Over the last 9 months or so, many iOS musicians have been keeping their fingers crossed that Apple’s Audio Units plugin format – already well established in the desktop-based music production environment – was going to gain a grip under iOS9. However, for a variety of reasons (and some key ones down to Apple’s initial implementation of AU under iOS), developers were somewhat cautious in their adoption of the AU format….
Thankfully, with AUv.3 now available, this does appear to be changing. We now have a number of notable AU hosts and, over the last few weeks, there has been an increasing flow of AU compatible apps appearing either as new releases or updates to existing apps. And, with a little bit of pre-release chatter, we now have out first AU plugin iOS drum machine/synth app; Ruismaker from developer Bram Bos.
Can you beat it?
The app’s synth engine actually started life within the design of an actual hardware drum synth; Ruismaker Annabella. However, as an app, Ruismaker launches as an AU-only plugin and does, therefore, require a suitable variant of iOS (v.9.0 or later is listed), suitable iOS hardware plus a suitable AU host. The app is, however, universal and, at just 10MB, it should be possible to squeeze it in almost anywhere. The app has a launch price of just UK£3.99/US$4.99.
Even a quick look at the app’s graphical design will tell you what Bram is keen to point out in the app’s blurb; in this initial release at least, Ruismaker is a software recreation of a sort of ‘classic style’ drum synth with something of a 1980s visual vibe going on. And that main screen is pretty much the full control set… so, while you can tweak each of the available eight sounds individually, in terms of the synthesis engine itself, Ruismaker is intentionally streamlined. If you need greater flexibility in your drum synth, and perhaps a wider range of sounds, then apps such as Elastic Drums, DM2 or Attack are still going to hold sway. However, it you want a simplified interface and some classic sounding FM-based electronic drum sounds with a minimum of fuss, Ruismaker might be just the thing.
That said, you can coax a decent range of sounds from what is quite a simple control set and, as well as configuring each sound individually, you also get delay and reverb effects plus a compressor effect that can be dialled between ‘punchy’ and ‘phat’. The app ships with a decent selection of preset drum kits and, while you can trigger the sounds from the front panel buttons, it does, of course, respond to MIDI note data for sequencing, using black notes in the C2 to F3 range to trigger sounds. Again, given the streamlined nature of the app, that sequencing is done in your familiar AU host and/or DAW/sequencer; Ruismaker does not include any form of pattern or song construction tools.
The app does feature a decent MIDI spec though and you can get all the information required to explore this from the very helpful PDF manual that’s available for download from the app’s website. The spec include options for MIDI automation of pretty much every parameter available.
The purpose of many of the controls are fairly obvious – Tune (pitch) and Decay for example – but others are worth a further quick mention. For instance, the Personality control is a sort of ‘catch-all’ that does something a little different for each of the eight slots so, if you are working on a kick or a snare or a hi-hat this might adjust the attack or timbre or filter settings, for example. The Drive control – as you might expect – allows you to add a little overdrive to each sound and, while the reverb and delay will not win any prizes for ‘best in class’, in the context of the app, they are perfectly useable.
The included preset provide a decent selection of sounds, from 70s, 80s and 90s analog kits through to electro, hardstyle, techno and a rather nice ‘Kraft Kit’ (go on, guess….). OK, this sound set is not in the same class as the three apps mentioned above but they are solid, very useable and, if you don’t need your drums to fill up every inch of the the sonic space, actually quite easy to sit in a mix. And, if you add an extra effect or two from whatever iOS audio processing options you have in your collection, then there is plenty of potential here.
I tried Ruismaker in a number of AU hosts and, while I spent most of my time within Cubasis, it seemed to work well within MultitrackStudio, AUM and Garageband without any difficulty. I had no issue getting at the presets in Cubasis (or AUM) but this might be an issue with some AU hosts at preset. Indeed, the only technical gremlin I encountered was within Cubasis when using the app’s own trigger buttons to fire the sounds. On occasions, this just seemed to stop working and I had to send Cubasis into the background, and then open it in the foreground again, to clear the glitch. However, when triggering from either an external keyboard, or from the virtual piano keyboard within Cubasis, I had no such problems and Ruismaker behaved well. And, of course, multiple instances are allowed :-)
This included MIDI sequencing and automation. While lots of drum apps include their own pattern editing environments, the absence of such a system in Ruismaker just means I had to use the very familiar Cubasis MIDI editing tools to create my drum parts. Providing you are happy to work in this fashion – sequencing drum parts from outside of Ruismaker itself – then that’s absolutely fine.
Got the right kit?
If you already own apps such as Elastic Drums or DM2, you might find Ruismaker to be a little ‘lightweight’ by comparison. The synth engine is designed for simplicity or use and to allows a user interface that fits the AUi format with a minimum of fuss. In that context, I think Bram Bos has done a pretty good job.
If, however, a more lightweight drum synth is exactly what you need – perhaps Elastic Drums or DM2 or Attack are just a bit to much for you? – then Rusimaker might be just what’s required. If you are new to the whole world of drum synths, then there is little to be intimidated by here and a perfectly useable collection of classic-style electronic drum sounds available to exploit. Indeed, any iOS musician who uses electronic drums could, I’m sure, find some use for the app, even if only because the modest control set means you get to sounds fast (and therefore get on with making music) rather than getting sidelined by sound tweaking.
Given the very modest asking price, Ruismaker might well be a casual purchase for many iOS music app addicts. Equally, I can see lots of folks snapping it up as a novelty just because it represents the first AUi drum synth to become available. It is great to see AU gradually begin to expand its presence…. and hats off to Bram Bos for taking the plunge with the format.
Ruismaker is a perfectly credible drum synth in its own right. No, it won’t challenge for of the established ‘big hitters’ within this category of the app store but then I’m not sure that’s actually the design intention. Small, compact and easy to use, Ruismaker is both inexpensive and a perfectly credible choice if you are after some solid drum synth sounds. Here’s hoping the app gets the support required for the developer to move it forward from this very promising starting point.