Originally released in 2008, Korg’s DS-10 micro-studio for the Nintendo DS quickly gained a cult-like following—especially in Japan—thanks to its combination of dual monosynths and a barebones analog drum machine. In a way, its clever design and real-world usefulness were precursors to our current mobile production universe. So it comes as no surprise that Korg would port the underlying technology to iOS, adding a bunch of cool new features and a few unusual limitations that keep it a little too true to the original.
Like the DS-10, the iDS-10 is based on two MS-20-like monosynths (complete with virtual patchcords), an analog drum machine with editable sounds, and an integrated pattern sequencer. Expanding on that foundation, the iOS version ups the ante by including a combination vocoder/speech synthesizer that sounds fantastic and is clearly inspired by the robotic voices in Daft Punk’s classic dance hits.
The design of each synth is quite flexible, with some very well-implemented amenities that give them more sonic range than you’d notice at first glance. For example, while the voice architecture is a straightforward dual-oscillator-plus-multimode-filter affair, each oscillator is slightly different. Oscillator one includes pulse-width control, while oscillator two offers extremely wide tuning options. Moreover, each oscillator features a different noise type, white noise and bit-crushed digital noise, respectively. These details are easy to miss, even if you’re familiar with synthesis, making the iDS-10 great fun to explore.
Sliding the synth panel to the left reveals a baby modular section with control inputs for VCO pitch (both summed and individual), PWM for VCO 1, cutoff, and VCA. Modulation sources include an LFO with four waveform outputs, the ADSR envelope generator, and VCO 2, which is great for harsh FM sonorities. Each synth also sports discrete effects, including delay, reverb, chorus, and EQ.
The drum synth includes kick, snare, hi-hats, a tom and a percussion synth. Each has its own set of parameters, adding flexibility from classic 808/909 sounds to more exotic IDM options.
The vocoder is a real treat, and for some producers it could be worth the price of admission. It can function in two modes, speech synthesis and sampling, so you can either input text or sample your own voice (or any sound the iPhone mic can capture) for use as the modulator source. An array of vocoder parameters gives the section a lot of sonic depth, too
Gluing everything together is a pattern-based sequencer with an easy-to-understand grid editor for each instrument. Sequences can be programmed in step mode or real time, with nearly every parameter offering straightforward automation by twisting knobs in Record mode. You can also constrain the synths to specific keys and scales and create custom lengths and tempos for each pattern. And Korg manages to keep everything straightforward and intuitive. I didn’t need the manual once during my tests.
iDS-10 is great little doodle pad for iPhone 6 and iPad users looking to kill time on the subway or in coffeehouses. Though it’s not yet compatible with Audiobus or Inter-App software, you can export creations via SoundCloud, AudioCopy, Dropbox, and iTunes File Sharing. Since iDS-10’s original release last winter, Korg has released version 2.0, so new features are always on the way. The vocoder alone is still worth $20, especially for dance music producers.
Pros Dual mono synths with two oscillators, multimode filters, semi-modular modulation routing. Drum kit has editable analog-style instruments. Flexible vocoder and voice synthesizer. Integrated sequencers, mixer, effects. UI compatible with iPad resolutions.
Cons UI is a tad cramped on iPhone 5s. No AudioBus or Inter-App audio.
Daft Punk on your iPhone.