I'm usually so busy tinkering and experimenting that I never actually finish anything. This week NanoStudio inspired me so much I ended up making a complete song! This "studio" app is truly that, offering multiple tracks, lots of MIDI goodness, effects galore and some interesting instruments. Originally an iPhone app, NanoStudio is now universal and I received a request to review it on the iPad.
Your initial purchase nets you 6 instrument tracks, with an additional $5 In-App Purchase unlocking a total of 16. This is the only In-App Purchase available, so it isn't going to continue to nickel & dime you. I didn't feel restrained by the track limitation, but it was somewhat disappointing. On these instrument tracks you can assign a keyboard instrument or a MPC-style drum machine, exactly as in BeatMaker 2. For those of you not keeping track, that's a total of 2 instruments, but for the most part they are all you'll need. There are also a bunch of nice effects to slather all over your mix as either inserts, sends or instrument specific chains.
Serpent of Eden
The Eden keyboard instrument has several different modes, so it can be used as a sampler or several different flavors of subtractive synth. You may import your own samples and it does a fairly good job in this regard. You get the same level of control over your sound in either synth or sampler mode; with multiple envelopes, 4 LFOs, a nice Mod Matrix, and 2 X/Y controllers. I had a lot of fun exploring the synthesis options in here, including 2 Osc Mixed, Ring-mod, and Sync'd.
It is by no means a replacement for dedicated synth apps that let you really tweak the hell out of them, though. Major omission are modulating pulse-width or detune, both of which are sorely missed when playing around in the Mod matrix. The matrix itself is a small, but clean, implementation that fits nicely into the screen real estate.
Yo Dawg, we put Pads in your Pad!
The Pads instrument is a nice drum machine, including a built-in sample editor if you need to get your hands dirty. I was especially pleased to find it has 3 bus outputs, each with its own filter and effects send knobs, to split up your drums without requiring multiple instrument instances. It seems well suited to both single-hits as well as drum loops. I can't emphasize enough how much I appreciate being able to do both of these things on the same instrument; to manage it all on the same MIDI page, but have different outputs and effects.
MIDI Standards don't come standard
Physical MIDI input is handled well, but Virtual MIDI and MIDI out is handled not at all. It is a simple matter to set which MIDI Channels each instrument should be listening to, and I had no problems sending a bunch of MIDI all at once from Ableton Live. The absence of MIDI Out is compounded by the lack of Virtual MIDI support. This is one area where BeatMaker 2 has gained a lot of popularity as a studio solution. Eden is great, but I'd love to have dedicated synths doing their own unique stuff as well.
NanoSync, not as bad as it seems...
Another area of concern is exporting which is limited to sending it straight up to SoundCloud, copying into Audio Pasteboard or using NanoSync. iTunes file-sharing is not an option. NanoSync requires you to install an additional application on your PC or Mac in order for it to do anything, but once it does you can easily import and export. It is a clean and simple application, but I was initially put-off by the requirement. I spoke with the developer about this and he explained that this is a hold-over from before iTunes file-sharing and is included still to maintain compatibility with older iOS devices, as well as allow for a folder structure to keep samples tidy. I can respect both of these reasons, especially maintaining support for older iOS devices. Like I said, though, I found the requirement to install additional software to be a bother.
The real reason you want this!
The note editor managed a score of 4 "Frustrated Fucks" uttered. This is a great score, and well below the average Par 12 for iOS note editors. All of the gestures and buttons are intuitive and immediately useable! This is absolutely one of the best MIDI note editors out there, and I can see why some people love this app so much. All of my criticisms are trumped by how well executed this is. I had a fun and straight-forward time of recording my playing on a MIDI keyboard, and then moving things around to find where they fit best. This allowed me to just play and make a song, which is a surprisingly rare feat for any app to accomplish.
This song uses only the samples and synths included, and was mixed entirely in NanoStudio. The structure is vaguely Nirvana, and the effects/mixing were done in the style of grunge, but the core is all me! I present Terrible Purpose; which is, not coincidentally, my name for my dick.