Yesterday’s iOS digital audio workstation (DAW) round-up listed the best apps of all the budget tools available on the App Store. One of those featured apps was NanoStudio, a $13.99 iPhone and iPad app that offers a proof of concept in the form of a free OS X and Windows versions.
It’s really just the same application with the same UI on a desktop PC, and while it lacks touch controls on my MacBook Pro, there will be a few touch-screen Windows converts who can make full use of the program’s finger-friendly interface.
This is a review of the OS X version, though everything in this review also applies to the Windows and paid iOS versions too.
A Free DAW For Windows & Mac
NanoStudio is an enclosed DAW in the sense that it comes with a sampler (the TRG), a synth (called Eden) and very little else. There’s no direct recording into the timeline editor, and no AudioPaste straight into the track either. You can still use samples from other apps, though you will need to load them as samples on the TRG or Eden synth and trigger them. This can be done via AudioPaste or by browsing the library on iOS or simply by pointing NanoStudio to a .WAV file of your choice on Windows or OS X.
The sampler is a 16-pad affair, and uses the keys below “QWER” to trigger it, while the keyboard input spans the entire middle four-rows of a standard keyboard. On the iPad or iPhone, this is all touch-friendly and uses the sampler and keys directly. The sampler comes with a few extra controls like attack, release, volume and the option of playing one-shots and loops too. You can also reverse your samples, and transpose or pitch up and down for fine tuning – it’s a fairly versatile inclusion.
Eden is just as pleasing, especially once you start to experiment with the various settings. The included presets do a good job of demonstrating the diverse soundscape, and it only takes a few modifications to make the sound your own. Once you begin playing with a few variables you will realise that Eden is capable of a huge range of sounds, from bouncy raw bass to eerie drones and soft melodies.
This diversity is thanks to the rather impressive specifications behind the synth, with up to 16 voices per synth running on two anti-aliased oscillators per voice. There are 4 LFOs, the ability to use a sample in place of one of the 36 included basic waveforms and two dedicated modular effects in the form of a waveshaper and a delay module that covers chorus and flanger effects too. You can even slice into samples you’ve loaded, or if this all sounds like work to you there are also 192 presets to choose from and XY pads for manipulating the sound in realtime.
Both the TRG and Eden use a piano roll to trigger notes and samples, making it possible to tidy up any mistakes and easily export MIDI files of your sequence. Another thing NanoStudio does very well is MIDI, with support for a ton of input devices including the Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer, AKAI SynthStation 25 and other Core MIDI compatible apps and accessories. If you already have melodies and patterns saved to file you can import them too.
A Paid iOS DAW
While the feature-sets are virtually identical, the best way to use NanoStudio is probably on the iPad with a big touchscreen in front of you. The experience on OS X using a simple mouse and keyboard was not as jarring as I first expected, though simple tasks like scrolling through your timeline and zooming in or out using pinch-to-zoom left me a little frustrated. This is fine because spending $13.99 to use it on your iPad or iPhone (the way it was originally intended) is worth it.
The closed, self-contained system may seem quite restrictive at first but the depth offered by NanoStudio soon sets the record straight. I can’t fit all of the features in this review without making it way too long for anyone to bother reading. Eden and TRG are two phenomenal tools, but the overall workflow and UI are just as important. What can be a fiddly experience moving and looping samples or patterns on the timeline is made easier with some clever controls. All the functions you might want while using a DAW are pretty much always at the top of the screen, quickly accessible and small touches like the ability to loop an area while experimenting really change the way you approach your workflow.
Developer Blip Interactive (which just so happens to be a one-man team) has also created NanoSync, a free utility for exporting NanoStudio files from your device over Wi-Fi which is available from the downloads page. One reason you might want to install NanoSync is to transfer samples back and forth, including a load of free samples supplied by the developer himself. Head over to the NanoStudio samples page to choose from a very long list of free samples, from techno and dubstep to jazz and rock.
If you’re sitting there thinking how promising the NanoStudio music workstation looks, but are wondering what the results might sound like then why not check out the NanoStudio group on SoundCloud. This group is designed specifically for those using the app to share their creations, handy seeing as NanoStudio supports the direct sharing of music to the SoundCloud service. I’ve embedded a few songs made using the app, below.
NanoStudio is a great place to start making music on your iOS device, and thoroughly justifies the mid-range $13.99 price point. With the power of Eden, the usefulness of the TRG sampler and NanoSync for management, the NanoStudio outfit feels like a complete mini-studio. There’s no AudioBus yet (I’d love to see AudioBus out or effects processing using Eden) but as you can hear from the samples above, NanoStudio is way more than just a toy.
If you’re still not sure then you should definitely grab the free Windows version or head over to the Mac App Store for the free OS X version. These are complete versions, there are no limitations aside from the fact that your laptop won’t fit in your back pocket. I’ve got a feeling that once you’ve played with the free versions of NanoStudio you’ll be dying to get the mobile version for music creation on the go.
Download: NanoStudio for iPhone, iPod Touch & iPad ($13.99)