Rytmik Ultimate review – new iOS all-in-one electronic music production app from Cinemax

Download from iTunes App Storerytmik ultimate logo 1I did a round-up article a good while ago here on the Music App Blog that looked at some of the leading ‘all-in-one’ electronic music production apps for iOS. As a purely personal opinion, I’d have Korg’s Gadget sitting at the top of my list but your mileage may well vary and there are lots of alternatives depending upon just how broadly you define the category.

As I posted last week, however, we now have a new contender for your attention; Rytmik Ultimate from Cinemax. The Rytmik concept may well be familiar to some readers. It has, for example, been around as a ‘game’ for the Nintendo DS for a number of years. Even if you are not familiar with that previous incarnation, the platform of choice might well suggest the kind of music that Rytmik Ultimate is suited to…. and if you are guessing ‘music for computer games’ or ‘chiptune’ you certainly wouldn’t be disappointed. However, I think you might find that in its latest ‘Ultimate’ version, Rytmik is actually capable of something more than that.

Rytmik Ultimate - retro cuteness from Cinemax.

Rytmik Ultimate – retro cuteness from Cinemax.

Anyway, this was my own first encounter with the Rytmik brand…. so just what might is have to offer the iOS musician?

Basic rytmik

Rytmik Ultimate is an iPad app that requires iOS8.0 or later. The app is an 85MB download and is currently priced at UK£13.49. There are, incidentally, versions for Nintendo 3DS and PC (via Steam). At its heart, Rytmik Ultimate offers a collection of preset sounds (around 750 in total) that span the electronic music playground and, while they include some classic computer-based bleeps and warbles (so chiptune music is perfectly possible), there are sounds here that will allow you to have a pop at almost any style of EDM whether that’s hiphop or dubstep or another specific musical niche.

Ultimate also adds some wavetable synth engine options so you can tweak the included sounds and even draw your own basic waveform to use as a sound source. Oh, and there are ADSR envelope, vibrato, delay and a few other processing tricks available to explore also.

The music composition process is based around ‘clips’ and each clip is, in essence, a four-part, 1 bar (up to 16-steps) pattern. Within a single project, you can create 8 x 24 clips (the eight groups are colour coded and, within each colour-coded group, the clips are labelled 0-9 and A to N). However, bear in mind that the four sounds you pick and create a pattern for in one clip are specific to that clip; if you want to use four completely different sounds in the next clip then that’s perfectly possible.

The building block for a Rytmik Ultimate song is the clip and the Clip Editor is where those get created.

The building block for a Rytmik Ultimate song is the clip and the Clip Editor is where those get created.

Clips can, of course, be easily duplicated and the duplicates easily modified so, once you have a few clips (patterns) created, then you can quickly build up variations on those. However, as a speedy (and lazy!) way to get started, you can load clips from some of the preset project supplied with the app and then re-work those for your own purposes. Note that there is also the Rytmik Cloud system where users can share compositions – and this is another source of potential clips if users decide to share them.

Once you have created a good collection of clips, you can then go about constructing a full song arrangement. This isn’t just a case of arranging single clips into some sort of sequence though…. No, you actually get four tracks (lanes) into which you can place clips – and up to four clips (each with up to four sounds used) can be played simultaneously. OK, you don’t have to use four sounds in a clip (you might just use one) and you don’t have to have four clips playing at the same time (again, you could have just one) but the potential to build something quite complex from what are very simple 1-bar clips is actually quite considerable.

If you fancy a bit of a light show while your track is in playback then Rytmik Ultimate has you covered....

If you fancy a bit of a light show while your track is in playback then Rytmik Ultimate has you covered….

Completed projects can be saved and exported both to the Rytmik Cloud and as WAV files to your iOS device (this is a real-time process; the WAV file is generated as the project plays). You can, therefore, create a full electronic musical bed within Rytmik Ultimate and then export the audio into another iOS music app if you wanted to add further elements such as audio parts like vocals or guitars. But that’s pretty much the only way to build Rytmik Ultimate into a wider iOS music making workflow at present. There is no Audiobus or IAA support and no MIDI clock sync (indeed, no MIDI at all; all parts have to be programmed in using the step-based clip editor); this is an ‘all-in-one’ music production environment in a fairly comprehensive sense of the term.

Aside from these essentials, there are a number of other nice touches. For example, if you want to dim the lights and get all trance-like with yourself, once you set your music creation playing, you can switch to the Visualisation screen and pick between a number of different ‘light shows’. Rytmik Ultimate will then give you something close to a retro disco light show via your screen. This is quite good fun…. but it would be even better if there were a few more options.

