entire site navigation v3



Untitled Document
Untitled Document

Entries in Apple (5)

Wednesday
Jan042012

9 Predictions For Dance Music, DJ-ing & Audio Production in 2012 (#1: The Cloud)

From record crates, to hard drives, to the cloud.

Everyone has been talking about the “cloud” these past few months. Apple’s iCloud makes it possible for the average music listener to store their entire music collection remotely, with the ability to access it whenever and wherever they want. Setting up a cloud account is inexpensive, is practical because it works on a variety of Apple mobile and desktop devices, and can even be beneficial considering iTunes Match replaces lower quality songs in your library with cleaner, high-bitrate versions from the Apple store. 

Now imagine showing up to a gig with a wi-fi enabled laptop, or a 3G tablet. You can instantly access your ENTIRE collection of music with a single click, safe and securely. The “cloud” you host your library on will be spacious enough to comfortably store every song in your collection as uncompressed .WAV files. Now I know that standard hard drives in laptops are pretty large these days; the average being around 500 gigs (roughly 10,000 songs in WAV format or 40,000 as 320kbps MP3’s). However, having your entire collection backed up will still be of benefit, especially if you have to use someone else’s laptop at a gig, or are using a tablet device such as an iPad or laptop with a much smaller solid state drive (a MacBook Air for example).

Think of large-scale events (specifically raves) where a very high volume of DJ’s are booked to perform. Could you imagine the chaos of every single DJ having to set their laptops up, test everything out, and troubleshoot when there are problems? Even one interruption in the flow of the night can kill the vibe of the room. If the promoter allowed only one clean laptop to be set up (with Internet access), every digital DJ would be able to go online to download the songs they needed from their account. No need to fuss with jump drives or USB cables, either. The connection to the cloud remains open during the set, so the DJ can retrieve any song they want, on demand. Cloud DJ-ing will help make the transition from one DJ to the next happen seamlessly, thus adding value to the night itself.  

iTunes is clearly the front-runner in remote MP3 storage right now, but it wouldn’t surprise me to start seeing music services specifically with DJ’s in mind start to offer cloud services in 2012. Prices have dropped exponentially in storage costs these past few years. Just look at Carbonite- they offer unlimited backup plans for the contents on your hard drive for $59/year. Responding to Apple, Google Music offers many of the same benefits iTunes does, but for non-iPhone users. Amazon also introduced cloud hosting last year. I think a music service for DJ’s, optimized for fast upload and download speeds, should come to fruition during the next 12 months.

Incidentally, I was reading an interesting post on digitaldjtips.com discussing their predictions for 2012 (specifically for DJ-ing), and cloud computing was one of their top picks as well!

Thursday
Dec222011

Native Instruments iMaschine: 7 Reasons Why It's The Best iPhone & iPad App For Beatmaking

Three decades of digital audio production have witnessed an equal number of technical revolutions come to fruition. From the first digital synths and samplers of the 1980s to the full-fledged computer DAW’s of the late 1990s and early 2000s. And now, the transition of the desktop DAW to the smartphone and mobile device. This industry is entering interesting times right now. Mobile devices are still a vast, open frontier for app developers to bestow upon us the ability for spontaneous beatmaking to happen on the bus, train station, or during your lunch break at the office. Wherever your next great idea will hit you, really.

I have been downloading and testing various music-making apps for the iPhone and iPod touch for over three years now. Having played with at least several dozen, it’s been tough to figure out which ones were most useful for me personally. That is, until I had the chance to take a crack at Native Instrument’s iMachine app just a few days ago. Released in September 2011, iMaschine is one of the first mobile apps made by a major player in the desktop software business: Native Instruments.

At $5, iMaschine is priced very lean in comparison to some of the more costly (albeit feature-rich) apps like Intua’s Beatmaker ($20). Don’t let the price tag fool you. iMachine gives you 4 channels of audio to work with, each of which can be assigned to one of three devices: a 16-pad drum sequencer, a double keyboard, or a record-enabled microphone. iMaschine also gives you a taste of what their flagship package–the Machine hardware (plus its software equivalent)–is like at the micro level. Yes, the app serves as the Native Instruments model of tempting you to run out and drop $600 on said package (or, $350 on the smaller Maschine Mikro). But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Maschine has become one of the most reputable controllers on the market not just for producers, but performers and DJ’s alike. 

