As I’ve mentioned before, one of the iOS synth apps that I find a bit ‘scary’ is apeSoft’s remarkable emulation of EMS’s original VSC3 hardware synth from 1969; the iVSC3. It does sound fabulous. I know this because I’ve used it, explored the presets and had a jolly good time doing so…. but as for then rolling my own…? Well, let’s just say I’m a better guitar player than esoteric synth programmer shall we?
That said, there are lots of synth-heads out there who have really taken to the iVCS3 and, if you are a fan of classic synths, but don’t have the budget to buy the hardware, software emulations like this are as close as you are likely to get. And, by all accounts, this is a pretty nifty emulation.
And if that’s you, then you will be glad to see apeSoft keeping up with the development of the app; v.1.6 has arrived back in February and added support for Ableton’s Link technology. Any time-dependent elements of your iVCS3 sounds can, therefore, be linked to incoming tempo information from another iOS app. However, a further update has now also appeared on the App Store and, given the ‘whole point’ nature – v.2.0 – one might expect that it would bring more than a few technical bug fixes. It most certainly does… and the headline new feature is support for the Audio Units (AU) format.
I’ll say a bit more about this below but that’s not the only significant change. Originally an iPad-only affair, the app now includes support for the iPhone or iPod Touch. In addition, there are new features in the sequencer to improve workflow, a new envelope follower for the input/mic/sampler audio sources, support for AudioShare, updates to the AudioCopy and Midibus SDKs, tweaks to the Ableton Link support, improved search facilities within the presets and control manager options, fixes for the IAA ‘zombie’ bug (where IAA apps can be left running invisibly in the background) and refinements for the iOS10 operation of the app. All good and, for regular users, all very welcome I’m sure.
But what about that AU support? Well, apeSoft have implemented the AU support in a rather interesting fashion, although it is one that I think is more likely to appeal to the hardcore sound designers rather than the more casual user of the app. This is because each of the sub-elements of the virtual synth’s design – the VCO, Noise generator, envelope, VCA, VCF, etc – is offered as a separate AU plugin. So, for example, if you want to apply the filter from iVCS3 to, for example, the output of a drum machine, then you can now do that as the VCF is available as an AU effects plugin (and, yes, as many instances os your host and hardware can manage).
This is an interesting approach and will, I’m sure, appeal to some who love the analog-vibe offered by each of the iVCS3’s core components and, in a suitable AU host such as AUM, you can, therefore, build your own processing chain based upon these components or multiples of them. However, what you don’t get is a ‘full instrument’ AU plugin alongside each of these components. OK, so if you want the full app to be running as a single plugin, then you can still use the IAA support…. but I really do hope that a ‘full AU plugin’ version is also offered at some point for those of us who (to our shame!) haven’t really got a clue what we are doing with the individual components and just want to play rather than build.
All that said, the various AU plugins do seem to be working smoothly in some brief testing I’ve done this morning via AUM and Cubasis so, if you have the synth construction skills, I suspect you might have some fun with this :-)
At UK£10.99/US$14.99 for the base app, iVCS3 is nearer the top end of the iOS synth market place…. but it is also up at the top end in terms of the sound as well; rich and warm, this can make some very big noise. And, when you consider that an example of the original hardware – as used by the likes of Jean Michel Jarre, Hawkwind, Pink Floyd and The Who – might cost you both an arm and a leg, the app’s price is quite a bargain.
It’s great to see developers gradually embracing the AU format and, while the uptake might still be much slower than many iOS musicians would like, iOS10 does seem to have given the format a welcome nudge in the right direction. Fingers crossed that continues into 2017… and well done to apeSoft for pushing forwards.