While live performance using some sort of looping device has become much more mainstream over recent years, it is still perhaps a niche activity. As such, it is perhaps a bit surprising that we have quite so many looper-style apps available on the App Store as we do. Daddy of them all is, of course, Loopy HD, but there are other excellent contenders for your money including Loopr, Voice Jam Studio, LooperSonic, LoopTree, Group The Loop and Ostinator.
And, recently released, is Quanitloop from Stephan Marx. The list of apps above, while all loopers, most certainly come in a variety of formats that would suit the needs of different users; the power and flexibility of Loopy HD (for example) would suit some, while others might prefer the simplicity of something like Ostinator (for example). And, if I had to place Quantiloop in that spectrum of features vs simplicity of operation, it would most certainly be nearer the Ostinator end of the spectrum.
U and I
That’s perhaps an obvious conclusion to draw even from viewing the main UI. Quantiloop is (like an app such as Tony Saunder’s midiSequencer) styled to look like a piece of hardware. There is a definitely retro dedicated hardware device element to the design and, while there are some nice details in the feature set (which I’ll come to in a minute), the look is something that most potential users are going to find very comforting. In short, the appearance of the app is deliberately designed to make it feel instantly familiar…. and it does just that.
Before we get into the details of the UI, let’s deal with some basics. Quantiloop provides two independent loop recording tracks, both of which offer overdubbing (so you can add layers to each loop to build up something more complex) and their playback can be sync’ed.
Also on offer is IAA hosting and various types of sync – including Ableton Link – so you could, for example, host a suitable drum/groovebox app within Quantiloop and sync its playback with that of your loops. There is also a metronome if you just want a click to keep you in time when starting up a session.
Quatiloop can also be hosted itself within Audiobus (which worked fine for me in some brief testing) and the app also provides separate outputs for each track as well as the rhythm track so you could feed each of these into a separate audio track in a DAW app for example. I also had no major dramas using Quantiloop via IAA within hosts such as Cubasis or AUM.
In addition to the features mentioned above, you get a mini mixer for levels, options for saving (and then recalling) projects (some live looper purists might not like this but you can, of course, just ignore it if you wish and start from scratch every time), options for predetermining the length of your first loop before recording, the option for the two looper tracks to use different loop lengths and both MIDI in/out support.
Quantiloop requires iOS8.0 or later, is currently an iPad-only app and at just 16MB, is hardly going to bust your iOS hardware’s storage bank. The app is priced at UK£7.99/US$9.99.
KISS my loop
Given the very stompbox UI styling, it doesn’t take too much time to get what most of the Quantiloop UI is about. The virtual LED display provides you with lots of visual feedback as to what’s happening for the two looper tracks and the metronome/rhythm app track. You can easily see which tracks are in playback, when they are primed for recording and when they are actually recording. The useful ‘bar/beat’ display in each looper track section of this display also shows you just where playback is at in terms of the overall length of the loop.
To the left of the LED display are buttons to access the main Setup menu (various global settings are available here) and the project load/store options. To the right of the LED display is the mini mixer…. yes, levels is all you get (which is fair enough) so if you want to do more to each individual track then you would need to use the separate audio outputs available via Audiobus or IAA and do any subsequent audio processing via that route.
The buttons beneath the LED display provide access to the Phrase Settings options. These configure a number of things including the stop mode and overdub mode, with different options here to suit most common looper preferences. The two Track buttons allow you to configure the track length, its loop/one-shot switch plus a few other things. Also worth noting here are the Import/Export buttons; you can import audio from elsewhere (e.g. another app) if you want to bring loops crafted elsewhere into your Quantiloop project.
The Sync/Serial button allows you to toggle between different states for the way the two looper tracks are used. In Sync mode, they can playback together, in sync, and any audio on them is obviously layered at whatever volume is specified by the mixer faders. However, there is also Serial mode and this means that the loops play back separately… So, for example, if track 1 is in playback, and you then trigger track 2, track 2 will begin playback as soon as track 1 finishes its currently loop and track 1 will stop. You could, therefore, use Serial mode to give yourself A and B parts in a simple song construction format.
The other three smaller buttons focus on the Rhythm track and its settings. This includes setting tempo, enabling Ableton Link, starting/stopping the rhythm track and, via the Rhythm button itself, setting things like time signature and, if you wish, selecting the ‘type’ of rhythm. This latter feature essentially means the source of the rhythm sound and this can be a metronome, an IAA app or, again, an imported audio loop. I tried this with a loop created in Oscilab and it worked a treat. Interestingly, the app will also tempo-stretch a loop if you change the tempo of the project but without changing the pitch; very neat.
The four virtual ‘foot’ pedals – that is, the ones you would actually put your foot on in live performance if Quantiloop was hardware rather than an iOS app – are used to trigger the two loop tracks, trigger the rhythm track and to start/stop all tracks respectively. The two track buttons actually toggle you through start/record/stop recording over a series of presses, with all operations done in sync with whatever else might be happening (so, for example, if you toggle recording ‘on’, the track becomes primed for recording and then active for recording only when playback returns to its first bar again).
The Rhythm button actually has three modes and you switch between these with the Assign button. You can, therefore, use this button to trigger the rhythm track, set the tempo by tapping or as an undo button (useful if you duff an overdub).
