Friday, January 24, 2014

Korg Gadget Review - Is it worth it?

Korg dropped its new Gadget software yesterday and I had an iTunes gift card burning a hole in my account so I decided to drop the $28.99 to get the app at its “discount” price before they raise it to its real $38.99 price. I am fairly thrifty with my app purchases and this exceeded my $9.99 limit but for what appeared to be a software workstation with 15 plugins I figured it might be worth it and if it wasn’t I could at least tell all of you about it before you dropped the cash.

What is Korg Gadget?
Gadget is an actual virtual workstation squeezed into an iPad. It is basically like having a sequencer with 15 high-quality softsynths all running in one workspace on your tablet. And to answer the pressing question, yes it is pretty amazing. There is a great diversity of plug-ins including analogue, digital and sample based synths and drum machines. There is also an innovative and somewhat intuitive sequencer. However, where it seems to really lack is effects and mixing capabilities.

The Synths
A rundown of the 15 included plugins can be found here so I won’t go into all the details. Needless to say there is quite a diversity of sounds available in the app. I have only spent a few hours with the synths but I can say I have been able to find at least an approximation of every sound I have wanted to use in my first couple of tracks. The app seems geared towards hip-hop, EDM and dubstep but you can find sounds for just about any type of electronic music if you dig deep enough. One thing that is sadly missing is a universal arpeggiator. It seems like all iPad production apps always omit this essential function and Gadget is no different. 

I usually use FL Studio on a touchscreen PC for production and when I take a look at my tracks for any given project I realize that I really use a lot of the same synths over and over. The last album I did really only used about 6 plugins consistently and a bunch of drum samples. From that perspective the 15 modules available in Gadget could really go a long way if you find 5 or 6 favorites and stick with them dropping in others when necessary.

3 of the Gadgets are drum machines: analog, sample and PCM based options are available. So far it doesn’t look like you can add your own samples but I haven’t dug too far so I could be wrong. I suspect if it is missing this kind of expansion it will be added soon as Korg claims to have a deep roadmap drawn out for the development of this app and this kind of control will be necessary to elevate it to a true production tool as opposed to a competitor for iPad Garage Band. 

The other 12 Gadgets are synths. Again, they are pretty diverse and emulate classic synths in a very stripped down manner (MS-20, TB-303, Polysix, etc). They also add some new ones with specific genres in mind (again, dubstep and EDM sounds abound). There are a good number of presets available for most of the synths but some have just a few which again suggests the work-in-progress feel of the app. The great thing about the iOS ecosystem is the ability to continually update and add functionality to apps.  However, I fear we will probably be looking at in-app purchases in further updates to Gadget as outcry for more Gadgets, more presets and more samples is inevitable and seems like a ready target for more revenue.

The Sequencer
Perhaps the most exciting and innovative part of the Gadget package is the sequencer. The app forces iPad orientation into portrait mode. While this looks kind of weird in still photos, it really makes sense when you start using the app. The screen is usually divided in half with part sequencer/mixer or piano roll/synth configurations. The sequencer and piano roll can be expanded to full screen when doing editing giving ample room for manipulation. This configuration REALLY works well and makes other iOS workstations seem cumbersome by comparison. So GREAT JOB KORG!

The other interesting feature of the sequencer is its handling of parts. The instrument clips for each part are arranged horizontally with the corresponding parts above the mixer track for each synth. The parts themselves scroll vertically with the first one on top, last one on the bottom. Song progression is controlled by arranging parts vertically. Sort of like Ableton, but not really. Once you see it, it totally makes sense and there is a really shallow learning curve for jumping in. Something those new to sequencers will really appreciate.

There are a few missing features in the sequencer that make it a little frustrating to use. I still can’t figure out how to select sequences in the synth piano rolls and move them as a group, but that could just be me. I am sure it is in there somewhere. Again I have only used it for a few hours. Zooming in and out on the piano roll also appears to be limited and you can’t always get the entire part on the screen at once. Little quirks that are easily addressed and will probably be solved in future updates. However, they have frustrated me to the point that I haven’t been able to do some things I really wanted to do during song creation and had me throw the iPad down in disgust. So Korg, if you are listening, CLEAN THAT SHIT UP! Or at least tell me what I am doing wrong.

The Effects
While there are effects built in to each gadget, they generally have little to no parameter control and are pretty generic producing a stock sound that emulates complicated effects chains used in current electronic music. For example you can get a pretty good approximated ducking effect using the whole mix limiter or built in synth effects, but it isn’t really a duck. Its not sidechaining or anything, its just squashing the signal of the synth so it sounds like its ducking even if your kick pattern doesn’t match the duck pattern. There is also a easy way to get a wobble bass using the wobble knob (easy enough) on the “Miami” synth (the gadgets are all named after cities, clever?). This lack of parameter control is really frustrating if you are used to using effects to sculpt your sound beyond the synth parameters. But hey, this is still the first multi-plugin capable workstation I have seen for iPad so I guess I shouldn’t really be complaining.

