Multitrack DAW review – compact iOS DAW from Harmonicdog

Download from iTunes App Storemultitrack daw logoIf you have hung around these pages before you will probably be aware that my iOS weapon of choice for recording purposes is generally Steinberg’s Cubasis. This is, of course, a personal choice; Cubasis just happens to fit my particular needs. There are, however, plenty of other excellent iOS music production apps out there; Auria (which I also use), Garageband (a brilliant introduction to music production for any newbie musician with an iOS device), apps such as Caustic, NanoStudio or Gadget (which don’t do audio recording but do have an excellent range of virtual instruments to explore), Meteor and BeatMaker 2 amongst others.

While my preference lies with Cubasis, any readers who are also subscribed to the regular iOS music newsletter that I run from the blog will, at some point, also have been quizzed by me about their own favourite choice of recording app and, in particular, which app they use for audio-based recording. The responses I’ve got to this question have generally been dominated by three obvious choices – Cubasis, Auria and Garageband – and formed the basis of my iOS DAW roundup article a few months ago.

However, there is one further app that also gets plenty of mentions; Multitrack DAW by Harmonicdog. Multitrack DAW is an audio-only recording environment (like Auria, at present, there is no support for MIDI tracks). What’s interesting about the reasons users have given me for their choice is that they almost always mention two things. First, Multitrack DAW is simple to use (the feature set is streamlined so you can focus on the recording process itself and not get distracted). Second, it’s a universal app that, because of its streamlined feature set (and unlike Cubasis and Auria, which are only available for iPad), actually runs rather well on the smaller screen of the iPhone or iPod without feeling too cramped.

Multitrack DAW - a streamlines iOS recording environment that runs well on both iPad and iPhone.

Multitrack DAW – a streamlined iOS recording environment that runs well on both iPad and iPhone.

Multitrack DAW has actually been around on the iTunes App Store for a long time (it was first released in 2009). By default, for the asking price of UK£6.99 , the app offers 8 stereo or mono audio tracks, a range of basic effects processing options such as compression, EQ, delay and reverb, support for docking port based audio interfaces, 16 or 24-bit recording at samples rates of 44.1, 48 or 96 kHz (audio hardware permitting), the ability to record multiple tracks at once (again, audio hardware permitting) and options for getting audio into and out of the app.  In addition, two different IAP options allowed you to expand the track count to either 16 tracks (UK£3.99) or 24 tracks (UK£5.49).

Version 3.2, posted in late 2012, added support for Audiobus and, given just how ubiquitous Audiobus has becomes for iOS music production, this represented a big step forward for the app, allowing you to easily route the audio from another iOS music app or effect into a track within Multitrack DAW. While you can’t record MIDI parts, you could at least add audio from your iOS synths into your music productions without a workaround fudge that resorted to lots of copying and pasting.

After the release of v.3.2, things did seems to go a little quite on the update front. However, v.3.4 arrived a couple of weeks ago, timed to coincide with the release of Audiobus 2, and bringing Multitrack DAW bang up-to-date. Not only does this release support Audiobus 2, it also includes the State Saving capability and, to complete the iOS workflow options, inter-app audio (IAA) functionality. The overall vibe is still of a streamlined feature set but it’s now easier to bring all those other music apps you own and love into your Multitrack DAW projects.

So, if you are looking for an iOS DAW – your first or perhaps an alternative to what you currently use – should Multitrack DAW be on your shopping list? Let’s find out….

Get down with the ‘dog

I’ve outlined the basic features of Multitrack DAW above; this is an audio-only recording environment with 8 mono or stereo tracks by default (expandable up to 24 via those IAPs), a basic set of audio processing options, support for external audio hardware and, with suitable hardware, the option for recording multiple tracks simultaneously and creating projects based upon audio formats up to 24-bit/96kHz.

Given appropriate audio hardware, Multitrack DAW can record in some high quality audio formats.

Given appropriate audio hardware, Multitrack DAW can record in some high quality audio formats.

The ability to use the app with Audiobus means that you can easily use your favourite synth or guitar amp sim apps as sound sources and process any audio source through other audio effects apps via the Audiobus Effects slot. Equally, via IAA, you can now also use compatible IAA sound sources as an ‘input’ on a Multitrack DAW track and you can also apply IAA compatible audio effects apps at either the track, bus or master output level.

The ‘dog show

The visual look of Multitrack DAW has had a bit of an overhaul with the latest release but nothing that is going to make it difficult for existing users to adjust to. The interface itself is very straightforward and this is a deliberate (and, I suspect, carefully thought through) design choice so that the app remains easy to use even when working on the more modest screen real estate of the iPhone/iPod. While all the screenshots shown here are taken from an iPad, the experience on the iPhone is still a pretty smooth and uncluttered one.

