iPad Music App Reviews :: Korg’s iElectribe // Looptastic HD

Tony Grund is a new contributor to the blog and addition to the Dubspot crew.  This is the second in a series of iPad entries, the first, a general overview of the device, its functionality, and controller potential, is available now.  Also available are reviews of the TouchOSC, and Sonorasaurus Rex applications.

iElectribe Review
Get It or Forget It: Get It!

If you’ve ever ventured into a music store that has machines for dance musicians, then chances are you’ve seen a Korg Electribe on the shelf, ready to play.  They are compact and pack a big punch, and have become the darlings of many producers.  With the iElectribe, Korg now brings the same concept to the iPad.  This version is based on the Electribe R, the original Electribe rhythm machine that came to life back in 1999.

- The Basics -

The layout of iElectribe is much like a real synth.  You’ve got knobs, buttons, and an LCD screen that shows what you’re editing.  Everything is spaced out well, easy to see and edit, and well labeled.

The knobs have two movement styles (rotary and vertical), and can be turned in two ways: press and move for greater edits, or flick your finger across the knob for micro edits.  This makes editing pitches easier, because you can slow down the tempo of the song and make micro edits to the desired pitch (as long as it’s not too many steps away).  For more crazy edits, hold and move to get great jumps in sound.  I love this for creating really crazy sounds.  It’s also nice that Korg have added the ability to choose between rotary style movement and horizontal movement for the edits.  Personally, I hate rotary knobs on a computer interface.

There are eight instruments to use, four that are dedicate to drums sounds and use samples, and four that are more synth-based in style and can be used for a wider range of sounds including basses and blips and bleeps.

The sound engine is a mixture of Analog synth modeling and PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) samples.  The final master output is run through virtual tube modeling that spices up the sound with more or less tube saturation.  This is great for getting a bit of warmth to the sounds, or cranking it up for super distortion!  One thing that is missing though, are real sound-shaping capabilities.  This is a drum machine, after all, so there really isn’t that much need for a true ADSR envelope, but the one decay knob that Korg offers is a bit inadequate for synth programming.  It would be nice to have a separate window with a few more synth parameters.  Also, while I’m on the subject of sound shaping, it’s worth mentioning that there is no dedicated filter for the sounds.  There is a low-pass filter in the effects section, but to use it means you’ve taken your one and only effect slot.

Speaking of effects, there are eight to choose from, and they all sound good:

- Short Delay: This is a doubling delay, to be used for flanging effects. It does not sync to tempo.
- BPM Delay: Here is your tempo delay.
- Grain Shifter: Shifts the sound around to create a kind of stuttering effect.
- Reverb: It does what it says.
- Chorus/Flanger: This one is pretty straight forward when the depth is set to low levels, but it can get really crazy when set higher.
- Filter: the low-pass filter I mentioned earlier. It would be nice to have this not in the effect section, but just in the synth section.
- Talking Mod: This is a kind of filter type that sounds like vowel in the mouth.
- Decimator: Make your beats Lo-Fi and crunchy.

All the effects have two controls that are easy to manipulate. They can be applied to different instruments and on different parts of the rhythm, which makes for some really cool variations of sound. So, for example, you don’t have to have the decimator tearing up all of your hi-hat line, you can apply it to specific hits, only where necessary.

Another really cool aspect of the effects is when they are combined with real time record tweaks. The effects themselves can be switched up in real time, so complex patterns can be put together by cycling through the effects and tweaking the parameters while recording.

The main downside to the effects section is that the effects are set up serially, so you can only use one effect at a time on a pattern, which does limit things. I often find myself wishing I could use one effect per instrument, which seems like it should be possible.

Putting patterns together is done in two ways. First, program the rhythm by marking the locations in an old-school, drum machine way, then edit the pitch and other attributes of the sound through real-time tweaks. There is no step editing function, which is a bummer because editing pitches in real-time is not easy.

