Level.24 review – compressor, limiter and EQ effects from Elephantcandy

Download from iTunes App Storelevel 24 logoThe advent of Audiobus and, more recently, inter-app audio (IAA) has made the concept of stand-alone iOS audio effects apps a much more viable proposition all round and this looks like it will be given fresh impetus by the soon-to-be-released Audiobus 2. We have, therefore, seen a modest flurry of dedicated iOS effects apps such as AUFX:Space (and the other AUFX series apps), Master FX, AudioReverb, EchoPad and Turnado to name just a few.

One developer in this area that slipped under my personal radar until now is Elephantcandy. They have a number of audio apps in the App Store and three of these may well appeal to iOS musicians; Level.24, LiveFX and UltraPhaser. All of these feature Audiobus support (UltraPhaser has also recently added IAA so I suspect that may be coming in the other two also?) so they can easily be integrated into an audio/music workflow.

The subject of this review is Level.24 – and, no, I’ve no idea if someone on the Elephantcandy team has a thing for uber-bass player Mark King and his band Level 42 – but Level.24 (UK£6.99) provides a combination of EQ, compression and limiting in a single, Audiobus compatible, iPad-only app. Time to take a look and a listen….

On the level

Level.24 can be used as either a stand-alone app to process your live audio input and either send that back out of your iPad or record the processed signal within the app’s built-in recording function. When used on its own, the app’s Settings offer a low latency mode (64 frames) to improve the responsiveness during performance. When used with Audiobus (the current version of Audiobus at least), then this low latency mode is not available and the app defaults to the buffer size set in Audiobus itself (on my iPad Air system, things worked fine on the 256 frame buffer size).

Level.24's main display with the EQ module showing.

Level.24’s main display with the EQ module showing.

The user interface is very nicely styled. Along the top strip you get access to the preset system, settings menu and three buttons that allow you to toggle the three processing components on/off on an individual basis. A strip along the base provides access to all the controls used to record within the app and then playback those recordings. This is all very cleanly designed and straightforward to use.

The settings options allow you to adjust the latency if required.

The settings options allow you to adjust the latency if required.

On the left side of the display are virtual level meters for input, output and gain reduction. The latter is a very welcome sight as some visual feedback on just how much gain you are knocking off your signal – and how quickly that gain reduction is applied and removed – can be very useful in setting up compression or limiting. Just above these meters are two further buttons and these switch the remainder of the display to show either the EQ pane or the compressor/limiter pane.

Join the (E)Q

The EQ options provide up to 12 parametric filters. Double tapping adds a control point and you can then drag this to set the frequency (horizontal axis) or gain (vertical axis). Tapping an existing point to select it and then pinching with two fingers allows you to set the frequency width (Q setting) over which the filter operates.  This is easy enough to do but, with my fingers at least, I couldn’t get the sort of really narrow frequency range you might use to really notch out a narrow problem area. That said, it is possible to create either broad, gentle EQ treatments of some really complex curves if required.

The display also includes a realtime spectrum analysis of your audio. This allows you to easily identify any problem frequencies and tweak the EQ settings accordingly; very useful. You can change the resolution of this display and also the colour scheme should you wish.

Tap, move or pinch; setting the EQ is easy to do via the touchscreen.

Tap, move or pinch; setting the EQ is easy to do via the touchscreen.

I’d have two other observations about the EQ controls. First, when you tap on an existing control point a rather useful text display pops up for a few seconds showing the frequency and gain values in numerical terms. This is very helpful and, equally, the same data is displayed as you drag a control point, making it very easy to set specific frequencies/gain if required. However, it would be nice if this also included the Q values. I’m sure this would be an easy enough addition at some point in a future update.

Second, all the control points are, essentially, fully parametric. This provides plenty of flexibility but it would be even better if it was possible to switch the lower and upper control points to a shelf or low/high pass mode. This would really round off what is a very flexible EQ control system.

Off limits

The compressor/limiter options are also very nicely presented. As well as the gain reduction meter mentioned earlier, here you get both a graphical control system and a set of slider-styled controls. Adjustments made via one system are instantly reflected in the other. The compressor features threshold, ratio and attack/release controls. This gives you plenty of scope to craft the type of compression you are after and there are also buttons to set the attack/release settings to an ‘auto’ mode (so you don’t have to think about them) and to activate a ‘soft knee’ so the compressor kicks in a little more gently above the threshold.

