Something I always appreciated about classical music training was learning to appreciate the particulars of each instrument, whether or not you played them yourself. A French Horn, for instance, is not an instrument without challenges: everything from tuning to balancing dynamic range to how you look when you add and remove muting can be demanding. And in technology – whether acoustic instrumental or digital – every design is about tradeoffs. You very often can’t get one thing without giving up something else. So I stand by the questions I asked about iPad synths in general last week, particularly as I had Moog’s own, brilliant analog synths and effects as a point of comparison. My aim was not to dismiss the iPad or Animoog – I was quite serious in my praise for Animoog and I think I’ve been reasonably committed to ongoing, often enthusiastic iPad coverage since its launch. Instead, I wanted to begin a conversation about how these tools are used as instruments that includes real critical discussion.

And that’s what I think we got. Readers responded en masse, and amidst some heated discussion (some of it having more to do with whether I’d lost my mind than the particular merits of Animoog), I thought there were some compelling points. I heard from developers, too, on and off the record, and I suspect this will continue to lead to experimentation in mobile software. I also really enjoyed Marc Doty’s impassioned response, which I thought raised some equally worthwhile questions about soft synths on computers. Incidentally, I also heard from a lot of people who went out and bought Animoog because they saw the story on CDM.

In the meantime, hordes of synth lovers have descended on Moog’s Animoog, making it very likely the most successful virtual iPad synth launch yet, at least in the traditional synthesizer mold.

Learning Animoog: The best of these videos is at top, a video tutorial as many readers had requested. Tip of the hat to Synthtopia here for following up on this issue. The video tutorial makes it really clear how to navigate Animoog’s deep and powerful synth interface. See also the official Moog tour at second from top for a speedier walkthrough.

Working out how to play it: Other videos investigate performance. One common theme with Animoog, and iOS apps in general, is whether you’ll focus primarily on the touch interface or external control hardware. Animoog applies a unique control solution to the touch UI, and one that many readers seem to feel is very effective. This gives you two principal advantages of the iPad as a tablet: you get the novel multi-touch controller, which allows gestures that something like a MIDI keyboard wouldn’t, and you retain the device’s superior mobility.

Mark Jenkins’ extensive video review really does the best job, I think, of examining the Animoog on its own terms, as a standalone iPad synth, using the multi-touch interface. I couldn’t possibly have topped the depth of this video review; kudos to Mark.

On the other hand, that won’t stop people from experimenting with adding an external interface. As our friend and MeeBlip co-creator James Grahame put it, the tactile experience of the iPad is the same as running your finger along a bathroom mirror. Instruments have frets and keys for a reason; tactile feedback allows you to play them without looking directly at them. So, I think it’s an advantage that iOS’ MIDI input hardware support at least gives you a choice. You still get a software instrument that runs on an instant-on tablet rather than buried in menus on a computer. And as readers point out, it’s affordable, though I’d say the cost of Animoog isn’t exactly “$1″ — you do have to buy that iPad and its dongles and keep it running, just as a computer requires care and feeding. Even if you only ever ran Animoog on your iPad, though, you’d be at the cost of a lot of low-end synths that are far less interesting in the hardware domain.

Geert Bevin has been talking to CDM behind the scenes – more on the Eigenharp soon — and I think has some real insights into comparing the iPad’s input and an external input. Like me, he has some good things to say about Animoog’s solution; he just suggests that you can have even more fun with an additional controller. A MIDI keyboard might well be disappointing, so enter the more-exotic Eigenharp. He also uses the Alesis iODock for better I/O capabilities; at least one reader via Twitter complained that the Animoog wasn’t “professional” because of the iPad’s poor built-in minijack. So, what you get in this rig is definitely not a “pure” iPad experience – you’re adding some weight and additional devices. But it might be one that you really enjoy, and that still gets you away from your MacBook for a bit.

This video gives a brief overview of the Animoog’s features and also shows how expressive it is when played with an Eigenharp Pico over MIDI using poly-pressure.

The Eigenharp and Animoog seems like a match made in heaven since the Eigenharp is able to send three independent detailed per-note performance data streams and the Animoog is able to react to this on a per-note level. Also, the visualization of the sound on the Animoog is marvelous, it gives a great representation of what your sound is doing.

The iPad is hooked up to my MacBook Pro using USB MIDI from the Alesis iODock, the Eigenharp Pico is also hooked up to the laptop and sends MIDI from the EigenD application to the ‘dock’ MIDI port. This uses a small MIDI-only Eigenharp Pico setup that loads very quickly and provides 16 MIDI playing keys with poly-pressure and three independent data streams for each key (pressure, left/right, up/down), as well as two 3D controller keys that are somewhat similar to little joysticks and are sending each three independent streams of MIDI CC data also.

