On the back of what seems to be a change of policy at Apple HQ, iOS developers now seem able to make use of the standard ‘sync’ USB cable connection between an iOS device and a desktop computer for more than just iTunes File Sharing. For iOS musicians, as we have seen over the last few months or so, that has resulted in a number of apps that allow MIDI and audio data to be transferred between iPad (for example) and desktop music production system.
Oe of the obvious contenders in this audio+MIDI-over–USB technology is Music IO (UK£7.99) from a development team combining Secret Base Design, Confusion Studios and Audeonic Apps. I reviewed the MIDI-only first release and the first release with audio support appeared soon after while v.1.2 appeared about 3 weeks ago and introduced a plugin based approach at the Mac end for handling audio.
Version 1.2 of Music IO provided bi-directional MIDI data over USB and up to four stereo channels of uncompressed audio from iOS to OSX. Audio could not, however, go from OSX to iOS. You were not limited to just running four iOS apps however; Music IO allows you to load up to four apps per stereo audio channel and their audio output is combined within your iOS device prior to sending on to your desktop computer. In addition, you can add an iOS effect app to each of the four audio streams if you wish. When v.1.3 of Music IO has hit the App Store it added the ability to create audio effects loops and, at a beta-level at least, Windows support has also been available for some time.
Anyway, Music IO took a further significant step forward over the week-end with the arrival of v.1.4 on the App Store. This brings two headline bits of news. Perhaps most significantly, if you are working with an iOS+OSX combination, you can now connect multiple iOS devices (potentially up to four), all of which can be involved in bi-direction MIDI+audio data transfer to/from the host computer. Second, the Windows support is now ‘official’ and out of beta and, while the iOS+Windows combination is currently only supporting one iOS device, it is good to see obvious progress being made for all those working with Windows on their desktop platform.
So, as you can run four audio tracks from an iOS device, up to four iOS instruments per track and up to four iOS effects per track, you could have as many as 32 iOS music apps running on a single iOS device (if, of course, it doesn’t melt) all routing audio to your desktop by one of the four connections… and then rinse and repeat (under iOS at least) for your second device….
I looked at the basic operation of the multi-channel audio support – and the plugin at the desktop end required to make this work – when I reported on the v.1.2 and v.1.3 updates. I’ll not repeat that material here – just head over to those posts to check out the details. Actually getting audio out of your iOS devices (or MIDI into it) is really very straightforward. What’s perhaps a little more complex is actually recording that audio within your desktop DAW. I detailed what was involved in those earlier reviews and the process has not changed here… but this is a limitation of audio routing at the desktop end rather than any particular criticism of the approach adopted by Music IO.
Running Music IO requires a small ‘server’ app and a plugin to be installed on your host computer and new versions of the OSX and Windows servers required in order to use Music IO v.1.4. As before, they are available from downloads section of the Music IO website.
So how does this ‘multi-device’ support work under OSX? Well, I don’t actually own four suitable iOS devices to push the system to its limits but I did give it a workout this morning using a combination of an iPad Air 1 and an iPhone 5 (both running iOS9.0.2). The OSX server recognised both devices as ‘connected’ and, when I launched my usual desktop DAW/sequencer – Cubase – then I could see separate Music IO-based MIDI devices to which I could route MIDI data.
Under iOS, things are similar to before and you get a very straightforward selection panel system to load your iOS instrument and effects apps into. The fact that you can do this on multiple devices at the same time doesn’t make the process any one or less difficult. There is a certain amount of faffing about to be done in terms of setting MIDI channels for your various iOS instruments on each device and making sure those match up with the device/MIDI channel combinations on the desktop but this is easy enough to do.
Within the desktop Music IO plugin, the design has changed a little so that you can now select both the iOS device and the audio channel that instance of the plugin is to work with. This all works very smoothly. Yes, there is a little bit of rather convoluted audio routing required at the desktop end (as described in my previous posts) but this soon becomes second nature…
Anyway, once all the routing was done, it was rather wonderful to hear a combination of Thor, Cyclop, Z3TA+ and bs-16i all appearing in my Cubase mix and blended with whatever desktop virtual instruments/audio I wanted to use. Whether I could imagine ever hooking up 4 iOS devices – and having potentially 16 audio streams coming into my desktop system via Music IO – well, I’m not so sure I would ever actually need to do that…. but two devices is certainly a possibility. The bottom line here, however, is that this kind of technology does help make integration between iOS and the desktop that much easier; perfect it might not yet be because of the rather convoluted audio routing required to record the iOS audio within your desktop DAW, but it is undoubtedly impressive stuff even so.
At UK£7.99, Music IO is an absolute steal given what it allows you to do and, if you just want MIDI connectivity, then the Music IO team have a separate MIDI-only version of Music IO that is available for free. Music IO is something that, personally, I’m going to get a lot of use out of. Even in the relatively early stages of this technology, the results are very creditable. Anyway, here’s hoping the updates – and features – keep coming.
Music IO: Audio and MIDI over USB
Music IO: MIDI over USB