The Sound
So far the sound of the overall mixes I have created appear to be okay. Not fantastic, but I have yet to dive in and try to get a final mix. However, the lack of mixer and effect parameter control is so limiting that I can’t see final mixing natively in the app. I imagine dumping each track out individually and mixing on a computer using real effects and maybe adding some new sounds. Perhaps something that will be a target for future updates but introducing proper mixing capabilities would take some serious work. With that said, the synths sound great on their own and will provide sufficient fidelity to songs created or mixed elsewhere. The drum machines are pretty limited and I have yet to find a full drum kit I am totally happy with. The snare choices in particular are a little limited and I have found myself using a placeholder snare on every track I have made with the intention of using some of my own samples later down the road.

Hardware Compatibility
Due to the diversity in iPad hardware available now, it would seem the amount of gadgets that you can run simultaneously is dependent on which processor your iPad is using. I have an iPad 3 and I haven’t hit the device cap yet but I have only used about 10 devices at once. A lot of the demo tracks won't open on my 3 so it is clear they designed this thing for the power of the new iPads. You can actually freeze tracks by rendering the audio after sequencing which is an amazing functionality that has been available in PC workstations for a while. This really makes sense in the iOS world. So again, GOOD JOB KORG!


So, is it worth it? I would almost say yes, at this point the flexibility and unique sequencing ability of the app is without match on the app store. $28.99 (current sale price) is steep and $38.99 (regular list price) is even steeper for an iOS app but this is a pretty good deal considering everything you get. External and internal midi compatibility is already baked in and Korg is promising a comprehensive roadmap to introduce new content and features. Once some of the obvious omissions are addressed this will be impressive songcrafting software. I am not sure it will ever be the only workstation you need but new producers will probably be satisfied with the sound if they have nothing to compare it to. I am glad I bought it but I still haven’t produced anything I want the world to hear on it. I’ll let you know if I do.

Korg Gadget 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Traktor DJ Review - almost there but playlist handling sucks.

I realize that it has been quite a while since I have postedon here. During that time The Red Bull BPM app grew into the super useful DJPlayer making my initial review look pretty lame.  My favorite Nanostudio devs went on hiatus due to injury (I hope you are feeling better!!!) and came back to release a small update and promises for the future. Tabletop surfaced, midi controllers started working with iOS, the amazing Algoriddim DJay app popped and all sorts of fun soft-synths made their iOS debut. But all of this pales in comparison to the release of Traktor DJ for iPad!!! It was enough to bring me out of lazy retirement!!!

With that said, was Traktor DJ worth me hastily selling my 1st Gen device on ebay and running to an Atlanta deep (I mean really deep) discount electronics store to get a 3rd Gen 64gb iPad? (Incidentally, I was so hasty in selling my 1st Gen that I forgot it was 32gb and listed it as a 16gb. Some lucky guy is getting a surprise in the mail!!!). Initial impressions suggested the answer to my above question is yes. Traktor DJappears to be the most useable DJ application released for iOS to date.  I took it to my regular Saturday night gig to be sure…

Saturday was a weird night at GO Bar with Harouki Zombi putting on an amazing show right before I was to DJ bringing a troupe of dancing zombi hotties with them and basically taking over the bar. With so much going on that night I didn’t get on until 1:00am. We close at 2:00 so I only had an hour to put TDJ through its paces. One great thing about using an iPadto DJ is streamlined setup time. I was on and playing literally in seconds. The club already had a 1/8” lead ready to go and I had a stereo to mono to stereo splitter plugged in before you could blink. This type of situation is what TDJ is made for. If I used my full rig with a laptop and the Kontrol S2 it would have taken me 10 of the 60 minutes I had to DJ just to get ready.
Traktor DJ turned out to be a great tool to just get the DJ job done. With only 1 hour to DJ it was a perfect on the fly partner in the booth and everything just worked. Beatmatching is almost too easy and I actually felt compelled to do FX transitions between every song which is not my style but it was so fun using the X-Y pads! I felt kind of dumb staring at an iPad all night, but I usual have to stare a laptop screen anyway. So overall, yes TDJ works great for a quick jump in and party type situation. But it was far from perfect.


