Mini Products Reviews (Part 1)

3/30/2013 11:23:47 AM

A rapid-fire round-up of sample libraries, ROMplers, apps and more

Steinberg Cubasis

Price: $53

Format: iPad

Steinberg Cubasis

GarageBand aside, it was only a matter of time before one of the major DAW developers became the first to bring a big brand to iPad, and that developer, it turns out, is Steinberg. Cubasis captures the essence and spirit of Cubase in a multi-touch MIDI/audio sequencer that, obviously, doesn't come anywhere near the full specification of its Mac/PC parent but does give Cubase users a mobile counterpart with project export to versions 6.5 and 7.

With audio and MIDI track counts limited only by your iPad’s processing power, Cubasis can record via the mic or a Core Audio/Core MIDI interface. MIDI parts are edited in a piano roll (draw, move, delete, quantize and transpose notes), while the audio editor has a set of basic processes (there’s no time stretch or pitch shift).

Around 70 HALion Sonic sampled instruments are included, but while they’re of decent quality, stylistically they’re nothing to get too excited about, comprising plenty of guitars, keyboards, drums and orchestral instruments, but precious little in the way of interesting electronic sounds.

‘Generic’ is definitely the word, and with attack and release being the only editable parameters on offer, there’s really no getting away from it. The same goes for the 300 MIDI and audio loops, which could cheerfully serve as placeholders but little else.

Ten effects are onboard (three inserts per channel and three fixed aux buses sending to two delays and a reverb), and these are pretty effective, despite their minimal controls.

It’s in the arrange page and mixer that Cubasis really shines, with multi-touch making navigating, editing and mixing supremely smooth and easy. As usable and impressively ‘Cubase-like’ as it all is, though, the price is a little hard to swallow, especially for non-Cubase users. GarageBand might not be as powerful, but it’s certainly in the same ballpark at less than a tenth the price. Cubase diehards probably won’t regret buying it, though, especially if Steinberg can wheel out some canny updates.

Toontrack New York Studios Vol 3 SDX

Price: $192

Web: www.timespace.com

Format: SDX for Superior Drummer 2.0

Toontrack New York Studios Vol 3 SDX

The New York Studios series is the center piece of Toontrack’s amazing Superior Drummer virtual drum kit system, the core library itself constituting Volume 1 (recorded at Avatar Studios), and the first add-on SDX being Volume 2 (recorded at Hit Factory NY and Allaire).

Volume 3 sees Toontrack returning to Avatar to capture three full vintage drum kits and some supplementary snares, as well as a sizeable collection of cymbals. We say 'returning’, but actually, the original sessions were done in 2006, with engineers Neil Dorfsman and Pat Thrall retrieving the recordings from the vaults last year for production - so it’s really a prequel.

With the full install weighing in at 18GB, NY3 is very much "more of the same”, certainly, but Superior has always been all about lovingly recorded acoustic drums rather than crazy electronic sounds or percussive esoterica, and as any Superior user will attest, adding to the library with a new kit or two is always a thrill.

The drums, then, comprise 1964 Slingerland, 1979 Ludwig and 1966 Rogers kits, with extra snares by GMS and an unknown manufacturer. The cymbals are almost all Sabians (the HHX series being the most represented), and there are a lot of ’em, covering a broad sonic spectrum.

The Slingerland kit is our favorite, with its tight, funky kick and snare, and dry, musical toms. Beyond that, it’s all big kicks and toms, throaty snares and a generally 'rock’ vibe. The Ludwig setup (powered along by its hefty 24" kick and 6V2" snare) sounds ‘thumpier’ and perhaps a bit less buoyant than the other two, but the three kits complement each other well. The recording quality throughout is stellar (see the website for the list of gear used, headlined by Avatar's Neve 8068 console), and making your own presets by mixing up kit elements and working theSD mixer is as fun and productive as ever. There’s also the usual library of genre-categorized MIDI files, performed by renowned sessioneer Nir Z, to use as starting points for your own programming endeavors.

Another fine addition to the SDX line, then!

Korg iPolysix

Price: $31

Web: www.korg.com

Format: iPad

Korg iPolysix

While Steinberg might be new to the iPad game, Korg are veterans, with emulations of their Electribe and MS-20 hardware already on Apple’s tablet. While what we really want are Wavestation and MS2000 apps, iPolysix will fill the time nicely until one of them comes along.

The original Polysix is a six-voice synth from the early 80s most notable for its affordability and fabulously warm analogue sound. The iPad version again ticks both of those boxes, comprising not one but two synth engines, as well as a six-track drum machine that uses sampled Polysix sounds as source material. And while it might be quite expensive for the App Store, it’s excellent value for money in terms of sound, features and the amount of work that’s clearly gone into it.

The two synths are replicas of the Polysix with a few little extras thrown in (a high-pass filter, for example), so they’re eminently easy to program. Essentially, you get one oscillator (with sub) per voice, a filter, an envelope and an LFO with which to craft your raw tones. These can then be animated with the built-in arpeggiator, beefed up using the Unison feature and processed by one of a library of 28 simple but impactful effects (expanding somewhat on the original’s Chorus, Phaser and Ensemble).

The Polyseq 64-step polyphonic sequencer enables you to record/ program patterns for both synths and the drums, complete with parameter automation and a series of inspiring sequencing modes. Oh, and you also get two Kaoss Pads for real-time performance and modulation, a basic mixer, and project sharing via Polystage, which gives you access to other users’ work for ‘remixing’.

Seriously, what can we say? $31 for a hugely convincing dual Polysix emulation from the company that built the original, with touchscreen control and a whole electronic studio wrapped around it? It’s a beautiful piece of work, and the recently released Version 1.1 brings Audiobus and iCIoud backup to the party, making iPolysix even more unmissable.

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