Music App Review – Turnado for iPad by Sugar Bytes

Download from iTunes App Storeturnado logoOh my…. if you’re an iOS musician with even the slightest of an experimental streak within you, then I suggest you might rather like the Turnado music app by Sugar Bytes. Indeed, if you have both an experimental streak and an app habit that you are trying to break, then I also suggest that you stop reading the review now….

….  ah, too late! Turnado is a monster of an app – part multi-effects processor and part loop mangler – and, in short, it’s brilliant. If you produce electronic or experimental music you are going to find this very difficult to resist.

Quick spin

Turnado's main display - plenty going on but very easy to use for real-time processing.

Turnado’s main display – plenty going on but very easy to use for real-time processing. Click on any of the images to see a full-size version.

Turnado is, in essence, an iOS multi-effects processor. A total of 24 different effects types are included, any eight of which can be built into a Turnado effects preset, configured to taste and then manipulated or triggered in a variety of very hands on and creative ways. The effects include various types of delay, reverb, modulation, filters, loopers, amplifiers and DJ-style processes.

As shown in the various screenshots, in the main interface, eight of these can be selected at once and each effect has a single rotary knob associated with it for real-time control of the effect; set to zero and the effect is off but start to rotate it and the effect kicks in. In addition, there are four X-Y pads that can be used to control these eight rotary knobs in various ways. This whole control surface is brilliantly set out and an absolute breeze to use via the iPad’s touchscreen. However, Turnado is equally at home being controlled via a set of hardware knobs and features a very straightforward MIDI learn function if you want to hook up am external controller.

Turnado can be used as a stand-alone app or, with support for Audiobus and Jack (a new challenger to Audiobus that also happens to manage MIDI but I’ll come back to that in another post) built in, it can also be used to mash up the output from other music apps.  In stand-alone use, it can be applied to any audio file you care to process (there are some suitable loops included to get you started but you can easily load your own) or, if you place it in the Audiobus Effects slot, it can process any audio generated by Audiobus Input apps while you record the results to your DAW of choice in the Output slot. For recording on the iOS platform, this has the potential to be a fabulously creative tool.

Drag & Drop

The main interface of Turnado contains an upper strip that provides access to the app’s ‘master’ effect presets (there are other levels of preset as described below), a few key settings, a ‘random’ button (to the right of the logo and that essential produces a randomised effects configuration) and the Dictator option (more on this below also). Immediately below this, and filling the remainder of the top-half of the display, is the bank of 24 effects (on the left) and the eight effects slots with their individual ‘main knobs’ (on the right). To configure your effects options, effects can simply be dragged from the effects bank and dropped into any one of the eight slots.

Turnado offers presets at a number of levels. Overall presets capture a complete configuration of all eight effects used but there are also presets for individual effects (as seen here for the Stutter effect) and presets for some individual effects parameters.

Turnado offers presets at a number of levels. Overall presets capture a complete configuration of all eight effects used but there are also presets for individual effects (as seen here for the Slicearranger effect) and presets for some individual effects parameters.

The bottom half of the window contains the four X-Y pads. Between these, the central strip allows you to choose an audio file to play with within Turnado, enable recording (both most useful if working in stand-alone mode rather processing audio passed via Audiobus) and tweak the tempo (which, in turn, links to any tempo-based effects) if the app hasn’t detected the tempo automatically. The four buttons surrounding the tempo control change the behaviour of the X-Y controllers switching between two modes; one where the controller snaps back to bottom-left when you release it and the other where it stays put wherever you dragged it to until you next touch it. Finally, the large red button can be used to toggle all effects off.


To see a short demo of Turnado in action, then watch the video….

Playing with these effects options is insanely easy – load up a nice drum loop and then just let yourself play – and if you can’t have some creative fun with this then please have your pulse checked. The main presets – accessed from the upper-most panel – provide plenty of examples of what’s possible and, once you have a loop playing, you can change presets on the fly and just see what it throws up. This is an excellent way to learn the basics of Turnado and audition what it can do.

Going Deep

If you like to dig deeper, Turnado allows you to do just that. The individual effects are highly configurable.

If you like to dig deeper, Turnado allows you to do just that. The individual effects are highly configurable.

The instant gratification may be enough for some folk but, if you are the kind of musician who likes to get their programming hands dirty, Turnado is more – in fact much more – that an eight knob effects preset machine. Clicking on any of the tiny ‘Edit’ buttons that are displayed on each of the effects slots flips the upper half of the window to a full-on control panel for that effect. If you want to get deep, this is the place to do it….

In broad terms, these panels share a common appearance but the key controls for each effect – displayed as a series of rotary knobs at the top of the window – are different in each case. There are plenty of options here. For example, each of these individual controls can be linked to the ‘main knob’ for that effect so that adjusting the main knob will, in turn, adjust the individual control. However, the sensitivity of the response, its linearity and its direction (+ve or –ve) can be set individually. Equally, controls can be set to respond to either or both of the two

The editing panel for each effect shares similar features but the top strip of controls are specific to parameters within that effect.

The editing panel for each effect shares similar features but the top strip of controls are specific to parameters within that effect.

LFOs or the envelope. There is a good selection of default waveform types and, if that’s not enough, a stepsequencer option allows you to draw your own.