 

The real Maschine controller aside, let me discuss a few of the reasons why iMaschine is about to make all of the other audio apps on my iPhone redundant, even after using it for only a single week:

1. iMaschine lets you easily import samples from your computer. This is, hands down, the BIGGEST benefit iMaschine has going for it, at least for version 1. When you sync your iPhone to your computer, iMaschine allows you to drag-and-drop as many samples as you want (via the iTunes window) to use with the app. The samples need to be 16-bit WAV files, but once they’re imported to your iPhone or iPad, you can make kits that can be loaded on the fly. I have never used an app with a sample/pad-based drum sequencer that lets me bring my own samples in this easily. 

Although Intua’s Beatmaker is more functional, especially with its ability to apply envelopes to the samples (which iMaschine can’t), loading samples is an arduous procedure. It requires the use of a separate program (Beatpack) running on the desktop, along with tweaking the IP and network settings to connect wirelessly. Beatmaker does not allow you to transfer samples to the iPhone during sync when connected to the computer. In my personal experience, it took a long time for the samples to transfer wirelessly, and many of them would not open properly once complete. In stark contrast, iMaschine’s transfer function is painless and instantaneous.

 
2. iMaschine has a very clean and intuitive user interface. Native Instruments absolutely rocks when it comes to developing applications that are easy to learn, boast beautiful graphics, and juggle simplicity with functionality. The orange glow of the Maschine hardware has become iconic these past two years, and the look and feel of the desktop application translates very elegantly to the iPhone. 

Even though I personally do not own a Machine or have even demo’d one for that matter, I felt right at home using iMaschine for the first time. Even an entry-level producer should be able to figure out 80 percent of what it can do after playing with it for just a single hour. It actually reminded me of the first audio app I used on my first iPhone: Izotope’s iDrum. However, Maschine is more feature-enabled than iDrum, and comes bundled with better samples (including, of course, the ability to add your own).

My only gripe with the iMaschine’s interface is that it only works vertically. The main screen where this becomes a problem is in the keyboard section. They keys themselves are a bit small and cumbersome to program on that small screen in portrait mode. On the iPad, it is less of an issue.

In contrast, Beatmaker has a far more complex interface and can be slow and cumbersome to operate. Even on my iPhone 4S, loading samples takes a bit of time. Yes, I know full well there are more features on Beatmaker than iMaschine. However, I feel the iPhone screen is just too small to handle all the buttons needed to take advantage of them! iMaschine includes just the basics, which serve me well. The ability to trim and add ASDR envelopes to samples would have been helpful, but maybe in a future version.

3. iMaschine integrates seamlessly with its big brother. Most beatmaking apps on the iPhone work the same way: you program your beat and export as a .WAV or .AIFF file. Once you get it to your computer, you cannot edit further. Some apps, including AudioRealism’s Technobox, even allow you to directly upload to Soundcloud if you have an account. Beatmaker even enables full MIDI import/export between the mobile device and the computer, so some desktop editing is possible. But with iMaschine, you can open any iMaschine project file on the computer and use the real Maschine to access and tweak every note, parameter, and sample it generated. Because of this, iMaschine adds value as a practical workflow tool. Have an idea while waiting at the bus stop? Hum that melody into the microphone, and get an 808 drumkit going beneath it. Which leads me to the next benefit…

 

4. iMaschine utilizes the iPhone/iPad’s built-in microphone. Not only can you import your own audio samples, you can also use the mic in iMaschine to make your own sounds. When the program was first announced this past sumer, Native Instruments released a video of Jamie Ladell demonstrating how easy it is to bring in your own vocals, layering them into whatever project you are working on. Although I know there must be a few apps that enable the use of a built in mic (I’m sure Garageband for the iPhone does), I have yet to use any of them. The gain slider, which sets the threshold for triggering the mic (eliminating background noise) is a useful feature, too. Now if only the rest of us had Jamies’s one-of-a-kind singing voice!