Multitrack DAW seems to work very well within Audiobus 2.

Multitrack DAW seems to work very well within Audiobus 2.

The main operational screen on Multitrack DAW follows a pretty conventional format with a vertical arrangement of tracks and a horizontal timeline. The bulk of the display is then taken up by whatever audio clips you have arranged along the timeline and you can pinch/spread with two fingers to zoom out/in in a horizontal sense to focus the view on what you need to see.

The main Menu allows you to close/open projects as well as access a number of other app features.

The main Menu allows you to close/open projects as well as access a number of other app features.

At the base of the screen is a fairly simple strip with input and output meters, a simple set of transport controls and the menu button. You also have a time cursor (with a useful rectangle that you can grab and drag) and the ability to set left/right locators if you wish to loop playback through just a portion of your project.

On tap

Pretty much every other feature of Multitrack DAW is accessed via tapping somewhere on this main screen. For example, if you tap on the menu button you get presented with a range of options (including a useful redo/undo function) and access to the project page (close the current project and you then get a full list of the available projects or the option to create a new one).

Tap on the Out icon and you get access to the bus and master FX options.

Tap on the Out icon and you get access to the bus and master FX options.

Tapping on the Out icon brings up three options; a virtual fader (so you can adjust the overall output level), access to the bus-level effects chain and access to the master effects chain. Multitrack DAW features a single send-return FX bus and, by default, this includes the app’s own delay and reverb effects. There are run in series (delay first followed by reverb) and, while the reverb might be most appropriately described as solid, the delay is actually quite nicely featured and offers plenty of control. As of v.3.4, you also get the option to add IAA effects to this FX bus; if you wanted to use a 3rd party app like AudioReverb or AUFX:Space for your global send-return effects, then you can now do that with ease. Do bear in mind, however, that this is a single effects chain. Unlike some DAW apps, you don’t get multiple send-return busses.

Final Touch inserted as an IAA effect in the master channel.

Final Touch inserted as an IAA effect in the master channel.

The master effects processing is also a single chain of effects and, by default, this provides compression and EQ. Both are nicely featured and produce solid results. However, if you want to insert something a little more comprehensive in here – Audio Mastering or Final Touch, for example, the ability to also add IAA effects apps to this chain makes this perfectly possible.

The master FX chain includes compression, EQ and the ability to add multiple IAA effects if you wish.

The master FX chain includes compression, EQ and the ability to add multiple IAA effects if you wish.

In the track header list down the left edge of the main screen are three distinct areas for ‘tapping’. The left portion accesses the track fader allowing you to adjust the track’s output level. In terms of setting the output balance between your various tracks, this is pretty much the only ‘mixing’ you get; there is no ‘mixer display’ where you get a set of virtual mixer faders and can adjust the relative levels of each track at the same time. There is nothing to stop you getting your levels adjusted exactly how you might want them but the absence of a single view for doing this is just one of the design decisions in the current version of Multitrack DAW that keeps the app design simple and compact.

Each track has a pan control.

Each track has a pan control.

Tapping in the middle of the track header (on the circular dial) opens a large pan control for the track – very simple. However, tapping on the right-hand edge brings up a wider range of options with mute, solo, arm (to prime recording) and FX buttons plus the ability to choose a colour for the track and configure its input source. What you are offered in terms of the input options depends upon what audio hardware you might have connected, whether you are running via Audiobus and what IAA apps you might have installed. However, there is plenty of flexibility so, whatever audio source you wish to use with a track, it is pretty straightforward to get it configured.

Taping on the right end of the track header opens up a number of options including those for configuring any track-level effects.

Taping on the right end of the track header opens up a number of options including those for configuring any track-level effects.

The track level FX options include a compressor, EQ (both identical to those on the master output effects chain), a send control for the single send-return bus and, again, the option to add one or more IAA effects.

Tap on the time/bar counter located at the very top-left of the display and you can then choose between a number of different time formats (sample, bars, time) but there is also a fourth option that allows you to set the project tempo, time signature and the behaviour of the built-in metronome; this is all very useful and straightforward.

Hold on

If you tap on one of your audio clips it becomes selected (highlighted by a green edge) and you can tap on multiple clips to select more than one at the same time. However, if you want to do more than just select a clip, you need to ‘tap and hold’. At this point, what Harmonicdog describe as a ‘Hotbox’ of further options pop up and you simply slide your finger across to the one you wish to select. For an audio clip, these options are erase, name, audio, copy, edit and slice.

Tapping and holding opens the 'Hotbox' options.

Tapping and holding opens the ‘Hotbox’ options.

