A 29- or 30-hour day might just be enough time to get everything done, but it’s impossible for me to make it happen in just 24 hours. I’m constantly searching for ways to stay productive while I’m on the go, and thankfully there has been a steady flow of mobile gadgets and iPhone apps that actually allow me to get work done virtually anywhere. While most of these products aren’t aimed at the high-end user, they can still serve the professional well and, more often than not, they can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of even a budget microphone.
The Apple iPhone is one of my favorite devices to come along in years. Since Apple opened the platform (which includes the iPod Touch) to third-party developers a year and a half ago, there has been a steady flow of audio applications released and I’ve found that there are several that I can’t live without. Check before you buy, but the majority of these apps will run on both the iPhone and the iPod Touch.
Having a tuner nearby is a necessity in the studio. There are a lot of affordable pocket and pedal tuners, but most of them provide questionable accuracy, especially for studio work. Peterson, the leader of the tuner industry, is making an iPhone version of its popular StroboSoft tuning program (which I’ve used and loved for years). iStroboSoft uses the classic Peterson strobe display to provide accuracy to 1/10th cent. Glowing flat and sharp indicators simplify tuning when it is difficult to determine which direction the strobe is moving (and are also a help to musicians who don’t like strobe tuners). The Note/Octave window displays the correct note and octave for the note being tuned. There is also a noise filter that reduces the effect of extraneous environmental noise, which is helpful when using an external mic or clip-on tuning device.
Alesis ProTrack Peterson offers two great audio input options for the iPhone. The sensitivity of the small mini capsule mic is perfect for use with iStroboSoft. I’ve found it to work extremely well especially when tuning acoustic instruments. The mic enables the iPod Touch to be used with any application requiring a microphone, and it is a great alternative to using the built-in mic when running applications on the iPhone. Peterson’s adaptor cable allows an instrument, microphone or tuning pickup to be connected directly into an iPhone through a 1/4-inch jack, providing another excellent method of utilizing iStroboSoft or any other application that requires an audio input.
Frozen Ape Tempo
A good metronome is another studio necessity. Surprisingly, there are several metronomes sold through the App Store that have issues keeping time. I went through several of these before ace drummer Mike Johns turned me onto Frozen Ape’s Tempo app. Tempo is feature-packed, and its engine was written from the ground up, so it actually keeps time. The app’s comprehensive, yet simple, single-screen interface makes it the perfect tool for drummers to use live. It features 17 different time signatures and is adjustable from 20 to 220 BPM. Tempo supports tap tempo allowing you to tap along with the music to capture the tempo.
iZotope iDrum (left) and Planet Waves ChordMaster Just like a pro photographer is rarely caught without a camera, now it’s possible for engineers to always have a way to capture audio with an iPhone in hand. There are dozens of apps to choose from, but the few that quickly rise above the rest are the McDSP Retro Recorder, Audiofile Engineering FiRe, BIAS iPro Recorder and Sonoma Wire Works FourTrack—the feature sets of these apps are the most appealing to the professional recordist. Although there isn’t a built-in stereo mic, the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch 2G do support stereo recording with compatible dock connecting audio hardware (such as Blue’s Mikey or Alesis’ ProTrack). Retro Recorder and FourTrack only allow mono recording (although FourTrack allows stereo mixing), but FiRe and iPro Recorder both support stereo recording.
Since Apple has yet to open the iTunes back door to third-party app developers, recording applications are currently forced to tolerate somewhat clumsy file transfer systems but, thankfully, each of these applications has at least one file transfer solution that provides reliable file transfer without any sound degradation.
McDSP Retro Recorder
It’s no surprise that Colin McDowell, the audio genius behind McDSP, has made the jump into iPhone recording. Retro Recorder is cleverly designed to look like a miniature version of a classic cassette deck. The interface makes recording simple, and the brilliant Audio Level extension (ALX) technology that is built into the app drastically improves the recording quality making the built-in microphone a viable option for capturing quality audio. Depending on the sound-source, ALX can provide up to 30 dB additional signal level to a recording, and the ALX processing can be auditioned instantly during playback, yet the original recording is preserved.
Since the Retro Recorder only supports mono signals at sample rates up to 22.05 kHz, it’s not as high-quality as some of the other recorders, but because of the improved performance provided by ALX, it is my first choice in recording with the internal microphone.
Audiofile Engineering FiRe Audiofile Engineering FiRe
Designed to bring serious field recording to the mobile phone, Audiofile Engineering has touted FiRe as the first professional recording app for the iPhone/iPod touch. FiRe allows engineers to use their iPhone as a serious field recorder with high-end features like an accurate real-time waveform display, audio markers, and support for professional Broadcast WAVE metadata.
FiRe’s user interface allows scrolling across the waveform display with the touch of a finger or via a series of configurable double-taps. I didn’t like the interface at first but as I have become used to it, I like it more and more all the time. The app includes accurate VU metering (with multiple VU meter styles including KSystem scales) for input and output signals, a moveable playback head, configurable time units, the ability to tag recordings with location data, and an overdub mode for layering tracks. The app includes varispeed playback, adjustable input gain, the ability to add a picture reference to the recording, and the ability to name and rename marker points.
