WaveMachine Labs, Inc. is a music and audio software company located in Chicago, IL. Founded in 1999 by Rim Buntinas, WaveMachine Labs develops innovative software titles for both the professional audio industry and iOS mobile devices.
It’s latest release ‘Auria’ is a full featured DAW system specifically designed to run on the iPad and includes;
I had the opportunity to try out the Auria DAW software just a few days after it became available from the iTunes app store, so here are my first impressions of an app which has the potential to revolutionise music recording on the iPad.
The app downloaded with no issues and very helpfully comes with an 18 track demo song so you can get a quick run through of the feature set really easily.
As you can see from the screenshot above, the mixer screen layout is logically laid out with the essential channel controls all being available. As standard you get a long throw fader (even longer if you turn the iPad to portrait), pan control, solo, mute and record enable pushbuttons, plus read/write automation buttons. What’s a lot less common on these type of apps is direct access to two auxes plus routing to one of 8 subgroups. Finally there is an FX button which we’ll come to next.
Each channel has a pop-up channel strip which provides a very fully featured 4-band parametric EQ plus sweepable hi and lo pass filters, plus expander and compressor both with side chain filters and gain reduction metering.
In addition, each channel has four plug-in inserts which can select, as standard, from a number of delay and reverb based effects. It’s possible to purchase further plug-ins based on VST but adapted for the iPad iOS format. You can even shop on-line for these directly from the Auria application!Helpfully, the channel fader, pan and aux level controls are duplicated in the pop-up channel and there is access to supplementary channel controls such phase reverse, aux on/off and there’s even a ‘saturation’ button which emulates the sound of analogue-style saturation by creating additional harmonics.
Just to eliminate any doubt, Auria really can mix 48 tracks at up to 96kHz sampling rate on an iPad 2 or iPad3. iPad1 can cope with up to 24 tracks 48kHz, still a high track count. With the capability to add EQ, Dynamics and up to 4 plug-ins per track, a lot of thought has gone into how to best utilise the iPad’s available processing power. A major facilitator towards this is the ability to freeze one of more tracks to save CPU power. Freezing a track applies the currently selected channel processing to a copy of the track and then uses that copy in the mix until such time as you need to unfreeze the track for further updates. You don’t loose the ability to level control or pan that channel and the aux send levels remain fully functional.
Whilst this may sound a bit limiting, have a think about the reality of working on a complex mix. You’ll tend to work intensively on a number of tracks together, for example the drum kit, allocate that to a subgroup (which of course you can do with Auria) and then move on to another part of the mix.
Tracks which have been frozen are clearly indicated in all DAW screens within Auria and can be unfrozen for further updates.
For the purpose of the review I ran Auria with my iPad installed in the Alesis iO DOCK interface which is a 2 in 2 out device and was recognised by the Auria software app.
Auria provides an easy to use input allocation matrix so that you can select which physical input is allocated to each of the tracks when recording and you can also route the left and right master outputs back into tracks for bouncing audio. A mini bargraph display allows all track levels to be viewed simultaneously which is useful when setting up a large recording session.
Auria supports two main categories of audio hardware, the iPad’s built-in internal I/O (Speaker, Mic, and 3.5mm headphone mini-jack), and external audio interfaces connected through the 30-pin MFi port (either directly or through the Camera Connection Kit).
There are two types of devices which can be connected through this port:
• MFi – These interfaces connect directly to the 30-pin MFi connector. Popular examples are the Apogee Jam and Alesis iO DOCK and iO MIX.
• USB Class 2 Compliant interfaces – These require an Apple Camera Connection Kit connected between the iPad and interface. Examples include the RME Fireface UCX, Presonus AudioBox 1818VSL, and the Focusrite Scarlett series interfaces.
Wave Machine Labs maintain a list of compatible interfaces and it’s clear that recording 24 tracks simultaneously into an iPad using Auria is becoming a practical possibility.
The iPad interface standard does not currently support more than two outputs so directly mixing back through an external multi channel analogue mixer will have to wait for now.
It is easy to set one or more channel into record ready, select the required physical audio input, set record level and decide whether to record effects.
Level metering on each of the channels is provided and it seems to accurately reflect the dynamics of the incoming audio so it should be possible to prevent accidental clipping prior to entering record.
It’s important to remember that Auria (like most DAWs) controls the levels in the software domain so you will still have to adjust the input gain on your audio interface to match the audio source.
Time locators can be set to allow auto punch in record when you have to overdub part of a performance.
Auria provides a full 48 track into 8 subgroups into a stereo master for mixdown. I still have to pinch myself when I realise this is happening on a bog standard iPad. With the additional of a decent pair of headphones or powered monitors you have a fully equipped mixdown environment sitting in front of you within a footprint smaller than a laptop and no mouse to find a home for.
When you are happy with your final mix it’s a simple matter to hit the mixdown option in the main menu and you can generate a stereo master in either wav or AIF formats with a choice of 16, 24 or 32 bit resolution and MP3 with variable fixed bitrates.
Helpfully, you can also export the finished stereo file directly to Dropbox or SoundCloud.
