Thursday, March 31, 2011

NanoStudio - Full featured iPad Digital Audio Workstation

NanoStudio - The iPad DAW you come back to!
On my iPad (1st generation) I am definitely suffering from synth ADD. With every new synth offering novel sounds and interfaces all at $15 or less, it is easy to build up a large collection (which I have!).

The hard part is actually learning and using the tools. There are some semi-cumbersome file sharing standards on the iPad that let you copy and share sounds from one device to another and recently a few apps have figured out how to share sounds live over Core-midi.

I have many innovative synthesizer apps all unique and useful in their own ways. Even with the sharing possibilities with Sonoma Audio-Paste and other clipboard routines, it is still very cumbersome to combine sounds from different synths into a cohesive piece. There are a few apps that provide a full or nearly-full solution even given the limitations of the iPad hardware. One, of course is Garageband which I have already touched on. It is ground-breaking in many areas but a few shortcomings include:

  • It does not allow you edit your recorded performance at the MIDI or note by note level
  • It does not provide any real automation or editing of key velocities
  • It does not make it easy to import/export projects (though I believe that has finally been addressed with the latest Garageband update)
An older app that offers almost a complete solution is NanoStudio by Blip Interactive. I came across this app primarily by reading comments and posts on other music apps for the iPad. This application provides a built-in synthesizer with virtual-analog, FM and even crude sampling methods of sound creation along with a great drum solution, full-featured sequencer and editor, the best written documentation you are likely to come across and amazingly, this app runs on older iPod touch models on up to the iPad (though this is also a drawback). Not only that, but there is a fully free edition for Windows and iMac - with the "catch" that the interface is iPhone-sized. It all works, but within a very small window. The desktop versions are obviously marketing tools to encourage buying the app version - which you should!

The app is a one man show really with a very active user community. There are frequent updates that always seem to emphasize function over form. The developer is passionate about delivering functionality and this seems to be putting off some of the 'eye candy' aspects that would add to its appeal on the iPad - and I am convinced, would increase its sales dramatically.

In terms of coverage, there is more here than in almost any other tool. I think its heritage is a boon and a drawback though. I use NanoStudio on an iPad - I will most likely never use it on an iPhone nor on an iPod. When I started researching the tool, it looked promising but before spending the $15 on the app, I looked long and hard for native iPad alternatives - if I had found something better, I would have bought it. $15 puts NanoStudio just above the "impulse buy" level for me and I think the lack of native iPad support, was initially a big concern. 

Once you get past the "pixel doubling" interface though, you will find it extremely usable. The only feature that I find a bit cumbersome is bringing in external audio. You cannot just create an "audio track" in the sequencer. Rather than that, you have to either bring in the sample as a TRG-16 pad or put it into the synthesizer as a keyboard sample. You are also limited in the size of the sample so you might have to carve external sounds into pieces. 

That being said, this is the only app on my iPad that would let me completely design a song on the device. Of course, I will often take sounds from the iPad, bring them to my iMac and complete the projects in Logic 9, but I really do want to have a complete "mobile studio" experience. If you need to "do it all" on the iPad, this is the app for it. 

I am aware that there are competitors and some very good ones but having a solution in hand, any competition has to do something phenomenal to get me to switch! Garageband, while ground-breaking in many ways, has many short-comings.

NanoStudio, with its emphasis on its internal Eden synth for music creation, it is probably best suited for electronica, but since that is what I normally produce, it fits my needs very well. 

Longer term, it will be interesting to see how this app takes advantage of the new iPad 2 possibilities and whether or not it expands beyond its "least-common denominator" support for older hardware (remember Windows ME? Me neither!)

I think its competition will come primarily from Intua (Beatmaker 2), possibly Xewton/FL Studio and definitely GarageBand in its future iterations. For today, however, this is the app to use on the iPad.

Mistral - my amateurish example for NanoStudio 

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