Most of these are self-explanatory however the audio option opens an audio file browser from where you can load pre-existing audio files from various sources while edit allows you to trim the start/end of the clip, apply a fade in/out or move the clip along the timeline. If you have the snap option enabled (via the Menu button), the clip will snap to grid positions when you move it. Once you have used the ‘copy’ option, if you tap and hold somewhere outside the existing audio clips, you will get an option to ‘paste’ instead, making it easy enough to copy/paste things such as drum loops or other sections of audio that you wish to repeat.

Tap and hold in the track list area and a similar hotbox of options appear (indeed, some of them are identical) but you can change a track name here (as opposed to the clip name) and move a track up/down through the track list if you wish to re-order things.

KISS

While this latest version of Multitrack DAW brings both Audiobus 2 support and IAA options that add a considerable amount of creative flexibility to the app, the essence of creating a recording within Harmonicdog’s DAW remains very streamlined. Indeed, while you get the obvious flexibility of being able to copy, paste and re-organise your audio clips in the non-linear fashion allowed by most modern DAWs (desktop or iOS), what you also get is the simplicity of an old-school tape or dedicated digital recorder; you setup your audio source (or sources), arm the appropriate tracks, hit record, and off you go. There is no great fuss or multiple other options to worry about.

Multitrack DAW's delay effect is nicely featured and offers plenty of controls.

Multitrack DAW’s delay effect is nicely featured and offers plenty of controls.

In use, I suspect this is really what lots of musicians really like about Multitrack DAW. This is not an app that presents you with bells and whistles that, ultimately, might just get in the way of your creative flow. Instead, what you get is a very simplified, straightforward audio recording environment. And, because it is pared down to an essential set of core features, it runs really quite nicely on an iPhone or iPod screen as well as on an iPad. The ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ approach is absolutely the strength of the app.

In use, I found the whole environment to be easy to use and with only the most modest of learning curves. Indeed, I suspect that almost anyone could get up to speed with Multitrack DAW in a single sitting. I had no major issues in use and, aside from a couple of occasions when using an IAA synth as an input source when I had to slightly reposition the recorded audio to get it exactly in time with the rest of my project (even though it had sounded spot on during the actual recording process), Multitrack DAW’s operation was pretty much flawless.

Usinga Wi-Fi connection, you can copy each audio track from a project over to another computer; useful if you want to access further mixing and/or processing options elsewhere.

Usinga Wi-Fi connection, you can copy each audio track from a project over to another computer; useful if you want to access further mixing and/or processing options elsewhere.

Once you have got all your tracks into shape and applied the appropriate effects and level balances, the Export options (available from the Menu button) allow you to create your final mixdown, with choices about bit depth and audio format available. From the projects page, one additional useful option is the ability to copy either clips or tracks (with or without effects) from a project over you a different computing device via a Wi-Fi link and using a web browser. This works very well and, having used the super-simple recording options offered by Multitrack DAW for the tracking stage of your project, you can then take these audio files into another DAW environment if you wish and perhaps do some more detailed editing and/or mixing of the final project.

All of the people, all of the time

The streamlined design ethic used here will not, of course, suit everyone. If you want a more flexible send-return system (that is, more than one send-return bus), a more powerful mixing environment (with, perhaps, a virtual mixer and automation) or you want to be able to record MIDI alongside your audio tracks, then you will need to look elsewhere; in the current version at least, Multitrack DAW doesn’t do these things.

However, if you just want an audio-based mutlitrack recording environment that will not (a) get in your way or (b) baffle you with options you don’t need and (c) is just as easy to use on an iPhone as an iPad, then Multitrack DAW has you covered. And what all these means is that an app like Multitrack DAW is perhaps going to appeal to a different type of iOS musician that an app like Cubasis or Auria. Yes, some folk might like to have access to both (and, given the price of Multitrack DAW – even with the additional IAP to take it to 24 tracks – it’s not going to be beyond many to own alongside a more expensive DAW app) and will simply pull out the most appropriate tool given whatever job they have in mind.

Multitrack DAW is about as easy as it gets for multitrack audio recording; no bells or whistles, just straightforward audio tracking. The Audiobus and IAA support has considerably increased the creative possibilities of the app but, thankfully, Harmonicdog seem to have managed to integrate those additional features into the app without detracting from its easy-to-use ethic. For those looking for a low cost iOS DAW – and particularly those wanting a platform that can run happily on an iPhone /iPod, Multitrack DAW comes highly recommended. This is not the most sophisticated iOS DAW there is available, but it does a solid job in a simple fashion and will suit many iOS recording enthusiasts down to a tee.

Multitrack DAW


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    Comments

    1. Thanks for bringing this one back into the spotlight. There’s an old saying among photographers that goes something like this:
      Q: “What’s the best camera?”
      A: “The one that’s with you.”

