iPad Music App Reviews :: TouchOSC // Sonorasaurus

In this entry, Tony Grund, a new friend and contributor to the Dubspot blog, reviews two new iPad applications for music production, TouchOSC and Sonorasaurus Rex.  Previous reviews, one on the iPad’s general features and production functionality, and another on two apps, Korg’s iElectribe and Looptastic HD, are also available for viewing.

TouchOSC Review
Get It or Forget It: I say get it!

TouchOSC for the iPad is a very cool controller for music and video software on your computer.  Originally made for the iPhone, it really blossoms into a pro application with the update that ports it to the iPad.

The basics of the application are this: on the iPad screen you have virtual faders, knobs, on/off buttons, triggers, XY effects planes (think Kaoss Pad), and more, that can control virtually any software that allows OSC or MIDI control.  TouchOSC connects to your computer wireless, and, using third party software, connects to your music or video software for instant control.








- The Basics -

TouchOSC is actually pretty amazing.  It is completely customizable and can control all aspects of the software, including the cursor and mouse buttons.  However using it requires a bit of setup complication, so I don’t really recommend it for those who aren’t willing to get their hands a bit dirty.  For example I set it up to use with Ableton live, so I had to install an extra piece of software called OSCulator (minimum donation of $19.99), which acts as a go-between to link the iPad to the software.  OSCulator appears as a piece of hardware in Live, so you just assign the MIDI i/o as usual in there.

The trickiness lies in getting the iPad to talk to the computer.  To do this, the best way is to set up a network on the computer, and then find and connect to it on the iPad.  Then, tell TouchOSC the name of the computer it should be looking for, and it should find it.  The first time through, there will be some trial and error, but once it’s up and running everything should flow pretty smoothly thereafter.  OSCulator has a pretty good tutorial on their website to make the process as painless as possible, and the creator, a guy named _________ seems to be really good at answering questions posted to the comments sections of his site.

To customize your layout, it basically works the same way; download the TouchOSC editor software (free), connect to the computer, make your layout, upload the customized layout created on the computer to the iPad.  If everything is connected correctly – this should only take a second or so – you’re ready to rock!

After I got everything up and running with Ableton Live, it worked exactly the same as my Akai MPD24.  Meaning I click on MIDI assign in Ableton, click the parameter I want to control, then move the virtual knob, fader, whatever, on the iPad.




- What I Like -

1. You can control virtually all aspects of the software and then some. Because TouchOSC is recognized as hardware (through OSCulator) it can control anything hardware can.  On a program like Live, this is a considerable amount of parameters.  But TouchOSC goes one step further and allows control over the mouse and mouse buttons, which opens up some interesting possibilities.

2. Customizable layouts.  Here is the real bonus to a virtual controller.  This can’t be overstated enough.  Gone are the days when you wish your controller had just one more fader or knob…  Need more?  Just make them!  And put them anywhere you want!







- What I Miss -

1. Over sensitive? TouchOSC is super responsive, which is a great thing, but this also means that if you accidentally brush the screen with your hand, you’re liable to make a jump in the level of something.  Especially since TouchOSC controls don’t care where you touch, they jump to that location regardless of where the fader image is.  This could be bad if you have a fader connected to a volume level on stage while running hot levels.  A friend suggested making the faders grab locked, meaning you have to actually touch the fader image to make the change.  I agree that this would be a great idea.

2. A better manual. The manual on TouchOSC, especially for iPad, leaves a lot to be desired.  This is probably because using it on the iPhone feels almost like a gimmick, as the screen is not really big enough to do anything really useful.  Not so with the iPad.  A huge screen equals more useful, equals more users.  The makers of TouchOSC will have to make a real manual if they want to really attract and keep customers.

3. The Wi-Fi connection is a bit temperamental. As always seems to be the case, when you’re doing something in rehearsal it always works fine until you get to the gig.  Everything worked fine for me in the studio, but when I ventured out onto a stage, it just didn’t want to connect up to control Live.  Of course, this is not the fault of TouchOSC, but just be warned that this is not plug n play software.  Things will probably go awry – at least at first – when you can afford it least.  Have a backup plan.