There is also no song record function, so you can’t string patterns together to make a song and record it. There is, however, a pattern set button that allows 64 of your favorite patterns to be chosen for live play back. These patterns can be easily triggered by pushing one of the step buttons along the bottom of the screen. These patterns can also be triggered to play back at a time outside of their normal timing grid, which can make for some very interesting rhythms.

- What I Like -

1. Big sounds in a small package. This thing does sound good. Korg have done a good job of transporting their Analog Synth Modeling engine to the small iPad, which gives me a lot of hope for the future of music making on this platform. With the big screen, it’s easy to choose sounds and edit them much how you would on a computer.

2. Tweakability fun! The ability to record tweaks in realtime allows for some pretty crazy sounds. I love playing a loop and playing with the knobs to see what kind of craziness I can get up to. When I find something I like, it’s easy to record – just hit the record button and tweak away!

3. Lots of factory presets. There are tons of preset banks already setup, which is great, but why there isn’t an unlimited number of presets available is beyond me.

- What I Miss -

1. No song record function. This is a huge neglect in my book. Its great to be able to make these patterns, but now I want to put them together to make a song! Hopefully this is a feature Korg can add in a future update.

2. No audio export function. Another big miss here. Because the iElectribe sounds so great, I want to program beats for my music with it. A perfect world would be where I can take this with me on the train, program my beats, save them as audio files, then bring them into my sets on my laptop. Right now I have to program the beats, send the audio out through a crappy headphone jack, and record the analog signal into my DAW. Lame.

3. Limited number of presets. Why do companies make a limited number of presets on computer programs? There is a reason hardware needs limits, but this does not apply to the computer world. Or, if they do need to put upward limits, those should be so high that they’re not really noticeable. A number like 10,000 would be good to start.

4. No step editing or input. The lack of step editing or step input make programming pitches really difficult. Granted, this is a rhythm machine and not a true synth, so I’m not complaining too hard here, but it would be cool to have a step editing feature, but it’s not a deal killer.

- Final Thoughts -

Having a Korg Electribe on the iPad is really cool, and I can see people who love the hardware really getting excited about this version. A few things hold it back from being a sure-fire winner though: the lack of song recording and audio export are huge omissions in my book. If you make a cool loop on it, the only way to capture that loop now is to hook up the iPad to an audio interface and record it manually, which goes against just about everything the iPad stands for!

On stage the iElectribe can really excel, as it sounds great, and different loops can be fired off quickly and easily, and I rally don’t think people are going to care that you’re coming out a headphone jack.

Don’t let the relatively long list of “What I Miss” items detract you. The iElectribe really is a fun app, and until June 30th it’s only $9.99 (marked down from $19.99), a good price for what it does. Most of those items in the list are fixable with an update, so let’s hope Korg takes note!

Website: korg.com/ielectribe
Price: $9.99 (thru June 30)
Get it: itunes.apple.com

Looptastic HD
Get It or Forget It: Get It!

Looptastic HD is the updated version of Looptastic for the iPhone. If you used that, then you’ll feel right at home here. If you never used it for the iPhone, then now is the perfect time to try it out! What it does is allow you to create live remixes by placing and mixing loops on the fly in real time. It is very easy to pick up and use immediately, and with a huge library of free downloadable loop sets, there is plenty to play with and get you going.

- The Basics -
Looptastic HD has four sections to the screen: the loop waveform, mix area, loop pool, and the effects. There is also the file area, tempo, and loop loading bay, but these only come in when you’re loading a new loop or choosing what to do with the current set you’re playing, so I don’t really count these in the main usability windows.

When you open the program, the first thing you do is choose which loop set you want to start with. Once chosen, the main window opens and you drag the loops from the loop pool to the mix area. What’s really cool here is that when the loops are being dragged into the mix window, they can be mixed immediately, even before your take your finger off the loop and release it. This makes the whole process of choosing a loop, inserting it, and mixing it into one fluid motion.

Another thing to mention about the mix area is that it has three sections to it, kind of like a DJ setup with three sources. There’s a left, right, and middle. Below the mix area is a DJ style crossfader that lets you crossfader between the left or right mix areas. The middle one is always playing. This is great for creating tension in build ups, or mixing between songs. The various loops can be placed anywhere, so how you use this is completely up to you!