The sound: A video compares audio fidelity of Animoog to the “real” thing — analog hardware. A number of commenters also noted that Animoog most likely uses sampled wavetables as its oscillator sources rather than modeling, but that approach can indeed yield good sounds. I’m not terribly surprised by the success of the Animoog in standing up to these other instruments; years of experience in soft synths suggests that you can get good results from virtual instruments. In fact, I remain more interested in what people actually do musically, and what about an instrument makes them happy more than splitting hairs about audio fidelity. If this video helps liberate you to go play with Animoog, have at it!

Synthesis, Still the Frontier: One closing thought: part of what interests me about synthesizers is that, even with a huge volume of music made with them and some generally-understood conventions, there are really no shared rules about how to play them. In acoustic instruments, there is at least a rough notion of certain folk traditions, or classical traditions, or “extended techniques” as something that stands apart from common practice. I think we’re still learning what the heck synths are.

Every aspect of the design of a synthesizer can therefore be fair game for consideration, including the spaghetti tangles of modular patch cords or the keyboard + mod wheel + pitch bend Minimoog-style arrangement. What synths are, how they might sound, and how we might play them and turn them into music remain open-ended. So, I hope that any criticism is not grounds for hand-wringing, as someone put it, but an added motivation to go and experiment and play. I know it is for me. Synth on.

Next up: we’re long overdue giving a look at the various iPad synths and how you might use them. Since Animoog isn’t the “first professional” synth, it’s time to line it up with some of its rivals. Unlike with a computer soft synth, though, you probably aren’t terribly concerned with outlay of cash; it may be a more “what are all of the synths you’d buy” question than comparing x, y, and z. If you have nominees you’d like to see explored, or ways in which you’d like to see us cover iOS (or anything else, for that matter), let us know. And remember, tell us what you really think — okay, I probably don’t have to say that. (ducks)

  • Chris Thorpe

    Re the last 3 paras, headed "Synthesis, Still the Frontier:"

    I think there is a distinction (though obviously subjective and blurred) between a synthesizer, a controller, and an 'electronic musical instrument'. Bear with me in this when say that, in this connect at least, I'm using the term 'electronic musical instrument' to mean something that allows intuitive and predictable physical control over the performance (pitch, amplitude and timbre).

    Examples: A synthesizer: a massive modular, capable of building deep and sonically complex patches. However, to control elements of those patches, you may have to interact with rotary pots, obscured by patch cables, and with a small knob that inhibits fine finger control.

    A controller: The Eigenharp might be thought of as falling into the instrument category but, no matter how much virtuosity it enables, I'd call it a controller. Why? It can be patched so that any of it's control elements can control any parameter of any synth or sampler. That takes away from the predictability – that sense that the physical interface and it's relationship to the sound coming out is learnable.

    An electronic musical instrument: Ondes Martenot, where cleverly designed performance controls (in the right hands) can elicit a fantastically expressive performance from a limited and primitive electronic circuit. The sonic capabilities are limited but the performance capabilities are deep. Peter Blasser is someone who also operates in this sphere

    So what? Well, in terms of the iPad, I think it maybe more interesting to see what new areas of musical expression it enables than how well it can deliver on existing synth paradigms.

    iPads aside, it's also interesting to think of how we might build new electronic musical instruments, perhaps with open source designs that  makers can evolve and enhance

  • Peter Kirn

    @Chris: absolutely – and I was intentionally ignoring those distinctions here, because that's a very, very big topic. But I like where you're going!

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Chris, this is a very big debate and I've had it numerous times. In the end though, calling something a controller or an instrument has little value and everyone has their own categorization for this. I can tell you though that you have no idea about how predictable the Eigenharp is before you actually touched its keys, you really can't compare it to anything else. Yes, you can play a lot of sounds with it, but the keys always move in the same predictable way. Making the distinction about sound predictability would remove the instrument categorization from an electric guitar that you play with an amp that you don't master and effects that you don't know, those can be extremely unpredictable.

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    I want to add to this that since my video I sent a whole series of comments to Moog and they're extremely open and responsive. I got into direct contact with the Animoog lead developer and we're exchanging ideas on making it possible to leverage the Animoog better through external instruments like the Eigenharp, the Continuum, the Linnstrument, … I think it won't be long for additional features to be added that allows multiple parameters per note to be controlled in high resolution over MIDI.

