As I posted a few days ago, iceWorks have just launched their new iOS synth app – LORENTZ Polyphonic Synthesizer – to join their existing iOS music app offering that include the resonator-based Laplace synth that I reviewed some time ago on the blog. Lorentz (can I ignore all those capital letters now please?) also includes a resonator-based element within its sound engine but, in the App Store blurb, iceWorks describe the app as a ‘virtual analog polyphonic synth with resonator’ so what we have here is perhaps more of a conventional subtractive synthesis engine that happens to include a resonator option.
So, whether you think that the App Store already has more synth apps that you can shake a digital stick at or not, they do keep coming to tempt us into ‘just one more’…. and, priced at UK£4.49, Lorentz is certainly going to appeal as it is very much in the causal purchase price range. At a technical level, Lorentz is an iPad-only app that requires iOS8.0 or later and is a tiny 3MB download. As you might expect, the app supports Audiobus and IAA from the off and there is also MIDI (Core and Virtual) support. In addition to the synth engine, there are also chorus and delay effects included to further shape your sound plus a rather nice arpeggiator similar to that found in Lapalce.
iceWorks have a definite ‘science thing’ going on with their synth apps and I suspect Lorentz may well be inspired by a touch of classic physics (a Lorentz force, named after Hendrik Lorentz, is a combination of electric and magnetic force and related to the Laplace force; someone at iceWorks has a physics qualification or three).
As with the Laplace synth, however, rather than requiring a PhD in synth technology (or physics) to use Lorentz, iceWorks have adopted a ‘programmable but not too scary’ philosophy here. All the main controls for the synth are, therefore, contained within a single screen and, aside from the arpeggiator features (that open in a pop-up panel), the only other places you can go are the main menu and the presets list. If synth programming is something you like the sound of but are daunted my the level of control offered by some of the top-end iOS software synths, then Lorentz might be more your cup of tea.
What elements to we get in terms of noise making? Well, there is the main oscillator section that actually includes four sound elements; saw, pulse, sub and noise located in the upeer strip of panels within the main screen. These are not mutually exclusive; you can use any combination of them together and blend them using the appropriate Level knobs. While none of these individual sections are perhaps as flexible as on some software synths, used in combination, they make for some interesting possibilities. This panel includes a master ‘Range’ (pitch) setting and an LFO fader (so you can control how much the LFO influences the oscillator section. This upper panel also includes the LFO itself and Envelope controls. Again, the approach in each element is pretty straightforward but that it, I think, both deliberate and part of the attraction.
The next panel down includes the high-pass filter (very simple) and low-pass filter. The latter provides frequency, resonance and drive controls plus options to modulate the filter’s behaviour based upon the envelope, LFO, note velocity or note pitch (KYBD) so there is a reasonable amount of scope here. The right-most panel provides the amplifier section where you can set the output level and velocity response.
The other element in this central strip of panels is the Resonator section. As with the main oscillator section, this can be blended into the sound (in this case, using the dry/wet knob) and offers pitch, feedback and LFO controls. Essentially, what is happening here is that any signal reaching the Resonator section is passed through the resonator and, if set 100% dry, it has no influence on the sound…. while adding in some ‘wet’ signal allows you to blend in just as much of the resonator overtones as you require.
The other element here is that you can change the position of the Resonator within the signal chain; it can be switched between being ‘pre-‘ the low-pass filter or ‘post-‘ the low-pass filter. Again, there is nothing too complex here but it does give the programmer some extra sonic options.
The bottom panel provides the chorus and delay effects. You get on/off switches and dry/wet dials in both cases. The chorus is solid sounding with a nice Spread control for adjusting the width of the stereo image created. However, the delay is actually quite well featured, with independent control of the left and right side delays and a rather nice low-pass filter that can be applied to the delays to change their tonal character. There are lots of possibilities here if you want to get creative with your delay-style effects when applied to shorter notes where you can hear the repeats clearly.
Top and tail
The top and bottom strips of the main interface are similar to those found in Laplace. At the top, therefore, you get access to the preset system plus three buttons to access the arpeggiator dialog, turn on the MIDI Learn feature (which seems to work well and, as in many other virtual synths, simply requires you to select a software control, tweak a hardware control on your external MIDI controller and, hey presto!, the two become linked) and the main settings menu.
At the base of the screen is a fairly standard virtual keyboard (you can adjust the size of the keys via the main menu) with volume and glide knobs plus buttons to engage the arpeggiator and keyboard ‘hold’ function.
The main menu itself includes a number of ‘set and forget’ options but also includes a number of standard MIDI options and the option for setting the internal tempo. Incidentally, when I ran Lorentz alongside Cubasis, the app seemed to pick up tempo information from Cubasis and, for example, the delay tempo in Lorentz locked to that of my Cubasis project. If CPU resources are getting tight, you can adjust the maximum polyphony here also.
