Way back in 2001, I reviewed Waldorf’s first iteration of attack, a percussion-centric soft synth that was surprisingly capable, even in an era of constrained RAM and megahertz CPU speeds. At the time, I was a huge fan, but as my OS, DAW, and production needs changed with the times, Attack fell through the cracks. Now that Waldorf has updated and enhanced this remarkable drum synth for iOS—adding clever sequencing features and new effects, and doubling the number of sounds in a kit from 12 to 24—it was time to re-evaluate Attack.
Because of its focus on beat-making, Attack’s synth engine is decidedly optimized for percussion, to the extent that neither of its envelopes include a sustain segment. Each sound in a kit consists of two oscillators, which include the usual synth waveforms, white noise, and the ability to load samples. Oscillator 1 also includes the ability to add FM from oscillator 2, with the option of adding an envelope to its amount, which is great for both classic FM effects as well as inharmonic sidebands. The oscillators feed a multimode resonant filter that also includes comb and bit-crushing modes. After the filter is a four-mode distortion circuit for adding additional grit.
Modulation amenities are extremely straightforward. There’s a dedicated sine/triangle LFO for the filter cutoff, which can be synced to tempo for clever rhythmic sweeps. Dual ADR envelopes (with continuously variable curves) can be simultaneously assigned to a wide variety of parameters, including oscillator pitch, FM amount, mixer, and of course, filter and amp. Some of the curve settings are wonderfully snappy, perfect for really sharp transients.
Finally, there’s a “crack” generator, which was one of my favorite features on the original Attack software. Essentially, this is downward ramp LFO that includes parameters for depth, rate, and most importantly, the number of cycles. What makes this so cool is that you can use it to create classic analog clap sounds by setting the speed and depth to fairly extreme amounts, then limiting the number of repeats to three or four. This creates a quick repeating burst at the beginning of a sound, which is essentially how the Roland TR-808 and 909 achieved their distinctive character.
In addition to a global reverb and compressor, each sound can be sent to one of four inline effects slots which run the gamut from essentials like delay, flanger, and EQ to an extremely unique speech synthesizer that can be quickly programmed to say anything by simply inputting text – much like Waldorf’s Nave soft synth. Each of the four processors also includes its own send for the global reverb.
The original Attack soft synth didn’t include sequencing tools, but in an iPad app it makes total sense. Fortunately, Waldorf’s implementation is quite straightforward, thanks to its X0X-style grid layout. Creating songs is a breeze too, thanks to a graphic, drag-and-drop approach to pattern arrangement that makes it extremely easy to edit your compositions on the fly. And if you prefer tapping in your parts in real time, a pad mode allows access to all 24 drums, MPC-style.
It’s been a long time since I worked with Attack, and the new iPad version was a strong reminder of why I loved it so much in the first place. Adapting existing soft synths to a touchscreen interface can be tricky business, but Waldorf’s development team has done a terrific job at making the iPad version a true joy to use. If you’re just getting into iOS apps and want a groovebox you won’t quickly outgrow, Waldorf Attack is 20 bucks well spent.
PROS Flexible and comprehensive synthesis tools, optimized for percussion. Integrated pattern sequencer with intuitive song arrangement tools. Four independent effects include an innovative speech synthesizer. Audiobus and Inter-App audio support.
CONS No MIDI sync or WIST. An absolute must-have for iPad groovebox fans.