In a stompbox form, looper pedals are quite popular with guitar players but, despite the guitar being my primary instrument, it was only really when I started exploring iOS music apps that I got into the whole looper thing. I’ve always loved what some artists do with loopers live – KT Tunstall for example – but somehow never found the time to explore for myself.
Of course, then I reviewed Loopy HD and that all changed as I began to realise what I’d been missing; loopers can be hugely creative and they bring a very different approach top creating (and capturing) and musical idea). This can be great live…. but can also be great in a studio context.
Since dipping into Loopy HD, I’ve also reviewed a number of other looper apps here on the blog including Voice Jam Studio, Loopr, Feed, LoopTree and Ostinator. Each brings their own take – and specific feature set – to suit different types of user. And while Loopy HD and LoopTree are perhaps my own current favourites amongst this group (they fit my own needs best), we now have another contender; LooperSonic by developer David O’Neill.
Launched at a price of just UK£3.99, LooperSonic is a tiny 4MB download, requires iOS8.0 or later and is a universal app. It provides up to 8 audio tracks that can be looped, offers Audiobus and IAA support from the off (it can act as an IAA host for your audio input into the app), a range of essential audio editing options, easy project management and audio export options. And, with a very user-friendly interface, this might well be a contender for the looper app that can appeal to those who (like me a couple of years ago) had never explored the potential that the format offers. So, if you are looking for a gentle – but also quite flexible – introduction to the format, is LooperSonic worth a punt?
In the loop
There are a couple of reasons why I think LooperSonic might appeal particularly to novice loopers. First, the feature set is fairly streamlined. Yes, you get all the essentials but this is actually an app that you can grasp the basics of in just a few minutes.
Second – and this is, I think, going to be something that resonates with those already familiar with DAWs such as Auria Pro or Cubasis (or similar software, iOS or otherwise) – is that the UI has a very ‘linear’ DAW-like appearance. While this is an app that is most certainly focussed upon looping, it does that in a manner that is very like a DAW’s timeline-based view.
LooperSonic’s full feature set is spread over three main screens with the central one – with its 8-track looping/DAW timeline view – being where most of the work gets done. Swipe to the left from here (use the small tabs at the left/right ends of the transport strip at the base of the screen to do this) and you get the project management screen while swipe to the right and you get various controls for configuring your project and audio settings.
The latter include the ability to set the time signature (3/4, 4/4 and 6/8 are the current options) and change the tempo of a project. This can be done either using standard BPM values or, if you prefer, via semi-tone steps. This is because, as you change the tempo, LooperSonic does a fairly standard tempo/pitch shift combination (a faster tempo means a higher pitch and vice-versa). It’s nice to have the option though as it means you can start a project at one tempo, pitch shift it, record a new loop, and then pitch shift back to the original tempo; great to special effects or for making a bass sound out of something that is not very… well… bass-like.
You also get a metronome option on this screen that can be toggled on or off. As we will see in a minute, this is rather neat and, while the purist loopers might be less keen on using a metronome while creating that first, all-important, loop, for us looper numbty types, it is a real time saver.
As well as being able to set the output volume on this screen, the final slider allows you to configure the audio input. Tap on the jack plug icon and up pops a whole host of possible input sources and these will include genuine hardware audio inputs but also any IAA-compatible apps you have installed. In short, I had no problems getting LooperSonic to work with, for example, my iRig Pro interface or with a suitable IAA app such as Mobile POD.
When used within Audiobus (for example, with LooperSonic in the Audiobus output slot), then audio from any apps ‘upstream’ are automatically routed into the app. Again, this worked very smoothly in my own testing.
Once you have your audio input sorted, and a new project created with a suitable tempo selected, then you are ready to get to grips with the main recording/looping screen. As with any looper process – hardware or software – recording the first loop in your new project is always the initial challenge. With that neat metronome switched on, this becomes very easy; hit record (the circle icon), let the metronome count you in for a couple of bars and then just play along to create your first loop. When done, stop playback and then swipe along the timeline bar at the top of the screen and you can define the actual loop region.
OK, so this approach is perhaps more likely to appeal to the studio looper…. But, as demonstrated by the video that David has put together to show the app in action (embedded below), with a little familiarity, the interface is streamlined enough to be used for real-time looping; providing you are happy to use a free hand to control the app, this is certainly a viable choice for the live performer.
Once the first loop is recorded, then simply trigger recording again and you can add a further track…. and a further one…. and a further one. LooperSonic just keeps cycling through your project and will automatically add a further track as required. Indeed, you get a full-complement of 8 audio tracks but, as you can ‘bounce’ several tracks down to one, you can easily build up more layers if required. For example, you might beat-box a drum pattern by performing each sound on a separate loop before then bounce those four or five different sounds to a single loop, freeing up further tracks for more layers.
