Mobile Synths – Ten of the Best

Tablet and mobile synthesizers are becoming increasingly ubiquitous and more capable, as developers find new and innovative ways to best utilise the touchscreen medium. For the most part we’re seeing the same kinds of high-quality synths that we find in the computer world, albeit with slightly larger controls.

 

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As the iPad has developed, more and more companies are offering surprisingly complete DAWs in which multiple instances of instruments can be combined to create the ultimate, portable composition tool. This has taken a giant leap in recent months thanks to the release of Audiobus, which lets apps ‘talk’ to each other and allows you to feed the audio output of one app into another, offering much more advanced sound-design possibilities. However, the areas in which the best apps excel is in the innovative use of new interfaces and touch control. Synths like Moog’s Animoog simply couldn’t exist on any other medium, and it’s the options for tactile control and performance that ultimately make this a more expressive synth than many of its computer-based counterparts.

This being the case there are several things to consider when choosing a mobile synth. If you’re after just a high-quality sketch pad on which to draft your ideas you’ll probably want to go with a more traditional subtractive-style synth. On the other hand, if you’re sick of traditional techniques and are seeking inspiration, you might want to explore some of the more avant-garde apps that will have you thinking about programming in a different way. Finally, you may also want to consider how the synth might work in a live situation and whether it would be easy to edit while on stage, with some, such as Korg’s iPolysix, offering two X/Y Kaoss pads for quick modulation control.

Moog Music Animoog  

Price £10.49 (Apple/Blackberry)
Contact via websit

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Buy from iTunes now for your iPad or iPhone

Animoog is powered by Moog’s new Anisotropic Synthesis Engine (ASE), which enables users to move through an X/Y space and morph between different timbres captured from a range of classic Moog kit. The main screen features a keyboard on which each key essentially acts like a ribbon controller, allowing polyphonic modulation of individual notes. There’s also a glorious X/Y pad where the wave morphing takes place. What makes this such a joy to use is the visual feedback; each time you strike a key a coloured dot dances across a predefined path on the grid, which can be modulated by a range of sources. Other features include envelopes, LFOs and 4-pole filter, making it a unique, expressive synth.

Web  www.moogmusic.com

 

Way Out Ware SynthX

Price £2.99 (Apple App Store)
Contact via website

Buy from iTunes now for your iPad

SynthX is a touch-based performance synth that uses vertical lines or a harmonic grid to represent the notes you can play via a set of specific scales. The analogue-modelled sounds can then be processed through a range of effects. Interestingly, it allows the user to pass real-time audio into the iPad to make use of this processing as well. There’s an excellent selection of presets, from aggressive synth guitar tones with digital crunch to subby basses, 70s funk and sci-fi sounds.

Web  www.wayoutware.com 

 

Arturia iMini  

Price £6.99
Contact via website

Buy from iTunes now for your iPad

iMini is a re-creation of Arturia’s Minimoog soft synth, itself a copy of the classic Moog hardware. The app re-creates the three oscillators, mixer, noise generator, filter and envelopes of the original but, this being software, there are additional effects, performance tools and a Poly switch to increase polyphony. Purists would argue that the clean sound can’t compete with a real Moog synth, but the 500+ presets are still excellent and include deep basses, smooth leads and other classic 70s synth sounds.

Web www.arturia.com 

 

Korg iMS-20  

Price £20.99 (Apple App Store)
Contact via website

Buy from iTunes now for your iPad

Korg has crammed a whole load of features into this app, with an MS-20 synthesizer, six-part drum machine, analogue sequencer, mixer and song/pattern composer. At its heart is the classic MS-20 monosynth complete with patchbay and fat analogue sound. There is a small keyboard at the bottom that can be enlarged, along with two Kaoss Pads for better real-time control. One out of 14 possible inserts effects can be added to each synth and drum sound, alongside another for use with the mixer. Highlights include EQ, compression, Talking Modulator, valve distortion and bit-crushing effects. With an SQ-10-style analogue sequencer and a pattern and song arranger that can accommodate up to 256 bars, this app could potentially be all you need to create a full-sounding track.

