Whether you are a desktop musician or an iOS musician (or both), VirSyn are unlikely to need much by way of introduction. For iOS music makers, VirSyn have an impressive array of iOS music apps in their current catalogue including Tera Synth, AudioReverb and Harmony Voice; all are well worth exploring.
The latest addition –Tap Delay – was launched last week and, as the name suggests, is a delay-based audio effect. The ethos of the design brings something old in that the aim of Tap Delay is to emulate the analog warmth and character of old-school tape-based delay units (anyone remember the Watkins CopiCat?). However, Tap Delay also brings something new because, in terms of setting the delay timing and pattern, you get a step-sequencer approach with independent control over the left and right channels. On paper, this sounds like it ought to be an interesting combination….
Tap Delay is a universal app, includes both Audiobus (including State saving) and IAA support from the off, requires iOS7.0 or later and is a 14MB download. If you are quick off the mark, you can pick up a copy at the launch price of UK£3.99; 50% off where the price will eventually sit… oh, and it you have a little bit of spare cash left over, you could do worse than check out a few of VirSyn’s other iOS music apps as, also for a limited time, a number of these are also ‘on sale’ at 50% off to coincide with the launch of Tap Delay.
As indicated above, Tap Delay can work with both Audiobus and IAA but, if required, it can also be used as a stand-alone app and process the live audio input to your iDevice. It also includes a built-in recording facility if you wish to capture the processed audio within the app rather than recording/applying the effect within your DAW app. I did most of my testing via Audiobus and IAA with Cubasis as my target/host recording platform and, in that role, Tap Delay worked a treat.
If you have used any other VirSyn apps, the styling will be familiar. Along the top of the display you can access the presets, set the tempo, activate and access and recordings made within the app, toggle the ‘help’ system on (although there is also a useful PDF manual that you can download from VirSyn’s website) and open the Settings menu.
The last of these allows you to toggle on/off background audio, MIDI sync (Tap Delay will follow the tempo from a MIDI Clock source such as Cubasis) or enable the MIDI Learn system. This works well and uses the tried and tested approach where you can tap an onscreen control, twiddle a MIDI controller knob an – hey presto! – they become linked; this is very easy to use if you want some manual control of Tap Delay’s key parameters.
If you don’t have MIDI Sync enabled, the Tempo option opens a further dialog where you can set the app’s main tempo either via a slider or via a ‘tap’ button. There is a metronome volume adjustment if you want to use the internal recording facility and make sure everything stays in time. The other control here is the ‘tempo delay’ dial. This influences how quickly Tap Delay adjusts itself when you tweak a setting while the app is working. Slower speeds here tend to produce a smoother transition but there are some fun audio artefacts to be explored here if you like the weird things delays do when they are asked to adjust themselves mid-stream :-)
The rest of the display is really split into two sections. The upper half of the screen provides the controls for setting the delay pattern while the lower half provides a combination of the usual wet/dry and feedback controls plus a three-band EQ and the various ‘tape emulation’ controls such as Saturation and Tape Hiss…. let’s explore those in a little more detail.
A short delay
Tap Delay offers quite an impressive array of options when it comes to setting up your delay patterns. The horizontal slider at the top of the delay section allows you to specify the time-length of the pattern section located beneath it. Set to 16/16ths, this means that the pattern sequencer will repeat over the course of a standard 4/4 bar. However, set it to 1/16th and the pattern repeats every 1/16th of a bar (that is, over a much shorter period of time) and you therefore get repeats that are much closer together.
The four buttons located far right interact with this control as you can change to a 16 step pattern, 24 step pattern (for creating a triplet feel) or to two ‘fixed length’ formats where the delay time sites between 1-100ms (short) or 100ms-10s (long). A 10 second delay is pretty impressive and would require a very long piece of tape in the analog world. It seems to work very well here and, while perhaps something for a special occasion, I can imagine those working in ambient soundscapes finding this quite an interesting option.
Once you have set the over-riding time-base for the pattern sequencer, you can then start adding repeats at the various steps as required. This is easy to do and no different from any other step-based sequencer. The buttons beneath the pattern editor do provide some further choices however. For example, if you toggle off the ‘link’ switch, you can set different patterns for the left and right channels; if you like your repeats to wiz from left to right this gives you plenty of control over how that happens.
The ‘kill’ switch stops the delays instantly and for as long as you hold your finger on the button. In contrast, the bypass button toggles a full bypass on/off. There is also an EQ bypass option (for the EQ section in the bottom half of the display. I’m not exactly sure what the ‘ping pong’ switch does… yes, it somehow forces the delays to be bounced around the stereo image but exactly how it interacts with any left/right delays you have set up by un-linking the channels is not really made clear in the documentation. It works though and you can get some great stereo delay effects using the combination of facilities provided.
