Review – Syntronik for iPad
IK Multimedia’s Synth-Sample powerhouse comes to the iPad, bells and whistles intact.
by Warren Burt, Nov. 2017
In our last issue, David Baer covered the computer version of IK Multimedia’s synth-sample powerhouse, Syntronik – read that review here. Shortly after that, IK announced that Syntronik was now available for the iPad. Having just gotten an iPad Pro, with lots of spare memory in it, I thought that it would be good to cover the iOS app, seeing how it compared with the computer version.
The short answer is: very well indeed. I don’t know how they compress the 60GB of data the computer version requires into approximately 5GB which all the samples for the full version take up on my iPad, but I don’t see many differences between the samples available on the computer and iPad versions. For example, I’m pretty sure that the same 79 presets for the J-8 synth exist on both the computer and iPad versions. Mind you, I haven’t tried all 1200 of the presets, nor do I have a computer available with Syntronik on it to make a point by point comparison, but my initial gut feeling is that the two instruments seem pretty identical.
David mentioned in his review that this was not a full featured synthesizer, but rather a collection of synthesizer waveforms, performed through a common patch, which emulated many of the functions of the original hardware. Let me agree with him on this. A proper “synthesizer,” in my view, would be patchable with lots and lots of possibilities for modifying sound and changing it in real-time. At a minimum, sounds should be able to be frequency and amplitude modulated at almost any point in the patch, and control signals of changing frequency should be available to modulate just about any aspect of the sound. This implies a quite different definition of a synthesizer than many people have these days, and is, frankly, a quite pleasantly “old-school” definition. But many people don’t share that definition. They’re not looking for the power to make an “original” sound (and let’s remember Milton Babbitt’s old adage “Nothing becomes tiresome more quickly than a “new sound.”), but are in fact, wanting to have available sounds from electronic music hits of the past that they’ve come to know and like. There are dozens of sample libraries which indeed do just that – they take samples of the sounds of older electronic gear and make those available, sometimes with processing circuitry similar to the originals, sometimes not. The catalogs of such sample masters as UVI and Native Instruments are filled with offerings such as this. I have a number of these programs (UVI’s UVX-10P, an emulation of Roland synths from the 1980s is a particular favorite of mine, although, curiously, I’ve never actually used it in a piece), and they do indeed offer the sampled sounds of earlier machines with some amount of real-time processing power.
IK Multimedia’s Syntronik is one of these. It has sampled waveforms from 38 older synthesizers, grouped into seventeen “synths” (graphic design styles for the interface), and all of these waveforms are then processed through the same “patch.” There are a number of interesting aspects to this patch – such as the seven kinds of modelled filters that one can select (only one at a time) in the patch, and the single LFO which can be used to control panning, or pitch or filter cutoff, but, despite the different graphics for each synth type, the patch is indeed the same for all sounds. This is not as much of a problem as it might seem. One might bewail the lack of possibility of frequency or amplitude modulating sounds within the patch, but in the effects page, one does indeed find both frequency and amplitude modulation processors, which can either work at a set frequency, or accept MIDI signals so that the same modulation ratio is preserved for all the played frequencies.
Here’s a shot of the sound selection panel – which is pretty identical to the computer version. One of the interesting things is that one can select multiple aspects of a sound from the menus, and if more than one is selected, these will AND, so that one gets a sounds that have only both the characteristics one is searching for. The warning here is that once you’re done with those, be sure to click all of them off, so that you don’t have those characteristics operating as a filter of further choices of yours.
Syntronik is a free download from the App Store. For that price, free, you get 25 presets, at least one each from the seventeen synth-types included in the full version. If you want individual synths – that is, the sample sets from a particular synth, you can purchase those as an in-app purchase. You can also purchase the full version, which has all the samples from all the synthesizers. This costs less than buying each synth’s samples individually, but for those on a budget, perhaps gradual expansion is the way to go. The US App Store price for the full version, for example, is $79.99 USD, with each synth-sample set being $9.99 USD. (The Australian app store lists $149.99 AUD for the full version, and $14.99 AUD for each synth. This reflects the higher prices that everything has in Australia.)
