Music app review – Addictive Synth by VirSyn

Download from iTunes App StoreAddictive Synth logoThere are some excellent synthesiser music apps available for iOS musicians and, thankfully, some of the very best of these are now available with Audiobus support (for example, iPolysix, Magellan, NLogSynth and Animoog). We can now add VirSyn’s Addictive Synth to that list. While this music app has been around since July 2011, this week saw the release of v.2.1.0 that, amongst some other notable new features, also includes Audiobus functionality. At the time of writing, to coincide with the update, the app is also on sale (£3.99 or the equivalent $/€ price) which is 40% off the normal price.

VirSyn are very well established in the world of desktop music software so it’s perhaps not surprising that they have bought that expertise to bear in the world of iOS music apps. I looked at their Harmony Voice app a while ago but they have a number of other apps available including Addictive Synth’s little brother – Addictive microSynth – that runs on the iPhone or iPod Touch. So, does Addictive Synth maintain the VirSyn pedigree?

Getting addicted

Addictive Synth's main Wave window. Click on any of the images to see a full size version.

Addictive Synth’s main Wave window. Click on any of the images to see a full size version.

Addictive Synth’s sound engine is based upon dynamic wavetable synthesis and, with up to six oscillators per voice (and up to eight voices/notes playable at once, that’s a lot of oscillation!) that can be combined in a variety of configurations, some very complex and engaging sounds can be created. When first released, v.2 added a spectral noise generator with a clever filter while the new release, as well as Audiobus, brings an FM oscillator option. For those that like to get stuck in to programming (as opposed to just randomly tweaking controls on the supplied presets to see what happens), Addictive Synth provides a huge range of possibilities.

These possibilities are expanded further by some interesting filter options, the comprehensive modulation section with 4 LFOs and 4 envelopes plus an array of effects that include delay, modulation, EQ and reverb. In performance terms, real-time control is provided by an XY pad and, if you are happy to tilt your iPad while playing, this can also be linked to synth parameters. In addition, the rather novel virtual keyboard allows you to slide your finger across keys for pitch bend or up/down a key for modulation (hence the lack of mod or pitch wheels in the main screen).

In addition to all this, there is also a very well specified and fully programmable arpeggiator where patterns can have up to 32 steps and the user can control the tie, accent, transposition and note order for each step. Arp presets can be saved for easy recall. There is also a loop recording function that allows you to layer up to four tracks.

Headline act

The feature summary above gives a sense of what Addictive Synth has to offer. This is, when you dig in, a hugely sophisticated synthesiser but with an interface that encourages experimentation. A brief look at some of the headline features quickly illustrates this.

Addictive Synth offers a wide range of preset ways to combine the six oscillators.

Addictive Synth offers a wide range of preset ways to combine the six oscillators.

For example, the main Wave screen allows you to quickly choose between different oscillator configurations ranging from a single oscillator up to combinations of all six or the FM synthesis options and you can easily adjust the amount of oscillator detuning. In terms of a basic tone, therefore, it is very easy to go from simple to fat and full or even to something that is non-musical (great for some unsettling sound design).

The oscillator output can then be filtered via two pairs of filters and waveforms. VirSyn suggest this stage can be compared to superimposing the resonances associated with a particular physical instrument or space onto the sound. Different filter types or wave types for the two filter and wave slots can be picked from a drop down menu and you can adjust the balance between these using Morph control. The Balance and Cutoff controls influence how the filter is applied to the different oscillators. However, the really neat feature on this screen is that you can also draw on the main filter/waveform display to define your own shapes. This makes experimentation both easy and fun; it’s a brilliant bit of design.

Filter presets are also provided although the most fun is to be had by drawing your own.

Filter presets are also provided although the most fun is to be had by drawing your own.

And for an extra bit of random inspiration, just tap the double dice icon at the top-right of the display. This generates alternative combinations of the wavefrom and filter properties. The option to generate patches (or variations of patches) semi-randomly is something that users of NI’s Absynth will be familiar with and I’m not sure why more software synth manufacturers don’t include this kind of function in their designs. It’s a lot of fun and you can just keep tapping until you get something that inspires you.

The Control page is perhaps a little daunting at first but does provide some powerful programming options.

The Control page is perhaps a little daunting at first but does provide some powerful programming options.

The Control page is a little busier looking but, once you stop counting the number of virtual knobs, the principles are actually fairly straight forward (although do expect to spend some time if you want to fully explore). You do get plenty of control though. LFOs can simply be set to a particular waveform or can be modulated (for example, via the XY pad or controls on a hardware keyboard if you are using one). Envelopes can also be defined and controlled and the final modulation destination selected.

If you want the keyboard to display just a fixed scale this can easily be done. No more duff notes!

If you want the keyboard to display just a fixed scale this can easily be done. No more duff notes!

