Review: meta DJ

Back in September, Sound Trends released their latest iPad Music App, meta DJ. At the time it had a mixed reception, but Sound Trends has been hard at work answering the requests of their users. With 6 updates now, adding everything from Audio PasteBoard importing to performance recording, I felt it was time to give this "50% DJ - 50% Producer" app a look.

50% DJ

If you are at all familiar with DJ software like Native Instrument's Traktor, then this is going to be immediately familiar to you. If you are not familiar with DJ software, then God have mercy on you because the tutorials and manual won't; more on that later.

The slimmed down TrackDeck gives you all of the controls you need, including the ability to do hot loops by tapping the loop size selector. They managed to cram a lot of features into a tiny space. Some features are missed, like tempo nudge, but they try to make up for it with BPM scaling (1/2x, 1x, 2x the auto-detected BPM).

Tracks seem to sync up nicely, though I had some issues with a couple of tracks that had odd time-signatures or too many tempo changes. For acoustic tracks that don't perfectly match their BPM you can assign the down beat to re-align the grid. The BPM can be synced via MIDI (and Virtual MIDI) to play along with other apps like Genome, but I had severe issues with running any other apps in background audio mode. The MIDI sync should probably be left to syncing with external devices or computers.

If you turn off sync you can even beat-juggle, like Ean Golden, with the 4 Hot Ques. The buttons are highly responsive, making this modern style of DJing possible!

25% Producer

In addition to the obvious DJ TrackDeck you can assign several other "instruments" into the 4 deck slots. There is the new Riser mini-synth, keyboard sampler, one-shot sampler, drum machine and Looper; based on Sound Trends other app Looptastic. Several of these are surprisingly robust, the sampler and Looptastic implemntations are great. The Drumtron drum machine has some wild results that make it very playful. Each instrument has it's own effects pannel with X/Y controller and lots of effects choices.

The Loop Store initially looked to me like a ploy for in-app purchase money, but they supply a huge amount of free loops in addition to the premium ones. All of that said though, there are better and easier avenues available on iOS for producing original music. All of these instruments add greatly to the DJing experience, allowing for your own variations and highlights to come into the mix, but out of the DJ context they seem less inviting.

Feature Creeper

Some features are buried and lost in the whole package, as they attempt to meet all of their users' requests. I don't fault them for this; in fact I think it is a great bit of engineering to cram all this into one app. The Pasteboard implementation is the worst offender here, necessitating a convoluted route to import your own samples.
I had to get help from the Dev to figure this one out:

"Create a new Looptastic "loopset" using EDIT, hit the + sign to add a loop, then go to LoopSets and you will see Audio Pasteboard."

I won't knock them for that though, because I'd rather have to go through the process than not have it available at all!

25% Support

What I will fault them on is the low priority they have given to maintaining their support material. Hitting the "Help" button in the app takes you to the wrong page, and even if it was working, it was intended to take you to their forums instead of a simple manual. The current manual is also admittedly outdated by their aggressive update cycle. I feel terrible pointing out the flaws they've raised by trying to make their app meet all of their user's expectations, but I think the over-all experience for new-users suffers from the disorganized tutorials and outdated manual. If their tutorials were clearer or the manual maintained (and readily available) this could be a great introductory app for anyone who has ever thought about DJing.

100% Fun

This is much closer to the modern DJ experience, than any of the many goofy DJ apps out there that are merely screechy-scratch emulators. I was able to immediately transfer my knowledge of Traktor to playing around in meta DJ. I would expect folks could make the same journey in reverse, while having a lot of fun. That is understated and buried in all of this critical analysis, but I had quite a lot of fun with it. I don't think you're likely to be creating the most amazing mixes, but it is fun to just mess around in it!

As an example of its power, and my fresh mixing skills, I wanted to give it a tricky test. Any app or idiot can mix an 120BPM Electronica track with another 120BPM Electronica track, so for this test I wanted to mix in an entirely acoustic track. Kronos Quartet's "Lux Aeterna" was handled very well, and I threw it on-top of Morgan Page's "The Longest Road" ... because Morgan's stuff sounds so beautiful it makes anything sound better! This is not a very clean mix, but it is an honest one, featuring my own fuck-ups as well as a few instances of meta DJ's loop buffer fighting me when BPM Sync was on. I was having a lot of fun putting this together though, and I think that is the most important part of any music experience.

iPad Music App Buyer’s Guide Rating: Awesome!

Recommendation: A truly modern DJ app, this is as close as it gets to Traktor Mobile.

Buy meta DJ - DJ. Mix. Beats. on iTunes: $19.99

No One Can Play Music

The way I record all of my videos is with a Cydia (Jailbreak) app called Display Recorder. I have no idea why Apple won't approve it for the App Store, but they won't so I've got to be Jailbroken in order to do anything. Due to a series of collosal fuck-ups and the way Apple signs iOS versions, I had to do a "Restore" which upgraded my iPad 2 to 5.1. As there is no Jailbreak for A5 Devices on 5.1, I have been imprisoned.

