WOW music app review – Sugar Bytes bring the ‘wow’ factor to the iPad

Download from iTunes App StoreWOW logo

As regular readers of the blog will be aware, I’m a bit of a fan of Sugar Bytes. I’m a regular user of both Turnado (a brilliantly creative multi-effects app) and Thesys (a very powerful step sequencer app) and, having enjoyed the iPad versions, I’ve now also started using the desktop equivalents as plugins.

Turnado and Thesys are not Sugar Bytes only desktop music products however and they have now released a further one of these in an iPad format; the WOW music app. In fact, this is WOW2 – also known as WOW Filterbox.

WOW's main interface - it packs a lot in to a small space but, in the main, is very well laid out.

WOW’s main interface – it packs a lot in to a small space but, in the main, is very well laid out.

As the name suggests, WOW is a filter effect app, combining various filters, distortion and modulators into a rather neat interface that makes excellent use of the iPad’s touchscreen. While it has an integrated audio player and recording options so you can use the app in a stand-alone mode and apply processing to any audio file, the app also supports Audiobus. It can appear in the Audiobus Input or Effect slot so, if you want to take a timid synth patch from an app in the Input slot, and turn it into a raging beast via WOW in the Effect slot, you can then record the end result via your favourite DAW app sitting in the Audiobus output slot.

WOW seems to play nicely with other apps via Audiobus.

WOW seems to play nicely with other apps via Audiobus.

In addition, WOW provides MIDI support. It will sync to MIDI clock and you can use the app’s MIDI Learn function to link a hardware controller to WOW if you want to play with its many parameters via hardware knobs rather than through touchscreen control.

Features that make you go ‘Wow!’

WOW is essentially a dedicated filter app effect. However, just as you could describe Turnado as a ‘multi-effects app’, this description doesn’t really do justice to what WOW has to offer as the range of features, and the depth of the creative possibilities should you choose to delve beyond the plentiful presets, is very impressive.

The key filter controls are housed in the centre-left red panel, with five main knobs and a whole range of other controls packed in to the compact space. The left edge is dominated by the preset panel, while the right side of the display contains an X-Y pad with three tap-able and drag-able controls, all of which can be linked to the filter’s parameters and can be moved simultaneously via three fingers. The base of the screen features – from left to right – a file selection panel (if you are using the app in stand-alone mode and want to load an audio file to process), a transport section with a tempo setting button (you can tap and drag to set the tempo exactly or just tap repeatedly) and a set of buttons that can be used to configure the X-Y pad controls and recall preset settings for them.

WOW features an impressive selection of filter options.

WOW features an impressive selection of filter options.

In total, WOW offers 21 different filter types with a selection of high pass, band pass, low pass and ‘special’ types to select from. In addition, to the usual cutoff and resonance controls in the central red panel, you get a distortion knob. There are 7 different distortion types that can be allocated to this control and these can be placed either before or after the filter for a wider variety of processing options. The two other main knobs control the wet/dry balance (useful as it allows you to just blend the filter effect in as much or as a little as required) and a volume knob, although this can be modulated and be used to create compressor effects when linked to other features in the app.

The filter can also be operated in a ‘vowel’ mode using the tiny strip of buttons immediately beneath the Cutoff knob. This knob then provides a blend between the two vowel sounds selected from the nine possibilities.

The app has 7 different distortion modes available.

The app has 7 different distortion modes available.

Oh, and if you are already reaching for your reading glasses at the sight of some of these compact controls, the app does include a ‘zoom’ mode that can be enabled from the Settings menu (the Cog button within the Transport panel). When switched on, if you double tap in an empty part of the interface, you can switch between a normal and a zoomed view.

All mod cons

Sitting alongside all these filter options, WOW also includes some fairly complex modulation features. These are bult around four different modulation engines; an envelope follower, an LFO, a step sequencer (great for gate-like effects) and the rather wonderfully named ‘Wobbler’ (essentially an LFO with a selection of 16 waveforms).

The lower portion of the red panel can be toggled between the different modulation engines. Here, the step sequencer engine is shown.

The lower portion of the red panel can be toggled between the different modulation engines. Here, the step sequencer engine is shown.

If these don’t sound like enough individually, they can be used to modulate each other and, given the flexibility with which you can assign these modulators to potential targets, the possibilities are almost limitless. You can link modulators to targets in two ways. First, the strip of controls at the base of the red control panel can be used or, if you tap and hold one of the main controls, you can then set how much each of the four modulation engines will influence that control.

