Price Desktop version $299, plug-ins only $199, iOS version $39.99
Korg’s Gadget was the DAW that dragged me kicking and screaming into music-making on an iPad. I’d resisted the temptation for a while, perhaps rather snobbishly looking down my nose at iOS music-making. Gadget changed that. It’s essentially a suite of synths and drum machines and a very easy UI to sew them all together into incredible-sounding tunes. It was almost like it was written for me, so quickly did I make music with it.
Then, a couple of years back, along came Gadget for the Mac. Again, I resisted the urge, thinking that the sweet touch experience of the iOS version could never translate to desktop (and yes, I do see the irony of this time looking down my nose at a Mac). Besides, Korg then recently released all of the Gadgets as a suite of instruments that run in any desktop Mac or PC DAW. I reviewed those a few months ago, loved them and now use them with Logic, so no need for Gadget ‘the DAW’ on my Mac, right?
But now Gadget 2.5 for the Mac is here, I have it up and running and there is only one question I can ask: why on Earth didn’t I get this thing installed two years ago?
A gadget inspection
You see, I was wrong – and it’s rare I admit that in writing – to assume that the Gadget experience wouldn’t translate to the Mac. Its beautiful, streamlined nature has been ported lock, stock, and smoking synth and drum machine to the Mac… brilliantly. You get four Windows in the UI: one for your mixer (which shows each Gadget loaded per track), one piano-roll editor, the Gadget up close and the song/arrangement.
On the iPad, these windows are, of course, touchable so you can select Gadgets, play notes, edit them and arrange patterns with the tap and swipe of a finger. On a Mac, your input method will vary according to your potential controller options, but I just used the Mac keyboard and mouse. ‘Urgh!’ you might think – and I feared – as a Gadget iOS user, but you know what? I had another (spectacular, I might add) Gadget tune to add to my growing collection in minutes. I was back in the world of Gadget, but this time on the big screen. (Of course, having touch would be nice, but until Apple makes its desktop machines touchable, that best of both worlds ain’t happening soon.)
Gadget is a full DAW, but probably not one that you are used to, but don’t let that put you off if you are new to Gadget – it’s certainly not like learning a DAW from the ground up. In fact, what Korg has done is take the most important parts of music-making, streamlined them and made them dead easy to implement, so you can create tunes fast. Select a Gadget in the mixer with the + icon, then the number of bars you want your clip to cycle around, record and repeat until you have a song. If you have a 16-bar track as your longest clip, this will cycle with the shorter clips repeating in it as a Scene. You can then create more Scenes (from scratch or copying and pasting) to create entire songs.
Honestly, even that paragraph makes the process sound more complicated than it is, but most importantly, that process is a huge amount of fun. Sure, you don’t get all the heavy duty – and perhaps overly complex stuff – that you’ll find in other desktop DAWs, but that is Gadget’s strength: easy access to great instruments and fast song creation. Honestly, I can easily say I’ve never had so much fun making music than with Gadget, on a Mac or iPad. And that is down to the interface, and those Gadgets.
We built these cities
There are over 40 instruments included with Gadget, so I’ll just cover the highlights. Most are named after cities and some of the older ones include Miami, a mono wobble synth, great for contemporary EDM; Chicago, which is, as you might expect, a 303-alike bass machine; and Dublin, a classic semi-modular. Among my favourites are the Helsinki Ambient Synthesiser and Kiev Advanced Spatial Digital Synthesiser. Your drum options are many and varied, from more acoustic sounds in Gladstone to the electronic in the brilliant Recife.
The three additions in Gadget 2.5 are the Otorii and Ebina, ‘future-retro sound modules’ created with SEGA and Taito, so obviously with a gaming edge. These look and sound a lot better than you might think; less 8-bit and more useful. Then there’s Warszawa, a surprisingly capable and easy-to-use wavetable synth.
I should add that Gadgets are perhaps not the complete plug-in synths, drum machines and instruments that you might be used to from your desktop DAWs. They have limited presets, often numbering just 32 and also fewer controls to tweak than a full-blown synth. But that is the Gadget philosophy – just give the user the best bits. So you’ll usually get filter and resonance controls to mess with, plus some oscillator choices and tuning and that might be that. But the real beauty lies in the automation where many of an instrument’s parameters can be recorded and edited very easily, giving your clips a new dynamic and songs a huge lift in terms of interest. So the instruments might be cut-down versions, but like everything in this software, they are getting you to the fun – and fast – and the results are anything but cut-down.
Finally, a quick word on exporting songs. You can swap between iOS and Mac Gadgets using the iCloud sync feature introduced in v2. You can also export as an Ableton Live project, which presumably requires the Gadget instruments to run perfectly, or simply export as audio.
You might by now have realised that I am a fan of Gadget – and now of both the Mac version very much alongside the original iOS one (and I’ll be writing a separate mini review of that update soon). That doesn’t, of course, mean that you will fall head over heels for these Gadgets. I am very much a synth-and-drum-machine electronic producer and Gadget has always aimed itself fairly and squarely at these genres. That said, there are plenty of sampler Gadgets to weave in other sounds and a quartet of instruments – Salzburg, Montreal, Alexandria and Firenze – offer less electronic instrumentation, with everything from classical piano to funk keyboards.
The only other negative is the price. iOS Gadget users can get Gadget for £19.99. That’s expensive for an app, perhaps, but cheap compared to the Mac version that weighs in at $299 from the Korg shop. However, this iOS-versus-desktop price debate is not limited to Gadget – look at Cubasis versus Cubase, or GarageBand versus Logic; there is a huge price differential across the board. Either way, if you are not a Gadget user, then I can’t recommend it enough. Perhaps start with the iOS version for less outlay, but you will be hooked. Just don’t wait as long as I did to taste the Mac version. I never thought I’d say the following – but it’s a topsy turvy tech world we live in: the desktop version is as good as the iOS version!
Do I really need this?
There’s a strong argument that many DAWs have become so feature-packed that you can’t see the wood for the trees. Many developers have tried to strip back the options to make the user experience more enjoyable, but Gadget really gets to the heart of music-making: the fun of it. That’s not to say that it doesn’t give you serious results – it really does.
But while you create – and I can almost guarantee you will have songs in very little time compared to your regular DAW – you will have a huge smile on your face. And when was the last time you could say that as you wrestled with manuals and tutorials, trying to suss out the ins and outs of your DAW? So if you have a DAW, no, you don’t need Gadget. But if you want to have more fun in production, then perhaps you do.
● Streamlined and fun DAW for Mac (iOS version to be reviewed separately)
● Comes with 40-plus synths, instruments and drum machines
● Piano edit for note editing and arrange window for song creation
● Export to iCloud, as audio, as MIDI or as Ableton projects (also Ableton Link compliant)
● New to v2.5: Otorii drum/SFX module with samples from 80s SEGA games; Ebina FM synth module inspired by the Darius arcade cabinet; Warszawa wavetable synthesizer
If you haven’t experienced the Gadget world but have an iOS device, this is your cheaper way in and, of course, you get touch control. It is still, to my mind, the best way of making music outside of your studio.
With a rack full of instruments and effects, Reason offers more in the way of song creation but is almost as easy to use. Version 11 promises plug-in compatibility, which makes linking it to your DAW even easier.