Pantsofdeath reviews Audulus from Subatomic Software.
I jumped at a chance to review Audulus…. “gimme!” I said … and then I freaked out a bit because modular synthesis is a little out of my comfort zone. I am happy messing about with all the iOS synths I have: subtractive, wavetable, granular… but they all have easy to use UIs with dials and knobs.
The nearest I have come to modular synthesis is messing about with the patch cables in the iMS-20.. and I struggled with that. How was I going to cope with this? Then I opened up the app and had a look, and suddenly everything seemed very familiar.
Let me explain. I work for a software company that sells a modular data processing platform, there are components for every processing function, and you join all those components together on a screen with lines, or flows, to make an application. Audulus does exactly this, but with sound instead of data.
Both our companies even have the same tag line “from first principles”. Maybe this wasn’t going to be such an alien experience after all. The UI is clean and easy to use, once you get used to some of the quirks.
To add modules or join them together you need two touches, one to hold down one of the two context buttons on the left of the screen and another to perform the action, either tapping through the context specific menus or dragging a connecting line for an output port of one module to an input port of another.
|Take the time, about one and a half minutes, to watch the shipped video as it explains the UI very well. This video is also available from the help menu in the app.
You’ll notice the Midi controlled keyboard and Midi Assignable Trigger nodes in the box on the right. Audulus claims everything can be controlled with MIDI (but not with virtual MIDI yet). If that wasn’t enough Audulus are promising that coming soon to the iPad is the ability to create custom modules (from combinations of the modules above) so that you can reuse whole node structures you have created.
The learning curve for Audulus is pretty good, and within an hour or so I had created a couple of basic patches. It wasn’t long before I had made a synth with a few oscillators, filters, noise generation and some delay. Next I explored and edited the shipped patches, there are only a handful of these and they are there to illustrate the use of various modules and the creation of various types of synth.
Finally I went to the Audulus forum and downloaded some of the patches there, and they were both complex and intricate. There is a lot to learn here and some of the things people are doing with Audulus are breathtaking. There is something faintly Star Trek about the interface and a complex patch really is a thing of beauty.
Audulus, like all synths, has its own sound. All the patches I have played about with have a distinctively clean and almost ringing tone. While you can modulate that tone into something completely different I suspect you will always be able to pick the Audulus sounds out of a lineup.
I have no doubt that Modular synth nerds and interested tinkerers alike will enjoy Audulus, at $20 it is at the pricier end of the iOS synth market, and at that price the app buying community will expect Audulus to deliver.
This list pretty much addresses all of the criticisms I have of this app, the lack of presets, the clunky and slow changing of patches, and lack of ACP for me are all problematic. I know for many iOS musicians the current lack of Virtual Midi is will also be problematic, however once these issues are addressed I believe Audulus will take its place among the handful of serious iOS synths.
Final thoughts: Importantly I think Audulus is a synth for sound generation enthusiasts. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but casual users should beware. While this is a beautiful, elegant and well thought out app, you are hand rolling your own synths here. If you want a big phat phased saw lead for your latest track then you will be able to get this from Audulus, but if you want it now, today, within the next hour, then it might be faster to crank up one of your other synths. This is a synth for people who love the process of generating sounds, if you want to hand craft bespoke patches, and the crafting of those sounds is as much a joy as the final result, then Audulus is for you.
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|Pantsofdeath, or Jon as his family insist on calling him, is a 43 year old Brit living in Sydney. He spent his teens and twenties making music on a collection of junk shop and jury rigged music equipment. Then pesky things like work and children got in the way. The unexpected gift of an iPad at Christmas reignited his passion and he is now a slightly obsessive iOS musician and app fetishist.|