Yesterday I reviewed AudioBus, a system for iOS that allows users to connect compatible music apps together. AudioBus offers a taste of the future when it comes to tactile music creation, but in order to use it you’ll need some compatible apps – apps like Funkbox.
Funkbox provides faithful emulation of a series of classic drum machines, many of which have been used countless times by your favourite artists and producers. This isn’t a do-it-all drum machine but a modern homage to the machines of years gone by, providing much of the functionality and quirkiness of old musical hardware.
It’s a universal app for both iPad and iPhone, and makes programming beats easy and fun.
Drum & Drummer
Funkbox does a very good job of emulating some classic musical hardware – the humble drum machine, a lost instrument of years gone by that has since been replaced with advanced software and not-so-advanced mobile apps. Drum machines were literally just that – hardware designed to create a rhythm. They had physical buttons, capacitors and circuit boards and cost a lot of money on release.
The machines that Funkbox emulates are famous examples of rhythm composers, such as the Roland TR-808 which retailed for more than a thousand dollars upon its release in 1980. This particular machine was used by the likes of The Beastie Boys, Marvin Gaye and 808 State, with many producers today still sampling this unit and others like it.
In addition to the 808, Funkbox emulates the following Roland rhythm composers: TR-909 (1983, pictured below), TR-606 (1984), CR-78 (1978) and the TR-77 (1972). There are also a selection of other machines: LinnDrum’s LM-2 (1982), Rhythm King’s MRK-2 (1970), Korg’s Electribe ER-1 (1999) and the Elektron Machinedrum MD-SPS1 (2001).
These machines have all been sampled (and some re-sampled) for inclusion in this app, and they sound great – I don’t think I’ve heard better drum samples on the App Store to date. Each kick is fat, the snares are crisp and there’s even some genuine hiss included from older models. This is most definitely an emulator, revelling in the dirt and quirks of some of these older machines.
Funkbox itself comes with 36 preset buttons in which to store patterns. These contain pre-programmed drum beats to start with, though ultimately are destined to be replaced with your own patterns. Don’t worry about losing the presets though, patterns can be saved and loaded using the Save button on the Funk tab; something that’s not immediately obvious when you start using the app.
Over & Over & Over & Over
Pattern creation is a lot of fun, and if you’ve never programmed drums before it won’t take long to figure out. Funkbox includes a 32-step sequencer in a grid layout. Each drum hit is represented by a square, and when this square is lit up then the drum hit will play. The drum machine follows the sequence and plays any squares that have been enabled, looping once it reaches the end.
It’s simple enough to figure out by watching and modifying the pre-programmed beats on the Edit tab. Once you’ve come up with a pattern you can give it a name and it will save, overwriting whatever is in the currently selected pattern slot.
If at any point you would like to get the presets back you can create a new machine from the Funk tab, just hit Save and choose New and select the Funkbox presets. You can also duplicate your existing banks in this manner, should you wish to make non-destructive edits to existing patterns.
In addition to editing patterns and choosing your samples using the drum machines on the Box tab, Funkbox includes controls for tempo (speed), swing (which offsets beats by a small amount to make the beat sound more “natural”) as well as controlling the volume, accent (additional volume) and balance (left or right) of each drum hit.
These advanced tweaks offer finite control over the finished product and even if you don’t use them initially there will come a point when you’re glad they were included.
For “serious” music production Funkbox is compatible with a number of technologies including Core MIDI for talking to real MIDI instruments using compatible cables, and other Core MIDI apps running in the background or on nearby iOS devices sharing the same network. There’s even an additional MIDI bass sequencer which can be enabled on via in-app settings.
Funkbox does all this along with the aforementioned AudioBus support, which lets you route Funkbox through an effects processor and record the results straight into the workstation of your choice.
Loops can be exported to .WAV, copied to the audio pasteboard (and then pasted into other apps) or via iTunes File Sharing. MIDI files can also be created of your patterns, making Funkbox a powerful drum sketchpad. All this plus the ability to import your own samples and create your own drum machines which can then be applied to your existing patterns – it’s a real monster of an app for $5.99.
There are a few limitations, the biggest of which is the restriction to 4/4 (four beats per bar) and 3/4 timing. It would also be nice to limit the pattern to 16 beats or expand it to 64 beats for even more complex sequences – but this might go against the grain when it comes to emulating classic hardware. Some of the biggest limitations in Funkbox are its main selling points, after all.
The app is useful for hobbyists and iOS musicians alike – it’s also not a bad idea if you’re a performer, DJ or learning and instrument. Guitarists, bassists and in particular drummers learning their trade might get a kick (and a snare) out of this one. Last but not least the novelty factor takes a while to get over – you’ve got 14 of the world’s best sounding and most coveted drum machines in your pocket, just what are you going to do with them?
Download: Funkbox for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad ($5.99)
Have you used Funkbox? Any other drum machines that sound this good? Let us know what you think in the comments, and recommend your own music apps!