Apps reviewed by Francis Preve.
In our previous installments, we covered this season’s trawl of iPhone synthesis tools. This time out, we’ve assembled a collection of the latest beatboxes for everyone’s favorite smartphone. From iZotope’s ever expanding range of iDrum apps to Jordan Rudess’ utterly innovative approach to interactive grooves, there’s a lot of nitftiness in the iPhone drum machine arena. Here’s a sampling (no pun intended) …
Price: $4.99 - $5.99
When we reviewed the original iDrum in our now-classic October 2008 iPhone issue, we had no clue that the über-elegant drum machine would also turn into a killer vehicle for artists and labels. In two short years, iDrum has blossomed into a nano-platform unto itself, with tasty flavors that will satisfy even the most discerning sweet tooth.
Here’s a sampling of the growing catalogue of iDrum variants (deep breath): Hip-Hop Edition, Club Edition, Ministry of Sound Anthems, Underworld Edition, Rock Edition, Beatboxing Edition, Depeche Mode Sounds of The Universe, Major Lazer, Video Game Edition, and Ministry of Sound Trance Anthems.
If you haven't yet flicked your fingers around iDrum's clever interface, point your iTunes app at the Depeche Mode edition and feast your ears on a slew of kits devoted to our favorite electro-pop legends’ new album.
Developer: The Elionze Group
Every time I see this app’s name, my mind invariably locks onto a similarly titled South Park song, but I digress …
FingerBeat's interface occupies an interesting middle ground between iDrum's form-follows-function approach and Intua Beatmaker’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink feature frenzy. The result is an enjoyable blend of drum machine and sampler that offers a vertical Roland-esque grid sequencer, pads for realtime entry, and a clever keyboard input mode that makes melodic riffs an enjoyable task.
Unlike Beatmaker, there are no added effects for processing tracks in your mix. And unlike iDrum, you can record your own samples with the iPhone 3G or 3GS built-in microphone (iPhone 2G users will need an external mic via V-Moda headsets and the like).
Don't feel like sampling? Then use the mic input to sing along over your grooves. The only caveat there is that you can’t actually record an additional audio track — in this version, at least. Who knows what the next rev of this nifty app will bring?
JR Hexatone Pro
Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess has teamed up with Amidio to break a bunch of rules along with a ton of new ground via his wholly unique JR Hexatone Pro.
When you first fire up Hexatone, you’re greeted with an interface that evokes both District 9’s escape pod dashboard and a game of Chinese checkers. This hexagonal interface requires a totally new approach to pattern sequencing - and make no mistake, even seasoned users may well give up and go back to lines and grids, but they'd just be missing out.
Those users who give Hexatone a bit of patience and a lot of manual reading will be rewarded with a sample-based groove instrument that goes beyond the iPhone’s screen and delves into the possibilities lurking within its accelerometer. Wanna stutter like BT? Tilt it one way. Add a bit of nano-corrected chorusing? Tilt it in a different direction. Electronica and IDM composers will be lost for days in these possibilities.
Stocked with over 400 samples — many of which were created by Rudess — Hexatone’s sonic flexibility is extensive to say the least, especially once you start tinkering with its pitch and reverse options.
Hexatone is a deep program that may not appeal to the instant-gratification set, so before you plunk down your ten bucks, you’ll probably want to review the video below once or twice to see if you're ready for all it offers — because Hexatone offers a lot. (If you can’t see the video in the window below, click here.)
When the iPhone first launched, I reviewed Roventskij's IR-909 (a TR-808-style drum machine) and pondered, “How long will it be before someone releases a Propellerhead ReBirth clone for the iPhone?”
Well, that wait is over with a bang. Audiorealism’s technoBox is a full-fledged Roland-style extravagasm, combining an 808/909 sampled beatbox and a darn skippy TB-303 model. Navigating the interface is blissfully straightforward. Tap a teeny-tiny icon at the top of the screen to switch between the drum machine and the 303, then work your techno magic.
Even sausage-fingered iPhone junkies can whiz around in the drum machine section, thanks to technoBox’s dual rows of large step programming buttons. That said, we were kinda miffed at the fact that the lights don’t flash across each step as the sequence plays — a crucial aspect of the Roland interface that we think needs to be addressed post-haste.
The 303 section includes all the same synth parameters as the original, with one nifty twist: The waveform is continuously variable, instead of the either-or saw/square of the original. This gives technoBox a bit more flexibility in the synthesis department. What’s more, the filter excels at that juicy resonant belch that makes the original so sought after.
Granted, the 303 sequencer interface is so slavishly devoted to the original the programming your own riffs will recreate the original’s head-scratching as well. But the bottom line here is that the tools that launched thousands of rave tracks are now available between calls and really sound superb.
Digital Bass Line (DB-303)
Developer: Pulse Code, Inc.
Speaking of the venerable TB-303, Pulse Code, Inc. has their own take on the Roland classic that's a lot cheaper than plunking down two grand on eBay.
How does it sound? Darn good. Perhaps a tad more accurate than the one in technoBox, partly due to the included delay and distortion stompboxes which were de rigueur back in the day. The only catch here is that there's no drum machine of any sort to compliment it, so solo 303 riffs are your only option here.
We're inclined to think that Pulse Code will be playing catch-up in the drum machine area soon, so keep your eyes on the iTunes website for an upgrade that will bring DB-303 a step closer to being a true ReBirth clone.
Until then, technoBox is your go-to app for acid drenched goodness.
Thanks for reading! Next time out, we’ll take a closer look at remixing, DJ-oriented, and loop-based tools. Stay tuned!