given typical boutique plugin prices on the desktop.
Anyway, check out the video below to audition Haaze for yourself (via headphones or a decent monitoring system for best results!) and then hit the download button to find out more and grab the app at the special launch price….