 
5. iMaschine emphasizes performance over sequencing. When I first downloaded iMaschine, I spent about five minutes trying to figure out where the sequencer was. Only took a few minutes to learn it didn’t come with one. This is not a bad thing however. In my past experience working with iPhone sequencers, I have found them very cumbersome to navigate on a small screen. (Specifically, the ones baked into Beatmaker and FL Studio Mobile). To program the sounds on iMaschine, you need to hit the record button and play them live. The program then works as a looper, where you can start with, say, a 1-bar beat of just kick drums, and layer each individual sound on top by toggling the record button on and off. If you make a mistake, an erase button is two taps away; when erase mode is activated, you simply click on the pad right when the culprit note is about to play to eliminate it. 

Programming your loops sonically (rather than visually, by punching in boxes like on Audiorealism’s Technobox, ReBirth, or on an actual Roland 808/909) might be odd at first if you are not a drummer. However, some practice should get you up to speed rhythmically. There is a quantize feature to keep the beat locked, and you can use swing and delay FX to add groove. Another nice bonus is the velocity editor window; this is the most intuitive method of dialing in various velocities of each individual hit I have yet to see in an iPhone app. (iDrum is particularly good for velocity programming as well.)

When recording, if you are sequencing a sound that is longer than what your project is currently looping at, the programmed sounds will double in length and repeat instantly, enabling you to build out your song. Simply use the erase tool and more record overdubs to create further variations.

 
6. iMaschine makes great use of the in-app purchasing model to get more samples. In 2009, the App store was all the rage. Last year, iPad apps were what the cool kids were downloading. In 2011, in-app purchases became the trend. Being able to buy more features inside the application itself to expand functionality isn’t just a novelty, it’s a viable business model. And Native Instruments is one of the first audio app developers to tie this in with iMaschine. For $2-3, you can purchase additional sample packs right inside the program to use with iMaschine. The major benefit with in-app purchases is their ease-of-downloading and low cost makes them enticing to practically everyone. And because Native Instruments has a reputation to uphold, it’s a guarantee that they will be releasing more packs once demand for them picks up. 

7. iMaschine is not a resource hog. Although I have only clocked in about 8 hours of iMaschine usage thus far, the program has not crashed on me once yet. Now try logging in a session with Beatmaker, FL Studio Mobile, or Propellerhead’s ReBirth. Although all three perform adequately, I would experience occasional crashes with all three, often causing me to lose work. Several of the reviews on iTunes even mentioned that iMaschine runs very well on the minimum required hardware: the iPhone 3GS. I’ll take a stable app over one that touts more functions but more prone to crash any day of the week.

In summary

It has only taken me a single week to determine how resourceful iMaschine is, not only as a digital sketchbook for bringing ideas to life wherever inspiration strikes, but also as a full-fledged drum machine. Although the keyboards are rather tiny on the small iPhone screen, and are only sample-based (not synths), I see great potential in iMaschine as a workflow tool. Especially to Maschine or Maschine Mikro users. With a very reasonable price tag, I see little reason for a producer or even an audio enthusiast with an iPhone or iPad to NOT purchase this. I give iMaschine an easy 9 out of 10; they really knocked this one out of the park even on the first version.

Sunday
Oct042009

Touch DJ: The Best DJ-Based App I've Seen Yet For the iPhone

Although there have been a variety of useful audio production-based apps that have been released for the iPhone in the past year (most notably Beatmaker, Jasuto, and Noise.io), I have found thus far that many of the DJ console-based apps have left a lot to be desired. Most of the DJ iPhone apps I’ve experimented with are very limited in terms of functionality and lack decent graphical interfaces to entice people to take them serious in the first place.

Touch DJ by Amidio looks like the best DJ-based app I’ve seen yet for the iPhone. Now I know I’m probably going to open the floodgates here by even suggesting that a DJ mixing app for the iPhone can compare against Traktor, CDJ-1000’s or vinyl. However I do think playing music on a mobile device can become an interesting niche and if Touch DJ can pull off a reliable package then I’m sure it will only be a matter of time that other developers will also begin upping the ante when it comes to this field. 

