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Friday, June 29, 2012

Yamaha Synth Arp & Drum Pad Review

I'm a pretty big fan of Propellerheads' Figure for making quick and simple tunes on my iPhone or iPad (it has an Android release too). I will get round to writing a review at some point for it, but meanwhile, I had high hopes when I saw a Twitter post from the lovely people at Computer Music mag announcing Yamaha's new iPad app: Synth Arp & Drum Pad.

I was hoping that it would be simple enough to get pretty quickly, but have a few more options than Figure does - particularly when it came to creating and saving songs.

At this point, I should say that I've been sucked into music applications and apps since 1997 when I got my hands on a beta tool that would turn into Propellerheads' ReBirth. I've enjoyed using a few, but too many times been frustrated at how complex some of these applications could be. The birth of the tablet offered hope of a quick and easy music creation experience with touch.

The blurb on iTunes sounded good:

Synth Arp & Drum Pad is an iPad app with arpeggiator and drum pad that allows you to easily play the internal synthesizer or any connected MIDI device and produce music with phrases having an abundant variety of musical styles.
(The arpeggiator automatically plays the individual notes of a chord in a selected pattern.)

There are 342 arppegiator patterns that can play phrases from all kinds of music genres like dance music, hip-hop, rock, pops, with one finger.

I love arppegiators. Don't know how much of my life has gone in fiddling with them, but to have 342! Awesome!

The screen shots looked good too:

It looked like a good balance of synth parts and a programmable drum machine

Would Synth Arp & Drum Pad be that killer combination of easiness combined with power?

It started well. The arppegiator is great. You can lock the link between the voice and the arp sequences, or you can break the link and get some pretty wacky effects with the many voices included with the tool. I have to say, I spent a good hour just playing with all that and had a whale of a time!

The tricky bit came to the adjustments. For a start the touch sensitivity is woeful. When you turn the effect pots there is a noticeable lag, making real time or sensitive adjustments pretty much impossible. Transitioning notes during the arp sequences to create chord variations is hit and miss too. I found horrible missed cuts, even with quantization on, as the touch sensitivity just lagged behind.

Once you do get an adjustment going and hit the right notes at the right time you can make some killer leads and bases. Yamaha have put at lot of thought into the arp sequences, and as I said before, the voices are all pretty good.

On to the drum machine screen.

Again, started well. Nice array of sixteen pads. Bashing some of the demo notes revealed some good sounds. On with the programming. And here another hour was lost. But instead of a joyful hour, it was an hour of frustration trying to make the damn thing do what I wanted it to do.

OK - at this point I must point out my drum machine history. Roland. Sorry, it just doesn't get any better and I've never seen a reason to change my view on that. The TB sequencing and step sequencing come natural to me. Yamaha's interface didn't.

Now it might be me. it might be the Korg guys and the Yamaha guys, and even you Roland people out there, just get this interface and make beautiful patterns. I just didn't get it. The manual is rubbish, and was no real help.

You can assign a pad to be a sequence or a hit. The yellow ones in the picture above are sequences. Take a lot at the screenshot below:

When you edit a pad with a Seq that is what you see. The notation is flamming MIDI. I'm sorry, I'm sure lots of people like that, but as a Roland guy I like "House Bass" or "Techno Kick" and I like to rename them if I want to. And I know I can rename them in the Pad Edit bit. But seeing "C1" just means I have to muck about figuring what type of sound "C1" actually is. Life's too short...

The bars below are where the hit occurs in the 16 step sequencer. Just try getting that to work easily. You can see my pathetic attempt on the end of the bar to do a rolling kick. I just couldn't get the levels right and got fed up.

The final kick in the teeth was the measure panel. I thought I could edit each measure so that in four bars I could add variation. Nope. It is an indication of when the sounds are triggering. if you deselect 1,2,3 then the sounds only fire in bar 4. So if you want so variation between bars that has to be done on another pad. Grrr....

So would Synth Arp & Drum Pad be that killer combination of easiness combined with power?

Frankly - no

Sorry Yamaha. I'm sure this may turn out to be a great app, and probably is for some people, but just not for me.

I realise I haven't touched on other aspects of this app, but I got fed up with it. I love the arps, and will probably sample them or use them with another app in some way. The interface is not for me, and the drum machine is - well - pants.

Of course, this is my opinion. What do you think? Is it right up your street? Or do you agree with me?

1 comment:

  1. These mobile apps are getting better ! Not to mention the name Yamaha on the product.