iSem updated – Arturia’s first update to iSEM for iOS brings new features and performance improvements

Download from iTunes App Storeisem logoArturia have released the first update to their iSEM iOS synth app today. This new version – v.1.0.1 – brings a number of new features plus what sounds like some performance improvements under the hood.

The main features of the synth remain the same as when I originally reviewed it. At UK£6.99, iSEM is a virtual recreation of Oberheim’s classic SEM (Synthesizer Expansion Module) that dates from the mid-1970s and was used by folks such as Jan Hammer and John Carpenter. Given that a an actual hardware recreation of the hardware version released in 2010 had a list price of about UK£750, if you already own an iPad, the iOS app might be considered a bit of a bargain :-)

The update brings support for poly aftertouch and channel pressure providing, of course, you have an external MIDI master keyboard that can generate that data. If so, it does add another element of expressiveness to your performance. In addition, as well as the usual array of minor bug fixes, this release brings improved IAA support and some improvements to the way MIDI is handled under iOS7. While iSEM was never a particular problem in this regard for me, it is nice to see MIDI implementation getting some attention from developers.

iSEM's main screen certainly captures the look of the original hardware synth.

iSEM’s main screen certainly captures the look of the original hardware synth.

However, if you own one of the newer 64-bit iPads (Air or Mini), the app is now offering native support for these CPUs. I can only assume this would result in some significant improvements in the efficiency of the app’s operation on these devices. In other words, less CPU load and, presumably, more apps running at the same time before you max out your CPU resources.

When it comes to iOS synths, there really are some excellent choices available. iSEM is a seriously good synth app and sounds absolutely fabulous. Read the full review of the app if you want to find out more but, if you are an iOS synth collector then this is definitely one to add and, if you are a newbie iOS musician building your synth app collection, this is yet another contender to add to the best of the rest on the App Store. Highly recommended.


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    1. It just sounds good in all the right places. I have noticed a shrillness in a number of patches in some of the more esteemed recent synths, notably Nave, which I adore, but also think needs a bit of work in the upper mid frequency areas; it often seems to be overhyped there…I guess the point is to have a biting, metallic thing happening, but Animoog does that, and is usually pretty silky…Anyone else feel that way a bit?

      iSEM, which I waited a while to buy because I thought, wrongly, was just another Analog emulation, does not have those issues, at least to my ears.

      • Hi Chris…. I certainly like the sound of iSEM…. although I’m no classic synth junkie so I don’t claim to have particularly fine-tuned ears on this front…. That said, these are such personal choices (just like with guitar tones where I do, perhaps, had a touch more experience)…. Best, John

    2. +1 Chris, I know exactly what you mean!

      I sometimes filter these frequencies out and then re-excite using Saturn – bloomin gorgeous that FabFilter plugin, just awesome!

      iSEM is a fabulous sounding synth, in some respects comparable to the hardware analogue gear I have; everything has it’s pros n cons, and in certain circumstances it’s pretty difficult to discern which is which!

    3. iSEM is quite a nice synth. It has its own unique sound which sets it apart from other synth apps. Unfortunately I haven’t spent time creating my own sounds for it, but the presets currently hold my interest and inspire me. The update, though, is a reminder to me that I still would like a MIDI Channel setting in their iMini app. OMNI is not easy to use in a live situation.

      I also agree with Nave. I was never as excited about it as I had expected. Even so, I have used it live which made it all worth it. I created several pads and layered one with a string sound on my hardware synth. I used that higher frequency bite to my advantage with a slower attack so the initial darker string sound (on Motif Rack-XS) starts and then fills in with a higher, ethereal glow on top.

      • Hi SSquared… that sounds cool…. How do you find the whole experience of taking your iPad out live? Is it a smooth ride or prone to the occasional bump?

        • Overall, it’s a been a positive experience. It has been very reliable. The iPad is certainly limited in capabilities but you just need to be aware of these limitations and decide what you can and can’t do. I have issues with apps being OMNI only, apps not responding to program changes, most are not multi-timbral. You even need to be aware of which apps play nicely together when in background audio mode. I will always practice new things at home to check for stability and then use the setup during practice before I actually try it for live use. In two years I’ve had one crash. Which is pretty good, though I don’t recall any problems using my hardware. ;-) As a reference, I have always used hardware synths/racks, and not my computer. So my background is with hardware. If used within limits, the iPad is very useful as a live synth. Just be certain to know the risks beforehand. I have also used the iPad as a controller for program changes on my hardware or using sliders to change filter, attack, tap tempo, etc.

          I have a more in-depth description (if interested) but did not want to take up too much space under the iSEM article.

          • Thanks for sharing, yes please to the more detailed description!

            John, if you’re considering publishing this I’d definitely be interested in reading, if not then get in touch SSquared, we’re very keen on publishing this kind of experience.

          • Hi SSquared….. certainly happy to see a more detailed description…. either here or, if you were so inclined, as a guest post? If you are interested then get back in touch and we could chat…. but no pressure if not :-)

            • Yes, love it! Guest post would be very, very cool :)

              I already respect you even more just for being open to this kind of thing, good stuff!

            • I’d be thrilled to do a guest post, if that’s ok. I’ll e-mail you. I am still writing up the detailed description. I had posted some stuff over on another forum many months ago, but that forum is now down so I can’t access what I had written.

    4. Yeah, nice call on Nave. It still is pretty damned amazing, and every time I open it I still stare at it in awe! Attack thing is very good observation.

      I will wait until Auria has its next sale on plugins, and try out Saturn, hopefully a few others.

    5. Yak Nepper says:

      Very nice with an update, thank you for that.
      This app still crashes several times within the hour when used as an IAA instrument in Cubasis (even more frequent than the last version).


      • Hi Yak, I’ve not had too many problems with it on my setup…. Maybe the upcoming maintenance update that Steinberg have promised via their forums might help in this regard? Fingers crossed…. best wishes, John

    6. Oups just to say that I wrote a comment mentioning Nave isn’t perfect in terms of sound quality while Isem is an authentic beast product whose support is wonderful. I also mentioned that nowadays apps are all doing a bit the same thing and that difference stands in the support these apps provide. My comment was put under embargo? Have a cool evening – Marc, decadent pilot

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