Of course, it would make Quantiloop a much more attractive ‘live performance’ proposition if you could actually stomp on those virtual footpedals. Well, providing you have a suitable external MIDI controller, then you can as the MIDI In feature lets you do just that and includes a MIDI Learn option…. There is also support for Bluetooth MIDI…. of which, more in a minute.
As I mentioned before on these pages, I’m no expert when it comes to looping. Yep, I have a ‘single loop’ looper that I can use with my guitar and its great for practicing parts against when I’m jamming on a new idea or simply doing some routine scale practice, but I’m not someone that uses a looper ‘live’ on a regular basis.
That said, I do get what the technology has to offer and there are some brilliant exponents of the art form that are in the musical mainstream. And having explored most of the iOS looper apps at one point or another, I’m sure even someone as slow as me has now got a decent appreciation of the different feature sets available.
So, to return to my observation at the start of this review, Quantiloop is perhaps much closer in design to a guitar-based looper stompbox than something like Loopy HD or LoopTree but, for someone with my limited looper experience, that’s probably an attraction rather than a limitation.
And that will, I suspect, pretty much define who Quantiloop might really appeal to…. the iOS musician who is perhaps new to looping and wants something that’s easy to get started with, in a format that they can perhaps relate to based on the hardware world, and isn’t so stuffed with features that they get brain freeze just thinking about it. More experienced loopers could still find a satisfying experience but, if they want to dig deep into what looping under iOS can offer, there are more sophisticated options out there.
So, what was Quantiloop actually like in action? Did the KISS design approach deliver a suitably simple experience? Well, in the main, I think it did. OK, so every looper requires a little bit of practice to get into the swing of things but, at least with Quantiloop, novice users do have the benefit of being able to record that all important first loop against a metronome if required…. personally, I think that’s a good thing.
Perhaps my only initial issue was getting used to which of the four main buttons to press in the heat of looping/overdubbing and, for a short while at least, I almost always got it wrong. Still, a little practice/experience soon sorted that out.
I might have got their a little quicker – and, indeed, got my head around the majority of the feature set a little quicker, if there was a PDF manual available for the app. Yes, I know this is a pretty simple app but, as you dip into the various menus, there are a useful number of options and I’m sure a novice looper would quite like a bit of a reference manual to help them fully appreciate want can be done. Equally, those new to iOS music production in general might appreciate a bit of an explanation about IAA, Audiobus and Ableton Link in the context of Quantiloop and some documentation of this would be welcome. Stephan has started a series of YouTube videos demonstrating the apps features (the first couple are embedded below) and expanding upon these would also be good….
I did experience the occasional gremlin in use. For example, Quantiloop dumped my back to the home screen on a couple of occasions (I’m not certain, but I think this might have been related to IAA as it seemed to occur when I was using an IAA app as a rhythm source). I tried a number of IAA apps within Quantiloop as ‘rhythm’ track sources – Patterning, Funk Drummer, Soft Drummer, Sector, etc. – and while I managed to get pretty much everything I tried working OK, I did experience some issues in terms of starting/stopping the rhythm app in sync. There could, of course, be a number places in the data food chain that are responsible for this including Quantiloop itself…. but some experimentation is currently required on behalf of the user in terms of working with other IAA apps to see exactly what might be the best way to work…. and if all else fails, the audio loop import feature seemed to work a treat.
However, the only thing that I couldn’t get to work as I would have really liked was the MIDI in support. I tried two different Bluetooth MIDI floorboards – the iRig BlueBoard and the BT-4 – both of which work fine with my iPad Pro alongside other music apps – and I couldn’t get Quantiloop to recognise either of them. This is despite the fact that Stephan’s video below shows his own BlueBoard setup working fine…. I’ll explore this further and report back if I make any progress.
Equally, when I used a USB MIDI keyboard – in this case an Alesis QX25 – while Quantiloop recognised its presence, the MIDI Learn feature didn’t seem able to respond to some of the QX25’s MIDI triggers (notes or drum pads, for example). It did, however, work with the transport buttons on the QX25. These issue might, of course, have been down to user error as I simply didn’t know exactly the steps and/or setting I should be using within the app to make these features work smoothly…. again, a reference manual would have been handy here to help me through the processes involved.
All that said, in other respects, Quantiloop was a pleasure to use and, once I’d got my head around the basic operation – and, in particular, become familiar with the operation of the four main buttons – it was a pretty easy – and pretty entertaining – ride. I liked the fairly modest feature set and, as a first ‘looper’ experience, I think users would find the feature set strikes a good balance between easy of use and creative options.
Yes, there are certainly more powerful looper apps out there but, in terms of features, Quantiloop is a pretty good place to start for a budding looper. It might be all you need but, if not, it is a fairly easy way into the technology before you move upmarket.
In that context, it’s a shame that I experienced some issues with the Bluetooth support and the occasional other technical issue. This is, of course, still early days in Quantiloop’s life and, hopefully, Stephan will get enough encouragement and feedback from the user community to track down and iron out any of these gremlins sooner rather than latter.
Despite these initial teething issues, however, the potential of the app is very easy to see amd, providing it proved robust in operation, the feature set of Quantiloop would make it a pretty good bet for users looking for their first taste of taking looping live. Yes, we are beginning to be spoilt for choice when it comes to looper apps for iOS but, if your preference is for something that is kept fairly simple, and with the possibility of exploring the live performance potential, then Quantiloop is well worth a look.