One other element of the LooperSonic approach is more DAW like than looper like…. While the first loop might well define the length of your loop based project, LooperSonic allows you to copy, and then paste, a loop on any of your tracks. You might, therefore, create a guitar loop of four bars, and then repeat this four times so the overall project is 16 bars in length.
You do, of course, get a basic set of audio editing options within the main screen. You can trim loops, copy/paste and reverse them (always good fun!). To select a clip, first tap on the track to select it, then tap on the clip itself. Once selected, double tapping on a clip opens a small pop-up menu and, basic editing options aside, this also includes an ‘export’ option. This allows you to copy the clip (loop) via AudioCopy (for example) and import it into another app. I had no problems with this process and moved several loops into Cubasis via this route. Indeed, this is a great way to create perfect loops that will then repeat seamlessly in other iOS audio apps such as your DAW of choice.
If you tap and hold on an empty part of the screen, a pair of cross hairs will appear and you can then drag to make a selection of multiple clips. Tap on any of the selected clips and, this time, the pop-up menu will include a ‘join’ option. This allows you to bounce down the selected clips to a single clip. If you choose export with multiple loops selected then a bounce will be done prior to export so it is a single loop/audio file that is passed on to your other app. This is your route to get a mix of the whole project out into the wider app world.
Oh, and talking of mixing, if you swipe out from the left edge of the screen, a (very) basic mixer will appear with level and mute controls and, during playback, level meters. Yes, this is basic but it does mean you can get the volume balance that you want with a minimum of fuss.
The only other obvious feature worth noting is the undo button (the large backwards arrow icon). This ‘undoes’ the last action whatever that might have been but, after I’d hit it a couple of times by mistake (and deleted some perfectly good recordings), I was kind of wishing that there was a ‘redo’ button. In fact, if I’d been paying attention through the very useful in-app tutorial, I’d have noted that tapping and holding the undo button performs a redo action; at least I know now :-)
I have to say that, in use, LooperSonic is an absolute pleasure. The streamlined spec, and the simple – but very DAW-like – interface, makes they app very easy to get to grips with. It brings the whole looper creative process into a format that almost anyone could master within just a few minutes of use.
Having experimented a little during testing, where LooperSonic excelled for me was as an ideas scratchpad; chuck a basic loop down – guitar riff or vocalised drums, for example – and then just add some layers to see where it might go. The ability to so easily copy a loop and set up a different timeline loop region means you can develop some quite complex ideas… and, if you run out of tracks then you can simply ‘join’ a few loops to free up some more tracks to work with.
Used as a standalone app, LooperSonic worked very smoothly. I was also able to use an IAA app as an input source or, using LooperSonic via Audiobus, any combination of apps in front of LooperSonic. For my own scratchpad use, either of these routes would be fine. Those more interested in creating a live, vocal-based, performance with the app can also just use a simple audio input via the iDevice’s own mic or via an external mic.
I think David has made a great start with LooperSonic. The combination of features has been well chosen; easy to use yet also quite flexible. That’s not to say, however, that it wouldn’t be great to see some additional options providing, of course, that they could be implemented without unduly impacting upon the ease of use.
A few suggestions are pretty obvious and I’m sure will be on the ‘possible things to add’ list already. For example, it would be great to see pan controls added to the mixer and, if multiple clips are selected for export, that the stereo audio file created (and it is already a stereo file that is generated) preserves that pan information.
A second suggestion would be the option for a ‘batch’ export of mono audio files from each track of your LooperSonic project. I don’t think this option currently exists (although let me know if I have missed something) but, rather than 8 separate export options, a single batch process would be a great option for moving that stellar idea out of LooperSonic and into your DAW for some further refinements.
Finally, while the app is very easy to use, at present, it does require you to use the touchscreen for all control. In a live performance context – or if both hands are involved in actually playing an instrument – the option for some remote control via a MIDI footswitch (for example) would be great to see.
I think this first release of LooperSonic is really very good. The feature set is well chosen, making the app very accessible to the new user, but also having enough depth to provide plenty of creative options. My own use would be as a tool for capturing some initial ideas and, in that role, LooperSonic is very neat; no fuss and no fluff that’s not required.
I suspect more experienced loopers might already be happy with their full-featured hardware/software setups but, if you are new to the whole looper approach, or are perhaps looking for something super-streamlined to keep things simple, then LooperSonic has a lot to recommend it.
And, at UK£3.99, the app is pocket money priced and represents excellent value for money. I really hope David O’Neill gets the support required for this initial release to push the development forward. It is already a very good start and there is plenty of further potential…. If you want a compact – and pretty much foolproof – looper app, then LooperSonic come highly recommended.