Developer Wooji Juice Ltd won a lot of iOS synth-head fans with their Grain Science synth app for iPhone and iPad. Wooji Juice used the term ‘hybrid’ to describe the synthesis engine of Grain Science that is built on the principles of granular synthesis but blends in some other synthesis approaches.
There latest app – Mitosynth – is also a hybrid synth and, given how much of a hit Grain Science was with the committed synth geeks for its programming and sound design options, there was quite a considerable level of expectation when Mitosynth was announced. At UK£10.49, Mitosynth isn’t quite at the top of the iOS synth app price range but it is at the higher end of that range so, in terms of other synths in the same price ballpark, it is up against some of the best iOS currently has to offer in Thor, Z3TA+ and Nave. The app is, however, universal and, if you can afford the entry price, it ought to fit into a fairly compact corner of even the most full-stocked iOS device; it’s a 14MB download.
On first load, Mitosynth presents you with a fairly minimalist (and non-scary) interface. This is the ‘info + help’ view; a standard virtual piano keyboard, access to the manual/customer support and, top-left, a series of options to access the other elements of the interface. The PDF manual is well worth a read and, while it will not perhaps answer every question you might have about the operation of the synth and its programming options, it does cover the basics well enough.
The Settings options allow you to do things such as configure the virtual keyboard’s size and format, engage the keyboard ‘latch’ mode, set the MIDI channel, toggle background audio on/off and provides access to various features for backing up, importing or sharing patches. All pretty routine but well set out and straightforward to use.
The Library view gives you access to all the included sound patches plus the option to create your own. Note also that, at the top of the page, as well as the ‘patches’ tab, there is also an ‘audio’ tab. Tap on this and you get presented with a list of audio samples stored within the app plus options for importing your own audio samples or recording audio samples directly into the app. As we will see in a minute, these audio samples are an important part of how Mitosynth makes sound and the ability to use your own unique samples means that you can also create some of your own unique sounds….
No prizes for guessing what the Edit Patch screen allows you to do. The rather cute ‘bubble’ graphics aside, what you get is a vertical – and scrollable to show other components – list of each component within the sound engine signal chain. This starts with the wave chamber, envelope and modulation sections (the synth engine proper) and then moves down into the effects section before finally reaching the global and ever-present reverb.
Within the effects section, you can add up to four effects from all those available. This can include multiples of a single effect. You can drag and drop the effects to change their order and, it you want to remove an effect, you can simply swipe it away to the right-hand edge of the screen.
If you tap on any of the components then a rather swish box slides in from the right edge of the screen to display the controls available for that component. Tap on a different component and the controls change to reflect that. On their own, none of these sections look too scary from a ‘I’m an newbie synth programmer’ perspective (which is good) but, in fact, there is plenty of flexibility hidden here once you start to dig in.
The final screen is the Perform page. This offers four X/Y pads (on the iPhone you have to hold your device in landscape mode to access these) that you can link many of the synth’s parameters to so you can exercise some real-time control over the sounds. This linking it done back in the Edit Patch screen. Any virtual dial with an ‘>’ icon in the centre of it can be linked; simply tap the dial and a series of options will pop up to allow you to do this.
As well as the X/Y pads you can, of course, specify other forms of parameter modulation including velocity-based or an envelope. If you have a hardware MIDI controller connected then it is also very straightforward to link a synth parameter to a particular hardware knob. In all, there are plenty of options here to interact with the synth and effects components so that you can create sounds that change subtly – or not so subtly – as you play.
Central to Mitosynths sound engine is the Wavechamber. This provides up to a maximumof 32 slots into which you can place sample or a waveform. You can set the Wavechamber to operate in one of three modes; sampler, blender or additive.
The most straightforward mode is sampler where you just pick a sample and Mitosynth will use that as the basis of your sound. You can process it through the modulation and effects options but, even so, this is a pretty simple construct to understand. If you just use a basic waveform sample (a sine or square wave, for example) then you can create some equally basic – but very useful – synth tones and, if you are just finding your way around Mitosynth, this approach is a good place to start. There are some useful tools provided when you import your own samples so you can get them in a suitable format to build patches from.
Perhaps more interesting (well, to those that like to get creative with their synth sounds) is blender mode. Here you can pick multiple samples (waveforms) and add them to a list. Then, depending upon a combination of the Morph Mode and Morph % settings, Mitosynth will (surprise, surprise) blend these various samples in different ways to create a sound. By linking the Morph % values to one of the X/Y pads (or a hardware controller), you can manually control the morphing as you play. There is lots of potential here to create complex and evolving sounds before you even go near the modulation and effects options
The final Wavechamber mode is additive where you can create waveforms using the additive synthesiser part of the engine. Again, you can blend a number of different waveforms and morph between them and there are a number of settings for each waveform to give it a distinct frequency response. If you create something interesting then you can use the built-in recording option to sample the resulting sound, save it as a sample and then re-use it in the sample or blender modes. There are a lot of possibilities here if you want to put the time and effort in to creating your own sounds.