I’m not even sure if it’s technically possible, but if an iPhone/mobile DJ app ever obtained the ability to send and receive MIDI signals, allowing you to map parameters within the program (EQ’s, effects, faders, etc) to a standard control surface, then I guarantee that an iPod will become as ubiquitous within a DJ both as a Technics 1200 still is today.

Touch DJ will be released in September, check out their website for details. If the price is right I’m probably going to bag this myself, and if I do, expect to see a full review on here shortly thereafter!

Saturday
Aug292009

Beat Box: It's All Good Under the Hood With Mac OS X Snow Leopard

Generally when Apple releases a new and improved operating system to the public I feel both excitement and skepticism over running right out and getting my Mac updated. When Apple released it’s last major OS, Leopard, two years ago, installation did not go smoothly for a lot of people even though it boasted over 100 major additions. I’ll honestly admit I had a nightmare trying to get it to run on my 2006 iMac, and although Time Machine, Stacks, and the updated preview feature in the Finder were awesome, I think Leopard’s overall sluggishness compared to Tiger overshadowed it’s benefits.

Enter Snow Leopard. Apple began spreading word about this operating system over a year ago, announcing right off the bat that performance and stability were going to be the focus of Snow Leopard (OS 10.6); new features were going to take a backseat for this inception. While many people are probably going to be disappointed with 10.6’s lack of major features and interface enhancements, I know that many power users are going to love Snow Leopard’s performance improvements.


With my iMac being two years older and “more mature” (read: obsolete) in late 2009, I had a good feeling that it would benefit from the Snow Leopard upgrade and that it would bring back a little bit the mojo it seemed to lose when going from Tiger (10.4) to Leopard (10.5) last year.

Snow Leopard is available as an upgrade on Apple’s store for $30. However, Amazon is already undercutting this (already inexpensive) price and selling for $25- see for yourself! There has been a bit of talk on the message boards about how Apple is only “officially” supporting this upgrade for those with Leopard/10.5 installed, recommending that Tiger/10.4 users purchase a combo pack for $160. The combo pack includes the iLife and iWork ‘09 bundle along with the updated OS. However, there are now reports saying that Tiger users are purchasing Snow Leopard (bypassing Leopard altogether), and not encountering any problems. So it is possible to skip Leopard all together, just do it at your own risk as it is not officially supported by Apple.

OK, so on to the OS itself. This is the first time I have ever purchased an OS upgrade on it’s release date (which was yesterday, August 28th); for the most part it appears that users have undergone very smooth installations. The only problems encountered by most is incompatibility with a few applications, which software manufacturers are working hard to address. Installation for me went very smoothly and it took about an hour to get Snow Leopard up and running. 


First off, let’s talk about the installer. When you are installing Snow Leopard, one of the things I like right off the bat is when clicking on “custom install”, Apple notices which printers are hooked up or networked to your machine. This allows you to only install necessary drivers without having to guess which ones you need or taking the “safe” route by installing all of them and wasting gigs of hard drive space. 

Oh yeah, let’s talk a bit more about wasted hard drive space. Apple claims that Snow Leopard is supposed to save around 5-10 gigs of space with it’s smaller and more efficient footprint, but users (myself included) are turning out to be pleasantly surprised when they find that number is actually something more like 20-30 gigs, depending on hard drive size. Without getting too technical here, this is because Snow Leopard now addresses byte prefixes on files as decimals, which makes every file saved on your drive take up slightly less space. Nice!

One thing I dig is that when booting into Snow Leopard for the first time, all of my system preferences and applications/shortcuts in the dock were exactly the same as before in Leopard. The update did not restore any of my settings to the system default, so I wasn’t wasting any time trying to drag my old application shortcuts back into my dock again.


After installing, the first thing I did was frantically rush to my applications folder to see which programs worked and which didn’t. Although I only attempted to launch many of my major applications, EVERYTHING seemed to launch and function like normal! Ableton Live 8, ReCycle, Reason 4, Photoshop and Bridge CS3, SoundStudio 3, Celemony Melodyne, iLife ‘09, Final Cut Express, and Native Instruments Massive not only fired right up, but each seems to be a bit more responsive, especially Photoshop. Taking things a step further, I found that Adobe Illustrator 10 (which came out in 2000 and still use as I haven’t found the need to upgrade) even works! Additionally, my NI Audio Kontrol audio interface was instantly recognized. Although results are going to be mixed for many, and not everything is officially supported as of yet, check http://snowleopard.wikidot.com/ for a comprehensive list of what is and is not compatible with Snow Leopard.