Having a hissy fit
The lower half of the screen offers ways to customise the sound of your repeats. However, before getting into those, do note that the main Feedback control is also in this portion of the screen (far-left), allowing you to control how much of your signal is feedback into the delay engine. Set to zero and you just get the repeats created in the step-sequencer. However, wind this up a little and you gradually add more repeats of those repeats (if you see what I mean!) and, with higher values, those repeats become louder and fade away less quickly. Set a value above 100% and the repeats gets louder until the signal saturates. If you thought the step-sequencer itself offered plenty of options (and it does), then you can really get wild with your delay treatments if you push the feedback level a little.
Aside from the dry/wet balance, the Damping control influences how the processing damps the high-frequency response of the delays (more high frequency loss with each repeat) while the Rotation control adds some further ‘stereo’ effects so that the repeats shift somewhat within the stereo field.
The control set includes a three-band EQ section – low pass, high pass and a central full-parametric band – that you can adjust by tapping, dragging and pinching within the display. If you want to use EQ to tailor the tonal character of the delays, there is plenty of scope to do so.
The other four dials control aspects of the tape emulation – Saturation, Tape hiss, Bias and Wow & Flutter – all of which can be used to dial in different aspects of the classic analog tape sound. While I’m less keen on adding ‘hiss’ for the sake of it (unless it is for a special effect), I do like what the saturation (a kind of smooth distortion) control adds and you can adjust the character of this via the Bias control (shifting between odd and even harmonics). Finally, the Wow & Flutter control simulates the somewhat variable speed of a tape transport system. This can be used to add a certain ‘fatness’ to the sound as it introduces minor pitch changes not unlike (but perhaps more subtle than) a chorus-type effect.
Tap Delay behaved pretty solidly for me with used within Audiobus or via IAA on my iPad Air 1 test system. I had no problems using the app to process auduo from other apps via Audiobus or using the app as an insert or send effect within Cubasis when used via IAA.
In terms of the sound…. well, I used to own a CopiCat tape-based echo unit and, while I couldn’t do a side-by-side test, I certainly think Tap Delay catches the essence of that analog sound; it might not have the street-cred of the original but, to my ears at least, it is in the right sonic ballpark.
What Tap Delay does have, however, are some huge practical advantages. You get a much greater degree of control with this app than was ever possible with my (log-since gone) CopiCat hardware. Equally, with the option to create such precise repeat patterns, that mammoth 10 second maximum delay time, the option to dial in as much (or as little) tape emulation as you might like, a preset system for instant recall, the overall convenience and MIDI control, less you are a hardware junkie, it is pretty difficult not to argue that Tap Delay isn’t a much more powerful option for the modern musician. Oh, and while you are at it, check out the second –hand price of a tape-based delay; it will be considerably more than Tap Delay’s launch price of UK£3.99.
Tap Delay can do very simple delay treatments so, as a ‘stock’ delay effect, it certainly would be a very capable choice. Used with very short delay times, you can also coax something close to ‘reverb’ out of it. And, of course, you don’t have to dial in lots of tape emulation if you don’t wish….
However, if you want to create some more interesting delay patterns, and want very precise control over the timings and stereo position, then Tap Delay is an absolute gem. Used with melodic instruments such a vocals or lead guitars, you can make a few notes go a very long way. Used with the most basic of drum patterns… well, you can generate some complex rhythms and get very ‘trippy’ if required.
And, of course, you also get the tape emulation and, while I’m sure some purists will be able to tell the difference between real tape and emulated tape, for the rest of us, Tap Delay is going to be more than adequate; particularly so given that it offers a greater deal of control, a convenient software format and a price that is less than that of your daily coffee and a cake.
Tap Delay is perhaps not an essential purchase for every iOS musician but, if your interests include iOS recording or you have a liking for musical styles where delay/echo effects, then I think you are going to enjoy using the app and find a lot of creative options with it. It is certainly more flexible – and sweeter sounding – than the average delay plugin included with most iOS DAWs. The ‘something old’ (tape emulation) and ‘something new’ (pattern-based delay setting) approach is a very neat trick and VirSyn have presented it is a very slick format.
If the final price does end up at UK£7.99 then this is still excellent value for money given what the app offers. However, at the 50% off launch price, Tap Delay is a real bargain. I’ll repeat that…. a real bargain… bargain… bargain…. (doh!). Highly recommended for your iOS audio effects app collection…. and, don’t forget that VirSyn have that same 50% sale pricing on their other iOS music apps at present.