Version Reviewed: 2.1
Device Reviewed On: iPad, iPhone 4
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It wasn't that long ago that musicians interested in performing and recording electronic music needed expensive hardware and software, a ton of gadgets and connectors, and a serious sense of adventure. Now, luckily, there are apps like Akai's SynthStation that allow serious and not so serious musicians to create, perform, and record their own electronic music for a tiny sum.
SynthStation includes, for $2, three powerful oscillator-based synthesizer modules, a drum module with various kits and percussion sounds, a sequencing system, and the ability to record on all four "tracks" to create a fully realized musical composition. The synthesizers are based on the MINIAK system, a popular mini keyboard and sound module that can be purchased for around $300.
The app is easy to use, with a decent text-based help system for when the user interface isn't quite as intuitive as it should be. The app functions are laid out, grid like, on the home screen - giving users easy access to the 12 main function sections of the app.
The 3 synth modules available have their own preset sounds, but are fully customizable as well as available to create sounds from scratch, using different oscillators, envelopes, filters and more. There is a fantastic arpeggiator effect available in each of the synth modules as well, giving musicians an powerful amount of visual control over their music. Added to all of this are the effects like flanger, chorus, delay, etc. and an X/Y pad, allowing users to funk up the sounds and arpeggiations in real time using a visual grid-like interface.
The drum module is heavily weighted toward electronica music, as it would be, considering that is the style of music typically created by these kinds of tools. These kits are easily selected from a list of names that includes ElectroKit, HopKit, FilthKit, and - of course - TechnoKit. The drums can be performed on a 9-pad drum interface, in real time, or on the grid editing screens, available for all 3 synths as well.
The real power here, of course, is the sequencer. Being able to take all the preset and/or custom sounds and modules and then record a complete musical composition or performance is simply stunning, especially at the obscenely low price of the app itself. Granted, more professional musicians will want a keyboard to match, but AKAI has it covered with their own hardware keyboard, and there are other MIDI connectors for those iOS devices out there.
There are a couple of niggling issues, of course. The buttons in the app, particularly the Menu and Transport buttons, can be a bit on the unresponsive side. In addition, the touchscreen nature of iOS devices doesn't lend itself to precision performance, so those looking to use this in live performance will need some sort of hardware.
SynthStation is an incredibly powerful and deep app available for the serious and hobbyist musician. With a solid sound generation synthesizer, the ability to multitrack and perform on 4 separate tracks, and a surprisingly robust sequencer, this is one app any dabbler or professional musician should check out.