Just make sure you install Rosetta, which by default is disabled, when upgrading. This allows support for non-Intel based applications to run under 10.6. You need to click on the checkbox when running the Snow Leopard installer, which you will find under the customize option at the beginning. 

I found that everything appeared to be snappier and runs sightly quicker under Snow Leopard. The live previews in Finder (when clicking the space bar on an icon) as well as cover flow rendered images very quickly. I love being able to press the space bar to preview an icon, however one thing I find annoying is that when previewing sound and movies the preview is disabled when you switch applications. I also wish you could copy and paste content out of text files through the OS preview. Ah well, maybe in the next incarnation.

The one application in Snow Leopard that received a much needed update is the Quicktime player. The screenshot above shows it in action; not only has the interface been revamped but it also adds the ability to record your screen (great if you’re giving tutorials or if you want to capture motion and animation in web graphics). Quicktime now also allows you to trim the start and end points of video, as well as upload to YouTube (results for this have been mixed thus far) and MobilMe. Quicktime Pro 7 users take note, make sure to specifically install this from the OS installer if you still want to have it’s capabilities, as the new Quicktime does not yet allow you the same functionality that the Pro version has and is merely a video player. More on this here.

 
The finder has been re-written to support the 64-bit Cocoa and address more amounts of memory than ever before, so to the average user like myself, this means more speed and efficiency. A few words on the finder: Stacks, introduced in Leopard, has been overhauled a little bit, allowing you to now scroll within files if viewed in grid view (pictured above). Browsing in column view on the finder now allows you to customize how items are viewed (by date modified, file size, alphabetically, etc). Each application also has it’s own miniaturized version of Expose; if you click and hold an application icon in the dock, all of the open windows specific to just that program are previewed on your desktop.


A VERY welcome feature is that when ejecting a volume (jump drive, external hard drive, etc.) from the desktop, Mac OS now alerts you to which specific applications are still using files from it, so you no longer have to guess and quit out of everything just to flippin’ eject it. This is awesome!

Cover Flow seems to be far snappier than in regular Leopard, and I really like how you can now play movies and scroll through pages of text documents and PDF’s while in this mode. I think many of cover flow’s benefits were available in Leopard, but appear to be even more tightly optimized in Snow Leopard.

 
Spotlight indexing was also a snap, although I encountered one problem: it did not immediately index my external drive; I had to unhook it and re-mount it for it to be indexed. However even with well beyond 500 gigs of content across both of my drives, Snow Leopard indexed it in minutes. The results box now allows you to preview files as well just like in cover flow, and you can now change the size of the icons; obviously not a big deal but still pretty cool.


Another cool trick I discovered (which I’m not even sure was included in Leopard or not) is when I am in another application or a web browser and am opening up a file through the standard Mac OS dialog box. When I am navigating through the contents of my hard drive in this box, you’ll notice that if you select an image there will be a little preview thumbnail in the rightmost column in the window. However, if you Apple + select more than one item you will not be able to use that column to preview your contents, which can be a hassle. However if you hit the space bar over the LAST item you selected, a preview window with it’s contents pops up. A practical use for this is that it saved me a ton of time trying to pick pictures on my hard drive in various folders to upload to my Flickr account!

Tiger (10.4) introduced the widgets feature, but in my personal experience the biggest thing that plagued it’s usefulness was the fact that when I would hit F12 on the keyboard to bring them up, it would sometimes take up to 10 seconds for them to start working as normal. The weather widget was always inaccurate and nothing was more frustrating than trying to use the calculator only to find out that it practically took just as long to access it as it does to launch Photoshop. In Leopard, the widgets seemed to run even slower. However, the widgets popped up after hitting F12 in Snow Leopard in a split second, the weather widget now works, and now I can re-claim some desk space now that I’m able to finally make my physical calculator redundant.

