Ripplemaker review – Bram Bos adds AU modular iOS synth to his app catalogue

Download from iTunes App StoreAs I mentioned when reviewing Troublemaker from Bram Bos in early January, that app is already a favourite for inclusion in my ‘top 10 iOS music apps of 2017’ when I get to mull over that annual thought process in a few months time. Troublemaker is an absolute triumph on a number of levels. The control set is deep enough to coax a variety of sounds from the synth engine but without putting off the less well qualified synth dabblers, the pattern sequencer is genius in design, the app runs as an AU plugin and, best of all, it sounds fabulous. I can’t recall too many easier ‘highly recommended’ statements about an app in the 5+ years of running the blog….

So, you will forgive me if I was a little excited by the arrival of Bram’s latest app – Ripplemaker – which arrived on the App Store last week. Ripplemaker is described as a ‘West Coast Flavoured Modular Synth’ and, if you are familiar with Troublemaker, then there are plenty of elements in the new app that will feel like home.

Ripplemaker – another brilliant iOS music app from Bram Bos.

Like Troublemaker, Ripplemaker is a universal app and requires iOS9.0 or later. It is a tiny 6MB download and launches with a price of UK£8.99/US$8.99. As per Troublemaker, the technical spec includes Audiobus 3, IAA, Ableton Link, MIDI in/out, MIDI sync and, of course, AU support. The app is also described as ‘ready for iOS11 file sharing (it will be interesting to see exactly what that has to offer when it arrives), so it is also ready for the immediate future of iOS too. iPad 4, iPad Mini 2 and iPhone 5S or later are recommended.

So, is Ripplemaker up to the high standards set by Troublemaker? And is it also just as easy to say ‘highly recommended’? Let’s find out…..

Familiar ripples

The UI is also familiar in some respects. In the stand-alone version of the app we get something very similar to the Troublemaker pattern sequencer for creating your monophonic parts with a few tweaks to suit something that’s not intended to be quite so 303-like.

This includes all the brilliant randomize options where you can generate random sequences within a fixed key/scale combination until something wonderful appears. You can then ‘mutate’ those sequences (adding subtle or not so subtle variations each time the sequence cycles through playback).

Ripplemarker’s pattern sequencer includes the same sorts of randomization options found in Troublemaker.

Ripplemaker includes options for MIDI export so, while you don’t get access to the pattern sequencer while using the app via AU, if you have created some cool patterns while using the app stand-alone, you can save these and then import them into your MIDI sequencer of choice. All good….

However, one of the things I love about the sequencer here – and in troublemaker – is the randomisation options. Just add a touch of this and your single pattern suddenly is a little less ‘robot’ and more ‘human variation’. That variation doesn’t really get preserved when you save the pattern as MIDI.

Ripplemaker supports MIDI routing (including MIDI out) within Audiobus 3.

However, the ‘solution’ is easy enough if you have Audiobus 3 available as Ripplemkaer works with AB3s new MIDI routing options. I could, therefore, create a pattern I liked within the stand-alone version of Ripplemaker, including any ‘mutation’ options I wanted, and then link the MIDI output of Ripplemaker to a MIDI input in Cubasis (my DAW/sequencer of choice but I’m sure it could work with others) via AB3’s MIDI routing, and then capture the MIDI (with its variations) to Cubasis track. Once that’s done, I was then able to quite AB3, load Ripplemaker as an AU plugin in Cubasis and replay (and edit) the MIDI that had originated in the Ripplemaker sequencer. Yep, it’s a workaround but it is a pretty easy one.

… and via Audiobus, I was able to route MIDI data from a stand-alone version of Ripplemaker – including all those random variations – into a MIDI track within Cubasis.

Engine room

In the upper half of the screen we have the synth engine controls and, while modular synths are generally something that makes my head spin, Ripplemaker might be at just the right level for my guitarist-sized brain. Ripplemaker is ‘semi-modular’ in that you get a fixed set of ‘modules’ to work with and, while we are talking about a mono synth with what looks like a single oscillator section, don’t let that put you off; the combination of modules and audio routing options makes this a seriously flexible synth engine.

