Regular readers here will be familiar with Igor Vasiliev’s Audio Mastering app, the first all-in-one stand-alone mastering app for iOS musicians. I reviewed this app a few months ago. While it perhaps doesn’t match the features available in desktop mastering software like Izotope’s Ozone, it is brilliantly implemented for iOS and gives users just the right balance between ease of use, features and audio quality. For anyone building an iOS recording studio that goes beyond Garageband, Audio Mastering is a no-brainer purchase.
Igor’s latest release is the Master Record music app (UK£6.99) and, while this is also a stand-alone audio processing app, its primary function is perhaps bit more subtle than that of Audio Mastering; the app is designed as an ‘analog warmth’ simulator. Essentially, this means that it aims to simulate the audio characteristics of various analog devices – reel-to-reel tape, cassette tape, analog mixing desks and vacuum tubes – and add these characteristics to your digital audio recordings.
For any newbie recording musicians out there, the idea of adding what amounts to subtle amounts of noise or distortion to digital recordings that you have tried your best to keep pristine might sound a bit odd. However, as lots of experienced recording engineers will tell you, there is something almost indescribable about old-fashioned analog recordings that gives them a warmth and in some way colours the sound in a very attractive way.
MasterRecord allows you to dial in a little of that analog magic to your digital audio. There have been, of course, similar software simulations of analog effects available in the desktop music world for many years. This software was initially created because of the rather harsh nature of the audio produced by early digital recording equipment but is still used by those who love the convenience of digital (much easier for editing) but want some of the sound of analog.
If you have seen or used the Audio Mastering app then the interface of Master Record will look instantly familiar. Like Audio Mastering, the main ‘Record’ screen consists of a number of different processing modules, each of which can be adjusted to apply varying amount of different analog-style effects.
From left to right, these five modules are a input/gain/limiter, 2-band EQ, tape flutter (simulates the slight variations in tape speed on tape-based recorders), tape saturation (a compression-meets-distortion-like effect achieved when tape is overdriven in terms of levels; subtle but sonically attractive unlike digital distortion which sounds horrible) and noise type (adds subtle noise to the audio which is part of that analog charm). On the right side is the preset panel and, at the base of the screen, a series of transport controls to initiate playback/recording, etc.
Along the top of the screen – and common to all the windows – are a detailed peak level meter, gain reduction meter and a playback clock. The peak level meter is neat at it shows the input level when processing is disabled and output levels when processing is enabled; very useful.
The audio you want to process can be recorded straight into MasterRecord, loaded from an existing audio file (the app supports audio copy/paste and iTunes-based copy/paste) or, rather wonderfully, it can be used in the Audiobus Effect or Record slots to process audio. In the effect slot, it can process ‘live’ audio as you pass it to your iOS DAW in the Output slot.
The Settings screen allows you to configure various audio format details and engage the background audio options. Thankfully, both 16-bit and 24-bit audio in WAV or AIF formats is supported for output but there are a whole range of audio formats that are suitable for the input files including MP3. Dithering can also included when converting from high to low bit depths.
The Files screen simply allows you to manage any audio files you want to use within the app. As mentioned, audio copy/paste is supported as is iTunes copying but you can also copy files using a web browser from your desktop computer if you wish. Once you have selected a file to work on, you can view the audio in the Waveform screen. This allows you to add a fade in/out and, usefully, create in/out points for a loop region; great if you want to loop playback while you experiment with the processing settings.
In the Record screen, the transport controls include a Record button. This allows you to record directly into the app from any audio input you have available (including the iPad mic, although make sure you have headphones connected or you will et some nasty feedback going on). I had no problems recording using a Line 6 Sonic Port or iRig HD hooked up to my 3rd gen iPad’s docking connector.
Feeling warm and fuzzy
So the interface and features look good – what about the sound? If you have never used this kind of processing before, you might – initially at least – be left a little underwhelmed. This is not some kind of sound mangling effect like the excellent Turnado. Nor are the results perhaps as dramatic as Igor’s Audio Mastering app.
The gain adjustment aside (which obviously can make your audio much louder and, if you push things hard enough, generates some rather nice limiting), perhaps the best word to use is ‘subtle’. But that’s actually a very good thing and kind of the point with this sort of analog simulation processing. Using a combination of the EQ, flutter and tape saturation modules, you can dial in just as much analog-style ‘warm and fuzzy’ as required to take off any digital edge and subtly tweak the character of your recordings. And while you can – especially with the Noise Type module – take things very slightly into the ‘worn out tape’ territory, in truth, it is actually very hard to get a bad sound out of MasterRecord.
The presets do a god job of demonstrating the kinds of things the app is capable of and the A/B feature allows you to quickly compare two different sets of settings. It is also advisable to (a) make regular use of the Processing button to toggle on/off the processing to check that you are not over-cooking things and (b) perform any processing while listening via the best monitoring system that you have available; in order to really hear what the app is doing to your audio you need to be able to hear that audio in as clear a fashion as possible.
I had no problems using MasterRecord via Audiobus to process audio on its way into Cubasis (and there is no obvious reason why it shouldn’t work just as well with other iOS DAW apps that support Audiobus). In addition, by placing Cubasis in the Audiobus Input slot as well as the Output slot, I was able to use MasterRecord to process existing Cubasis tracks and re-record the processed version to a new audio track within Cubasis.
During my testing, I applied MasterRecord to individual sounds such as guitars, drums and vocals as well full mixes. Like the loudness maximisation, stereo enhancement and exciter effects that are often part of the audio mastering process, analog simulation tends to be a bit addictive; as a little bit sounds rather good so the temptation is to some more and to add it to everything. This is why switching the processing on/off at regular intervals is so important as it allows your ears to calibrate themselves better. A little bit of analog magic can go a long way…
This is not, however, MasterRecord’s fault; it’s just the tool and it is up to the user to learn how to use it correctly. In this case, however, the tool itself is very good indeed.
If you are building a comprehensive app collection for your iPad-based recording studio, then Igor Vasiliev’s Audio Mastering app most certainly ought to be part of that. It is an excellent mastering solution implemented brilliantly in an iPad-scaled context.
Master Record is perhaps a slightly different type of case and a somewhat more niche application. It might not be the first app you buy after you have installed your chosen DAW app and I suspect there might be a few others (a guitar amp sim, a few synths and Audio Mastering itself for a start) that you might want to acquire before MasterRecord bubbles up to the top of your shopping list.
But, if you already have that app collection in place and are looking to build upon it and add to your already extensive iPad recording options, MasterRecord is another excellent piece to slot into the jigsaw. Its processing might not be as dramatic as some other effect-type apps but that’s exactly what’s intended; a subtle – but highly flexible – dose of analog-style warmth in an very easy-to-use format. And whether it’s for use with existing files or to process live recording via Audiobus on its way into your DAW, the results are very good indeed.
In MasterRecord, Igor Vasilev has produced another iOS music app masterpiece. It may be a specialist tool, but it is well worth the price of entry for all well-stocked iOS recording workflows. Buy it and feel the warmth…. :-)
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