      That’s kind of how I feel about the iPhone camera, and also Multitrack DAW. While I strongly prefer iPad over iPhone as a music making environment, and also prefer the sophistication of the DAWs only available for iPad in most cases, I just don’t carry said iPad everywhere. And anywhere, anytime is where inspiration can strike, and anytime thereafter that idea can be lost. I’m almost never without my iPhone.

      Multitrack DAW has been a real idea saver for me on more than one occasion. It’s so quick to load up and get recording. Even though it’s capable of much more these days, it’s excellent as just a field recorder. You can hum or sing enough into it to remember that great inspiration that otherwise would have gotten lost by the time you return to your primary workstation. Also great for capturing samples of real world sounds for later use while out and about.

    2. Chris Catalano says:

      Ditto, Joe. It has never let me down. Still my most used recording app. When I first got it I thought it looked a bit like a stripped down, iOS version of Logic Studio 9! Was Apple behind it? Would they expand it to include instruments? Automation?

      I wear my tinfoil hat a little too proudly sometimes. It is just a perfectly simple way to multitrack your stuff, like they say in the Audiobus ad…its beauty is its simicity.

    3. Yeah, agree with all of what was said below. Funny that John had not done a prior review of it, but since he routinely reviews new releases and significant updates, I suspect it was a simple timing issue, as MT DAW was basically dormant (yet still fully functional!) from Dec. 2012 through March 2014.

      It is my favorite DAW not because it’s “the best”, but because it works with devices that a lot of people still own (most of my work is on an iPad2, but I also have an iPhone 5s, so universality is great). One thing John hinted around was the fact that it doesn’t demand much in the way of CPU resources for a DAW. The app itself is a small file, but given that you pretty much ALWAYS use a DAW in conjunction with another app or two (plus AudioBus open in between), the whole house of cards falls apart if your device can’t keep up with the software it’s trying to run.

      Even with the new update, there are some face-smacking omissions and inconveniences that remain. At first, it wasn’t working with AudioBus 2 (tracks were cutting off for no reason), but I believe this was fixed in a subsequent update (have not seen it since). There is STILL no count-in for tracks, even though there is a functional metronome. What this means is that if you stop recording a track at any point, you have to do some strange things to get that same track to pick back up in the song without interruption or overdub. I tend to record things in isolation the clicker and then slide them back into place (which is not ideal). IAA integration is wonky at best, but that could be as much due to the “alpha” nature of IAA. I still don’t think it supports ALL IAA apps (maybe generators but not instruments?), but I’m an AudioBus user anyway.

      But despite all of that, 90% of anything I ever make comes out of MT DAW, and while the end results may make a professional cringe, they continue to amaze and impress myself. It really isn’t an amateur product at all, just a very basic and accessible one. And it’s $10, universal, and doesn’t crowd your device. BeatMaker2 is probably the next “reasonable” alternative, but it’s a giant file size and I can’t say it would actually help me make “better” results given my needs. If you want to start making music and don’t really know what you’re doing, MT DAW is a great way to figure it out. Even once you do figure it out, you might just stick with it.

      • Hi Jeff…. the timing of my review was simply prompted by the recent update that included the IAA support and the AB2 support. Music App Blog didn’t exist when Multitrack DAW was first released :-) I do my best to keep on top of most of the major new releases but I’m always playing a bit of a catch up with some apps – new and old – and significant updates are often a good prompt for me to pick up on something I’ve not yet covered but should have :-) BTW, I agree with the various comments about the simplicity and iPhone functionality; it’s great to have something like this app with you at all times on your phone…. Best wishes, John

    4. It is probably in the review, but I want to note that a big update is that you can now plug it into the input slot, a la Loopy HD, and if you need further processing in, say, Auria, you can do it! I don’t know about synching, but then I never know about synching…

      With Automation of some volume envelopes, it could be even better, but it does force you to think about how you track a little more conscientiously…

      • Hi Chris… thanks for noting this. I had not mentioned it in the review itself so good to have it raised here :-) best wishes, John

    5. I love this app. Like everyone has said, it’s simple, and easy to use. But, it’s still got plenty of great features, and even a fair amount of effects.

    6. Well, I’m a bit disappointed with the last update. For some reason both SampleTank and Alchemy don’t show up as generators or instruments. I posted this issue on the developers forum and he’s blaming Apple. Kind of weird because I don’t have the issue with GarageBand nor AudioShare.

      I really like IAA, in some ways better than AB2 (state saving is not a big deal for me and IAA shows the elapsed time of the track) so not recognizing Sampketank is a real negative.

    7. My daw is not giving me access to the hotbox and makes it difficult when trying to record

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