Web  www.korg.co.uk

 

Blip Interactive NanoStudio

Price £9.99 (Apple App Store)
Contact via website

Buy from iTunes now for your iPad or iPhone

NanoStudio remains one of our favourite tools for creating tracks while sitting on a bus. This complete virtual studio contains a comprehensive MIDI sequencer with automation, mixer section with high-quality insert FX, and TRG-16 drum sampler. The star of the show, though, is the dual-oscillator Eden synth, which is well laid-out and offers a wealth of modulation/programming options. You can also load in samples, which, when combined with NanoStudio’s audio editor, makes sampling, re-sampling and processing easy tasks – and the perfect means to create your own unique sounds. An in-app purchase allows you to add ten more instrument channels to the original five, making this is a great tool for layered composition.

Web 
www.blipinteractive.co.uk

 

BleepStreet Sunrizer Synth

Price £6.99 (Apple App Store)
Contact via website

Sunrizer is an iPad-only app with a front end that will appeal to fans of the Roland JP-8000. It delivers some strong trance-like lead lines, too, with an emulation of the supersaw wave so you won’t be disappointed. Core MIDI is supported and internal recordings can be pasted into other apps. Sadly, there isn’t an onboard sequencer, so we had to make full use of the onboard arpeggiator. The filter types are varied and overall it has quite a forward sound due to the tube saturation added at the output. The effects include distortion, chorus, EQ and stereo delay, and the bottom end is quite thunderous.

Web  www.beepstreet.com

 

 

TempoRubato NLogSynth Pro

Price £6.99 (Apple App Store)
Contact via website

This single-part synth has four oscillators, PWM, ring mod and FM synthesis, plus plenty of modulation and performance options including an X/Y pad and arpeggiator. We were quite surprised by the sounds available, from crunchy 303s to new-age digital sounds and ethereal, glassy pads. The onboard reverb and delay helps to add depth and ambience, while a waveshaper distortion provides a modern Virus or Vangaurd-style sound.

Web  www.temporubato.com

Korg iPolysix

Price £20.99 (Apple App Store)
Contact Korg 01908 304601

Buy from iTunes now for your iPad

This app consists of two virtual Polysix synths, two Polyseq sequencers to drive them, a drum machine and mixer. It also includes user-friendly features such as SoundCloud integration, AudioCopy and WIST (Wireless Sync-Start Technology), allowing you to sync to other devices. The two synths are based on the original Polysix from the early 80s, and the drum machine features big, chunky sounds sampled from the same unit. Although the preset library is small, this encourages you to program patches, which is where the real fun begins.

Web  www.korg.com

 

Propellerhead ReBirth  

Price £10.49 (Apple App Store)
Contact Sound Technology
01462 480000

Buy from iTunes now for your iPad

ReBirth is a back-to-basics setup with two TB-303 synths alongside a TR-808 and TR-909 drum machine. All of these machines feature their own pattern or step-based sequencers, with further processing available via a compressor, a pattern-based low/band-pass filter, delay and distortion. The larger iPad display is much more suitable for an app with so much detail, and having the whole program fit on one screen makes it easier to see what’s going on. Those who enjoy making progressive, pattern-based music with classic sounds will love it.

Web 
www.propellerheads.se

Reactable Systems Reactable Mobile

Price £6.99 (Apple App Store)
Contact via website

Buy from iTunes now for your iPad or iPhone

Based on the table-top synth championed by the likes of Björk, the iOS version of Reactable offers visually stunning ways to control various sound generators, effects and mod controllers, otherwise known as Blocks. The layout is based around the central blue circle with a white circular pulse representing the project tempo. Dragging Blocks into the circle activates them, which unfortunately makes for some rough-sounding transitions. The editing options for each Block are also a little tricky to grasp, but over time things become more instinctive.

Web 
www.reactable.com

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