iPhone App Directory

Are there too many synths?

So many synths look like this, but why?

This is something that's been on my mind for a while now. Do we actually have too many synths on iOS, and especially for the iPad?

There are now so many apps for making music on iOS that the choices are completely overwhelming at times and of course there are more and more new apps arriving almost daily. So how do you decide what to check out, what to buy, and what to just ignore?

I think a lot of that choice is around having a clear vision for what is going to work for your music and what isn't. What will help you musically, and what won't. All too often it's easy to just grab new apps and play with them for an hour or so without knowing how this will take your music forward. I do this at times but more recently I find myself holding back and trying to think about how this or that app is going to help me in moving my own ideas forward or indeed take me in a new direction. I find that it helps me to do this now.

But I do wonder whether we're going to reach a point soon where the market for iOS synths will reach complete saturation. Some of you may argue that we're there already. You could be right. 

My concern around this is that it seems that many synths are made as replicas or ports of their desktop equivalents. That's not a terrible thing in itself, but it doesn't really move on the mobile world. It just brings it closer to the desktop world. I know that some people think that's good, but I'm not sure I agree. It just means that mobile becomes an extension of the desktop music world. And once again, I'm not sure that's such a good thing. 

Of course now with iOS9 on the horizon and the fact that it'll bring audio units will only accelerate this. My guess is that we're going to see a lot more VSTis arriving on iOS when iOS9 lands. But we've talked about this before and I was interested to hear your views on the subject.

Some will say this is a good thing. There'll be loads more options available to a mobile musician but also it also means that iOS becomes increasingly like the desktop instead of standing on its own. 

Anyway, I'm getting off the point, which is about the number of synth apps that exist on iOS and whether we just have too many of them or not. Sometimes it's difficult to know which synths are worth trying out and which are just iterations and remain very similar to existing synth apps. 

As I mentioned earlier, this proliferation of similar apps can lead to is a kind of musical procrastination, spending your time just trying out new synth apps or other music making apps and not actually making music, which is, after all, what most of us want to do right? Of course there's a case for spending time experimenting with sounds and new forms of synthesis and for learning. I'm not arguing against that at all.

My main point, or question, is around whether the number of synth apps is bringing anything new to music making on iOS or not. I think I've made my views clear. I'm happy to see more but I want to see innovation and not repetition.

So, that's what I think. What about you?


Anonymous said...

My sense is that this is just a paradigm shift further away form hardware. 20 years ago. I would be lucky to own one hardware synth, and would probably become proficient in that synth only. Now, there are so many for so little money on IOS, that we all buy each just to see if the new synth has that 'sound' we are all chasing. Problem is that very few of us are digging deep into any of them. My 2 cents.


Simon said...

For me to buy yet another synth it would have to be pretty special.

These days I am more interested in apps that mash or sequence stuff - like Sector, Samplr, Attack, Patterning etc.

As for how do I choose what to buy... well, a big influence is a certain Doug from the Soundtestroom. I watch his vids and often make a descion based on what I see.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree. The impact it's had on my workflow, is exactly the reason I jumped into iOS in 2009 - focus. I found that when I had a small number of apps, I learned them inside out. Now, it's the same as the desktop and it takes a while to get going; open Audiobus, select from loads and loads of i/p, FX and o/p apps and then make music. OK, some time can be saved by using AB state saves and reducing the number of installed apps but still, I must soon reject AB and go back to 'one app at a time' workflow and then just record the audio into my laptop - I blame everyone else for this sorry state of affairs, including FOX news and the fact that Comedy Central dropped The Daily Shiw in the UK, forcing me to *cough* do nothing illegal, in order to watch my beloved Mr.Stewart's final run.
Anyway, that's my rant over, thanks for all the fish.

Marek Dendeš said...

there is lot of synths on iOS platform, but just very few which can be compared to top quality desktop or hardware synths.. maybe less than 10 of iOS synth can play in top synth game.. then there is lool loot of more or less average synths.. but that really good ines - not much...

William Claborn said...

