iPhone App Directory

Aurora Sounds Studio platform comparison

I've been meaning to write this for a while now, and I've finally got to it at last. It is an interesting experiment to use the same software on 3 platforms, well 3 devices anyway.

I'm going to break this into three parts, one for each of the different devices and platforms then give you my conclusions at the end.

Aurora on Windows Mobile
Aurora has been on Windows Mobile since it first launched. I've been using it since it first launched, at least on and off.

I went back to my trusty Axim over the weekend and started playing with it again. Sometimes when you go back to an app that you've enjoyed a lot in the past it can be a disappointment, but not so with Aurora. It worked on my Axim brilliantly and I was making music straight away.

Pattern based music has been pretty popular since the iPhone came out, and Aurora was a surprise when it was announced in September of last year. As a pattern based sequencer goes Aurora is very versatile indeed. The WinMo version has lots of capability to change sounds and FX and was really easy to use.

Aurora on iPhone
Of all the three devices I liked Aurora on my iPhone the least for some reason. I can't really put my finger on it, but it could be moving from a stylus on my Axim to the same software on my iPhone and using my finger.

Essentially the app is the same, the only downside is moving data around. You can get so used to exporting to an SD card (in Windows Mobile) and picking up exported WAV files in another app. More of that another day though.

So whilst the app performed fine on my iPhone I wasn't as happy with the experience, but that could be more to do with the sequence of devices I used.

Aurora on the iPad
Ok, this is the on that's caused the most controversy. The things that Aurora HD has over and above the iPhone (and WinMo) versions are a full screen mixer. effects rack view, ability to solo and mute individual layers, new layer mix palette, synth engine features combined into a single screen, file sharing via FTP, use accelerometer to control XY mode and now MIDI export as well.

So, are these addition features any good? Well, certainly the full screen mixer is a great feature and I found it really useful when making a track with the HD app. Having controls all in one palette is also very useful indeed.

Of all the versions I found the HD to be the most satisfying and straightforward for making music.

Some conclusions and thoughts on price
So, the big issue has been price right? Let's look at what all three apps cost:

Aurora on Windows Mobile - $29.95
Aurora on iPhone - $9.99
Aurora on iPad - $39.99

So whilst there's a big difference between the iPhone and iPad versions, when you look at it in terms of the Windows Mobile version the differential is only $10. I think that the iPhone version is very good value from that perspective.

One last thing is that I'd like to say is that whilst the iPad version is towards the top end of the iPad price range, iPad apps have been appearing at consistently higher prices than iPhone apps and usually for a larger set of features. I don't have a problem with this if it means that we get better mobile apps coming through. The iPad market is considerably smaller than the iPhone market, and so developers need bigger margins to make it worthwhile. I think that's fair, and when set against the price of a Windows Mobile app like Griff which could cost you over £100 to buy all the plugins, Aurora on the iPad is not an expensive piece of software.

I hope that's useful to you. I'm sure that there will be plenty of different views on this, and I'm looking forward to hearing them.


Mark said...

I was one of the people that thought it was overpriced. In the end, I did break down and purchase it because it had a feature set I desired and I think that in order to get more and better iPad music apps we need to support the products out there that are worthwhile. I don't regret buying it. After using it a bunch I think it actually has all the features of the tenor-on but takes it much further than that hardware can or ever will. When looking at it that way it is a bargain and I didn't bat an eye at dropping $900 on that hardware. And therein lies the issue, I have always placed less value in software over hardware although the two are converging more and more everyday and software is doing the same things at lower prices. I think we just have a mental thing about the value of something we can hold and touch and sometimes that gets in the way with software prices. My .02

Rod Donovan said...

I will buy this the second it's $19.99 or less, and not a second before.

Duncan said...

What is putting me off is that I'm basically buying something based on a video and some reviews on the iTunes store, as there have been no reviews by 'respectable' sites. Theres no demo available, which even the cheapest of apps have, but in this case I would consider one essential at this price. If it's worth it, then fantastic, but i have absolutely no way of knowing that at this point in time.

Nick said...

The price isn't a problem if I'm going to use it and enjoy it, but it is high enough that a demo or light version would make me more inclined to check it out.

Since there are at least two users in this discussion, perhaps I can get an answer on something I'ave asked in a few places (and directly to the devs) but had no luck with:

Does it have any of the extra sequencing modes of the Tenori-On, like the bounce or random modes? Anything beyond the standard left-to-right X/Y grid? That's the one thing that all the Tenori-likes have been missing so far, I think. It's like everyone wants to make a Tenori-On, but nobody fully realises what that entails.

Anonymous said...

Wow, for a $40 app I would expect to get amazing customer support from the devs. I can't believe you didn't get an answer from them, that's not a good sign.

Personally this app could never be worth $40 to me.
I will look into it when it goes under $10.

Nick said...

To be fair, it wasn't a support request as I haven't bought the app - I just asked them via their Twitter feed.

The recent update does suggest decent support. I'm sure that's not an issue - it's just that I'd take a risk if it was £5, but I need to know more if I'm going to drop £25.

different Nick said...