For every control, tapping and holding brings up a dialog where you can set just how much influence each of the four modulation engines has on that specific parameter.

For every control, tapping and holding brings up a dialog where you can set just how much influence each of the four modulation engines has on that specific parameter.

This whole modulation system does take some time to get your head around but it is very flexible and, if you are geeky enough to spend some time with it, very deep. Those who like to program will have plenty to keep them occupied here but, if that’s not you, then don’t worry; pick one of WOW’s excellent presets and just see where it leads you.

Three-fingered gestures

While you can control the various filter settings via the modulation options and you can also, of course, just rotate the knobs themselves by tapping and dragging. In addition, the X-Y pad, with its support for up to three-finger motion detection is obviously a lot of fun. This is simply a case of tapping and dragging within the pad as you see fit.

Linking WOW parameters to the X-Y controller is very easy.

Linking WOW parameters to the X-Y controller is very easy.

Each of the three control points is linked to a pair of WOW’s individual parameters. Tapping on one of the colour coded ‘+’ buttons at the base of the display opens a panel where you can link parameters to a particular X-Y pad controller. This is all very easy to do.

The MIDI Learn features make it easy to link WOW to an external hardware controller if required.

The MIDI Learn features make it easy to link WOW to an external hardware controller if required.

Equally, linking an external MIDI hardware control to one of WW’s parameters is also fairly painless. Providing you have already got your MIDI hardware connected to your iPad (either wirelessly or via a MIDI interface of some sort), tapping and holding on one of WOW’s controls opens a small pop-up dialog. This includes a MIDI icon; tap on this (it lights up green) and the next MIDI control you move on your connected hardware controller is then linked to that WOW control. This MIDI Learn facility worked flawlessly with my own MIDI master keyboard (connected wirelessly to my iPad). In addition, my master keyboard also includes transport buttons and these also worked without needing any further configuration to start/stop playback in WOW.

Does WOW wow?

As I suspect you have already guessed, I quite like WOW. For anyone who likes to get creative with their audio processing – and this might be in dance, electronica, hip-hop or even sound design contexts – WOW is just a lot of fun, a lot of creative potential and a wealth of programming possibilities all wrapped up in a very compact package. If you are already a fan of Turnado, then I suspect you will also enjoy WOW.

WOW's filter also features a 'vowel' mode show 'active' here by the glowing red lips :-)

WOW’s filter also features a ‘vowel’ mode show ‘active’ here by the glowing red lips :-)

In my own experimentation with the app, I used it to process a range of different audio sources. It works particularly well with drum loops and it is easy to add some real character to even the most mundane of beats. With synths – even ones that, in themselves, are perhaps not that programmable – WOW does a similar job and can be used to transform sounds in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways. This was easy to configure with WOW sat in the Audiobus Effect slot, processing a synth app and passing the processed audio to a DAW.

The only downside of the app that I experienced during my testing was a couple of occasions when it just went belly-up on me. This only occurred a few times and, as far as I can recall, only after I’d done the recent iOS 7.0.2 update on my 3rd gen. iPad. My experience with other Sugar Bytes apps has always been that they are pretty solid so, whether the fault lies in the app itself or simply in some issue created by the 7.0.2 update to iOS, I’d expect Sugar Bytes to be on the case fairly quickly. All this said, this was just a few occasions and, in all other regards, the app performed very well indeed. [UPDATE: 2nd Oct. 2013. Sugar Bytes have confirmed to me that there is an OS-related bug and have already submitted a fix that is currently in Apple’s review queue. Hopefully it will be approved and available soon.]

Priced at UK£10.49, WOW Filterbox is at the ‘expensive’ end of the iOS music app market but, in the wider context of computer-based music software, is just another example of just how little money you actually have to spend as an iOS musician to buy powerful audio processing tools. If all you do is use WOW as a powerful filter effect full of excellent presets, then it is a brilliant tool. However, if you like getting your hands dirty and really dig in to what WOW has to offer, then there is a really powerful tool waiting to be tapped into.

As with Sugar Bytes brilliant Turnado, if you are a DJ or experimental electronic musician, then WOW Filterbox should be right up your street. Prepared to be WOW’ed :-)

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