Two more small overhauls: contextual menus in the dock now use a translucent black background (instead of white) and are more flexible, and screen grabs now add time/date stamps to the file name (no more “are you sure you want to overwrite Picture 01” error messages ever again!)

Safari performance is now extremely snappy (probably with some overhauls to provide faster Javascript) and, although I don’t use it so can’t comment on it, skin tight support of Microsoft Exchange 2007 built into iCal, Mail, and Address Book. Probably Snow Leopard’s biggest improvement is it’s support for OpenCL, which is a language designed to help developers take advantage of graphic processing units when programming software, which you can find out more about here


There is probably way more to Snow Leopard than meets the eye, but overall I can honestly say that it is akin to a car tune-up: pretty much the same features are there as before, but everything is optimized and now running to it’s full potential. I would have been weary of purchasing had it been sold for $130 similar to Apple’s previous OS upgrades, so I think the far less expensive price is a good move. Especially considering the fact that it’s very difficult to convince the general public that upgrading to an OS without any major goodies added to it (aside from snappier performance) would be worth the investment. 


So overall, I am impressed not only by Snow Leopard’s performance and implementation thus far, but also how transparent of an upgrade it is. This is probably the first Mac OS upgrade yet that I haven’t encountered any major problems with whatsoever!

Check the video below for more info/details:



 

Sunday
Mar012009

Audiorealism Technobox: Review

So I couldn't get over the excitement of being able to have a 303 emulator on my iPod touch so I finally downloaded Technobox from the App Store yesterday (I mean, it has been an entire week since it came out I waited patiently for!) Technobox only costs $9.99 and is a 2mb file so it downloaded and installed to my iPod very quickly.

The 303 synth on here is awesome. Audiorealism's Bassline VST for Mac/Windows has been out for quite some time now and has gotten many solid reviews; in fact many argue that it is one of the best 303 emulators out there. I was happy to hear that Technobox utilizes the same audio engine (ABL2) that Bassline does, which isn't bad considering the fact it's about 1/13th of the price! For anyone who has used a 303 or emulator the interface is extremely straightforward and includes all of the functionality. There are 12 banks you can save your 16-beat patterns in, and there is a shift key you can press that opens up a whole additional set of controls (transposition, shifting patterns to the left or right, etc.) One of my favorite features is that the saw to square wave control is not a toggle switch- you can actually dial a certain percent of one vs. the other. This definitely gives a little more control over crafting your sound. Overall, I am impressed!

The second piece of Technobox is the 808/909 drum machine, which share the same control buttons. There is a button you press that toggles between one and the other. This is actually pretty cool because once you have a drumloop programmed on one machine, you can flip over to the other one and hear what the loop would sound like on the other one. I can see a lot of happy accidents coming from that! So the 808 and 909 share the same 11 drum sounds, which means a few were added to the 909 from it's original 9, and several were taken away from the original 808 (congas, clavs, and maracas are not available here). One thing I am a little disappointed with is the lack of envelope controls for a few of the drum sounds, such as attack/decay/tune settings on the snare and bass drum. It also looks like there is only one global volume control for all of the drums so the only local control over a single drum sound is to use either the mid vs. hard setting for the pads. For all I know, they may have had sacrificed programming these features into Technobox in order to keep the CPU speed and performance in the iPhone/iPod Touch optimized. 

Despite some of the limitations of the 808/909 machine I really like Technobox. Audiorealism has already discussed the possibility of being able to export drum and synth patterns directly to it's VST programs, similar to how Izotope's mobile apps integrate seamlessly with their iDrum VST. Saving and recalling projects are a snap and performance-wise Technobox runs smooth. I've used it for about two hours so far and have noticed no glitches or crashes as of yet. Finally, the controls are responsive even though they're all crammed in on a tiny screen. The use of the shift key in the 303 was a smart idea. A record button would be nice, in addition to the ability to output to a .wav file, but for now I have no problem settling with hooking up to a mixer and recording to my computer the old fashioned way- especially when I can run my kaoss pad through it and really get some cool sounds with it!