The proliferation of synths seems to be painting the possibilities of mobile music production into an electronic-esque corner. Many of the daily synth app releases and updates are welcomed by musicians focusing on electronic music styles/varieties, I'm sure. But, as someone interested in more "traditional" sounds/instruments (guitar, bass, strings, etc.), I feel constricted by the dearth of available tools. The smart instruments in Garage Band are a nice point of departure, and there are several other apps I use for creating instrument tracks (iJBass, e.g.), but I would appreciate more developments in these areas.

K Brown said...

The irony of the post following "Don't forget to take advantage of the Korg summer sale" hasn't been lost on me... ;)

Diverse tfb said...

This is a good observation and article. Firstly may I mention that there are many already many great iOS apps and DAWs which arrive with synths included that are cut down versions of their desktop equivalent. Such as Cubasis and Egoist to name but a few.

I agree with you that sometimes it does get a bit much. 'iOS Synth overkill' But personally re: new iOS apps in general, I buy what I think I can use to improve musicality, projects, what has a truly amazing USP for iOS & also what pushes the boundaries re what you really cannot do on the desktop unless it is via touchscreen.

For example if you don't have the cash resources for Push yet, with a bit of time & effort programming touchable and Lemur from iOS can help you do for Ableton what a clicky mouse & on screen Macros can't. However, with apps such as Music io - the game is evolving faster than we can keep up - in a good way…

To sum up newbies are the ones who will probably be caught by the influx of iOS synths because with age comes experience. So the answer is in your statement 'If its shoddy replicas you want - spend 99p on an app that'll be iffy with an update every millennium (if your lucky) and if it's guaranteed greatness you want then - go Gadget go..! I peep your blog daily so I know you get my drift. (Thanks BTW it's brill)

Regardless, you can't knock developers for trying and the 'Caustic' cream of the crop will always rise to the top - even if it is after all of us at one point or another bought one or two bad apps before we came to our senses…

NB: There will be even more to consider In a few weeks when the much anticipated 12 inch iPad arrives (wish,wish,wish…)

Ashley Elsdon said...

Thanks all for the comments. A few thoughts ...

William, I take your point about traditional instruments and about iOS or mobile music as a whole becoming very electronic in its focus. I'm going to think a bit more about that, it's a very good point.

Simon, another app you should try is Egoist, and also effectrix, which is a personal fav of mine.

K Brown, thanks. I hadn't thought of that. Good spot!

Dr. Puck said...

Thanks for lots of thought provoking comments. When I stand far enough back to see the current pecking order, where the studio packed with $50,000+ of hardware reigns with all its built-in analog prejudices--and this now includes all the modular fanboyism--and the fragile state of innovative AudioUnits synths for desktop OSX due to the tiny user base and the dominance of NI, then the innovative touch concept seems to me where the sweet spot is right now.

The touch controller/synthesizer interface is key. There is almost nothing like Gestrument, the TC apps, Sector, Soundscaper, Lemur, Konkrete Performer (!), etc. elsewhere available 'in hardware.'

The iPad Pro will likely include the Alchemy engine and ground shaking touch paradigms. Imagine what would result were NI to port Absynth to iPad, a synth paradigm that begs for TC-like or Lemur control?

So, for me, it is the workflow ecosystem on iPad that drives innovative sound making. One can have many more synths than one could hope to master, but, at the same time, the first time you fool around with TC-Data driving Animoog, you're going to be hooked. For example...


Simon said...

Yes Ashley, I have Egoist and love it.

Ashley Elsdon said...

@Simon. Cool. I've enjoyed it, but still go back to Effectrix time after time. I should probably do some more with Egoist soon.

Mark Boyd said...

The same can be said about books, music, etc. When the tools of creation become cheap, decentralized, and proliferated, you get a bulk in the supply-side. While this can be a bummer for musicians, I think it's great for people who like music.

That said, you could write a beautiful and varied and positively heartbreaking catalog your entire life using unprocessed sine waves. You just need the creativity and drive to do it.

That said, it's an 80/20 thing. 80% of the synths bought are by people who will never use them or aren't really even musicians. And yet they make it possible for innovative synth companies to bring an awesome product to the 20% who do. A lot of people have the impression that people who play modulars are really just crappy musicians hiding behind their thousand dollar gear, but those are just the people who are out there peacocking and grandstanding about it. Modulars are *everywhere* and they've never gone away, especially for movie soundtracks (ok, maybe in the 80s, somewhat).