Busy rytmik

The bulk of the action in Rytmik Ultimate is split between two screens; the Song Editor and the Clip Editor. The Song Editor screen – which is what you see when the app first starts up – is a pretty busy affair and, despite the PDF manual that you can access from within the app, there are a few elements here that you simply have to explore by trial and error to discover what’s going on.

As described in the main text, the Song Editor screen features two 8 x 24 clip panels located on the right side of the screen.

As described in the main text, the Song Editor screen features two 8 x 24 clip panels located on the right side of the screen.

The Song Editor screen is essentially split into three main areas. Top-left is a browser pane that shows a list of existing projects and, beneath this are buttons for playing, loading, previewing, etc. these existing projects. Do note the large ROM/User and Cloud (User) buttons as these allow you to toggle between different sets of presets songs that might be stored locally or remotely. The local User storage allows you to create 255 of your own projects before you have to worry about backing up or moving them to the cloud though.

To the right are two 4×8 grids. These hold the banks of 8×24 clips but the upper and lower of these serve different functions and this is not really explained very clearly in the manual. The upper set contains the clips associated with whichever project is highlighted within the browser pane to the left; pick a different project in that pane and you will see the pattern of clips change in the upper clip set. If you tap and hold on any clip square (those that contain data are highlighted) then you can audition that clip… and just tap on the top colour-coded row along the top to move through the 8 banks of clips.

There is a useful user manual available for the app... but a few extra details in the documentation would be welcome.

There is a useful user manual available and built into the app… but a few extra details in the documentation would be welcome.

In contrast, the lower panel of 8×24 clip slots is where you can place your own clips for the current project you are working on. If you start a new project, this panel will simply contain empty clip slots. However, if you pick an existing project in the browser (at which point its clips will automatically load into the upper clip panel) and then also hit the Load button (in the centre of the screen), that project becomes the current project and so the same clips will load into the lower clip panel also.

The obvious benefit of the upper/lower clip panel system is that you can easily access any clip sets from any existing project simply by selecting that project from the browser pane and then audition and copy clips from that project to your current project. You simply tap on the required clip in the upper panel and drag it into an empty slot in the lower panel. Copying a clip within the lower panel is also simply a case of tapping and dragging.

I’ll come to clip editing in a minute but, once you have created your collection of clips, the bottom-most strip of the window provides the four tracks/lanes into which you can drag your clips to arrange them into a song structure. This really is very simple and, while the building blocks are… well… basic… the flexibility with which they can be combined makes for some very interesting and quite flexible creative options. You get the usual options to inserting and deleting clips within the track sequences (albeit with one to two quirks) so the song arranging processes is a pretty painless one.

Edit this

Editing of clips is – surprise, surprise – done via the Clip Editor. If you tap on a clip slot in the lower clip panel, this becomes the selected clip and, if you then tap on the large Clip Editor button, the selected clip (blank or otherwise) will open within the Clip Editor screen.

The Clip Editor screen is well stocked with features for creating - and fine-tuning - your clips.

The Clip Editor screen is well stocked with features for creating – and fine-tuning – your clips.

There is also quite a bit going on here with both upper and lower 16-step grid panels. The lower panel is where you enter pitch data for any notes that you add while the upper panel allows you to enter volume data by default. However, note that to the left of this area are four options (labelled A to D and with the upper option (A) set to Vol). You can, therefore, set a parameter in options B, C or D and program in some other sorts of controller data. These include obvious things such as Pan and Octave but there are other options also that relate to parameters of the synth/sound engine so there are plenty of ways to sequence changes to your sound within a clip.

Immediately above this upper grid section are four tabs (the currently selected one has a virtual red LED lit in its top-left corner) that allow you to switch between the grids for each of the four sounds available within a single clip. Whichever of these four sound slots are selected, its pattern data is shown in the upper/lower grids and the current sound that is being used is shown at the very top-left of the Clip Editor screen. Tap on this and you can access the full set of sounds available within Rytmik Ultimate.

The sound selections available within Rytmik Ultimate are suitable for almost any style of EDM music.

The sound selections available within Rytmik Ultimate are suitable for almost any style of EDM music.

These sounds are split into a number of different sound groups and are, I think, related to sound sets used in previous incarnations of the software on other platforms. Note that whichever sound you pick (for example D Wave from the Dubstep column), to the right is a set of numbered buttons and tapping on these will step you through whatever sound variations there are on the basic sound. As mentioned earlier, there are some 750 sounds available in total but, given that you can tweak these with the various effects options and use the DIY waveform option (more on this in a minute), there is actually plenty of choice.

