Creating realistic sounding solo instruments from samples can be quite a challenge. On the desktop, that process is made easier (from a technical perspective at least) by using multiple samples to simulate changes in tone with the dynamics of the performance and for different performance articulations (long nots, short notes, bends, vibrato, slides, etc. depending upon the instrument being emulated). For iOS, however, multi-GB sample libraries are more difficult to justify given the restricted storage space available.
That’s not to say we are not seeing some advances on this front though and we do have some excellent sample-based virtual instruments available in apps such as SampleTank and iSymphonic Orchestra (for example). When it comes to brass sound, we also have the excellent iFretless Brass and iFretless Sax from Blue Mangoo. However, today sees a new contender in this specific area – Sensual Sax – and, while the app is released by Embertone, Hans Anderson and the Blue Mangoo development team were involved in the development process.
Sensual Sax was originally released as a desktop virtual instrument for Kontakt around three years ago. Embertone have now ported the instrument to iOS and Blue Mangoo have been involved in the work to take the original samples and convert them – alongside development of an iOS-specific engine – into an iOS app format. Hans tells me that he is excited about the release because this is a new engine and not based upon the code from his iFretless series. It uses a more sophisticated approach and shares elements of the sampler technology found in the recent Drum Session app.
At a technical level, the app is universal, supports MIDI in/out and offers Audiobus, IAA and (yay!) AU support from the off. It is priced at UK£3.99/US$4.99 (so not too much of a stretch for the more casual purchaser) and a 166MB download. Hans tells me they have already had a few user comments re the somewhat suggestive tone of the UI (although this is directly inherited from the desktop version) and that might get toned down at some stage…..
I’m not sure exactly what the sampling details are under the hood but, even from a brief play this morning, it’s clear there are multiple sample layers handling the MIDI velocity response. You also get a choice of three performance articulations – legato, sustain and staccato – all of which do pretty much what you would expect and offer velocity response when used via an external MIDI keyboard. I couldn’t see any keyswitch options to move between the three articulations via your keyboard (you have to use the onscreen switch I think).
The controls themselves are fairly simple. A button top-left allows you to configure the MIDI in/out, while the large central rotary control (yes, the ‘Sex Knob’) actually controls a number of parameters at the same time to add more ambience to the sound. However, if you tap on the green LED button beneath this control, it opens up a further pop-up panel where you can tweak away at the individual settings.
These offer reverb, vibrato and delay (so, if you want to get all ambient and moody, then Sensual Sax can do just that – think ‘Careless Whisper’ by George Michael). However, the really interesting control is the Sensuality switch. Engage this and you get all sorts of pitch ornamentation added to notes when playing the legato patch. These simulate the bending into motes that a real sax player would use when playing slower legato phrases and, once you have a feel for how the sound engine responds, this is actually very effective. It doesn’t work so well for faster passages… but for slow, moody, sax solos, the results are pretty good.
Anyway, a full review will follow but feel free to check out the promo video below (don’t smirk too loudly at the ‘Sex Knob’ control) and then hit the download button to find out more…..