Venerable synthesizer manufacturer KORG has just unleashed Gadget ($39), a self-contained studio system for iPad featuring 15 individual synthesizers. Not only is this the most expensive KORG iPad app yet, it’s radically different from anything they’ve tried before.
A new interface accompanies a revised workflow, portrait-only orientation and some of the best sounding virtual synths included in any application. With a full set of drum, lead, bass and sample-based instruments, Gadget is aiming for top spot in the mobile DAW marketplace.
But is it worth $40?
A Very Different DAW
KORG’s Gadget is a very different kind of digital audio workstation, or DAW for short, and one we’ve yet to really see on the iPad. While pricey music production environments like Tabletop (free with in-app purchases) and Auria ($49.99) exist, we’ve yet to see one that comes with 15 separate virtual instruments – nor have we seen anything that exclusively uses portrait orientation.
Gadget is a different breed of music app. It uses a portrait split-view which KORG says allows you to control two things at once – “song creation” and “sound creation”. What this essentially means is that you can use the piano roll on the upper-portion of the screen to map out melodies or grooves, while manipulating the sound using the controls below. This all takes place in portrait – both in instrument view and pattern view – and I think it works a treat.
Melodies and rhythms take the form of patterns, which can be freely and quickly copied between instruments and sequences. This makes experimenting easy and creating layers of sound even easier, providing a user-friendly feel to the whole operation. While past KORG apps like iMS-20 ($19.99) were powerful yet fiddly, Gadget forgoes some of that depth in favour of usability.
Don’t let that put you off though, there’s a huge amount of potential here. It might be geared more toward the casual user, but KORG are still keen to push this as a second (or “first mobile”) DAW for producers – and it’s not hard to see (or hear) why.
Gadgets, Not Toys
Don’t let the name fool you, KORG’s so-called “gadgets” pack a serious punch. Each is named after a city representative of the sound, so there’s a sample-based drum synth called London, a tube bass machine known as Chicago and the monophonic lead synth, Berlin. Nods to house and techno aside, there’s a lot of scope here for some incredibly varied sounds.
There are virtual analog machines like Phoenix, a polyphonic synth that provides warm Moog-esque tones and Tokyo, a four-part analogue drum machine that generates its own kicks and snares. Spatial generator Kiev creates eerie ambient tones while Miami, a hybrid digital-analogue wobble bass generator, has many uses beyond dubstep.
There are also a range of gadgets that use samples, which can be tuned, adjusted and routed through an effects channel for unexpected results. Aforementioned drum module London is an excellent example, includes 400 samples and is almost worthy of the price tag alone. By throwing a few instances of London down it’s possible to create complex layers of drums for use in Gadget or other projects, then accent your groove with some of Tokyo’s raw thud.
Writing music is a case of either recording your inputs as the song plays, or dragging your finger over the piano roll to indicate which notes should play when. You can also record any adjustments you would like to make to the instruments themselves at any point in the loop, also known as automation or motion sequencing. This takes the potential range of sounds and effects to the next level.
Writing & Sharing
The pattern sequencer is where you arrange your melodies and rhythms into a song, and like the rest of the interface, Gadget does it a little differently. This is a vertically-scrolling pattern sequencer, which I personally find makes it very easy to visualise track progression. It also makes duplicating and repeating parts quick and easy, with a whole range of time-saving features to be found under the Function button.
The mixer is also a simple affair, allowing you to manipulate levels and balance, as well as channel-specific reverb levels. That’s the only effect on the mixer, and it’s a shame because more effects exist within the instruments themselves. It could be hardware limitations, or considerations for older devices that caused KORG to stop short of including more master effects.
While we’re on the topic, Gadget is a demanding app. At times it made my iPad Air stutter (visually, not audibly thankfully) and so that means users on older devices should tread with caution. Luckily KORG were kind enough to include a Freeze button (visible once you’ve pressed Function in the pattern sequencer) which allows you to freeze whole channels to free-up resources. It would be nice to see more of this from other developers in future music apps.
Once you’ve completed a mix you can share it via GadgetCloud, an in-app song sharing system powered by SoundCloud. GadgetCloud presents new releases, featured songs and popular tracks in a chart. It’s possible to follow users you like with a simple tap, and comment or favourite tracks – all of which requires a SoundCloud account (which you should already have). Not only are the wealth of creations inspiring, the variety of music being produced is a testament to the app’s depth and complexity.
A Great Start
This is still the very first version of Gadget, and as such there are bound to be missing features. At present, every person and their dog wants AudioBus and Inter-App-Audio (IAA) support, and there are a good deal more who are wondering where external MIDI control went. The lack of a proper undo button is frustrating, and has to be my number one gripe with the app. Lastly I’d love to see the ability load and playback our own samples rather than relying on what KORG are providing here (perhaps a simple sampler gadget is all we need).
The outlook is very bright indeed for KORG Gadget. Future updates should improve and refine the formula even more, and if we’re really lucky we’ll see some new instruments added and improvements made to existing ones. If you’re looking for a mobile or secondary DAW, can forgive (or even prefer) a portrait layout and aren’t afraid of app teething troubles; KORG Gadget is $40 well spent.
Download: KORG Gadget ($39.99)
Have you bought KORG Gadget or any of the company’s other apps? Share thoughts and tunes, below.