There are, of course, no shortages of iOS music apps that offer virtual synthesis and we are blessed with some fabulous synth apps that run on the iPad. While most iOS musicians will have a number of the obvious candidates installed on their iPads, there are plenty of very creditable alternatives to some of the more profile and well-established competition.
A few of these slightly left-of-centre options are Lorentz, Laplace and Mersenne from iceGear/iceWorks. All of these synths are slightly quirky in terms of the synth engine design and, as a result, they do have a fairly distinctive sound…. and, if you know anything about the history of science, then you will also see the theme in the names as both apps have been christened after highly regarded scientific figures.
As I posted a week or so ago, IceGear are now back with another another virtual instrument app; Redshrike. No, I’m not quite sure how the name was arrived at (although it is also a type of bird apparently) but Redshrike does come with one design feature that may well attract the interest of some; it is designed from the ground up to run on the iPhone rather than the iPad. So, if you really do like to make your music technology as mobile as possible…. and want a serious synth engine that you can carry in your pocket…. then Redshrike will be well worth a look. Oh, and it runs quite happily on an iPad (the screen is simply zoomed) if you want to use it on that platform also.
The app ships with Audiobus, IAA, MIDI and Ableton Link support (it would be great to see AU support added though as the interface might well port quite nicely into the ‘sub-window’ within your AU host). It includes an impressive collection of presets and iceGear’s neat arpeggiator (as found on their other synth apps). It requires iOS8.0 or later and, while designed with the iPhone format in mind, it will, of course, ‘scale up’ and run on an iPad.
And, given the introductory price of just UK£2.29/US$2.99, this really is in the casual purchase category and certainly has potential to be a pretty cool synth to have sitting on your phone. So is Redshrike a singing bird?
Pretty as a (compact) picture
Aside from the iPhone format, the graphical design of Redshrike’s UI is very much in keeping with iceWorks other apps. The single oscillator synth engine provides polyphonic subtractive synthesis and there are a huge range of parameters to tweak spread across several ‘panels’ that are displayed within the top-half of the screen. You simply scroll left/right to access the full array of controls. In use, this does take a little getting used to (scrolling rather than tweaking a control, for example) but, while some might prefer the simplicity of a tab-based approach (where you simply switch between each sub-page of controls via a series of tabs) it certainly works well enough and all the controls are easy to access.
A virtual keyboard is displayed in the lower portion of the screen but you can, of course, hook up a MIDI keyboard if you prefer. In had no difficulties doing this with an iRig Keys or an Alesis QX25 and, if you have a suitably compact MIDI keyboard, that plus your iPhone would represent a significant saving on vans and roadies when you roll up to your next gig :-)
As well as looks, I suspect that Redshrike might well be pulling some synth engine technology from some of iceGear’s other ‘full fat’ iOS synth apps. This is a polyphonic, subtractive-based synth and you get a single oscillator with saw, triangle and pulse waveforms to choose between. Compared to some modern synths, that’s a pretty modest starting point but synth history is filled with lots of sounds built on such seemingly humble beginnings. In addition, tucked away within the engine’s other options are sub, noise and resonator sound sources that can be blended into the sound mix. Redshrike might not get as massive as, for example, Thor or Model 15 or Addictive Pro, but it can still pack a punch that belies it’s iPhone-sized source.
As we move from left to right across the scrollable control set, the oscillator section has both envelope and LFO modulation with plenty of user controls to explore and the included sub sound source offers both detuning and level controls for setting a suitable blend if you want to add a little bottom end.
Moving to the right, the Pitch section offers a global transpose setting with a range +/- 2 octaves plus a range of controls for pitch modulation based upon an envelope, LFO or both. The Noise section offers you six different noise types (the Digital and Glitch options can get quite funky!) plus a basic envelope and level control.
Resonators are a key part of many of the iceGear synths and Redshrike’s Resonator section is well stocked with options. Again, you can adjust the Resonator level and noise components (wet/dry) as well as it’s pitch and pitch modulation. You can also choose between two routing options where the Resonator passes to the Amplifier or the Filter sections.