  • Chris Thorpe

    @Geert – I'm not sure we disagree. What I mean by 'predictability' is that, in a self-contained instrument, ribbon A (for example) always controls pitch, and knob B always controls waveform. It's a strength (for expert players) that any controller on the Eigenharp can control any parameter (or combo) thereof. It's not so useful for those who want something they can pick up (or build) and play. I think this has more in common with your electric guitar analogy than the Eigenharp. There's room for everything in this musical world but it's fascinating how some well designed performance controls can turn a simple circuit or program into an expressive instrument (think Favela rather than Conservatory)

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Chris, in this age of digital music not much predictability is left, if there ever was any with the expert/experimental players. The way you get predictability is by having default behavior that is accepted and learned by every player that uses the instrument. Meaning that you can pick it up with default behavior and get it to behave as you expect (the factory setups on the Eigenharp). Getting used to custom setups or configuration can be daunting on any instrument, even just switching to alternate tunings on a guitar can thrown many people off.

    In the end though, I don't think it matters much today if something is labeled a controller or an instrument, what's important imho is that the musician that wants to make music is able to fully express his current emotions through whatever device is creating the sound. Having a feedback through the sound that in real-time reinforces that what's being played corresponds to the expectation of the musician then creates a satisfying experience, allowing the musician to be even more emotional and expressive.

  • Chris Thorpe

    @Geert – I think you've nailed it. "Having a feedback through the sound that in real-time reinforces that what’s being played corresponds to the expectation of the musician". It's well known that Apple paid particular attention to that with the iDevices, and there's a lot of anecdotal feedback that Android need to catch up – which I guess is a contributor to the relative platform strength in musical apps. I guess another example of where I'm heading with these thoughts is this guy (http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?gl=JP&hl=ja&p=5EF056DBF057572E). He does some nifty playing on his DIY ribbon synth, made from an anti-static-bag ribbon and a simple 555 vco, fed through a Korg AX1G effects box.

  • http://ghmetcalfe.com/MyMusic.htm Graham

    I think it's really interesting how Animoog has really spurred a lot of discussion … more so than any other iPad synth so far. I think this is a testament to the quality of it's sound and the simplicity of it's deep programmability. I have a number of other iPad synths, and I think that Animoog is head and shoulders above the rest both in terms of sound quality and sound design flexibility. Being a long time Moog player (still have my Micromoog from the 70's and learned synthesis on a Model III) I understand the underlying architecture and nomenclature a little better than the patch interface for the iMS20 (which is a great replication of the original).

    Anyway, I'm sure that folks will chime in with their favs, but for now Animoog is at the top of my list (followed by iMS20, Addictive Synth, Alchemy (presets, but the audio quality is nice), Sunrizer, Morphwiz)

  • Jonah

    I encourage everyone to try it in "portrait" orientation. It's sorta like playing a harp, I guess? Use one hand to move left to right and the other to move right to left. Perhaps we can get offical support from Moog in the form of an option to change the way the knobs turn? 

    I'd also love an option to make the controller full screen as this would really reduce the amount you need to look at the screen.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again, but MPC style pad controllers work with poly pressure. Enjoy it folks!  Plus, it's still the coolest type of controller. :)

  • Peter Kirn

    Right, and this says — better than I did — I think what I was trying to say. The issue is not what it looks like, but what the feedback loop is of player to sound, which in turn *may* impact you seeing something different in how someone is playing.

    @Chris: you mean the latency on Android, or something else? (Lots more variables here…)

  • http://zeroreference.blogspot.com zeroreference

    @Chris

    Great analysis!! Your three categories are awesome/useful/fundamental.

    I think the 'controller' (or maybe interface? In fact if we say interface instead of controller we can then place software interfaces in this same category!) space you identify is really interesting, and worth exploring. Things like the Eigenharp (and other high-end controllers) do offer some of the structure of 'electronic instruments' – they offer a _control_ structure. Certain controllers are built to privilege one organizational scheme over another (diff Faderfox controllers, a high-end midi keybed, even the monome seems to impose a certain sort of mentality and form). I think this is a great thing. Before MIDI, the mixing board did (and still does this) both in the studio and for DJ's. In terms of musical output, the mixer is completely neutral – you can run anything through it. Structurally, I think it divides up sound in certain consistent ways (tracks, frequency ranges, the stereo field). It'd be really interesting to talk about different controllers and their musical implications -going from control to sound, rather than vice versa.

  • heinrichz

    Very impressive..this is the first serious synth i see for the iPad so far. It's also nice to see moog breaking some new grounds again. with the design.

