Having invested in the excellent Alesis iO DOCK, I started to look around for an iPAD app which would let me explore the audio recording capabilities of the iPAD further than is possible through Apple’s GarageBand. In particular I wanted to record two audio tracks simultaneously for vocal plus acoustic guitar tracking.
Quite a number of the apps on the market are pretty unclear about whether simultaneous multitrack recording is possible and I waded through the various developer’s on-line forums in search of clarity on this point.
Harmonicdog’s ‘MultiTrack’ app (the clue is in the name) was the only one I could find which could answer an unequivocal ‘YES!’ In fact it boasts the ability to record up to eight tracks simultaneously with a compliant USB audio interface.
One quick download later, I slid my iPAD2 into the Alesis iO DOCK, opened the MultiTrack app and started recording. Much of the screen interface is very intuitive and easy to use; with only the odd exception which I’ll come to later.
The standard offering allows you to record and playback up to 8 tracks, with an extra cost option to expand the track count to 24 (still limited to recording eight simultaneously).
With the iO Dock connected, each track has a choice of mono1, mono 2 and stereo. So I created a couple of tracks, fed test tone into one (a good test of crosstalk) and a vocal mic into the other. After arming both tracks I pressed record then play (you need to press both to start recording) and things started to happen!
As I reported in a separate review of the iO DOCK, left/right crosstalk performance is excellent, and I’m happy to report that this was also the case when using the iO DOCK into Harmonicdog’s recording software. It’s possible to preview and set input levels using the excellent screen meters which are much more response than the VU meter in GarageBand. Using the iO Dock I left the software input gains at ‘0’ and used the hardware input gain controls, but trimming using both is possible.
Although the iO DOCK has it’s own latency free ‘pass through’ monitoring, if you are using an audio interface without this facility then the MultiTrack software provides an input monitor function from the main pop up menu.
After recording you get a neat waveform display which can be zoomed for accurate audio editing.
Each channel offers input gain with metering, pan (a neat pop up rotary knob), pop up buttons for solo, mute and record arm (with audio source selection), channel compressor, semi parametric 4 band EQ and a single FX send.
The FX bus has a choice of Reverb and Delay (both sound fine) and the master stereo buss has the same style of compressor and EQ as supplied for the channels.
One of really great features of this software is the ease with which you can transfer either complete stereo mixes or individual recorded tracks from the iPAD to a PC or MAC.
On my PC it was a simple matter of entering in the IP address of my iPAD on my browser and up pops a Harmonicdog transfer utility. For each song recorded on iPAD (via the MultiTrack app) you have a choice of transferring the final mix or each recorded track in a choice of three formats .wav (44.1kHz), .ogg (choice of bit rates between 128 and 256Kbps) and .M4a (again between 128 and 256Kbps).
Similarly in the other direction, I was able to upload audio files (exported from an existing Sonar project) to the MultiTrack app and then import these as clips into an existing song project. Uploading supports stereo or mono, mp3, wav, aif, or m4a file formats.
The ability to so easily move audio files between iPAD and a main DAW application on PC or MAC makes this app a serious contender for using the iPAD as a location tracking device, say when recording a band at a rehearsal studio.
Coming back to the iPAD app itself;
Punch in recording is both possible and very easy set up. After selecting ‘Punch’ in the main pop up menu, you’re presented with a two red cursers showing the punch in and punch out points. As it’s possible to zoom the waveform displays, it’s easy to locate the exact punch in and out points for the desired track overdub. After arming that track for record, you enter record mode and the overdub takes place exactly in the region you have defined. Two very slick features here. First the monitoring is switched correctly for overdubbing so you get to hear yourself and the previous take up to the punch in point, at which time the previous take is muted until the punch out point is reached. Second, the software performs a fast crossfade at both punch in and punch out points. This results in a very smooth transition and works very well in practice.
It’s possible to edit audio clips in a similar manner to most DAW systems, so that means slicing (an audio clip into two clips), copying clips, moving clips, setting crossfades between clips; you get the idea. I think it’s plenty to work with for a ’finger controlled’ iPAD based app.
A word about ‘Hotbox’. This is a context sensitive pop up menu which (for example) allows you to select an editing function for an audio clip. Hugely frustrating until you figure out you need to keep you finder pressed for quite a long time (okay about half a second but it seems like an eternity!) to get the pop up menu to appear, then you must slide your finger (without lifting from the screen) to the desired edit function. You do eventually get the hang of it but I would prefer a simpler system.The main location display can be set to either real time (minutes, seconds, milliseconds), Sample Display (at 44100 samples/second), or bars/beats/divisions/ticks, and you can set a Metronome to sound during replay or record (or both) with a choice of time signature and tempo.
I haven’t yet mentioned MIDI, and that’s because there is none. It’s an audio only device but for many users that won’t be an issue and in any case you could easily import a backing drum track in as an audio file if required.
I spend a couple of hours with the Harmonicdog Multitrack app and found it very usable as a tracking and mix reviewing tool. It never crashed and the download and upload of audio files worked first time and every time.
I could easily imagine using this app with iPAD and a compact audio interface as a portable recording setup for doing demo band recordings and for home tracking use. The ability to record up to eight tracks simultaneously sets it apart from GarageBand and from most other iPAD recording apps currently on the market. The built in level control and metering facilities are easy to use and accurate. The editing facilities would be fine if you had to edit a song ‘on the road’, especially due to the ability to zoom in on the waveform displays. Overdubbing is also very easy and effective.
Best features : Up to eight tracks of simultaneous recording at 16bit, 44.1kHz; overdubbing is very well thought out and works well. Very easy to move mixes and individual tracks to and from a PC or MAC.
Weakest points : Pop up Solo and Mute buttons require two presses to operate. The context sensitive ‘hotbox’ is quite fiddly to use.
Rating : 8/10