Propellerhead Reason, imagining a virtual rack of gear inside the computer, wouldn’t be successful if the instruments it contained were lacking in personality. Producers like this package partly because of the feeling of using something distinctive. Thor is one of the favorite instruments from that package. Now, it’s more mobile and a lot more touchable.

Thor already shows signs the Swedish developer has been learning from its past iOS outings. ReBirth, the techno studio-in-a-box that made the company famous, initially had a shaky launch on the iPhone. The tool, ported almost directly from desktop PCs, was cramped and uncomfortable to use with touch. That roundly-criticized iPhone version was recently discontinued. An iPad version, by contrast, was engineered around the touch interface. (It’s still available, and a lot of fun.) And Figure built a new UI entirely around touch and mobile use, with bright, simplified flat graphics.

Thor takes a page from each of these. It has the sound engine you know from desktop, and some familiar UI elements. But turning knobs and playing notes is now accomplished via all-new touch interfaces, providing extra visual feedback and greater accessibility (and less accidental use of your fingers).

So, you get Thor on the go, re-conceived around using fingers instead of mice. And whereas Figure frustrated some advanced users with its more basic, anyone-can-make-music approach, Thor is a serious tool. And it’s not just a port from the PC. (I recall that 1980s Apple developer evangelist Guy Kawasaki once declared a “port” was a “cheap wine,” referring to the practice of dumping software on a different OS without taking care with its unique design.)

You get features like:

  • MIDI input from apps and hardware.
  • Collapsible keyboard that snaps to a scale and key – a feature borrowed from Figure, and essential for using fingers on a touchpad.
  • Aftertouch and strumming. (Hmmm… I’m curious how they implement “aftertouch,” especially after the issues yesterday with touch APIs; I’ll find out.)
  • Desktop-to-mobile workflows, so you can make a patch in Reason and move it to your iPad, or the other way around. Preset programming on the bus!
  • Audiobus support.

There’s a lovely video, at top, that sees Propellerhead’s Stockholm home transformed into a synthesizer odyssey. Just hope your local barista doesn’t decide to institute a no synth policy. (Hey! Stop playing airy trance pads when you’re ordering your espresso!)

I hope this is a new direction for Propellerhead videos. It feels stylish and understated; the humor is nice, but I think customers now respond well to getting right at information and not feeling like there’s someone selling at them. Now, if you really do make synth sounds over coffee, seriously, I’d love to hear about it. (I’ve certainly seen it going on.)

Focusing on playability to me is a key. (Erm, so to speak.) So, too, is round-trip workflow with desktop – which gives Thor, for now, an edge on some other iPad synths. (I’m behind on mentioning one of the most innovative synths I’ve seen lately, Waldorf’s Nave. Blame traveling between Barcelona and Berlin and a sudden, surprise German heat wave. But we’ll be looking at that, and critically, they’re promising a plug-in version.)

All this emphasis on touch to me is also interesting. I’d love to see these same knob widgets and touch controls in Reason for desktop, where they’d be usable on the growing army of Windows ultrabooks with touch.

Look at it this way: it’s clear Propellerhead is not going to move every single instrument from Reason to the iPad. But a soft studio like this would be a natural when it comes to embracing desktop touch, too, and not only mobile. You could still do the fine-tune edit work with a mouse and keyboard, as you would normally, perhaps hooked up to studio monitors and the like. But if you wanted to simply focus on some sound design, or take a set on the go, or have a playable touch interface alongside a MIDI keyboard live onstage, converting a laptop to a tablet as models from Acer, Asus, Lenovo, and others now let you do could be fantastic. Propellerhead helped advocate the computer as this sort of platform; it’d be terrific to see them apply these lessons from iPad to the next generation of desktop software, too.

Thor is US$15.99 in the App Store, available now.

  • Warrior Bob

    I love making synth sounds over coffee.

  • Graham Metcalfe

    The only thing I could ask for is a bit of animation when selecting the different panels to better emphasize how things are expanding and contracting. Otherwise it’s a thing of beauty. (sounds nice too).

  • gunboat_d

    must resist pressure to buy ipad….can’t justify the expense….grrrrhhhmmmcccccckk

  • Ben

    Wait, so Waldorf is going to do a plug-in version of Nave?! Awesome. I was hoping for that.

  • noiseoftoys

    Waldorf Nave and Thor absolutly sounds cheap. Look at aLCHEMY MOBILE, aNIMOOG or TC-11 and you will never use NAVE OR something

    • gLOW-x

      You can add Sunrizer to the equation…sometimes i compare it to Sylenth 😉
      Grain Science is impressive too.

    • Marco Raaphorst

      Thor is very flexible. It’s hard to program since it’s semi modular, but you can create superb sounds. It took me a while to become an okay programmer for it. It’s not like a Moog which is rather simple to program. But it’s hard to compare both synth.

      Thor can sound super analog and phat. You can fool anyone with it if you program it correctly. And in Reason using external LFO’s and maybe parallel channels, it’s killer.

  • gLOW-x

    About touch on computers, we are not here yet. It was promised years ago with the first PC tablets…it was a LONG time ago. Of course, we got W8 (non RT)…but did you seen the price and dedicated touch softs ? No way. Wait at least 5 years 😉

  • The man

    Does it have audio copy paste?

  • heinrichz

    Yea Peter, i’ve been looking for this Nave review here :) But certainly that mobile to desktop ability makes Thor the sole real contender so far until Waldorf comes out with the plugin.
    I’m wondering when softsynth leader NI is getting in the game?

  • brent

    Oh how I wish Ableton would do this with Operator, Analog, and maybe drum rack or a new drum synth (or better yet, Sonic Charge Microtonic and Synplant!).

    I would buy an iPad if I could do my sound design on the couch or at work on my lunch hour and then take those patches back to the “mothership” of my desktop computer at home. As it is now, I feel like I spend waaay too much time at a desk. It’d be nice to spend less time at a desk for my hobby. Come on Ableton, get to it!

  • Nomad

    I wish Propellerheads would enable iOS Thor to control Reason’s Thor remotely via wireless MIDI. This is one of the strengths of Camel Audio’s iOS version of Alchemy, which works well with the VST/AU version of Alchemy. Hope something similar can be implemented for Thor.

  • kconnor9000

    Downloaded it, love it. The thing that makes the Thor engine in Figure come alive is the ability to record the tweaks in realtime, and the sets of xy parameters that they chose for each preset in Figure are perfect. I’d love to see that kind of assignment of parameters to an xy pad with recording, here. Kind of like elektron scenes. That animation is what really makes Figure sound so juicy. Someone please correct me if it’s already there and I haven’t found it! Perhaps setting up routing with MIDI CCs is the way to accomplish same thing.

  • Greg Savage

    This is very interesting, I wonder if they will redesign Reason for the Ipad

  • Furusinus

    There is really been great used in having the iPad today. In just a minute, we can make some very big differences in our own desires to experience the fun that we used to have.