At NAMM, Korg announced an all-in-one multitrack music-making app called Gadget. I’ll be candid here: I’ve been very skeptical about iOS as a full-on recording environment. Sketchpad? Absolutely. Creating audio and loops for importing into my primary DAW? I’ve done it countless times. Actually completing a polished track on an iPad? Reply hazy at best. Of course, all of Korg’s previous iOS synths have been world-class examples of what’s possible in iOS. So, with everyone at NAMM buzzing about it, I swung by the Korg booth for a demo and was duly impressed. When I got home, I downloaded my own copy and got to work.
PROS: Fifteen specialized instruments that run the gamut of synthesis techniques. Powerful sequencing tools are actually easy to use. Very intuitive use of touchscreen. Great sounding mixer and effects deliver professional results. Export, WIST, and social media integration.
CONS: No user sampling or external audio recording.
Bottom Line: The best iPad electronic music production tool on the planet—period.
$38.99 | korg.com
Gadget’s synthesis engine is a monster, including modeled analog, FM, phase modulation, vector synthesis, wavetable synthesis, and a few sample-based synths for things like drums, special effects, and acoustic instruments. But instead of putting all that power into a complex and confusing interface, they distilled it into 15 distinct soft synths that run inside the Gadget environment. Each of these is optimized for a different aspect of electronic music composition and named after a different city.
For starters, there are two drum synths—London and Tokyo—that cover the bases for sampled and analog modeled sounds, respectively. London includes a huge assortment of drums and some really sweet editing features, like per-drum control over tuning, duration, reverse, punch, low boost, and the ability to apply an onboard effect that can be anything from gated reverb to granular delay. Tokyo is a simple virtual analog affair that offers customizable kick, snare/clap, toms, and percussion.
Speaking of analog, the next four city-themed synths—Chicago, Berlin, Phoenix, and Dublin—all sound fantastic and cover a specialized range of the analog world. Chicago is Gadget’s TB-303 emulation and does a great job of evoking the original, especially in the filter and distortion departments. Berlin is a monophonic synth that specializes in hard sync effects. Phoenix is Gadget’s polyphonic offering (see image), and it both looks and sounds reminiscent of the legendary Oberheim OB-Xa, sporting dual oscillators and a sweet-sounding lowpass filter. Dublin is another monosynth and handles more like a Moog, with a few faux-modular interface elements thrown in to keep things interesting.
On the mainstream digital side, Marseille, Wolfsburg, and Brussels deliver the essentials. Marseille is a ROMpler covering necessities like piano, strings, brass, and such, but with the addition of a nifty Chord button that works in conjunction with the global key signature and mode settings to make clever one-finger progressions absurdly easy. Wolfsburg has that icy digital-analog sound that strongly evokes the vibe of a Nord or Virus, whereas Brussels is the monophonic go-to synth for super-saw festival leads.
In the realm of more exotic digital tools are Kiev, Helsinki, Miami, Chiangmai, and Kingston. Kiev is a nifty little vector synth with lovely modulation amenities and a fantastic wavetable. Helsinki excels at ethereal textures with an additive flair. Miami does dubstep wobbles with grit and swagger. Chiangmai is Gadget’s DX clone, and Kingston’s specialty is arcade sounds and chip tune leads.
Rounding out the collection is a “boom box” called Amsterdam that has four slots for sampled sound effects such as explosions and risers.
In addition to spot-on sounds and interfaces, most of these synths include integrated effects that are tailor-made for their character and go a long way toward eliminating the need for added processing and EQ in Gadget’s mixer, so the output of each synth is extremely polished. The attention to detail is stunning.
In four years of reviewing iPad DAWs and groovebox apps, I can honestly say the Gadget sequencer is is the best by far. It’s obvious that Korg’s engineers spent a lot of time analyzing top-notch computer DAWs, cherry-picking their most intuitive features, and then optimizing those functions for a touch screen interface.
Individual sequences are laid out in a manner that strongly evokes Ableton’s session view without being an outright rip-off. They even use the term “Scenes” for the pattern groups. What’s more, Gadget’s ability to view the piano roll and current synth simultaneously has a whiff of Propellerhead Reason about it. In practice, Gadget’s workflow is blissfully straightforward: Create a scene and then add individual synth tracks, each with its own associated sequence. Individual synth sequences can be any length, with the longest determining the overall duration of that scene. For example, a scene containing a one-bar drum loop, four-bar chord progression, and eight-bar lead will loop every eight bars. Delete the lead track and it becomes a four-bar sequence.
Arranging is even easier. Just drag your scenes around vertically until they’re in the right order, top to bottom, and hit Play. As each sequence completes, Gadget jumps to the next until it reaches the bottom scene, then loops endlessly.
Editing tools are kept to the bare essentials, but as with everything else in Gadget, they’re implemented so seamlessly that you don’t really miss the fussier functions, which, honestly, would just clutter everything up on an iPad.
Mixing and Effects
Gadget’s mixer includes panning and volume for every track, mute and solo buttons, a global reverb with individual send levels, and an adjustable limiter on the master bus. The reverb is a hall (with adjustable decay) and can’t be changed, but since almost every synth has its own integrated effects, you really don’t need much else besides this reverb. The limiter is also top-notch, with adjustable “intensity.” In fact, as I was working on my first sequence, I cranked up the knob and was instantly greeted with that punchy-bricky sound that’s essential for big-room tracks. Dialing it back imparted a more natural feel, yet still delivered the necessary impact for credible dance floor music.
Gadget comes with in-app social media sharing, WAV export to AudioCopy-compliant apps, and Korg’s WIST technology for wireless syncing. Audiobus support was added as of version 1.02, but a recent iPad—such as an Air or Retina-equipped Mini—is recommended. All this connectivity can come in handy, as about the only thing Gadget can’t do is record user samples or external audio —you’ll need to get outside of Gadget to put a lead vocal over your electronic opus, for example. Frankly, when you have 20 to 30 synth tracks cranking away on your iPad—as I did on my recently purchased iPad Air, and without a glitch—you won’t miss this ability. There’s even a freeze function that will up your track count by another 20 to 30 percent if you’re on an older unit.
From the moment I fired it up, Gadget completely blew me away. It’s the single best iPad electronic music tool I’ve ever used, hands down. Its 15 synths are so specialized, but collectively cover so much ground, that even newcomers can quickly find exactly the sounds they’re seeking. They’re also so well designed that it’s basically impossible to come up with a bad patch. The sequencing and arrangement functions are absolute best of breed for iOS. Even the limiter delivers Beatport-grade mastering for your exported songs. Finally, you can complete a no-compromise electronic track using nothing but an iPad. Buy. Gadget. Now.