Auria allows high resolution wav audio files to be imported either using iTunes File sharing (which I found to be fast) or via Dropbox (which is fine but beware of the times taken to upload multiple files via wi-fi).
This allows you to place multiple audio files at desired time positions within a new or existing mix.
It’s also possible to import an entire multitrack session via AAF which allows both static and dynamic fader information as well as other session data to be imported. Auria have put a lot of effort into making their AAF format compatible with most of the major DAWs which support this format.
In a similar way it’s possible to export an entire project including audio files via the AAF format to your main (I should say alternative) DAW system.
So I hope you can imagine a scenario of using Auria plus iPad and portable audio interface to do a full recording session at a venue or rehearsal room; run off a rough mix for the band on the spot and then have the option to bring the session back to your studio for final mixing on Auria, or another DAW, if you need a level of mixdown facilities currently beyond what the Auria/iPad combination can offer.
One of the great features of this DAW (I’m going to stop calling it an App!) is the excellent waveform display and editing facilities. I had not expected to be able to do precision audio waveform editing using a touchscreen and my finger! but the implementation of this essential DAW function has been very well thought out by the designers.
The waveform view is fully zoomable in both axis right up to a point where it’s possible to make out the individual samples.
It’s possible to select, trim, move, split, copy and delete audio regions. I found it easy enough to set time markers and to trim audio using just a couple of fingers. Weird but easy!
In a similar manner you can add fade ins, fader outs and crossfades with selectable fade shapes and durations.
Auria provides facilities to automate every mixer and plug-in control with separate Read and Write buttons for each channel, subgroup and the main output.
These can either be recorded in real time as part of the mix down process, or automation data can be drawn in when working in the waveform edit view. You are able to select which automation parameter to work on from a drop down list and then place control points and lines to construct the required automation sequence. Control points can dragged in both directions (time and value) until you get the desired effect.
As good as the audio converters you hook up to the iPad is the short answer. The system handles 24 bit linear audio at sample rates up to 96kHz (48kHz for the iPad1) and if you are working with an iPad 2 or 3 then all 48 tracks are supported at the highest sample rate.
It was a real joy to turn off my fan assisted PC DAW system and settle into the absolute silence (apart from the performance!) of an Auria/iPad recording session. The simplicity of the set up does seem to free up more energy for the creative process.
As a song writing tool I would use it every time. As a track laying tool combined with a self contained interface like the Alesis iO DOCK, you can lay down track after track within a home or project studio environment. If you are a professional musician on tour then it would seem ideal for those long days in the hotel waiting for the next evening gig!
In conjunction with a high quality multi-channel interface, it would be very practical as a portable recording set up for bands wishing to record at rehearsal rooms or live gigs.
When it comes to large scale mix downs there are a couple of factors to consider.
Processing power can get used up pretty quickly when you’re mixing down say 20 tracks and most of them are accessing on-board audio effects. Doing a large mixdown and then doing an overdub could be problematical and you would seriously have to consider freezing a number of tracks to ease the processing load.I found the rotary controls, so pans, aux levels, EQs, Dyns, quite fiddly to use. There is a choice of linear (swipe up and down) or circular (swipe in a circular fashion) modes for these controls. The circular worked best for me but the real issue is the size of the rotaries which are too small for fine detail work. I could not easily place a track within the stereo sound field with any degree of finesse and yet this is an essential part of mixing down to stereo. WaveMachine Labs founder, Rim Buntinas, pointed out a method which improves accuracy as follows:
1. Touch in the center of the control
2. Without letting go of the touch, move your finger far away from the control
3. Use the entire iPad screen as your “knob”. The knob will track your relative position that way allowing for much greater precision
4. When you’ve got it where you want it, let go.
And yes this helps a lot. However, in an effort to put as many channels as possible on one visible screen, I think that the designers have sacrificed too much in terms of control usability. Personally I think that the approach taken by designers such as Neyrinck with their V-Control app (not a DAW in its own right remember) is much better in displaying eight channels simultaneously with a single decent sized assignable rotary control and larger control pushbuttons.
But getting around to the ‘big picture’ view, Auria is a fantastic achievement and is just at the beginning of what I imagine is a long development path. Even with the intial release there is a wealth of features which I’ve only been able to make a start describing in this first brief review.
The developers have indicated that full MIDI facilities (including MIDI instruments) are being planned and I’m sure there is scope within the physical size of the iPad touch screen to refine the operating interface in those few areas where finer detail control would be advantageous.
If you are a song writer and you have an iPad then you should buy this app. If you are a song writer and don’t own an iPad, then you should buy an iPad and this app. It really is that good!
If you are band and want to record multi-track performances in your rehearsal room or at live gigs then this is a very serious proposition.
And for home studio use it is a realistic and elegant low cost alternative to a dedicated PC/Apple/DAW desk top set up.
Here’s a video of Grammy award winning producer David Kahne discussing Auria.
And a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of the main Auria demo song, tracked entirely on an iPad. Featuring Chicago band whysowhite, their song “The Approach”, and a barn in southern Michigan.