Home screenBy Francis Preve
The Fairlight CMI debuted in 1980 as the first commercially available sampler, and throughout the ’80s, dominated the records of anyone who could aff ord one. A basic unit cost $25,000, with later and expanded models increasing in price. Since only 300 were made, collectors still seek out working systems. Can an iPad app really duplicate the CMI magic? Let’s find out.
Touch the retro-looking on/off knob, and a graphic of a floppy disk appears, followed by a brief burst of Fairlight music. Only then can you begin playing. Fairlights were amazingly intuitive in their time, but today, the UI comes off like the Son of DOS, so if you’re unfamiliar with the original, prepare yourself for a bit of manual reading and YouTubewatching to get the hang of it.
There are three levels of interaction: sampling, creating instruments, and sequencing. In addition, the entire Series IIx sound library and part of the Series III library come with the Pro version. Cruising through the more than 500 presets is a traipse down new wave memory lane. There’s a Depeche Mode sound here, a Thomas Dolby patch there, an ABC stab over there. It’s astonishing how many signature ’80s sounds were Fairlight factory patches. If you don’t need user sampling and sequencing, you can snag the basic Player app for $9.99 and get the whole Series IIx library
Sampling is a breeze. You can import AIFF or WAV audio files as instruments, or record your own sounds through the iPad mic or compatible audio hardware. I recommend recording into the app. Sampling in the original Fairlight added a teeny bit of aliasing that gave it an extremely distinctive sound. It’s like hearing everything through a slight mist of mercury vapor—there’s an airy quality that’s hard to describe but pleasant to the ear.
Once you’ve sampled your sound, there’s not much you can do except edit the start and end points, add looping, and adjust the attack and release of the volume envelope. You don’t get filters, LFOs, matrix modulation, or effects, but that’s fine with me. After all, it���s a Fairlight.
Editing samples.The Page R sequencer paved the way for how we now compose electronic music, and is faithfully duplicated here. Everything is realtime and quantized, much like a classic drum machine. Just choose a note length and tap in your part using one of the instruments. Each track is monophonic, but again, that’s part of the app’s charm. The limitations force you to think differently about composition, which can open vistas of creativity for the open-minded.
Both the Player and Pro apps support CoreMIDI, so iPad interfaces ( e.g., IK iRig MIDI, Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer, or Akai SynthStation) mean you can do a lot more than noodle on the subway—if you have an iPad, you have a Fairlight in your studio! Th e apps also work with the iPhone and iPod Touch if you can stand some serious squinting at all the stuff onscreen.
Extended use of our review version (1.1) uncovered two gremlins we hope get corrected in a future update. First, there’s audible glitching in sequences if you let them run long enough. Second, when assigning sounds in Instrument Edit mode, a different sound than what’s shown onscreen will sometimes (but not consistently) trigger. Leaving the page and returning fixes this.
Page R sequencer.Overall, we’re in love with Fairlight Pro. It’s a slice of synth history that fits in your backpack. Birds versus pigs? Video chat? Pshaw. For keyboardists with a taste for the ’80s, this is the killer app for iOS
PROS All the sounds and features of the Fairlight CMI Series IIx sampling workstation. CoreMIDI compatible. Records samples and imports audio files. Works with iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.
CONS It’s so true to the original that every time you load a sound , you hear brief “disk drive” chatter before you can play.
PRICE $49.99 at Apple App Store $49.99 at Apple App Store