You can use patch cables to make all sorts of interesting connections between different elements of the engine….  but not anywhere near as ‘freeform’ as, for example, an app like Audulus or Ops or zMors Modular. One further thing Bram deserves a huge pat on the back for is the excellent PDF manual that you can download from the app’s website. No, you don’t have to read it to start exploring and experimenting but it will certainly save you a lot of time if you want to get your head around the synth engine quickly. It’s a fine example of the art of manual writing and there are perhaps a number of other music software developers who might take note J

This might be a semi-modualr synth but it is less intimidating than some while still retaining that experimental streak ‘modular’ offers.

One feature that is explained in the manual is the presence of normalized connections. While you can add your own virtual cables (Reason-style) between the various input jacks (in white) and output jacks (in blue), essentially, some common connections are made by default to make patch creation faster and reduce cable clutter. The manual includes a useful diagram to show those normalized connections as cables but they are also indicated on the UI of the app (just look for the blue text in brackets underneath an input jack’s own label to see where it is connected to).

Ableton Link support is included within the specification.

In terms of the modules themselves, the UI is divided in to the Control Signal, Oscillator, Slope, Lowpass Gate, Noise S&H, Envelope and LFO modules. The main outputs – along with a post-synth engine delay effect – are located top-right. At this point, you might be asking ‘where is the filter?’ but, dip into the manual and you get an explanation that includes a rather interesting discussion of the ‘West Coast’ vs ‘East Coast’ philosophy of synth design. While Bob Moog’s approach perhaps typifies the latter, the West Coast approach adopted in Ripplemaker is modelled on a more experimental approach top sound synthesis. The Slope section adds complexity to the Oscillator while the Lowpass gate section brings a somewhat different approach to the idea of a filter.

Do I claim to understand it all even after having read the manual? Well, no…. but the manual gave me some clue as to where I was going and, as the app is also provided with a very healthy crop of presets, all organised into some sensible categories, this is a modular synth I’m not quite so scared of. If you want a gentler introduction to the world of ‘modular’ then this might be a good place to start.

There are some fabulous presets included with the app and that demonstrate how good it can sound.

The sound of ripples

So, the UI looks beautiful, makes semi-modular synths accessible to even a synth numbty like me, the pattern sequencer is just as brilliant here as in Troublemaker and the synth engine element of the app runs very smoothly as an AU plugin. However, that doesn’t really get to the best thing about Ripplemaker; it’s a great sounding synth.

That collection of presets spans a wide range of sounds from juicy basses, through arp-tastic leads and into weird drones….  It might be a mono synth and, yes, there are bigger and ‘badder’ (in a good way, although I know it’s not really a word) synth engines out there, but Ripplemaker is just fabulous as a sound source. You can, of course, save your own sound presets as well as MIDI pattern presets mentioned earlier.

Whole projects just with Bram Bos’ apps. Ripplemaker gets in on the action….

I had no technical issues using the app. It ran in Cubasis, AUM, Audiobus 3 and stand-alone with a glitch or hitch. It accepted MIDI in happily and, if you want to get all external control with the app, it has excellent support for MIDI CC automation. This is covered in some detail in the manual. However, the manual also mentions that the app also has the necessary code to be automated via AU parameters. This is obviously part of the AU spec but, as far as I’m aware, not something that many (any?) iOS DAW/sequencers currently offer. It will be good when they do though as this will be higher resolution (equals smoother changes) than is possible with MIDI.

The option to generate new patterns based upon a key/scale combination also give Ripplemaker a touch of the ‘generative music app’.

In summary

If Troublemaker doesn’t make my ‘top 10 2017’ list, then we are going to see some truly great apps in the second half of the year. However, I suspect Troublemaker will make it… and I think Ripplemaker might well be alongside it. This is yet another iOS synth app that I think will prove hard to resist even if you are a long-standing iOS synth collector and perhaps a little jaded when it comes to the ‘next big thing’; Ripplemaker is very good indeed. At UK£8.99/US$8.99 that’s perhaps not such a big deal anyway…. just skip the Friday night pizza and buy a new app instead :-)

Ripplemaker is top-notch stuff from a developer that just keeps getting better and better….   Highly recommended is a very easy call in this case so check out the demo video below and then hit the App Store download button to find out more….

Ripplemaker

Download from iTunes App Store

 

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    Comments

    1. Played with this a bit and I am looking forward to digging more into it. Though, it does do great sounding patterns easily too! I also like troublemaker and the interface they share. Love the variations and random option

      I don’t buy everything now, but this was an easy decision.

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