The loops themselves are color coded, with different icons representing what type of loop each one is. This makes grabbing the right kind of loop (beat, keyboard, bass line, vocal, etc) extremely easy.

The waveform above the mix area can be used to scrub through the selected loop in beat-synced realtime for cool glitchy effects. What you can’t do with it is start the loop from a different point, which is a feature I hope to see in a future update.

If you want to load different loops into the loop pool, use the song load area on the left. But beware that when you load up a new song, any loops that are still in the loop pool (ie not dragged into the mix area), are removed from the session. The loops in the mix area continue to play.

The effects at the bottom of the screen are set up in a Kaoss Pad style – select the effect you want, and move your finger around the rectangular area to change the effect parameters. These parameters aren’t shown on the screen, but it’s pretty easy to figure out what is what, and remember it for each effect. It probably would be good to have the parameters shown on screen though.  The effect area has a handy Hold button on either side of the parameter editor box. To hold a certain effect, just click one of these. When you want to add another effect, just scroll through the effect list on the right. Each effect is independent of the others, which means you can have several effects loaded at the same time.

One last thing to note about the effects: they are assigned to one of the three mix areas (right, left, or middle) by way of three bars below the parameter editor box. So, for example, a delay can be added to just the drums, or you can flange out only your synths, depending on how you have the loops laid out in the mix area.

- What I like -
1. Loop sync sounds great, even at different tempos. The algorithm they’re using is very high quality, and really holds the transients intact on drum loops, and doesn’t add too much granularity to keys and synths. All in all it has a very professional sound that holds up well even against programs like Ableton Live and Pro Tools.

2. It’s nice to be able to scrub thru loops in sync with your finger. This is an added bonus because it’s not something that you need to make music live, but it certainly adds a nice touch of manipulation that can spice up a live set.

3. 26 loops at a time is a lot, and I’m not sure I would even need that many! I threw as many loops into e mix area as I could just to see what would happen. After 26 loops were reached, the extra loops still in the loop pool were grayed out, meaning that they wouldn’t play. It’s worth noting that Looptastic HD did not crash even when i took it to the max. I feel pretty confident that this many loops means that mixing between songs shouldn’t be a problem (and remember you can also remove loops from the mix area and then load up another song to keep the process going).

4. Nine great, tempo synced effects. The effects included are great, and are easy to use thanks to the setup. Looptastic HD’s effects layout takes full advantage of the iPad’s  screen and architecture.

5.  The ability to save your movements from the time you open a new loop to the time you finish playing. This is pretty cool and means that you can record sessions without having to connect the iPad into some piece of hardware and actually record the thing. What even cooler than recording the sessions is that when you play them back you can make edits not the fly as well, so you’re not just stuck with playing something back, but also realtime editing of that session!

- What I Miss -
1. Cant see more than one effect on the screen at time. This makes it difficult to tell which effects are currently being used. It’s great to have so many cool effects, but it would be good to figure out a way to actually see which ones are on, because it sometimes gets a bit tricky to hear the individual effects.

2. No way to restart a loop to get it to sync from a different point. I don’t always want my drums to pay back and loop from the same place. Sometimes I may want to start the drums off on the eighth to create a syncopated rhythm. This is a fairly large oversight in my opinion, and I would love to see this changed in a future update.

- Final Thoughts -
Looptastic HD is a great live looping tool, and an excellent start to show off the iPad as a serious live tool. I’ve already used it at a gig here in NYC and people around were marveling that this could be done with an iPad. It sounds great on a big system, and once you get used to the controls, it is incredibly easy to put songs together and create dramatic sections (which I love) and build ups.

If you’re making loop based music and are looking to use your iPad on stage and impress your friends, then Looptastic HD is the program to try first. The ability to import your own loops, 26 loops at a time, nine separate effects, great sounding beat matching, and an intuitive user interface all add up to a program that was definitely designed for the iPad, and for the creative musical community.

Website: soundtrends.com
Price: $9.99
Get it: itunes.apple.com

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