- Final Thoughts -

This is truly an interesting and exciting time we live in for making music.  The technology is really amazing, and people are stepping up to the plate, writing software that connects all this amazing technology together in ways that were almost unimaginable twenty years ago.  I expect to see great updates for TouchOSC in the future, as the iPad catches on with more musicians and the market opens up even further than it is now.

Even in this fledgling form, TouchOSC is software to get if you’re a geek like me and want to control parts of your set that in all rights shouldn’t even be controlled!  I would love to see more people on stage stepping away from their computers with the black slab of the iPad in their hand, connecting more with the audience while still connected to their computer.

Website: hexler.net/software/touchosc
Price: $4.99
Get it: phobos.apple.com






Sonorasaurus Rex Review
by: Tony GRUND

Get It or Forget It: Forget it (for now).

One thing that the iPad will be great for is DJing on the go.  Because of it’s small size, yet powerful processor, plus the touch screen capabilities, I imagine a world where DJs just throw an iPad in the bag and head off to a gig.  No need for laptop, turntables, or mixer.

But we’re not there yet.

Sonorasaurus Rex by Pajama House studios out of Sweden has the distinction of being pretty much the first DJ app made natively for the iPad.  It’s pretty good.  A very well laid out interface that looks cool and has just about everything you need is impaired by two very large drawbacks: no audio scrubbing, and laggy start/stop.  The hinderance of these two items means that, as much potential as it has, Sonorasaurus Rex just isn’t quite ready for on stage use.

The Basics -

Sonorasaurus Rex is a DJ app that is pretty easy to get going on.  It has well defined areas for the various important sections: Volume, EQ, FX, crossfade, audio pool, track waveform, speed control, and transport (start/stop and cues).  To load in a song, just tap the A or B decks to go into your audio pool and select the song to load.  It’s pretty straight forward.

Play the song and you’re off and away.  The EQ has three bands – high, mid, and low, and each one has two ways of using it: click and drag, or tap the left/right arrows to move the EQ up or down in small increments.

The effects are also pretty easy to use.  Click the effect name to turn that effect on or off, and use the faders below it to control the clearly labeled effect parameters.  The effects on offer are standard DJ fare: reverb, delay, flanged, stutter.  Distortion is also a choice, so for those of you into hardcore and EBM, rejoice!

A really cool feature in Sonorasaurus Rex is the ability to change the crossfade curves to suit your style of crossfading.  There are four choices, so you should be able to find one that mixes between the songs to your liking.

Because the iPad doesn’t have an audio interface (yet), it is really difficult to mix with.  There have been several approaches to this problem with DJ apps for the iPhone, ranging from visual styles that help you see what’s going on, to apps that split up the audio tracks into two mono signals to be mixed with a standard DJ mixer.

Sonorasaurus Rex has two approaches to this problem, one visual and one auditory.  The audio approach entails a headphone split, where one channel is a mono output, and the other channel is a mono monitoring channel.  This setup means that you don’t need any other hardware.  The only problem is that getting the proper gear together to make this implementation work takes some thinking and a trip to the local electronics shop.  You will need an eighth-inch stereo male to two female mono ports.  Plug your headphones into the monitor side, and plug the output side into the sound system and you’re ready to go.  Although a mono output is not ideal for a club, the reality is that most of your audience won’t notice.

The visual side of mixing with Sonorasaurus Rex is less ideal.  This entails watching the audio waveform scroll past in the window and trying to match the peaks and valleys of the two songs so that they are moving in unison.  This setup is pretty standard for digital DJing, and works pretty well in most cases.  The reality here though is that because there is no audio scrubbing on the waveform itself, it is impossible to line up start points with the waveforms.  You can nudge the audio faster or slower with a nudge strip below the waveform, but to make this work you really need to hear the tracks, it doesn’t work unless you’re using the audio system described above.  Sonorasaurus Rex also has a green timing pulse that is supposed to help line things up, but it has its own problems, which I’ve described in more detail in point three of the “What I Miss” section below.

What I Like -

1. The layout looks cool and is easy to use. When I first opened Sonorasaurus Rex, I could immediately see how to use the program.  This is important, because who really wants to read a manual? Not me!

