Stompwatch review – Secret Base Design add another iOS music utility app to their lineup

Download from iTunes App StoreStompWatch logoI reviewed Secret Base Design’s significant update to their Live Guitar app a few days ago on the blog but Patrick Madden has obviously been keeping himself busy of late because a further app was launched on the app store last week also; Stompwatch. Priced at just UK£3.99, Stompwatch is another example of what Secret Base Design specialise in… no-nonsense utility apps for the iOS musician.

In this case what we are being offered is a ‘virtual MIDI pedal board’ and, while this is perhaps not a pedal board in the sense that you are going to want to put your iPhone or iPad on the ground and start stomping on it in your size 10s, if you are happy to have the same sorts of functions under your fingertips, then Stompwatch might well appeal.

Stompwatch - ready and waiting for you to create your own MIDI control surface.

Stompwatch – ready and waiting for you to create your own MIDI control surface.

Stompwatch is a universal app and, at just 5MB, will fit on even the most crowded of iOS hardware. The app also has support for the Apple Watch (hence the ‘watch’ in the title) but, as most iOS musicians are probably working with iPads and iPhones, I’ll focus on that functionality here (although see the end of Patrick’s video demo below if you want to see one novel use of the Watch version!).

Control freak

In essence, Stompwatch gives the user a programmable MIDI control surface with ten trigger pads on a single screen and a total of 10 screens available and which you can tab between from the main interface. In total, therefore, you can have up to 100 trigger pads available in your Stompwatch configuration. Each pad can be programmed to send one of four types of MIDI information; MIDI notes, MIDI chords, MIDI program change messages or MIDI continuous controller (CC) messages (to change synth parameters for example). The functionality for the latter is not quite complete in this initial release but Patrick tells me that there are a couple of updates already in the works that will flesh this element out.

Stompwatch allows you to pick different MIDI destinations for each of its ten pages of triggers.

Stompwatch allows you to pick different MIDI destinations for each of its ten pages of triggers.

A rather neat feature is that, for each of the ten pages of triggers, you can specify a different MIDI output destination (or multiple destinations). You can, therefore, have page 1’s triggers sending data to (for example) iM1 while page 2 is sending to (for example) SynthMaster Player, etc. As it is very easy to flip between pages, this means Stompwatch can provide you with a single remote control app that speedily flips between controlling multiple other MIDI apps.

The Configure button allows you to set any one of four different types of MIDI actions to each trigger pad, including MIDI notes as shown here.

The Configure button allows you to set any one of four different types of MIDI actions to each trigger pad, including MIDI notes as shown here.

It’s also worth noting that Stompwatch will happily work via MIDI over Bluetooth… while you can use the app to control apps running on the same device, equally, you could have Stompwatch running on a second device. Audiobus Remote and Bluetooth keyboards can also be used to trigger Stompwatch.

Simple stomp

Ok course, we already have a number of apps that offer some of these elements. For example, if you want to send note or chord data to an iOS music app, you could use Chordion or ChordPolyPad. Equally, if you want to build a control surface for an app you could turn to the excellent MIDI Designer Pro (for example). However, Stompwatch tries to bring elements of all these apps into a single app and to do it in a fashion that is simple and accessible to anyone, regardless of how scary and/or confusing you find the whole concept of MIDI data. Stompwatch might not offer to sophistication of some of these more specialised apps but it does put all of these same features into one place in a format that is a doddle to use.

Configuring a trigger within Stompwatch is very straightforward. Once you tap the Configure switch located top-right, once you then tap on any trigger pad, a dialog opens. This offers four options; note, chord, PC (Program Change) and CC (Continuous Controller). If you tap one of these four, the rest of the dialog adjusts to allow you to configure the details, whether that’s notes, a chord type or a PG or CC message. You also get the option to ‘test’ the message.

The chord options provide plenty of different chord type to choose from.

The chord options provide plenty of different chord type to choose from.

For the latter to work, you have to have already linked this page of 10 triggers to a MIDI destination. Unsurprisingly, this is done via the MIDI button which simply displays a list of all the currently available MIDI destination to select from. Again, this is all very simple….

And, once you have configured one page, then you can move on to another…. Stompwatch saves all your settings so, when you next launch the app, all 10 pages of configured triggers are restored. Apparently, a ‘preset’ system (so you can have multiple sets of ten pages) in scheduled for an upcoming update.

Stomp all over it

In use, Stompwatch really is as simple as it sounds… but there are some nice touches. For example, when triggering notes of chords, the trigger pads provide velocity data based upon where you tap; at the top you get higher MIDI velocities (and therefore louder notes) while at the base of the trigger pad you get lower MIDI velocities. This makes it easy to add a little expression and I thought it was particularly good when playing chords.

The program change options seems to work well with the majority of the apps I tried (so, for example, I had no problems switching between different sounds in apps such as iM1 and Synthmaster Player) and I could easily imagine this being useful in both a studio and live performance context even if I was actually playing the parts via a MIDI keyboard.

If you want to use Stompwatch as a mega-sound selector tool, then that's easy to configure and it can send standard program change messages to any MIDI-friendly app that will receive them.

If you want to use Stompwatch as a mega-sound selector tool, then that’s easy to configure and it can send standard program change messages to any MIDI-friendly app that will receive them.

Apparently, the CC section is not quite complete as yet… but this will allow you to send MIDI CC data to other apps with the CC value again dictated by where you tap upon the trigger pad. Patrick hopes to have this in an update shortly…. I suspect you might also have to do a little work within the destination app via its MIDI Learn feature to get things set up (so it might involve a little more configuration work) but, again, as a simple(ish!) means of getting a few synth parameters under your fingers, this will be a neat option.