As an engineer I know that it isn’t until actual field use that you discover a new technology’s weak spots. The main one I can point out with Traktor DJ is it’s handling of the music library and playlists. Since you can’t currently import Traktor Pro playlists into TDJ I was stuck with relying on the few rudimentary lists I threw together playing around at home. These were not sufficient. Add to that the fact that you cannot sort tracks by useful tags like ratings, import date or last date played and it was sort of like working blind. I have 8000 songs on the iPad and it was nearly impossible searching the music library to find anything useful. I had to rely on search, which worked fine, but I certainly would have come up with a better set on pro using all my playlists and configuration settings. I don’t plan anything ahead and my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants style is not compatible with TDJ. In order to fix this issue I have been spending a few hours a day since then creating specific playlists in TDJ. This is getting tedious. Its also not going to be perfect as I still crave sort settings and history playlists to make things work right.


I also was disappointed in how TDJ handles tempo and sync. It really gives you two options: 1. Have the software sync every song for youwhile manipulating the master clock or 2. Turn off sync and try to adjust the tempo of the upcoming track without messing up the currently playing one. Neither one is ideal. TDJ syncs track via the flux mode so everything is on the downbeat leading to delayed starts while the play cursor plays catch up with the next song. Again if you turn it off you can start anywhere in the track you like instantly but there is no time stretching available. It gets really annoying when you are used to just dropping the digital needle and hitting play on Traktor Pro. It does time-stretch though, let's not forget it wasn't too long ago that iOS DJ apps couldn't do this. It sounds good enough, not as good as Taktor Pro, but certainly workable. 

Looping is a frustrating issue. The actual looping process, two-finger touch is amazing. Dropping a loop is so fun it is hard to stop yourself from doing it constantly. However “aiming” and getting the loop just right could be refined as could the innovative way you can drag loops to move and resize them. It really does work but you have to have huge balls todrop a loop and start moving it around while the track is playing. You almost have to jump way ahead and fine tune the loop before you are even near it in the time line.


The final complaint I have is obvious, the audio on an iPad sucks. Especially when using a splitter so you can monitor cue. I have the S2and Native Instruments keeps hinting that they could actually get the audio on the S2working with TDJ since it supports core audio. However, that would sort of defeat the purpose of using TDJ since I could just bring my computer and have access to the entire controller. There are a few compatible interfaces from NI, but they are a bit pricey just to run audio out of an iPad. The obvious solution is for NI to release a Traktor Audio 2 interface with core support. I already own a Traktor Audio 2 DJ and I would be annoyed to buy another one but I would to have the boost in audio quality and volume.


8 cue points are certainly awelcome feature. This appears to be the only data that really syncs with Traktor Pro. As I said earlier the FX are really fun to play with. The screen layout is also pretty great as you are basically looking at two touch controllable waveforms the whole time. The audio never skipped which is probably the most important feature of the software, as the bells and whistles don’t matter if you can’t get through a track. I would say it was one of the most solid audio experiences I have had djaying. Hopefully that stability is maintained as my iPad and the software mature.

The freeze function everyone is excited about is really cool. It allows you to lock a track and tap on each grid partition as a separate sample allowing you to sort of beat juggle by playing the song itself. At this point, I see it as more of a gimmick other than dropping the occasional tapped beat or sound effect. However, when you are doing that, the 2nddeck is occupied perhaps causing trouble later when you have to quickly load and play the next track. Still, a cool feature which I am sure will evolve.


The bottom line is that yes, Traktor Dj is the best DJ app for iOS, without question. The thought that went into it is apparent. It is fun, intuitive and exciting. It is perfect for a party or a short set at club. Using it all night might get a bit frustrating, but that could be fixed with fine-tuning of the playlist, sharing and library mechanics. If you are a controller freak who uses a lot of samples and FX, TDJ will probably bore you quickly. However, if you are a DJ who is more about the songs and the party, this could be the perfect solution as soon as a small, inexpensive 4in 4out core audio interface makes its way to market.

Monday, July 11, 2011

FL Studio Mobile Review

FL Studio proper is pretty much my favorite PC audio production suite. I use it almost daily and have been using it for years. I was super excited when Image-Line announced FL Studio Mobile for iOS and have been working with it for a few weeks now. Jump over to to see my impressions and for a few tips and tricks.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Beatmaker 2 Review - A Challenger Appears

Hey everyone! I am working with a new group of bloggers over at and I just posted a review of Beatmaker II for iOS over there. Let me know what you think of the new site!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Future DJ, Primitive Review

It's alright for $1.99
 I stumbled across this new entry into the iOS DJ game and it is coming at it from a new angle so I thought I would give it a once over. Turns out it really isn't that bad, but is missing one key feature. This seems to sort of be the way all iOS music apps are. They all do a lot right but it is tiny omissions that make them relatively useless for real world application. Anyway, if you want a spoiler, this one is missing timestretching and only allows you to pitch tracks to beatmatch them. Other than that it is pretty intuitive and simple.

This app features stacked waveforms which I really think is the way to go. It can most closely be compared to Touch DJ, one of my previous faves. But Touch DJ edges Future DJ out due to some key features. However since Future DJ is coming in at just $1.99 as compared to Touch DJ's $9.99 it may fit someone's budget and deliver similar experience.