Don't forget that the iPhone version, which is only £5.99, works really well on the iPad at 2x and has most of the feature set if you want to try it out. There are lots of modes, some of which you have to unlock manually - they seem to feel the app looks scarily complex with the full menu, which reads Play, Record, Machine Gun, Automation, Effects, Mixer, Song, Random (this is great), Atomizer. There's help on all these rather non-obviously available in both versions through the File or Edit=>Song Settings menus.

I was one of those who thought the price point for the iPad version was suicidally high, given that you could get the same functionality on the same device for nineteen quid less if you didn't mind a less aesthetically slick interface. But it's been in the top thirty grossers for a while now, and earlier this week was only a couple of places below OmniGraffle (the absolute benchmark of a high-price, high-value iPad app - and that's not in competition with a much cheaper iPhone version of itself). That suggests the pricing strategy may be paying off enough not to contemplate any early drop. But I would say that you don't lose a lot by going with the iPhone version on an iPad - the main thing I'd miss is the ability to mute & solo layers. At any rate it's way, way out in front of the other Tenori-On-alikes - the sounds are a bit ropey, but the functionality is very rich.

Nick said...

Thanks, different me - that's a helpful response. Of course if I try the iPhone version and like it enough to but the iPad one, it becomes even more expensive...

I guess I might crack at some point, when boredom overcomes prudence, but I might have bought it on day one if I'd known enough about it. Even if Aurora don't want to provide a light/demo version, I think they'd benefit greatly from some more useful information on their site - just a simple explanation of the options, functions and modes.

Other Nick tells us there's a great Random mode - he doesn't mention what this is (Tenori-On has a Random mode, but it's not random at all), but at least he's gone one better than Aurora, who don't mention it at all on their site.

I don't mean to sound like I'm having a pop at their product, or their price - I just think better promotion would help.

At least we know they're keen followers of Palm Sounds, as the parent post is already on their product page :).

Nick said...

For anyone else who's curious, this video review (linked from the product site) looks like it could be useful:


I won't be able to check it out fully (and with sound) until later, but it looks promising...

same different Nick said...

I forgot XY mode, which is one of the most important of them all - real-time manipulation of chosen parameters using the grid as a mixer on steroids.
I've never actually pawed a real-world Tenori-On, so don't know how closely the various features map - but what Random mode does in Aurora is to allow you to assign up to 14 different values to a particular pattern step, from which one will be chosen at random on each iteration of the pattern. It's a familiar feature in desktop pattern sequencers (including the greatest of them all, Offenhartz & Zicarelli's UpBeat for Mac), but so far as I know Aurora's implementation is the first on a mobile platform. (Someone will put me right on this.) It really brings the other features to life to be able to inject an element of constrainled randomness.

Synthetic Bits said...

That random mode implementation is great! I requested the exact same thing for the Tenori-On, but like most requests people had it was never implemented.

The Tenori-Ons random mode is more of a cycle mode, instead of the sequencer moving left to right over time, in this mode it moves diagonally between the different notes you've pressed, so they play one at a time, with one rest time-step for each blank/empty note/square between the active ones. So if you press two notes, the further apart two notes are, the longer it takes to travel that distance and the longer time between the two notes. If you have three notes, two close and one far apart, it will play 1 then quickly play 2 then take a while to get to 3 and play it then take a while to get back to 1 and start over. So it's kind of like an arpeggiator, with some control over the individual times between notes (based on how far apart you spread them).

Bounce mode on the Tenori-On works by setting repeat loops for individual notes. Each note gets a column, if you press near the top for that column the note note "falls" to the bottom, makes the note sound (C# or whatever), then bounces back to the height you set it at, then falls back down and plays the note, over and over. End result is again cyclical: you can set C# to play once every 4 notes, D# to play once every 6 notes, and F to play once every 9 notes, and with all the notes individually cycling like that you end up with some neat patterns.

I haven't tried Aurora yet but will probably grab it this weekend, it looks really solid.

Nick said...

Thanks, all - random on Aurora does sound good, kind of Reaktor-like. I think random on the Tenori is called that because you can 'spin' the pattern, which kind of randomises the notes (because the note positions change as the pattern spins). It's a great mode and it'd work much better on the iPad if someone did it. An official Tenori app could be excellent as long as it didn't cost £500.

Tracy - 4Pockets said...

Hi Nick

Sorry I didn't see the tweet but hope this answer helps.

Aurora has some similar functionality to the bounce and random modes but they do work slightly differently.

The Machine Gun mode is similar to the bounce mode in that you can generate repeated notes, but instead of bouncing vertically the notes fire in from left to right.

You can set a layer as random, which allows the sequencer to trigger random a set of pre-determined notes in a random order but at specified time intervals. This is kind of hard to explain but it achieves much the same thing.

Unlike the Tenori-On however, we do allow proper sequencing and triggering of patterns. The Tenori-On only allows you to record a one off performance in real time and you have to switch patterns yourself. There is no re-editing allowed on the Tenori-On.

We try to answer as many questions and have discussion forums on our facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Aurora-Sound-Studio/119038391462653
Also there are tutorials on YouTube


Nick said...

Thanks, Tracy - that's great. I'll be sure to check out the Facebook page.