In addition, as well as the overall preset system that’s accessed from the main screen, each effect type also has its own individual presets. These are accessible via the selection box at the top of the edit screen. However, you can also access these from the main screen either by tapping the small arrowheads that appear at the left and right edges of each effects slot or by tapping the text that appears across each effect. Indeed, this text label displays the effect preset name.

Total Control

Sole command - The Dictator provides overall control of Turnado's processing with just one finger.

Sole command – The Dictator provides overall control of Turnado’s processing with just one finger.

If all this wasn’t enough, Turnado has one further trick up its control sleeve; The Dictator.  Tapping the Dictator button located in the top-strip replaces the effects bank selector with the Dictator panel. This provides yet another way to control the eight effects but, this time, you can do it with a single fader knob.

The bulk of this display allows you to configure how each of the eight ‘main knobs’ for the individual effects will respond to the Dictators fader. There are various options here in terms of configuring the sensitivity of the responses and – yet again – also a series of Dictator presets. If you really must use just one knob, this is a pretty powerful way to get Turnado working.

And if all these possible control options have your head spinning a little, then never fear, as Sugar Bytes have a pretty good PDF manual for Turnado available on their website. It’s well worth a look.

Time To Mash

So much for how it works – what about how it sounds? Well, that very much depends upon how you configure the effects and, while Turnado can do subtle without breaking sweat if you just nudge one or two effects at a time, it can just as easily transform your audio in ways that make it almost unrecognisable. In essence, there is a whole smorgasbord of effects possibilities and audio mashing options available here. Those into electronica, experimentalists and DJs could have a field day.

The obvious application is for manipulating drum beats and a number of the effects – stutter, vinylizer and slicearranger, for example – offer some fun in this regard. However, Turnado is easily more than just a beat basher; with the filter options (particularly the vowel filter which is very cool) and the vocodizer, it is also brilliant with harmonic material such as synths, basses, guitars or vocals. In testing it with a few different synths, for example, it was possible to totally transform the sounds even when the synth app itself was a quite basic, sample-based affair with little by way of editing options of its own.

Turnado seemed pretty happy working within Audiobus and is a great way to spice up any audio signal.

Turnado seemed pretty happy working within Audiobus and is a great way to spice up any audio signal.

What Turnado is perhaps not, is a standard multi-effects processor. If you are just looking for a set of bread and butter reverb, delay or modulation presets, while Turnado has these effects, ‘conventional’ is perhaps not the best way to describe them. This is not really a criticism – Turnado is designed to be a more creative (and perhaps more extreme) processor – but simply a comment so you know what you are getting if you decide to take the plunge.

The only other comment to make is that the interface is designed for use in portrait mode; it doesn’t rotate when you put your iPad into landscape mode. This is a minor irritation if you are using other apps that work best in landscape mode (and particularly if you have a bunch of cables hanging off your iPad) but most certainly not a deal breaker.

In testing with Audiobus, the app seemed very solid. I was able to pass audio from an Input app through Turnado (in the Effects slot) and on into my DAW (Cubasis or Auria) without any real problems. There is certainly a CPU load generated by Turnado but, considering just how much audio processing the app is doing, it seems remarkably efficient. Providing I didn’t ask too much else of my 3rd gen iPad, it was reasonable happy to have Audiobus, Turnado, Auria/Cubasis and a synth app such as Addictive Synth all running together.

I also was able to test using external hardware controls and, aside from having to use the excellent MIDI Bridge app to ensure that MIDI from my Scarlett 8i6 interface was being passed to Turnado, it worked a treat and I was able to use Turnado’s MIDI learn feature to assign hardware controllers to each of the app’s ‘main knobs’. In a performance setting, I could image having a lot of fun with this.

In Summary

The edit options also allow you to control the way individual parameters respond to movement of the 'main knob' within each effect.

The edit options also allow you to control the way individual parameters respond to movement of the ‘main knob’ within each effect.

There are plenty of iOS virtual instruments and a decent selection of iOS DAWs…  but relatively few dedicated effects units other than those built-in to said instruments and DAWs. Turnado – with its support for the already well-established Audiobus – has arrived to help fill that gap. And it does it with a real touch of class. This is an app that any electronic or experimental musician will want in their iOS app collection. It is brilliantly conceived and wonderfully creative.

In app terms, Turnado is at the more expensive end of the spectrum but, if you are reading this within a couple of days of it being posted and want the best price, hurry up as it’s on special offer (£10.49 or the $/€ equivalent) for a short while after launch. As I said at the start…  if there is a DNA strand within you that likes to mangle your audio, then I suspect it’s worth every penny.

This is as much fun as I’ve had with any multi-effects software in ages, regardless of the platform on which it is running. Easy to use, deep if you want it to be, endlessly creative and just downright fun. If you want a recommendation, then my personal one would just be to buy it.

Oh, and by the way, there is also a PC/Mac version so, once you are hooked on this iOS version, don’t blame me if your credit card gets a further bashing from that :-)

Turnado


 

Updates

May 27th 2013; Sugar Bytes have released the v.1.1 update to Turnado. The key addition – and very welcome it is too – is support for a landscape display mode. See the full details here.

 

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