The compressor/limiter module is nicely presented and offers enough control to get most jobs done.

The compressor/limiter module is nicely presented and offers enough control to get most jobs done.

Setting the limiter is straightforward and, if you want to make sure to catch any nasty peaks in your audio to avoid digital distortion, then it works very well. Finally, you can adjust the output gain so if you do want to add a little bit of ‘make up’ gain after the compression/limiting that is easy to do.

I have to say that the combination of styling and the control set makes this one of the nicest iOS compressors I’ve used outside of those available within Auria. The graphical feedback is very helpful in setting the compressor up and you can easily move between very subtle treatments and really obvious squashing if that’s what’s required. No, there is no side-chain capability (I’m not even sure if that would make much sense outside a DAW even if it was possible under Audiobus) but, for routine compression/limiting, Level.24 is an excellent option.

In use

Used in Audiobus, Level.24 seemed pretty smooth.

Used in Audiobus, Level.24 seemed pretty smooth.

So, in terms of both appearance and feature set, Level.24 has a lot going for it….  But how does it actually perform? Well, if my tests on my iPad Air system, both with and without Audiobus being involved are anything to go by, it sounds pretty good.

Whether in standalone mode (and a low latency setting) or used with Audiobus (where I did most of my testing using JamUp Pro going into Level.24 and then on to a Cubasis project) the app’s performance was generally very smooth indeed. Judging from the Cubasis CPU meter (and however accurate that might be) with this particular setup, Level.24 added less than a 5% load with both the EQ and compressor/limiter modules active.

Both in terms of sonics and in terms of the way the controls and interface are designed, I’d happily use Level.24 in my own iPad-based recording projects. I particularly like the compressor as it presents a control set and layout that is very similar to that found in many desktop software compressors.

Of course, the other obvious thing to say is that IAA support would make Level.24 an even more useful tool. Fingers crossed that Elephantcandy have this addition in the pipeline.

In summary

The obvious competition for Level.24 comes from apps like AUFX:PeakQ and Master FX. However, the iOS effects apps market is still a pretty open space and, when you look at the detailed specification of all three of these apps, they are quite distinct. Being lucky enough to have all three available on my own system, I can easily think of occasions when each might fit a specific task. In short, all three are very useful tools to have around; providing your pockets can stretch, this doesn’t have to be an either/or.

I’m impressed with Level.24. It is very nicely designed, easy to use, offers enough control to make it flexible and powerful, and the results sound good. At UK£6.99 it is also very reasonably priced. Perhaps not an essential purchase for every iOS recording fan but most certainly worth of a place in your app collection if all you have to sacrifice are a couple of warm beverages from your local coffee shop.

Right, I’m off to give Elephantcandy’s other apps – Live FX and UltraPhaser – a spin to see if they live up to levels set by Level.24.

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    Comments

    1. Have you ever dove deep into the effects contained in Magellan? There’s what seems like a pretty good EQ and compressor there ( can’t say I know how to evaluate them). And, they can be used in the effects slot in AB. The app has a fairly feature rich arp that can be used as a midi controller, as well.

      Maybe you can tell us what you think.

    2. Superb for some vocal compression in the input stage when using an Apogee Mic.

      They also make “Vinyl”, an incredibly authentic sounding, multiple era, turntable/vinyl simulator. I have BEGGED with them to get Audiobus support for it, but no response as yet. Hopefully, they are reading this, and know I am entirely serious in my adulation! It is much more detailed and feature rich than Izotope Vinyl…AND…

      …it is a BUCK!!!

      Quite a large file, but I urge you to try it out, and bug the heckfire out of them to get wheels for it…PLEASE! You have the pull!

      • Hi Chris… thanks for this… Vinyl is on my list :-) …. I’ll make sure to mention/ask about Audiobus support. It has got to be considered if you really want to sell these apps to the iOS music-making community….

    3. Wow – I hadn’t seen Vinyl before, that’s awesome, thanks for the heads up @ChrisG

      +1 for AudioBus, IAA or just plain old audio copy :)

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