This blows. I have been keeping to my schedule of a new Everyone Can Play Music to every other week, but today that streak has ended. I will have to indefinitely postpone the series, but it will return the Friday following the release of a 5.1 Jailbreak for iPad 2. There are other ways of recording the screen, but they are either somewhat expensive and very expensive. Neither of which will show my finger touches the way that Display Recorder does, and I feel that is a really important part of the videos.

In lieu of a new video, and to demonstrate why I don't just record over-the-shoulder with a cam, please enjoy my first tutorial! Viewers who have been watching my series up to this point should be able to follow it, and hopefully get something out of it since I go over stuff we haven't gotten to in ECPM.

Buy Korg iMS-20 on iTunes: $32.99

Wooji Juice Likes IK Multimedia's Package

Wooji Juice, developer of Grain Science (link to review), recieved a package from IK Multimedia with some of their gear to play with. He set about with their iRig Mic in tow, recording random shit in the office. He then tweaked them madly and released the results for us all.

This is a really good demo of how much you can twist sounds up with Grain Science! He notes that:
I've marked the original recordings on the timeline -- every sound, no matter how weird it sounds, is based on the same recording (until you reach the next marker).

So all of the crazy in the first minute is a bunch of variations on just that first recording of glass being struck!

Buy Grain Science on iTunes: $9.99

Shapesynth and Sinusoid Updates Preview (*Correction*)

Kinetic developer, Humble Tune, is hard at work and play! Not only is he readying the Kinetic update, he's been updating his other apps. Shape Synth, a polysynth with user drawn waveshapes, and Sinusoid, an 8-bit tracker, were recently put through their paces in an internal test of the updates. I really like the sounds he's getting here, and it makes me think I should take a closer look at these! In the Soundcloud description he hints that "all sounds created on iPad", so they could be going Universal like Kinetic is! Update: They are not going Universal! I just spoke with Humble Tune and that is not in the plans... in fact Kinetic isn't either, but he liked that idea for Kinetic, so it may do so now. I feel like I've just caused a time paradox or something. I have no idea where I got the idea that Kinetic was going to be Universal, but now it might because I thought that it would...

Here is a little demo of Shapesynth and Sinusoid from Humble Tune beta tester, Wharf99.

Thanks to Ashley Elsdon for pointing this out!

Buy Shapesynth on iTunes: $1.99

Buy Sinusoid on iTunes: $1.99

How-to: Install csGrain on iPad 1 (non-jailbreak hack)

Yesterday the Internet was Twittering about the new csGrain app, and the news that it was restricted to iPad 2 & 3ish devices. Fear not faithful iPad 1 owners! Reader Rafeal Ollero, pointed out a simple hack people had used to get iPhoto onto iPad 1s. I knew that another reader, Clif Johnston, had already purchased a copy for his iPad 2 and had an iPad 1 collecting dust, so I asked him to give the hack a shot. As you can probably guess by the fact that you are reading this, the results were a success!

Here's how to get things going:
1. Buy csGrain from your Mac or PC. (It won't let you on your iPad 1!)
2. Download and install Apple's iPhone Configuration Utility. (Windows or Mac)
3. Connect your iPad and Sync with iTunes.
4. Launch the iPhone Configuration Utility and click Application on the left.
5. Click “Add” in the top left corner, then locate csGrain on your Hard Drive.
6. Below Applications and under the hood “Devices” you should see your iPad.
7. Click on your iPad and search for csGrain in the list of applications that will appear on the right side.
8. Click on csGrain and select install. In just a bit it will be installed successfully on your iPad 1!

There are some caveats. You will get nagged when you sync with iTunes "This computer is not authorized for apps installed…." and you'll have to hit cancel. Functionally csGrain will perform fine so long as you don't go crazy with the effects. Or in Clif's words:

I was able to use most of the effects as long as I left the pitch shifter alone and took it easy on the sync grain. I had 3 or 4 effects going at a time with randomize on for multiple parameters and it worked better than I had expected. I could get it to break up if I got silly, but it generally performed well. The one thing I was impressed with was that despite all of my efforts, the app only crashed once, even when it was noticeably struggling. The one time it did crash though, it completely crashed my iPad which then went into an automatic reboot. Luckily, such events don't freak me out, but it's worth noting.

He did an amazing job of putting the app through its paces and even went the extra mile of recording and exporting a little jam! He is incredibly modest; insisting the abrupt end was due to a phone call. I know serendipitous brilliance when I hear it! The end of his performance perfectly captures the moment of horrific realization when, in man's ineffable struggle against nature, he learns that his true enemy is himself!

Disclaimer: If you do this do not expect support from Apple, Boulanger Labs, Clif, Rafael or myself. This is a hack, and while it is perfectly legal, you take your own chances! Success or failure is entirely up to you! I'm just providing this information to help iPad 1 owners get more out of their devices. Do not even buy this with my link if you think you might fail, because I don't want you to be pissed off with me when you can't get it working!

Buy csGrain on iTunes: $9.99

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