If you have been paying attention (wake up at the back!) over recent months then you will have seen the review of the rather minimalist – but also rather wonderful – SquashIt from Klevgränd Produktion. SquashIt is an audio effect app that provides a three-band distortion effect and, what it lacks in masses of controls, it makes up for is sound and ease of use.
Indeed, at a current price of UK£1.99, it easily qualifies as a bargain and, as Audiobus support has been added to the app since I did the original review (it was IAA only at that stage), it really is a bit of a no-brainer for any collector of iOS music apps.
The three frequency band format also means the app can produce a range of different distortion effects and be targeted at different types of sound. And having adopted a three-band approach with SquashIt, Klevgränd appear to be on a bit of a roll as their latest app – Vandelay – which appeared on the App Store a week or so ago, also offers three user-variable frequency bands although, as the name suggests, this time in the form of a delay effect.
Also priced at UK£1.99, and at only 3MB in size, Vandelay is an iPad-only app what works with iOS7 or iOS8. Audiobus and IAA support are also included from the off and the app is supplied with a number presets so you can explore what the effect can do when you first get started. So, if you are an avid collector of audio effects apps, should Vandelay be a purchase candidate instead of your daily high street latte today? Let’s find out….
As already mentioned, Vandelay is a delay or echo effect. Like SquashIt, all the app’s main controls are laid out in a single screen and, aside from the large dial to set the tempo and (top-right) the Snap settings, everything else is set by ear; there are no parameter values to get in your way. You can make your own call as to whether that’s a good thing or not but, in practice, once you have experimented a little with the interface, this really is a very easy app to use.
Aside from the tempo dial (so you can match the sync of the echo to the tempo of your project), the other large dial on the left provides a dry/wet mix control. Set to 12 o’clock, you get a 50:50 wet/dry balance but, obviously you can adjust to taste. The Snap controls located top-left allow you to choose between off (no snap; don’t try this until you have mastered the basics of the app, but it does open up all sorts of additional rhythmic possibilities) and 16th or 12th steps. These would suit 4/4 or 3/4 time respectively.
Note that these two latter settings change the position of the vertical lines in the main part of the display (the three coloured horizontal lanes where you set the delay parameters up) and these represent the snapping points within the musical grid. If you want your repeat to fall 5/16th steps after the initial sound or 15/16th steps, as I’ll describe in a minute, it is easy to ‘snap’ to this grid to get exactly the timing you want.
Aside from the button to open the preset system, the only other controls are in the multi-coloured panel that dominates the display. As you would expect, the three horizontal bands represent the three frequency bands going from high (top of screen) to low (bottom). And as with SquashIt, you can grab the boundaries between the bands to adjust them. Want a big wide ‘mid’ band? Then just drag to create it….
Within each band you get a number of controls. On the left side are a mute button and a horizontal fader to adjust the level (gain) of repeats from that band (so if you want the mid-band delays louder than the high-band, you can easily make that happen). The other control – with the wiggly arrow icon – toggles what appears (there isn’t a manual so you have to work this out for yourself) to be a pan effect on/off. Off and the echo is placed centrally; on and the various repeats seem to move around the stereo image in a subtle fashion. It’s not overdone and the effect is very nice indeed.
In the remainder of each band, you get two ‘node’ based controls you can adjust. The larger circle sets two parameters. It’s horizontal position sets the delay time for that band and, if snap is on, the position of this node will snap to the vertical grid lines. With a 1/16th snap, position it on the fourth line from the left and you get 1/4-note delays and so on….
If you tap on the same control and drag up/down then the size of the circle changes. This controls the feedback setting for that delay band; the larger the circle, the more repeats you get and the louder they are to start with.
The final control – the second small circular ‘node’ in each band – is perhaps best left alone to start with. However, once you have got your head around the other controls, there is some extra fun to be had by tapping this and dragging both left/right and up/down. This parameter applies an LFO-based pitch modulation to the repeats and, when you drag, you get a visual impression of how strongly that effect will be applied. Used to extreme you can create some really off-the-wall effects but, equally, it is also possible to just add a subtle hint of pitch variation; very cool.
Can you hear me… me… me…?
Given that we have three frequency bands to play with here, and that each can be configured independently to provide repeats from the same audio source, it almost goes without saying that Vandelay can do ‘unconventional’ delay-based treatments. However, before I get to that, don’t dismiss this as just for the more creative, experimental types. If you just focus on one band and mute the other two, then you can get some very effective – and fairly conventional – echo treatments from the app. Oh, and it sounds very good indeed in that role.
However, the real fun (and it is real fun) starts once you engage more than one band. A word of advice here; when you first start to explore the app, do it with a very simple sound source. I started with Funkbox playing a pattern that consisted of just a single snare hit on beat 1. It took me the best part of an hour to get beyond that because, by the time I’d explored the presets, and created a few of my own variations where each frequency band was set to a different repeat time, I’d already created several complete rhythmic patterns based on just that single snare hit. Tonal variation was provided courtesy of the three different frequency band and the results were absolutely fabulous. This is one heck of a creative tool for what is essentially just a delay effect.
Feed the app with something more complex as a sound source and you then have to be a little more restrained in terms of the processing otherwise things can get out of hand. That said, there are lots of creative possibilities to be had and, if you exploring like complex rhythms, even if they are built on something that itself is not so complex, then this is a brilliant tool for doing so.
As mentioned earlier, Vandelay comes ready for iOS8, Audiobus and IAA. I did most of my testing via Audiobus and I had no problems feeding audio from other apps into the effect or passing the processed audio on to a DAW app in the Audiobus Output slot (Cubasis in my case).
However, I also had no difficulty using the app as either an Insert or Send effect via IAA within Cubasis. Whether you want to coax some conventional delay treatments from it, or create something a little more left-field, it worked fine via this route. You do, of course, need to match Vandelay’s tempo setting to your project’s tempo whichever way you choose to route the audio. Otherwise, the app seems pretty solid and plays nicely with other iOS music apps.
As with SquashIt, this is audio only; there is no MIDI automation of parameters… but don’t let this put you off. Like SquashIt, this is an app well worth owning.
UK£1.99 is not a lot of money. Indeed, as I’ve commented elsewhere on the blog, I’m often left more than a touch puzzled as to how we iOS musicians manage to get quite such creative music software for such modest prices. Vandelay is a classic example of this.
OK, if your budget is based on the pocket money you receive from the grown-ups in your life, I can appreciate that UK£1.99 might be a significant portion of your weekly allowance. However, for the grown-ups in the audience, if you have purchased that iPad in the first place, then I guess this qualifies as a chump-change casual purchase.
It’s a purchase that’s well worth making though…. Vandelay sounds great and, once you have got your head around the control set (it doesn’t take long but a brief set of help notes would be good to see), it is a pleasure to use. It is also hugely creative; feed it even the most simple of drum beats and you can create all sorts of interesting variations from it. It will also do conventional delay treatments if you just focus on a single band.
Either way, Vandelay is a heck of a lot of app for a very modest price. Top-notch stuff and comes highly recommended.