Music and tech geeks alike have long discussed the usability of the iPad as a music production device. There has been debate over the viability of recording accessories like Apogee Jam or the iRig. Many musicians, however, cast that confusion aside in favor of self-contained electronic music production. And sometimes, all you need is the right suite of apps to turn the iPad into an electronic music studio.
Today I’m going to take a look at Looptastic HD, a loop recording app that is part of the production suite from Sound Trends that includes studio.HD, meta.DJ, and Gruvtron. Looptastic is suitable for both recording or performing, with many powerful and intuitive features that facilitate both.
First things first, you need to get familiar with the interface of Looptastic outside of the console interface. When you run Looptastic for the first time, you’ll see some news and the loop list. This is where your recorded loops and saved performances go when you save them, but for now it’s only populated with preset loop sets.
The globe icon in the upper left takes you to the Sound Trends forums, while the button next to it will open help in Safari. You can purchase loop sets to add to this menu by tapping the “Loop Store” button at the top. Some of these are free, and I found the variety of available loops pretty satisfactory.
Before we look at how to record an actual performance, let’s get acquainted with the performance interface. In the screenshot below, you’ll see that the machine is separated, for all intents and purposes, into 3 sections. The top section is the transport bar. Here you will find the Play/Pause, Save Performance, and Record Loop buttons, the tempo controls, and the “power” button (which simply takes you back to the loop menu).
The bottom section of the interface contains a list of loop sets on the left, a list of effects on the right, and an X/Y controller for controlling those effects in the middle. Finally, the middle-third of the screen contains the mixing zones and the loop waveform. There are 3 mixing zones, which allow you to crossfade, as well as apply effects to certain groups of tracks at a time.
As with any instrument (digital or analog), learning to play with Looptastic requires a bit of patience and practice, but not as much as I expected. I have quite a bit of experience in audio production, and while it took some time, I think that the learning curve for the Looptastic interface is still impressively shallow.
Creating a Performance
Now you know how to use the interface, but how well will the app let you turn that into recordable or performable music?
After you choose a loop set, the loops available to you will be displayed directly under the mixing zones. The color coding makes mixing on the fly convenient: drums are typically grey, rhythm tracks are blue, lead tracks are green, and the red tracks are usually some sort of sound effect. Their vertical position in the mix zone determines the volume, and this can be instantly muted or set to the maximum by tapping the top or bottom of a fader.
The mixing zones resize to accommodate any number of loops you wish to play simultaneously. The employment of 3 mixing zones facilitates some creative uses – the crossfader only fades between the left and right channels, while the center channel always plays.
To keep things organized, Looptastic allows you to rename tracks by tapping on the wrench icon next to a waveform. This also provides access to advanced features, such as playing the sample in reverse. Additionally, you can create your own loops, as I mentioned above. The record button on the transport bar will give you a one-measure countdown before recording with the built in microphone. Use this to record your own samples to mix into your Looptastic projects.
Finally, the X/Y controller and effect list can be applied, by using the three toggle switches below, to any combination of the three mixing zones. After creating some loops and getting a performance that you’re happy with, you can tap the Save Performance button on the transport bar and give it a name.
Apply effects to the right and/or center channels while the drums play on the left to manipulate sound over a beat.
Creating and saving your performances is fun, but can this app be used as a real tool in music production? Of course. Once your performance is saved, you can do one of several things with it.
You can export your mix directly to SoundCloud to share with the world. You can also export it via Wi-Fi, or directly to iTunes. Most interesting to me, however, is the fact that you can export your performance (tracks intact) to Sound Trends studio.HD iPad app. I have yet to play with this, since I don’t yet have studio.HD (perhaps that’s a review for another time).
One last feature that is included in the most recent update to Looptastic HD can not go without mention. I have seen many impressive videos of DJs making the switch to digital by using two side-by-side iPads running identical DJ software as part of their live performance set. If you enjoy using Looptastic, you can also get in on this action, as Sound Trends has introduced a tempo-sync feature that allows you to sync the BPM of two iPads running Looptastic.
Is it the most fully featured digital music app available on the iPad? Of course not. But it’s price point is also much lower than that of professional apps. Looptastic HD gracefully walks the line between professional grade audio software, and affordable, fun software. This makes it fun for sitting around and jamming, interesting live performance, or even as a tool to use in the studio.
How do you like Looptastic compared to other audio apps you’ve used? We’d love to hear about it below.