The envelope section is a fairly standard ADSR affair (although beautifully presented!) but very functional. Things get a bit more interesting in the modulation section. It includes different modulation types including pulse width modulation and phase mangulation (yep, that is how it is spelt in the manual). Modulation is performed on a per-note basis so there is plenty of scope here to get your sounds moving and evolving. The modulation section also includes the option to set poly or mono modes and to set glide mode/speed if required.
The effects section follows very similar styling and, as mentioned earlier, allows you to insert up to four effects and in any order. The supplied effects include various types of distortion, frequency/modulation effects, echo and tube resonance. There is, of course, also the global reverb. This is nicely featured and includes a good selection of simulated spaces ranging from small rooms up to a cathedral.
So, the visual design is rather stylish and the combination of the synth engine, modulation options and the effects means there is plenty to keep the iOS synth-geeks interested. What kind of sounds does all these stuff let us create? Well, that’s an interesting question…
As someone who perhaps likes his synths to be a little ‘in your face’ rather than ‘dreamy soundscape’ or ‘scary drone’ in nature, I was perhaps just a touch underwhelmed when I first started working my way through the 100 or so supplied presets. For me at least, there were perhaps just a few too many examples of sound design-style sounds rather than things I could bash out a bass, lead or chord part on.
However, I think that is (obviously) a personal thing…. and I suspect that if you work in ambient styles or like to create abstract soundscapes for music-to-picture projects, Mitosynth would be right up your street. In that context, in sonic terms at least, it probably has more in common with something like Nave (with its wavetable-based synth engine) than Thor or Z3TA+ (both more typical of a subtractive virtual analog synth).
All that said, as I moved through the presets, there were plenty of patches that did hit the spot for me. And, the more I started to dig into the programming possibilities, the more it became apparent that if I wanted to create some more ‘in your face’ aggressive sounds, then it could easily be done…. it’s just not what Wooji Juice have chosen to emphasise in putting together the supplied presets. And if pads, soundscapes and sound design are your thing, then the quality of what’s on offer is very good indeed. Deep and detailed, Mitosynth sounds pretty epic….
Mito in the mix
In use, I had no problems using the app with an external MIDI keyboard controller. My Alesis QX25 worked fine with the app both for playing parts and also as an external hardware controller linking Mitosynth’s parameters to the MIDI CC knobs on the Alesis. With a suitable connection to a keyboard amp or PA, Mitosynth could sound pretty mighty in a live performance context and those very flexible X/Y pads would make for some great ‘fingers on’ control over your sounds.
Used within Audiobus, I had no particular issues, although do note that, at present, Mitosynth doesn’t seem to provide support for State Saving. I was able to pass audio from Mitosynth through suitable combinations of effects apps and then on into Cubasis for recording. Equally, I was able to record MIDI within Cubasis and pass it back to Mitosynth.
At the moment, Mitosynth doesn’t support IAA so, if you do want to use it with other apps, Audiobus is the way to go. Hopefully, if Wooji Juice implement the Audiobus 2.1 SDK, the app will soon both have State Saving and IAA support; that would be good to see.
In all other regards, Mitosynth was very well behaved on my iPad Air running iOS7.1.2 and was a pleasure to use. My only other comment would be that, while the Edit Patch display – along with the rest of the overall design – looks beautiful, you do only get a small number of controls for the specific element you are editing displayed on the screen at one time. This does mean a certain amount of tabbing about is required when programming; not a big issue but it does seem a bit of a shame to be scrolling vertically in (for example) the Wave Chamber to see all the controls when there is a decent chunk of empty screen on the left-hand side of the display that is up for grabs.
So, Mitosynth looks great, sounds great (especially if you are into sound design and sound textures) and plays nicely with other iOS music apps. It also provides a novel set of sound design tools that, while easy to use, provide a tremendous amount of flexibility for the keen programmer. So who might this synth appeal to?
If you are still thinking about a candidate for your first iOS music app synth (heck, maybe even your first ever synth; virtual, hardware, iOS or otherwise), I’m not sure I’d suggest Mitosynth as the most obvious choice. I’d be more inclined to go with something like an Arctic ProSynth; slightly cheaper and perhaps slightly more conventional in terms of approach, although still sounding great (that said, it might also depend upon the type of sounds you are after; Arctic ProSynth is great for aggressive dance/electronic sounds but might not suit so well for other styles).
However, if you are a committed synth geek, already have an iPad full of the best of the rest of the iOS synth section of the iTunes App Store, and are looking for your next hit to feed your addition, then I’d happily recommend Mitosynth. Equally, if you want something just a little different in terms of sound then Mitosynth ought to appeal. This is not a ‘me to’ virtual analog synth and it has a distinctive sound (and can create a distinctive palette of sounds) because of the way the engine is constructed.
The App Store is not short of great sounding synth apps and, if you have been addicted to iOS music apps for any length of time, then I suspect you will already have a goodly collection installed on your iPad. If this is you, at UK£10.49, unfortunately (well, unfortunately for your bank balance), Mitosynth is well worth the entry price and, equally, is well worth adding to your synth app collection.
Those with a liking for soundscapes, ambient music and sound design will love it… however, I suspect any synth geek will be able to get something worthwhile from it once they start to build their own patches. If you are prepared for a journey into sound creation, Mitosynth is an excellent choice and well worth a place on the iPad of any synth-head.