As you might expect given this is an app primarily aimed at electronic music production, there is a good crop of drum and percussion sounds, plenty of bass and synth sounds and then a smattering of sound or special effects. OK, so individually, these will not be the most sophisticated or earth shattering basic sounds that you will hear from an iOS music app, but combine them into a full production and you can make a heck of a lot of very cool noise.

As mentioned earlier, there is quite a lot going on in the Clip Editor screen but you get all the usual copy, paste, delete, etc. options when editing and you can set the polyphony for each of the four sounds used within the clip. You can also adjust the overall pitch and volume for each sound. Along the top row of controls are some clip-level options including the shuffle setting and the tempo…. yes, tempo can be set at the clip level.

The FX buttons opens up some additional controls for editing your selected sound preset.

The FX buttons opens up some additional controls for editing your selected sound preset.

At the base of the screen is a grey and white strip that emphasises the 16 steps of the pattern in the grid panels above….   but note that this also has a yellow cursor that can be adjusted so you can change the step length of a clip. Yes, you can mix and match clips of different lengths within the Song Editor tracks/lanes but the longest clip will take precedence and play out in full if clips of different lengths are set to playback at the same time.

The other element of the Clip Editor worth a mention is the FX button; this opens a further panel in the lower half of the screen where you can tweak the currently selected sound (of the four possible sounds used in any clip). You can adjust the portion of the waveform used for playback, tweak the ADSR, add some noise or vibrato or apply some delay. There is also a very chiptune Arp feature. Again, none of this is going to win a prize for feature depth or originality but it does make for some nice additional sound-shaping options.

If you pick the DrSynth sound source then you can draw your own waveform in the panel as a sound source.

If you pick the DrSynth sound source then you can draw your own waveform in the panel as a sound source.

Incidentally, its here that if you pick the DrSynth sound, then you can draw your own basic waveform. Nope, it’s not Nave or Poseidon but, again, it’s a lot of fun and a useful extra option to have.

Get into the rytmik

There is a bit of familiarisation required when you first get started with Rytmik Ultimate and the PDF manual is worth a read through for a newbie user. However, I still found myself having to do a bit of trial and error discovery with some features. It is worth it though and I must say I had a lot of fun with the app once I got into the swing of it.

Yes, there is a certain ‘sound’ to the music created with Rytmik Ultimate and that might – or might not – be your thing. Equally, as you have to program every musical part – there is no ‘live’ playing via a MIDI keyboard for example – some musicians might find it a bit frustrating if they are players rather than pattern programmers. For other though this might be a positive rather than a negative….

There are a good number of targets you can use within the Clip Editor lanes to program sound variations as your clip is in playback.

There are a good number of targets you can use within the Clip Editor lanes to program sound variations as your clip is in playback.

These things said, and bearing in mind that, at present, there is no Audiobus or IAA support, I’m not sure Rytmik Ultimate would be described as a ‘must have’ app for every iOS musician’s music app collection. However, if you like to program beats and synth/bass lines – and particularly if you are into the sound of retro computer music (although Rytmik can do more than that) – and want a colourful, fun to use, all-in-one environment in which to make your music, Rytmik Ultimate is a very appealing app to explore.

I’ve embedded a couple of videos below that give a flavour of what it can do and the music that the app can create…. This might be a niche app in some ways but it is a lot of fun and the workflow, while constructed from quite simple building blocks, is actually quite straightforward once you grasp the basics.

The UI might seem a bit busy at first but the underlying concepts behind composition within Rytmik Ultimate are actually pretty straightforward... and the results can be very good.

The UI might seem a bit busy at first but the underlying concepts behind composition within Rytmik Ultimate are actually pretty straightforward… and the results can be very good.

In summary

I’m not sure that Rytmik Ultimate is an app that I would turn to everyday in my own routine music making but I have to say that I had a lot of fun exploring it and I can see the obvious appeal that it would have to some musicians (iOS or otherwise). There is a modest learning curve, and the app does mean you have to create using a very specific workflow, but the results can be very impressive…. even if in a retro, computer music, sort of a way. I’ve no problem with the ‘all-in-one’ approach (using one app to create a complete production makes for an efficient workflow) but, for some iOS musicians, the lack of Audiobus and/or IAA might still be a drawback.

That said, with the current asking price of UK£13.49 I suspect it will attract plenty of the more synth-orientated, EDM producers amongst the iOS music making community. I think it represents decent value for money within the current iOS music app market place but it might be priced just beyond the point when the more casual and curious user might be tempted to give it a go just for the fun of it. That’s perhaps a bit of a shame because fun it most definitely is. Not for everyone maybe but, at what it does, Rytmik Ultimate is rather good.

Rytmik Ultimate




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