Looks kinda familiar,
but does it beatmatch Journey?
Importing tracks from the iTunes library was painless and the tracks even start playing during the first-time-only waveform analysis the app performs. This allows you to immediately play a track without waiting for the BPM analysis. Scratching and seeking on the waveform worked well and the looping system is actually really cool for quick loops and doing progressive stutter looping and getting out quick and on beat. The app seems to track dance music beats pretty well and even held up well under some older tracks that weren't necessarily synced to a beat. It also has the requisite split headphone option which is a must for any real beatmatching, looping or matching. It has some simple effects, delay and beatjump and allows a cue point. Still, all pretty elementary

The coolest feature this app offers is one I haven't even tried since I don't have the required iPhone4 or iPad2. It is called "Motion Playing" and basically allows you to put the iDevice on a real turntable and manipulate the platter to seek and scratch within a track. Pretty gimmicky, but no one else has done it so cheers to the Devs at Xylio, you get an A for creativity.

Just like just about every other iOS DJ app, this isn't going to replace Serato or Traktor yet, but maybe with iPad 2 we will see some DJ apps that push limits and deliver a full DJ experience...

Ok, probably not...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Oh Crap... GarageBand for iPad...

It sorta sounds like this looks.
A week ago, I was really excited about this. Like really excited. Now I am so bummed out I can barely write this. GarageBand for iPad is out... and it sucks. Don't get me wrong, there are some really cool things going on here, but the lack of a piano roll or any way of editing programmed tracks pretty much renders it useless. This seems to be a very common complaint, but I am sorry, it must be said again. How apple could let this thing go without this very critical functionality I am not sure, but it takes a potential game changing app and makes it a toy.

Like this only worse.
The smart instruments are a great idea. The training wheels that they have built in to GB are really useful for songwriting. However, none of that matters because no matter what you do with these things, the recordings are set in stone and cannot be manipulated post recording. On the flipside, these smart instruments are going to introduce us to a whole generation of Owl City wannabees with synth guitars that sound like banjos.

You may as well just get one of
these and play the demo tracks.
Another major flaw is that for some reason everything sort of ends up sounding the same. Like a demo track on a Yamaha keyboard with built in speakers that was purchased at Service Merchandise in the 80s. Or the theme song to "My So Called Life". Or like a band of dudes that all work at Guitar Center. The inability to edit anything locks this horrible aftertaste in and doesn't allow its manipulation to remove the funk.

I wish I could like this thing. I really do, but I don't. It has nothing on Nanostudio or even iSequence or Xenon. I will just have to sit back and wait for FL Studio Mobile. Maybe that will surprise me in the other direction... Until then, here is the best this thing could hope to sound like.


Update: I decided to give GB another try. I have a remix to do for La Chansons and I thought I would give it the wonky flavor only GB could provide. I hadn't even tried to import audio into this pOS but naively assumed it would be possible. As most of you probably know, it isn't. Well, it is, if you want to spend an hour renaming files and tricking iTunes into letting you import aiff files, but I didn't want to. Strike 18 GB... I think you are totally out...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Holy Crap! GarageBand for iPad!

Audio and Sequences together at last
Apple hit the iPad music community with a huge surprise announcement of GarageBand for iPadyesterday and I can't believe how excited I am, especially considering it is GarageBand. For some reason, I have never taken GB very seriously. Some of my friends use it as their main sequencer and it always kind of made me chuckle. This really isn't warranted since I use FL Studio as my main sequencer and it used to be called Fruity Loops. There is just something about the fact that it is included with every mac that made me never take it seriously. However, my friends swear by it. Ryan who runs kindercore with me used it for his band The Buddy System and that shit was great.

When you start looking at everything this app is going to have, it gets really exciting. The timeline appears to allow both audio and sequencing which is something no other iPad app can do yet unless you count beatmaker 2 which I don't because it is really sampling and not proper multitracking. It also has drumpads, controllable synths, and all the other stuff the fans of GB are always claiming are awesome.

This looks stupid, but it is built in to
the app!!
This is why I have always thought
Garage Band was lame.

Synth Controls - thank you Apple

Not pretty, but it probably works.

So basically, I am sold, however it looks like it is only going to be available for the iPad 2. I am not sure about this, but that seems to be the scuttlebut. If that is the case I am totally bummed because this is the only reason I can see for getting the new iPad. However, a year ago I was all like "I don't need an iPad, it is just a big iPhone". Now I can't live without it and take it with me almost everywhere I go.

Anyway, if someone can verify this app is iPad 2 only so I can get really sad that would be great. 

UPDATE: It looks like there is hope!!! A few sources, including a tweet by Danny Patterson (@Coupler), claim confirmation that the Garage Band may work on the original iPad.