Syntronik fits in well with the rest of the iOS environment. It works very well in Audiobus 3, and Audiobus 2, is listed as working as in Inter-App Audio application, and works fine in AUM. It accepts MIDI on whatever channel you want, and can accept MIDI CCs for real time control of most available controls.
Above you see three examples of the “synth faceplates” used by Syntronik. You’ll see that there are exactly the same controls on each, just arrayed differently. With Syntronik you can layer up to four different synths, each with their own pitch and velocity range. These all play together – with MIDI input, these all work together. But at the top of each page is a Master control, where for each synth in each layer you can adjust volume and pan independently, as well as a Master volume for the whole instrument, as shown in the next graphic.
If patching possibilities in the Main page of Syntronik are limited, the effects page is where the semi-modular nature of the program shines. You can set up chains of up to five effects for each synth-layer – these can all be independent effects. There are 37 different effects in six different categories. In the Modulation category, for example, are the AM Modulator and FM Modulator effects I mentioned earlier. These both allow quite complex modulations to occur and all of these effects amplify the possibilities of the instrument greatly. These effects can be turned on and off in real-time. For example, having only two effects, the Slicer and the Digital Reverb happening – with the slicer set to, for example, 50 Hz, this produces quite a noisy sound. With the Mix control on the Digital Reverb set to, say, 66%, this makes quite a roaring noise. Turning off the “on” switch on the Digital Reverb or the Slicer radically changes the sound, bringing in whole levels of noise and texture in the sound. As a live performance environment, the Effects Page gives a huge range of sonic options.
David briefly mentioned the Arpeggiation page in his review. It is, indeed, as complex, and loaded with possibilities as he implied. It’s a very powerful performance environment on its own, but the thing that I found most attractive about it was that each of the four synth layers (A, B, C, and D) each can have its own arpeggiation pattern with its own rules, its own tempo, its own logic and its own pattern. The use of the Arpeggiation page actually turns Syntronik into a multi-timbral, polyrhythmic composing system. For me, this was the most attractive part of the whole program, once I slowly read through the eleven pages of the manual and mastered the Arrpeggiator’s possibilities. To those of you who don’t like reading manuals, I would suggest that for this page, you make an exception to that, and learn all the characteristics of this very powerful page.
David had mentioned to me that Syntronik didn’t have any microtonal capabilities, and at first glance, that seemed to be true. However, one of the controls on the Main page is a control for setting bend range. There are a number of sequencer programs which enable a particular pitch bend to be sent out in parallel with a particular pitch number. If you can set the pitch bend range of your synth, you can get, at least, a monophonic microtonal output from Syntronik. I tried this with the new Quantum sequencer (also reviewed in this issue), setting the pitch bend range to +/- 2 semitones, then setting the proper pitch bend level for each pitch required for each step in the sequence. Although this was quite time-consuming to set up, the result was quite satisfying, with my desired microtonal scale churbling away happily with whichever of the hundreds of timbres available with Syntronik that I chose. With a multi-track recording environment such as FL Studio or Cubasis, and a versatile sequencer such as Quantum, one could quite easily make polyphonic microtonal compositions with Syntronik.
I did all these tests with an iPad Pro 12.9 inch screen version. It had more than enough power to handle whatever I threw at it. If you’re on the iPad platform, and you’re looking for a good utility synthesizer program with a very large range of timbres and some very interesting live-performance possibilities, IK Multimedia’s Syntronik is well worth your downloading to have a look and listen. If you like what you see, the total price, even for the full version, is pretty reasonable. I do like the sound of the instrument – it’s very smooth and full sounding, and when a synth sounds this good, I actually don’t care if it’s a “faithful recreation” of an ancient technological sound or not. It sounds good right now – for me, that’s what’s important.
IK Multimedia, on the App Store, or http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/syntronikios/
iOS 9.1 or later, 64 bit, iPad only
free with 25 sounds, in-app
Syntronik Full $79.99 USD
Syntronik Galaxy $9.99
Syntronik OXa $9.99
Syntronik Blau $9.99
Syntronik J-60 $9.99
Syntronik 99 $9.99
Twelve other individual synths, each $9.99