  • Peter Kirn

    @digid: No, it's not pushing it at all. The comparison was to a hardware synth, to total cost of ownership, and to the total investment / return. And yes, it's very, very, very often come up that because of the ongoing maintenance of a computer, soft synths have the same cost. How often have we faced buying OS upgrades, dealing with busted hard drives and displays and expensive repairs, having to replace entire machines… Not only that, but Doty came out swinging at soft synths (and, uh, I actually agree with everything he said)

    So, yes, it's unfair to say "Animoog is $1, this synth is $1000," unless you have the ability to run iOS apps in thin air.

    I'm sorry, but I no longer accept that my statements of fact qualify as some deep, profound bias.

  • Peter Kirn

    No, that's ridiculous. The Synthtopia post described the video thusly:

    "This video captures a Moog bass shoutout: Animoog vs Moog Little Phatty vs Arturia Minimoog V. And $1 vs. $1300 vs. $200."

    That's to me disingenuous, when you make that *comparative* statement. 

    If you list news about a product, of course, you'll say something like "this iOS app costs 99 cents" or "this upgrade is $199."

    Also, there isn't a one-to-one comparison even in terms of assuming someone has the requisite hardware. 100% of CDM readers have computers. A fraction of that has an iPad. So even the comparative statement aside, the odds that this will cost someone "99 cents" are thereby reduced.

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @digit and @peter I sort of agree with you both, but if the $1 has to change, then the $200 for the soft synth has to change to include the computer in this particular comparison.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Geert: absolutely. So, let's even add in a MIDI keyboard for the heck of it. Assume a basic MacBook for $900 + $100 for a keyboard, $500 for the iPad + $100 for a keyboard. The Moog seems less out of the ballpark – it's about the same as the laptop. But the iPad does, in fairness, win on price against both – and it's the only one that you could use *without* a keyboard.

  • Peter Kirn

    As others have pointed out, the profit issue is huge here. Moog's margin on the keyboard is the margin on the entire $1200 unit. Soft synths costing $200 get near-100% profit margins. Most of the margin on the iPad goes to Apple, meaning you have to do a lot of volume for your one buck purchase price to be meaningful.

    But I still say, the earlier statement doesn't mean a whole lot for either the consumer or the developer.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/gbevin/ Geert Bevin

    In any case I think that the whole price comparison is ludicrous, he should totally have left that out and just compare the different synths. There are so many variables that influence the price, including how someone uses these synths (yes, it could be one synth/computer, that's how I use my virtual guitar FX software on a dedicated Hackintosh).

  • http://noisepages.com/members/gbevin/ Geert Bevin

    @peter I'm personally saddened by the devaluation of software. People seem to expect that all software has to be cheap or free. As a software developer this makes me wonder what by time is really worth? Should I only work on things that allow me to be able to pay my bills? Will this not cause many talented developers to spend the majority of their time on products that might not benefit consumers? On the other hand, having been a close witness to how difficult it is to make hardware affordable and to produce it, I'm not sure it's any better elsewhere. You hear of so many companies selling hardware at very small margins or even making a loss at it, that considering $1200 for the Little Phatty to be total profit is a bit shortsighted. Given everything that's in there, I don't think there's much margin left for Moog.

  • mrtn

    i´d love to see the animoog keyboard (just the controller) as hardware with cv/gate and midi, it would rock but i couldn´t afford it anyway :)

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @zeroreference I think it’s indeed very interesting to talk about how physicality in form factor, human interaction, organization, visible markings, … changes how one plays an instrument. With the Pico, things already change a lot if you’re playing it held like a flute or laying down flat on a table surface, with the Eigenharp Alpha it becomes very interesting since you can play it standing up with a shoulder strap, standing up resting on the floor, sitting down resting on the floor, sitting down with a shoulder strap, or even laying on a flat table if your table is long enough … Each physical position then makes certain this easier or more difficult to play, for instance bowing the cello on the strip controller when using the should strap pushes the Eigenharp around its gravity center, requiring you to hold it back with your right kneed. If the Alpha is resting on the floor, you don’t have that problem, but then it becomes more difficult to play two handed pieces. Once you start getting into the organizational aspect of how the keys behave, the structure really starts to dictate what’s possible, easy, difficult or impossible.

  • digid

    “And as readers point out, it’s affordable, though I’d say the cost of Animoog isn’t exactly “$1″ — you do have to buy that iPad”

    Come on, now! Are you going to state the cost of Ableton Live as $500 plus a computer from now on? Or MaxMSP will be $600, “but you have to buy a Mac or a PC”?

