“The future has arrived; it’s just not very evenly distributed.” – William Gibson.
Well, that’s certainly true of digital recording. Dedicated producers aside, the masses of musicians in the world are often still at a loss when they want to record their music on the iPads and laptops and machines that surround them.
And for all the great stuff that’s happened on the iPad for musicians, there’s still not one go-to app that everyone might use to record. Apple’s own GarageBand is one option, though even GarageBand is overkill if you just want to save some quick ideas on the guitar.
Tape from Focusrite seems to want to be that app. And the price is right: it’s free.
“Tape” isn’t just the name: this actually looks like a tape recorder.
While the design world shies away from skeuomorphic designs, the music world goes the opposite direction. And so, you actually see a big reel-to-reel tape recorder (kids, ask your parents), and even get visual representations of the tapes. In a way, this is the weakest part of the design: the big reels aren’t touchable, so they’re just eye candy.
But after that, everything else works stunningly easily.
Recording is dead-simple: hit the record button.
Input is easy, too. You can use the built in input on your iPad, or plug in a Core Audio interface for a computer. (Focusrite sells some excellent options; more on that in a moment.)
There’s a built-in metronome, and you can either record the left and right channels of your input separately, or link them together.
Visual feedback is essential, too, and you get meters and a waveform. (Though – ugh – if they just had made those bigger and left out the giant tape deck picture!)
Once you’re done, you get built-in mastering – a bit like Instagram for the sound, with “light” and “heavy” options and little else. You can also add a picture (finally, a use for that iPad camera – or, for better results, the memory card from your SLR). And then you can share immediately to SoundCloud. The combination of mastering, pictures, and titling means you’re actually encouraged to finish everything right on the device. That’s a nice idea for mobile users – certainly for novices, but perhaps also for people wanting to quickly post live sets and the like.
The Hardware Picture
Focusrite’s Tape may not appeal to all advanced users, but at this point it’s worth talking about their new hardware range.
iTrack Solo looks especially nice. Focusrite says they haven’t skimped on quality – this is the same well-liked mic pre you get in their high-end Scarlett range. But for a new price, recently dropped to GBP99, you get a two-in interface with mic and guitar jacks and stereo output that works with both your iPad and your desktop PC or Mac. It’s also in an aluminum chassis, so it promises to be road-worthy.
This is really a genuine iPad accessory – even passing Made for iPad certification, which many products from the pro audio world don’t – but it will run powered reliably on both desktop and iPad.
It’s not the smallest interface around; for that, I like the Sonoma WireWorks option, which also has superb audio circuitry inside. But for a versatile, compact interface with full-sized knobs and metering, this is the iPad interface to beat.
For the first-time buyer, there’s also an all-in-one iTrack Studio product that adds headphones, a condenser mic, and even an XLR cable, though I’m not as familiar with those components as I am with the audio interface.
I’ll be interested to see whether this can win over the first-time buyer; we’ll have to see if we can find a guinea pig for that. But for even advanced users, Tape is a no-brainer download for quick recording since it’s free, and I think iTrack Solo should be on your short list for audio interfaces, especially at the lower price.