BIAS iPro Recorder
The BIAS iPro recorder is a professional featured recorder that features simple one-touch operation. The input metering makes it easy to see if the record level is too low or too high, and the record timer allows the user to preset an exact amount of time for recording. The app’s feature set includes varispeed playback and shuttle and scrub playback, which makes it quick and easy to locate a desired section of a recording. A volume slider with overdrive compensates for low recording levels with an adjustable “volume boost” control, giving you higher playback levels than can be obtained using just the iPhone’s internal master volume. Besides being able to e-mail or upload an audio file to the web, the recording can be launched directly in BIAS’ Peak audio application for editing and processing (available only for Mac OS). Speaking of BIAS Peak, that’s one of the things I love about this app: It feels like an extension of Peak. If you are a Peak user, you’ll feel right at home with iPro recorder.
One of my favorite features of the iPro recorder is the ability to attach a picture (also available on FiRe) and a geographic tag to a recording. If I’m conducting an interview, I can store a photo of the person I’m interviewing along with the audio file, if I’m recording a band’s performance, I can store a photo of the band along with the audio file or best of all, if I’m using the app to capture sound effects, I can use my iPhone/iPod Touch to photograph the sound source for easy reference.
Sonoma Wire Works FourTrack
This app takes mobile recording one step further, allowing an iPhone to be used as a 4-track recorder. The app works perfectly as a songwriting and practice tool. WiFi sync allows FourTrack recordings to be downloaded to any desktop computer running RiffWorks recording software (available free on the Sonoma website) or with any browser. Tracks can then be loaded into a DAW for mixing or additional overdubbing. FourTrack records at 16-bit, 44.1 kHz with a track length limited only by the iPhone’s available memory. The app features calibrated faders and meters, panning, and latency compensation. It supports bouncing and has a builtin metronome that features real drum samples.
Price Box AUDIOFILE ENGINEERING: FiRe
AUDIO-TECHNICA: ATH-ANC7 noise canceling headphones
BIAS: iPro Recorder
Euphonics – Layered Synth
Frozen Ape: Tempo
IZOTOPE IDRUM: Depeche Mode Sounds of the Universe
MCDSP: Retro Recorder
MONSTER: Turbine In-Ear Speakers
NATIVE INSTRUMENTS: Guitar Rig Mobile I/O
Peterson iPhone/Touch Mini Capsule Microphone
Peterson iPhone/Touch Adaptor Cable
SONOMA WIRE WORKS: FourTrack
www.yonac.comFourTracks’s Bounce feature is one of the traits that truly makes the app usable. Four tracks of a song can be mixed to tracks 1 and 2 of a new song, opening up two more tracks for recording yet preserving the originals for syncing to desktop recording software. My biggest gripe with this app is it doesn’t support stereo recording.
The catchy (and surprisingly good-sounding) “Love Is the Thing” by southern California indie rockers, The 88, was recorded entirely on an iPhone using FourTrack (the Alesis ProTrack also played a part). It’s worth checking out the mini-documentary on the making of the tune on the Sonoma site.
Music Creation on the Go While I wouldn’t consider music creation a valid reason for purchasing an iPhone, there are a host of excellent music creation apps out there. These mostly provide a lot of enjoyment and a way to pass time, although they can also be valid songwriting tools, and I’m sure they’ll find their way onto major albums from time to time.
iDrum is a fun and easy way to create drum beats. These beats can, in turn, be used as the foundation of a song or by using the free iDrum Ringtone Sync application (Mac or PC), your beats can be converted into custom iPhone ringtones. There are nine versions of the iDrum mobile app (priced at either $4.99 or $5.99/each).
As a Depeche Mode fan, I couldn’t wait to try out iDrum: Depeche Mode Sounds of the Universe, which actually lets you use sounds from Depeche Mode’s Sounds of the Universe to create music on your iPhone. The app gives you the ability to rearrange the drums, rhythms, and effects for each song on Sounds of the Universe or you can use the raw drums, instruments, and effects to make your own musical creations. The app has a simple interface that lets you build beats layer by layer by tapping the touch screen. iZotope’s cleverly designed interface, which allows music to be created with simple shapes and color combinations, makes it easy to create beats even if you don’t have any programming experience.
Even with its buggy recording feature, the miniSynth is one of the most enjoyable music apps I’ve encountered, and it sounds amazingly good. The $1.99 miniSynth features an easy-to-program twin VCO virtual-analog architecture, and it’s the perfect tool for working out a melody, adding that hit-making synth line to a song’s bridge or just fiddling around. The app even supports Wi-Fi file transfer.
Planet Waves Chordmaster and Scale Wizard
Planet Waves is another music software that has already established a strong presence in the iPhone App market with its Chordmaster and Scale Wizard apps. Chordmaster is the quintessential mobile guitar chord library that places over 7,800 guitar chords in the palm of your hand. The app features a unique virtual fretboard that accurately displays notes and fingerings, Chords can be viewed in multiple neck positions, and the virtual strings can be virtually strummed for an audio reference. The app even offers a “lefty” mode for left-handed guitarists.
Scale Wizard is a comprehensive guitar scale and arpeggio library. This app places a library of guitar scales, modes, and arpeggios into the palm of your hand. Scale Wizard provides over 10,000 patterns, left-handed view and alternate tunings. The app’s optimized interface allows you to swipe your finger up and down the fret board and hear ascending and descending scales, or tap the screen to hear individual notes.
Whether you are new to the app store or you’ve been at it for a long time, hopefully this has granted you some new insight that will open the door to increased productivity and just plain, old, creative fun.
Russ Long, a Nashville-based producer/engineer, owns The Carport recording studio. He is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review. www.russlong.ws