Tuesday, September 7, 2010

iVoxel Review

Since starting this blog I have been receiving random promo codes from developers a lot of which are for apps I totally missed through normal channels. One of these awesome apps is iVoxel from VirSyn.

I am a vocoder freak. I have used a vocoder live in most of my bands and have tried just about every type of vocoder out there. I actually run my iPad through a vocoder pedal live with my band up in Minneapolis. I also use a lot of vocoded vocals on our records. I have very strong opinions about vocoders and am usually very disappointed in software versions of such hardware. There are a few software vocoders that rock. Waves Morphoder is probably the best of these and it has appeared on quite a few of my recent releases. As far as live situations go, I have recently fell in love with the iron lung pedal from Electro-Harmonix. Up until now I haven't found many useful iOS attempts at recreating vocoder circuitry. iVoxel has a very unique approach to the process and I could actually see using it for something that could end up on a real recording.

The Interface
iVoxel is a universal app so on the iPad it fires up full-screen. This always makes me happy as using all that real estate is often very helpful on audio apps. I will admit that I had a little trouble wrapping my head around the interface on this thing. There are five main screens that control the many functions of the app. Some were intuitive like Mix/Fx screen which pretty much does what you would expect. Others, like the sequencer, were not.


The keys are fun and the synth isn't bad either
The two screens that are the real work environment are the live screen, which is where the virtual keys and synth controls are, and the sequencer. The keyboard on the live screen is divided into zones where "voxels" or words are loaded. The app comes with a whole bunch of words already available so you can actually put rudimentary sentences together without recording a word. The zones are weird. You can apparently make as many as you want by inserting them along the 5 octave keyboard. I guess logically you could have 5 voxels each with their own octave. You can then play the keys for each zone which triggers the voxel and the built in synth which are summed up by the vocoder architecture.

It makes you sound like a robot
Banging around on the keyboard with a bunch of phrases and words loaded up is really fun and you can really make the thing sing if you set it up right. Recording your own voxels or vocals is pretty easy once you figure it out. As a note of warning, you really have to either wear headphones or turn down the volume before recording or you get a feedback loop that can require closing the app to terminate. After a little trial and error I got everything working and was able to record some phrases and even make the thing work in real time using the live input option from the voxel list.

The sequencer takes a little more thought to figure out than the live screen. Luckily the built in help screens really lay it out clearly and after actually reading how to using the sequencer, it totally made sense. You can select position, length and voxels for each note along the timeline. Then you hit play and the sentence you created sings away. It really does work and is very useful as you can control the bpm and create actual lyrical phrases. The record screen allows you to print the phrases to .wav and export them via wifi to a computer for use in other software. You can also copy the songs to the clipboard for use in other compatible iOS apps.

The Sound

There are pretty basic synth setting available within the app. Unfortunately, I never hit the glorious, full vocoder sound I generally use by combining vocals with a fat multi-layered saw patch. There are some good waveforms in there though, I particularly liked the Choir 2 patch. The built in chorus and delay effects also really help fatten up the sound so you can some really great tones out of the synth.

The Consonant control on the synth is very useful and should be available on more vocoders. It emphasizes the consanants of the modulating vocal so the words can be understood more clearly. Cranking this setting up really gives some distinction regardless of the patch settings so you can almost always understand what your robot voice is saying. For me understandability (is that a word?)  is the single most important characteristic of a vocoder and that is absolutely one of iVoxels shining features.

Wrap-up

It appears that iVoxel will likely become part of my recording arsenal. As I said I use a ton of vocoders in my bands and iVoxel will really allow me to experiment and come up with new crazy ways to incorporate robot voices into our music. For this reason coupled with the awesome annunciation of the vocoder, I am really excited to start using this thing for real.

While there is live functionality available on iVoxel, I don't really envision ever using it in a live setting. Playing the on-screen keyboard and singing would just be too difficult. It is possible to insert the live voxel into the sequencer and have it play the melody allowing the user to sing which is how I set up most of my live vocodervocoder in a performance situation due to the limitations of the iPad hardware. Mics and cables and all that junk would get really messy on the iPad.

iVoxel

2 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for a great review. I own it but have no previous vocoder experience. I found the interface to be perplexing and had trouble sampling my own voice into it. It sounded shittier than the ready made biceps included in the program. In any event, I will take you advice, mess with it till I get something great. I knew it had potential but I was scratching my head a bit.

    Good luck with your band, I would check out some of your music if I could link.

    Cheers,

    M

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