2. It’s easy to load songs into the audio pool. All you have to do is make sure your ipad and your computer are on the same wifi network (or are connected to each other via Wi-Fi).   Open any web browser and type in the address found in the program.  If the connection is solid, a browser window will open allowing you to choose any song on your computer to upload to the iPad.  These songs will immediately appear in the audio pool.  All you have to do before you play is give the program some time to generate a waveform for each track.  Although this is not necessary, it is recommended so you can see what you’re doing.

3. A selection of crossfade curves. Not everyone wants their crossfades to feel the same, and it’s good that the first build of this program acknowledges this.  Changing crossfades types is done very easily from the settings window, and you can hear the difference in curves right away.

What I Miss:

1. No audio scrubbing. This is an essential feature for DJ software, and I’m kind of surprised that such an oversight was allowed through the screening process for release.  What this means for DJs is that there is almost no way to properly cue tracks up to beat attack points without playing the track and then pushing it forward and backward while it’s in motion.  This makes life very difficult, especially with no real audio cue system available in hardware form for the iPad yet.  I had so much trouble starting songs in proper time that I quickly became frustrated and wanted to stop.

2. Laggy start/stop. When the play button is pressed, there is a slight delay before the track actually starts playing.  This makes it almost impossible to actually start a track in sync with another track.  I’m not talking about a couple of milliseconds here, I’m talking about an eighth note of lag at 128 bpm!  This, combined with the inability to properly cue up a track to the beat makes the program virtually unusable live in it’s present form.

3. Beat alert system algorithm is flawed. To try and help you mix visually, Sonorasaurus Rex has a beat alert system that is good in theory: a little green sphere pulses to the rhythm of the track thereby helping identify beats for each tack playing.  I guess your supposed to match the pulses together, and when they’re flash in time with each other, your tracks are beat matched.  The reality is that the spheres don’t flash to the rhythm of the track, so they just become an annoying mess on screen that is difficult to ignore.  I tried this out with several four to the floor tracks and couldn’t figure out what is making the lights flash.  It certainly isn’t the kick, which is the main part that would make sense, especially for dance music.

Final Thoughts -

Sonorasaurus Rex has a lot of potential.  The layout is cool, there are plenty of features, and it’s easy to grasp what is going on.  But until the audio scrubbing is implemented and the laggy start/stop times are fixed, this is a DJ app that just can’t be used easily on stage.  I do believe that there is a good foundation for a great DJ app here, and I will be watching the company closely to see what they do in future updates.

Keep your eyes here to find out when that happens!

Website: sonorasaurus.com/apps/
Price: $12.99
Get it: itunes.apple.com

13
  • Pajamahouse Studios
  • 4/30/2010

Hey Adam,

Thanks for covering our app. And I should comment that we are already working on your cons. To a larger degree their existence is a drawback of developing before having an iPad in hand.

Now that we can test on the device we will be able to address issues that have to do with latency and scrubbing – which I take to mean that you would like to scrub through a tune while paused, since you can currently only scrub through during playback on the play status bar.

Also I should note that the 1.1 release gives people even more convenient track upload options. There is info on this here: http://www.sonorasaurus.com/blog/adding-music-in-rex-1-1/

Best,
Russell

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  • Roger
  • 4/30/2010

Great post and good info. you have any tracks or performances you have done with this?

I am also interested in controlling video via iPhone/iPad you got any leads down that road?

  • Tony Grund
  • 4/30/2010

Roger, We are finishing up a tutorial on how to use TouchOSC. It’s a four-part series that covers everything from getting your iPad and computer communicating with each other, to making your own TouchOSC layouts.

Keep your eyes open for it!

  • Allan
  • 4/30/2010

I too would be interested in seeing some tracks done with this.

  • Jason
  • 4/30/2010

sonorasaurus now has been updated… SCRUB A DUB DUB!!

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  • Jordi Martinez
  • 4/30/2010

Nice review.
here you con get a free templates to control Traktor Scracht Pro with an iPad.
Happy djing!
HTTP://jordi-martinez.blogspot.com

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