Don’t keep ‘arping on about it!
The arpeggiator section of Lorentz is similar – if somewhat more flexible – to that found in Laplace. This is actually a lot of fun and, if you are an arp fan (I am; my keyboard playing sucks), then there are plenty of creative options here. You can adjust the step length of your arp pattern up to a maximum of 16 steps and get options to set the accent, gate and staccato effects applied to any of the steps within the various lanes of the pattern editor.
Programming your patterns is simply a case of tapping on the various lanes to create the result you require but this really is a lot of fun and it is surprising just how easy it is to come up with some interesting rhythmic patterns by simply closing your eyes and having a few swipes :-)
The arpeggiator also includes a ‘Program’ mode that allows you to set which note from the chord is played at any step (rather than the more usual up/down options). This takes a little getting your head around but is actually very easy to use and makes for a lot of flexibility. Rather wonderfully, you can also save your arpeggiator patterns as presets (although ti’s perhaps a shame that some presets were not also included with the app?). All-in-all, Lorentz’s arpeggiator is rather good.
The sound of physics
So, to summarise, what we have here is a synth engine that is most certainly ‘programmable’ but, because iceWork’s have paired down the controls within each section of the engine to a minimum, and consequently got all the key controls to fit comfortably within a single screen, this is not a synth that is going to be too intimidating for the synth newbie or for those who, when faced with a more complex synth, just stick to the supplied presets. If you are new to synth programming, this might not be a bad place to start….
All of which is great…. but not helpful unless Lorentz actually makes some noises musicians might want to use. Fortunately, it does…. Indeed, in some categories of sounds – and for me these were the bass and lead synth sounds – I think it sounds very good. At UK£4.49, I don’t think there is much doubt that, sonically, Lorentz punches well above its weight.
The bass presets are particularly good and, because of the easy programming options, even within a few minutes of working with the app, I was happily saving my own having used some of those supplied presets as starting points. I also liked a number of the lead and poly presets groups.
The organ, string, piano and brass preset sounds are also very useable, although don’t expect these to be ‘real’ instrument sounds like you might get from a sample-based virtual instrument such as Gadget, SampleTank or iSymphonic Orchestra. They are definitely ‘synthetic’ but still musical.
Perhaps the one area where I was slightly less impressed were the pad sounds. It’s not that these are ‘bad’ – there are some decent sounds amongst the supplied presets – but, for me at least, if the streamlined nature of the engine shows it edges, it’s here. There perhaps aren’t the level of modulation options required to really get deep evolution to pad sounds that some other synth engines can offer.
If pads are your thing, then Lornetz might not become your ‘go to’ synth for that category of sound…. but in most other categories, and particularly for synth sounds that sound like a synth (if you know what I mean) then this app performs well above its modest price point. And, when you combine some short lead or bass sounds with the arp function…. well, this is a very capable sound source….
It is also a synth that seems to work solidly with other apps. In testing within my own iPad Air 1 running iOS8.4, I had no problems getting Lorentz to work as a standalone app (including being driven by an external MIDI keyboard). Equally, the app worked well via Audiobus and via IAA (using Cubasis as my IAA host) and, under IAA the app is available as both an ‘audio’ instrument and as a ‘MIDI’ instrument. As with any new app, I’m sure there will be some bugs to be found but, if my own testing was typical of a users experience, this seems like a pretty solid initial release.
One of the reasons why the iOS synth app category is able to cope with quite so many contenders is because they do come if very different shapes and sizes. Lorentz is not in the same category as a Nave, Thor or iM1 but then neither is it in the same price bracket or the same complexity level.
Indeed, Lorentz is very much in the ‘budget’ price range but, like one or two other budget synths (and Arctic ProSynth would be another example), it manages to sound very good and offer just enough programming options to be ‘interesting’ to the user. With all the key controls on a single main screen, even a novice programmer will find Lorentz a fairly easy ride…. but will also find that they can coax a pretty impressive range of sounds from it. Committed synth-heads might already have all this territory covered but, at this price (and at just a 3MB download), ‘just one more synth’ syndrome can kick in without too much damage likely to be done.
There is a lot to like about Lorentz Polyphonic Synthesizer with price and easy programming being obvious highlights. However, don’t forget about the sound; Lorentz, despite is low price and easy-to-use interface, actually sounds pretty fine indeed. If you can pass on your daily beer or coffee shop beverage for a day to two, Lorentz will undoubtedly stay with you longer.
You may feel you have all the synths you need already but, if you have room for one more, or are looking for a first ‘programmable but not scary’ synth at the start of your iOS music making journey, Lorentz comes highly recommended.
LORENTZ Polyphonic Synthesizer