Stomping on….

Stompwatch is, therefore, a very useful little utility app and, if you are looking for an (almost) pain-free introduction to a programmable MIDI controller, this is a good bet. That said, within 5 minutes of using the app, it is possible to think of a few ‘extra’ features it would be great to see added…. there is some potential here that Patrick may (or may not!) chose to exploit as, of course, extra features will also mean the app becomes a bit for complex and this might go somewhat against the ethos of the KISS design.

For example, in the chord options, it would be great if you were able to specify not only the chord and its octave but also to pick between some different voices (guitar, piano, narrow, wide, etc.). When programming PG values, it might be nice to have the option (even if you chose not to use it) to add a text label for the sound so you have a visual reminder as to which trigger pad switches to which sound.

The app has instructions built in...  but, with the exception of setting up MIDI CC options, it really is a doddle to use.

The app has instructions built in… but, with the exception of setting up MIDI CC options, it really is a doddle to use.

It might also be nice to have the option to duplicate a page of controls; this could save a lot of time when doing your initial setup.

I’ve no idea if these are refinements that Patrick might consider but one further option that will obviously be interesting is already on the cards; a kind of ‘split screen’ view where you can see (and trigger) two pages of pads at the same time. This could, of course, simply give you more notes or chords or PGs to play with… or, alternatively, it could give you access to two sets of identical chord pads but controlling two different synths. This could be a lot of fun; two fingers playing the same chord sequence on two synths but perhaps with different rhythmic patterns… that would be neat…

In summary

At UK£3.99, there is a lot to like about Stompwatch. Like many of Secret Base Design’s other apps, this is ‘utility’ and ‘utilitarian’; there is no fuss or pretention about the app… it just does what it does in a very functional fashion.

However, that ‘what it does’ is something that I’m sure lots of iOS musicians could find a use for. In part a virtual MIDI control surface that can also function as a basic MIDI performance surface…. Yes, there are other apps that provide parts of what Stompwatch does, and perhaps do it in a more sophisticated fashion…. but I’m not sure that’s the whole point here. Stompwatch is designed to be easy to use and to allow anyone – even those who find MIDI a bit intimidating – to program their own MIDI controller. If that sounds like something you might like to do… but have always been put off by the potential complexity of the technology, Stompwatch does a pretty good job of making that easy to do.

Stompwatch



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    Comments

    1. Patrick is great…top of the list of iOS devs! His apps are good and so is his sense of humor. He had me LOLing with his Apple Watch guitar strap comment.

      This app looks handy if I can get in and do CC0 and CC32 messages to change presets (bank change) that’s a piece that seems hard to get at in iOS midi. Program Changes (PC) messages are one thing, but that’s for the standard midi and most things I have go beyond 127 presets.

    2. Cuscolima says:

      Well I haven’t understood that to use it as a remote controller you have to use Appolo. This is a bit frustrating because in this case you can only use one channel and cannot have different settings. For example, I have stompwatch on my IPhone. On the Page one I would like have parameters (notes, CC,…) to control Animoog on channel 1, that is running on my IPad. On page 2, I would like to have parameters to control Sunrizer, on my IPad too on channel 2. Because of Appolo, I loose this functionality. Developpers, you should consider a similar function as Audiobus Remote, in order to be able to do that. Am I dreamin ?

    3. Cuscolima says:

      Me again….I have tested one more time and in fact it works very well if you use Apollo on channel 1 on page 1 and Apollo on channel 2 on page 2 and so on…this is a GREAT app, sorry for my previous comment ;0)

      • Hi Cuscolima… thanks for the update… and the info as I’m sure other potential users will find it useful…. very best wishes, John

    4. Patrick Madden/Secret Base Design says:

      Thanks for the coverage, John!

      Yes, lots of things that can be added — and will probably appear in future releases. I’ve fixed the bug with the MIDI CC messages — and you can now use the on screen pads as continuous controllers if you like. Also fixed the Audiobus Remote support, so you can press and release to control notes and chords.

      @Cuscolima — yes — good catch! I’ll try to add that into the documentation, so it’s a bit more clear, and maybe I’ll do a video on it. Apollo receives on all channels, and will transfer messages across Bluetooth, keeping the channel assignments in place. This is sort of old-school MIDI; there are 16 channels on every MIDI connection. I think people have gotten used to Virtual MIDI, and many have forgotten the old-school approach with multiple channels.

      @Toz — thanks! I appreciate the support! Your comment made me rethink the CC support for touch — if you want to set a specific CC value from a pad, rather than using it as continuous, having the touch change things would screw stuff up… So I yanked the next release out of the review queue, added in a toggle so you either use touch position, or a fixed value, and then resubmitted.

      Version 1.1 is waiting for review now. The app (and the FCB app, which is waiting for review too) have been on the back burner for a long time. Now that I’ve finally finished building all the annoying things I needed to build to get it to work, it’s pretty quick to make changes and updates. I’m also using Audeonic’s MIDI Bus, which is pure awesome.

      This has been a heck of a summer. Lots of projects completed, lots more will get knocked out shortly!

      • Hi Patrick…. thanks again for dropping by and supplying some further details…. much appreciated by all I’m sure…. Looking forward to trying the updated version of Stompwatch when it becomes available…. Very best wishes, John

      • It sure is nice to have such response, and to pull your update to make a user requested change is amazing! That’s just one reason why I have have all of the Secret Base Design apps. Well, I will as soon as I tap the link above to grab Stompwatch.

    5. No you’ve got it wrong in the video – I really need a reason to convince the Missus why I need an apple watch and this should be it! Lol! and very cool product! Keep up the awesome work!

      Eric

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