The other useful option on this screen is the ability to redefine the virtual keyboard layout to a particular key/scale combination. This is tucked away bottom-right so it is easy to miss but, if you are using the virtual keyboard rather than an external keyboard to play Addictive Synth, it does mean you can limit the number of duff notes you play :-)

The appregiator offers plenty of options. It can be triggered from the main Wave screen where you can also select any of the saved preset patterns. Flipping to the Arp screen allows you to tweak a preset or create (and save) your own from scratch. There is lots of control here but, equally, there are also lots of pairs of dice to tap! Again, an excellent touch and great for when inspiration has gone out for the day and left you at home to play with your iPad.

As these examples of the feature set illustrate, Addictive Synth is both well-specified and, from a programer’s perspective, offers plenty of depth. That said, the way the interface is designed includes some well thought out touches that mean even a novice synth user could enjoy exploring the possibilities. I expect if you want to really master the details then there will be a learning (and experimentation) curve but, for the preset tweakers, that tweaking is an intuitive process and, more often than not, results is some interesting and usable sounds.

Addicted to sound

The Arp page has plenty to offer. You can, of course, just try one of the excellent presets or just roll those dice and se what happens.

The Arp page has plenty to offer. You can, of course, just try one of the excellent presets or just roll those dice and se what happens.

Addictive Synth is supplied with around 150 presets and these do a pretty good job of illustrating just how varied and expressive a palette of sounds the app can offer. From the sinister Thunder Pad to the soft caress of Ethereal, Addictive Synth can do pads. If you want extreme acid-like basses, try Bass Arp II or, for something more analog, try Pseudo Analog. Equally, patches such as Plucked & Arp or ArpBass FM make excellent use of the well-specified arpeggiator, while FM Rhodes and Simply FM Brass are – well – very FM. And Addictive Synth also does sound design territory with patches like Satan’s Calliope (stick to the lower register) or Hidden Depths.

It really is quite striking how well a single synth engine can go from analog warmth to digital crispness and it pulls it all off with some style. In short, this is one heck of a synth and it is capable of some fabulous sounds.

Do bear in mind though that this is a synth and not a sample-based instrument. While there are a few patches that offer string or piano-style sounds, these are synthesised versions. If you are after ‘real’ instrument sounds, then you need to look elsewhere.

I’m a user

Addictive Synth's Control Effects page provides plenty of extra ear-candy options.

Addictive Synth’s Control Effects page provides plenty of extra ear-candy options.

I didn’t experience any problems during my testing with Addictive Synth. With the addition of Audiobus support, VirSyn have simply complemented the app’s existing features that allow it to play nicely in a wider music-making world. The app includes options for both audio and MIDI export . Equally, it worked very happily with my external MIDI controller keyboard via a cabled connection, appeared quite happily in MIDI Bridge and received MIDI data from Cubasis. Korg’s WIST technology, for syncing playback of several apps on the same iPad, is also included in the spec.

Aside from seeming to need to me launch Audiobus prior to launching Addictive Synth itself, I also had no problems using the app within Audiobus. I experimented with both Auria and Cubasis and everything worked as expected. As a synth app for a recording workflow, Addictive Synth with Audiobus support is one heck of a tool.

Given how sophisticated Addictive Synth seems, I was interested to see how much of a load it placed upon my 3rd generation iPad system. Using Techet’s rather excellent System Status app, and with nothing else running in the background, playing a busy three note arpeggio pattern seemed to involve CPU usage up to about 20%. Adding Audiobus and an empty Cubasis or Auria project in the background added a further 10% to the load – still plenty of scope to get some serious work done. However VirSyn have done it, they do seem to have created something that packs a punch yet isn’t going to hog all your iPad’s resources.

Addictive Synth's Loop page allows you to record up to four layers of sound.

Addictive Synth’s Loop page allows you to record up to four layers of sound.

While Addictive Synth sounds great on an iPad, hooked into my studio monitoring system it sounded even better. This is as good as many of the software synths that I have sitting on my desktop computer system that cost a heck of a lot more that Addictive Synth. Integrating an iPad into a project studio is now getting to be such an obvious option given the quality of some of the music app synths now on offer.

And while I didn’t specifically test the app in a road-ready environment, providing you could rehearse the process a few times to give yourself the confidence that nothing was going to go belly-up, I suspect there are lots of keyboard playing iPad owners who could find a place for this synth in their live rig.

In summary

I’m very impressed with Addictive Synth. It has plenty of creative options that mean a serious programmer could spend a lot of time exploring but, because of the excellent interface design (and those touch-edit filter and wave displays and the various dice icons), it is also easy for the novice user to get started with.

The app seems to work very smoothly with external MIDI hardware, other MIDI apps and, via Audiobus, slots very comfortably into an iPad-based recording system.

So, Addictive Synth is easy to use and plays nicely with other apps. That’s great…  but the real deal-maker is that it just sounds great. If you are a keen iOS musician, this is definitely one for your music app collection. Addictive Synth lives up to it’s name – its addictive – and I’m hooked. VirSyn’s Addictive Synth comes highly recommended.

 

Addictive Synth


Addictive microSynth for iPhone


 

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