And talking of filters, given that this is a ‘compact’ iPhone-friendly synth, the Filter section is pretty impressive with a full ADSR envelope for modulation plus options for velocity, keyboard tracking and LFO-based modulation. The large Cutoff and Resonance controls do exactly what you would expect and you can add further colour with the Drive and Low knobs. This is actually very good indeed….
The Amplifier section is a pretty standard ADSR envelope and global level control but also offers you adjustment for velocity sensitivity before you then move into the three effects sections providing chorus, delay and reverb. These are also pretty impressive and the Delay section, in particular, is very well specified and capable of some very nice stereo delay treatments. It includes a nice filter section for dialing in some tonal colour and modulation to your delay sounds.
Oh, and don’t forget the arpeggiator…. You can access this via the top-strip controls (alongside a few other settings and the preset system). This is pretty much the same arp as found in the other iceWork’s synths and, as a bit of an arp fan, I think is strikes a pretty good balance between features and ease of use. Rather nicely, you can also same arpeggiator presets via the File button located top-right of the Arpeggiator panel.
On the left side of the virtual keyboard is a tab that you can tap to open a further small panel of controls. This gives you master volume and Glide controls plus options for toggling on/off the arpeggiator, monophonic mode and the key hold function – all useful to have in a handy pop-up panel.
Is that your phone?
OK, so it might be built on a fairly simple starting point but, when you dig in, Redshrike’s synth engine has plenty to offer. And, as you work your way through the presets – which cover basses, lead sounds, brass, keys and a collection of pads, it soon becomes obviously that this is an app with some impressive noises. No, Redshrike is perhaps not going to be the only synth you will ever want to own but, plug it in to a suitable monitoring system, and this can be a mighty big sound considering it is coming from such a small device.
I like what the app does in terms of bass and lead sounds but perhaps the strongest suit is the more synthetic sounds and pads rather than when the app is trying for sound like a more traditional organ or piano. If your interest is in the more ‘not made by a real instrument’ sounds, then this is a very solid synth with plenty to offer.
In short, this is a synth that’s small in size (it runs on an iPhone), compact in design, very modest on price but big on (certain types of) sound. While i was writing up this review, a musician friend popped by the studio and did ask ‘Is that your phone making that sound?’…. It was, and it was Redshrike…. and very impressive it was too :-)
On a technical level, I had no issues running Redshrike via Audiobus or IAA (either in Cubasis or AUM) and the Ableton Link support seemed to worth without any fuss. Given the compact format, it really would be great to see the app offered as an AU plugin. I could imagine this would broaden the appeal considerably and, equally, I suspect the UI might translate quite well (scrolling permitting) into the small AU sub-window that most iOS AU hosts currently offer.
AU support aside, there really isn’t much more you might wish for in an iPhone-friendly synth with such a big sound and such a small (currently UK£2.29/US$2.99) price tag. Please (PLEASE!) do keep pinching yourself about the value for money some of our iOS music apps offer us…. Yep, there are freeware synths out there that can create some great sounds but, equally, on the desktop, you can also play 10 or 20 (or more) times Redshrike’s price for a software-based virtual instrument and not really get something that sounds obviously ‘better’.
If you want a compact synth for your iPhone, then Redshrike – alongside Poison-202 – are two of the best options you can currently consider. iceWork’s latest offering is programmable enough to keep the synth-heads happy for a while, but without being so complex that it might deter the less experienced synth programmer. Indeed, I think the design would make a very nice introduction if you are currently a preset-only kind of a person but looking for a synth to get into programming with; it offers options but is not so over-the-top that you will get lost.
Redshrike is another iOS music app that defies its price point. I love the iPhone-friendly design (although it works fine on an iPad also) and there are some very cool sounds to be had…. You can, of course, check out the preview video below for a quick tour and audio demo…. and then, if you have a suitable amount of small change stuffed down the sofa, hit the download button to find out more via the App Store…..