    This is pushing it.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/joost/ joost

    Peter, I'm looking forward to your post on iOS synths!

    Check out Addictive Synth, also mentioned by Graham above. The iPhone version, called Addictive microSynth, came out a few days ago.virsyn.net/mobileapp/

    Idem for Sunrizer which is like a Roland JV. The iPhone version is called SunrizerXS.

    Oramics is a cool emulation of an instrument designed by Daphne Oram, which involves drawing on a film reel.

    iOS is definitely the most exiting platform around at the moment!

  • digid

    Fine. Then you should add “Ableton Live costs $500, but you have to buy a Mac and PC first” etc. to every software announcement from now on. In comparison to, say, a 24 track recorder from Alesis, I mean.

  • r

    @geert I sympathize with the sentiment, but it's just a matter of supply and demand. More devs, larger markets, smaller margins per sale, but someone is making it profitable. Sadly this trend may squeeze out many indie devs (except a few lucky ones like rovio) and leave mostly those that are able to leverage scale to make a profit.

    The emphasis on profit margin per sale is kindof missing the point. From the point of view of the dev/company, the bottom line is the gross profit that they take home. Unless they're being sentimental, devs care less about the price per unit or how much of each sale is going towards expenditures (e.g. apple, taxes) than the total amount that they can make.

  • Rui Guerreiro

    Great article guys.

    I have been following and using the Animoog since it was launched, and being fairly new to music production, and even less of an expert on analog synthesis, therefore with almost no reference with the analog Moog devices, I must say that I love the sound of this thing.

    Now, I have already asked this in a couple places, and still got no answer. I'm trying to use it in my productions with Ableton Live, and the audio part is  pretty straight forward, but the midi still has me puzzled.

    Could someone give two straight answers: 1) Can I use midi wirelessly through my mac?

    2) If so, how do I configure it so I can play Animoog with my midi keyboard inside Ableton Live?

    Thank you so much.

  • Tim Lloydsmith

    Animoog still suffers from the  inherent sound processing limitations of the iPad. I have yet to achieve results that are sonically comparable with both soft & hard synths. The sound is very obviously compressed. The Alesis  I/o dock does not have its own DAC & is only adding connectivity. Apple have been less than helpful in this area no doubt becausevthe iPad is treading on toes of the Macbook already. From what I can gather those interested in improving fidelity need to look at a USB hub but not all of these will work. This to my mind is holding the ipad back, however brilliant the interface.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/gbevin/ Geert Bevin

    I thought that the IODock had DAC for its main outputs, but not for its headphone output. That's what I've been told before, but I'll contact Alesis again to make sure.

  • tim lloydsmith

    Confusing isn't it? The lack of general info/complexity of hooking it up is the only thing holding the iPad back. The excellence of the Animoog is what has motivated me to pursue a solution. Peter kindly replied to my post & suggested I use a powered USB interface. However on contacting my music supplier they seem to think that it won't make much difference but they did recommend the i/o dock! Kind of going in a loop! If the dock has its own DAC – it will be a worthwhile solution. Do please post what you find out & I will have a look for info on it as well :-)

  • http://noisepages.com/members/gbevin/ Geert Bevin

    My ears tell me that it sounds more detailed going from the main outputs instead of going from the headphone output, but then again it might be a placebo effect.

  • http://www.keithmcmillen.com/12step Andrew

    We made a video showing our new 12 Step with Animoog, check it out here…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KN6Z_DEVfU&fe

  • http://tekknovator.blogspot.com Tekknovator

    Tim makes a good point about the connections! But whatever the sound quality, imho one of the most dazzling consequences of iOS synths is that they move sound generators back out of the box…

    You connect audio cables, hit record and then the performance counts again! Just like in old analogue days. I am sure this might change in the future with iOS to plugin control (Alchemy Mobile style), but still interesting. 

  • Are Bee

    hey guys! I would like to ask you, if you know how to export songs made frome this app animoog!
    Because I have the app, I like it, but i don't know how to use my creations… !
    Thanks you!

  • Ian Cox

    I have a simple, possibly dumb, question… I have a Zoom R8 8-track digital recorder. I would like to record the output from the iPad and Animoog straight onto the Zoom, and I’d like to do this direct, rather than by mic-ing a speaker. Can this be done? I’m waiting for some plug adapters to arrive so I can try attaching a jackplug to the iPad’s headphone socket with an XLR plug at the other end going into the Zoom. Wll this work? Or do I need some more technology? Failing this, is it possible to record Animoog output on the iPad and then upload it to the Cloud for importing into the Zoom for multi-tracking with other instruments?