Earlier this week, I played a little catch-up and reviewed Echo Pad by Holderness Media. This app has been around in the App Store for quite some time but the relatively recent addition of inter-app audio (IAA) nagged me in to taking a look. And very nice it is to in a slightly unconventional, ‘effect to be noticed’ sort of a way. You can read the full review of Echo Pad here.
There was, of course, another reason for getting Echo Pad processed through my ‘to do’ list; the arrival of Holderness media’s latest offering; Swoopster. Like Echo Pad, Swoopster is priced at UK£2.99 and, from the off, includes both Audiobus and IAA support. Also like Echo Pad, this is not intended to be a subtle, ‘doing it in the background’ sort of an effect processor. Nope, Swoopster is loud and proud and in your face, with a combination of flanger, fuzz and vibrato effects all controlled (as in Echo Pad) via tapping and swiping on your iPad’s touchscreen.
Perform for me
Swoopster features two main modes of operation; perform and tweak. The default mode is perform and, as shown in the main screen shot, this gives you four X-Y touch-controlled performance pads separated left and right by a central strip of buttons.
The left and right sets of pads can be used to provide independent processing of the left and right channels of the audio signal. However, if you prefer, engaging the Link button (within the central strip) does exactly what you would expect and then you only have to tap and swipe on either the left or right side pads and the other side will follow the same movements. Having the option for either stereo or dual mono control over the effects is a neat idea though and means you can create some interesting stereo effects using the app.
The larger upper pads control the delay time (the ‘Manual’ control on the X axis) and the delay feedback (the Regen control on the Y axis). The smaller lower pads control the speed of the flanger (X axis) and the amount of fuzz (Y axis).
These are not, however, the only controls to consider on the Perform screen as the central strip of buttons are also part of the fun. For example, you can tap on either of the Bypass or Mute buttons and they stay active only while you are touching them; release them and they are disabled. These makes it very easy to ‘play’ these buttons in real-time as part of your performance, either just switching the effects off with the Bypass button (so you hear the unprocessed audio) or muting everything. You can create some excellent rhythmic effects in this way.
Aside from the ‘Tweak’ button (more on this in a minute), the upper half of the central strip displays the effects presets. There are more to be seen than just the five slots though; swipe up/down to see additional slots and use the save button to create your own. Again, this list should also be seen as a performance option because you can switch between presets on the fly; tapping to flip between two or three different presets in time with your audio can produce some really dramatic effects.
Time to tweak
Tapping the Tweak button opens up Swoopester’s other mode; Tweak (at which point the button changes to Perform so you can toggle back to the pads again if you wish). Tweak mode offers you some of the same controls but this time presented as horizontal bars that you tap and swipe to change the value of. However, as well as the parameters linked to the pads, you also get the additional Vibrato and Mod Mix controls. Vibrato adds pitch modulation while Mod Mix controls the modulated mix level.
This is perhaps not quite so intuitive (or fun) to work with but, for precise control – and the extra couple of parameters – it’s a mode worth having. The central strip remains as before and to can pull the same tricks by switching presets or using the Bypass and Mute buttons.
The other items that appear on this screen are the Input and Output options located top-left. If you are using Swoopster with a live audio input, this allows you to configure which inputs are used. Incidently, the app works quite happily with either the iPad’s own inputs or any standard iOS audio interface. The Output button offers you a choice of ‘normal stereo’, ‘wide stereo’ or ‘sum to mono’. The ‘Wide Stereo’ is based upon the same sort of processing as found in Echo Pad’s Stereoizer effect.
As mentioned earlier, Swoopster supports both Audiobus and IAA. Used in the Audiobus Effects slot (although it will work in any of the three slots), there is plenty of fun to be had putting your favourite synth, looper or guitar amp sim (in the Input slot) through Swoopester and recording the results in your favourite DAW app such as Cubasis, Auria or Garageband in the Output slot. In my own testing, this worked very smoothly and the usual Audiobus control strip appears at the base of Swoopster display allowing you to control your DAW and flip between the various apps in use.
In the main, the IAA route also worked well. I was able to add Swoopster as either an insert or send effect within Cubasis and, once switched to Swoopster itself, a neat IAA control strip appears bottom-left. It wasn’t all plain sailing however. There were quite a few times when this control panel disappeared and I had to navigate back to Cubasis via the Home button. On other occasions, the IAA transport panel then reappeared. All a bit of a mystery but, hopefully, something that can easily be addressed in a future update. It didn’t interfere with the operation of the two apps in any serious way and flipping back to Cubasis and then back to Swoopster resolved the problem. Neither app went belly up on me during testing.
Scoop of the swoop
In use, Swoopster is an interesting mix. The Perform mode X-Y pads are a joy to use. This is instant effects gratification with almost no learning curve and whatever audio you throw into it, you can make something interesting – and sometimes quite extreme – come out the other end. The ability to switch presets, bypass or mute the processing on the fly as part of your performance is also very cool as is the ability to process the left and right sides of the stereo signal in different ways.
On the downside, Swoopster is just confined to a combination of fuzz, flange and vibrato so it is not perhaps the most versatile of processor in that regard. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of creative options available but, if you want a more diverse palette of effects in a single app, then you will need to look elsewhere. Equally, if you want more conventional effects options, then apps such as Master FX, AudioReverb, AUFX:Dub or AUFX:Space will be more appropriate.
Swoopster is focused on a particular type of trick – a flangy, fuzzy… er… swoopy kind of a trick – although it has to be said is does that trick very well indeed. Like Echo Pad, this is definitely one for those musicians who like their effects to get noticed – Swoopster is very good at ear candy style effects – and at UK£2.99 (instead of today’s Starbucks/Costa or equivalent), it is well worth the price of entry.