The iPhone and iPod touch are getting more in the way of playable software instruments that could ease its transformation into a handheld idea-capturing gadget. lays claim to being the first full-featured soft synth on the platform, with unusual FM synthesis control – and I still like the fact that it isn’t anything like most soft synths on your PC. And of course there have been beat machines like the surprisingly capable Intua BeatMaker drum machine/suite. On mobile platforms, though, the more the merrier – especially given the bargain-basement prices. So I’m pleased to see the likes of and Beatmaker joined by two recent apps.

Released today, iSyn is a mini-suite of music apps released by online retailer and a known quantity in soft synth design — VirSyn, makers of Tera and Cube. I’m giving this a try now, but the feature list looks impressive:

  • Touchable drum pads, keyboard
  • Three-track sequencer: two virtual analog synth tracks, one drum track
  • Programmable virtual analog synths with tilt, X/Y pad for modulation control
  • Sample playback drum machines pre-loaded with 808, 909, synth drums, other retro kits

It’s a little vanilla compared to – though the more conventional UI may be welcome to some for the same reason. It’s apparently missing the ability to use your own drum sets as on the iDrum app (with the desktop app) and Beatmaker. But it nonetheless looks promising, even a little reminiscent of the Korg DS-10 for Nintendo DS in presenting a simple combination of 2 synths and 1 kit.

Oh, yeah — and it’s a quite-reasonable $4.99.

Full information, videos, forum and such at the app site:

A Strummable Virtual Guitarist

(Ocarina killer? Hmmm… Amidio / Smule smackdown, perhaps?)

In a different vein, Star Guitar, from the makers of, simulates a guitar in software, down to passable imitation of the sound and strumming patterns. Tap the chords you want, choose a style and timbre, and Star Guitar produces accompaniment that’s more than good enough to noodle with song ideas. It could be a huge boon to songwriters, especially with mic input for iPhone and second-gen iPod touch.

The sounds are similar to Steinberg’s Virtual Guitarist, but the developers at Amidio get the idea right: a virtual guitarist makes a lot more sense when it fits in your pocket and costs $3.99. Star Guitar is ideal for quickly sketching out an idea while laying on a hotel bed or working out a new chord progression on the bus. The strums are mechanical, to be sure, but realistic enough to get an idea flowing. A metronome means it can even become a practice tool. Not being a guitarist, I was surprised to find myself trying new ideas I might not have sitting at a piano. (But where’s the flat-13 button?)

Details on this and other apps:
Amidio [makers of Star Guitar,]

And that to me is ultimately the way in which these apps start to make sense. Transposed to a mobile device, the instruments take on a different meaning, and you use them in different ways.

The challenge is also on to me to provide these kinds of capabilities on other mobiles. The Google Android currently lacks real-time synthesis capabilities – something that otherwise should be perfectly workable, even without a floating-point unit onboard (as on the G1). As far as I know, the Palm Pre SDK lacks these capabilities, too. Windows Mobile has long been capable of such things, but the instability of that platform, middling handset quality, and other problems have prevented breakout synth hits. So while I really like the idea of something like Android, it’ll be interesting to see if it can deliver these kinds of features. (In fairness, the iPhone didn’t even have an SDK in its early months, so we’ll see.) I raise the point only because I think there is great potential to making music way, way out of the studio.

We’ll have some hands-on tests of these apps and a guide to actual music workflows on the iPod touch and iPhone. So here’s a question: how would you like us to cover these apps? (I’m thinking hands-on tips for actual production, rather than just some dry reviews or round-ups.) And if you could wish for any mobile music app, what would it be?

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  • bliss

    Several times this week, I almost bought an iPod Touch. But I keep thinking that new iPhones are just around the block, coming in June — supposedly with new hardware. So that means an iPod Touch update soon as well.

    Sometimes it sucks being a techie, aware of product cycles.

  • velocipede

    I haven't tried iSyn yet, but it looks interesting.
    In addition to the others that Peter notes, I keep several music apps on my overcrowded iPod Touch. Beatmaker and iDrum get a lot of use. Among the others, here are three of the best, in my opinion.
    Bebot: a very playable theremin-like XY pad instrument with scale-tuning options and timbre variations.
    Nlog: a good emulation of an analog synth. Noise IO might be more innovative, but NLog's old school interfaces is easier for me to get into. The developer is reportedly working on adding some sequencing features.
    SrutiBox: has lots of tuning options and is nice for generating rich drones.

  • autoy

    Just got iSyn and it sounds great. It's 2 mono (albeit 3 osc) synths and a 808/909/Linndrum drumbox. The edition is pretty extensive and you can save projects or sequences and remix them all together. Way worth the 3,99€

  • omg that youtube is fucking WEIRD. in a good way.

    since we pretty much exclusively play out of our can, we in rob walmart use all sorts of smaller gear, and at this point we rock two ipod touches.
    most popular apps are various idrums, beatmaker, android (cool robot sounding x/y synth with abstract "settings", cosmovox, itabla (demo: full version $200?!?!), various gun apps for sound fx of explosions,

    also, ipod touch going through KP3 kaoss pad/sampler has been my entire set up lately. feels good. can take samples from songs off the ipod, drop and sync beats from idrum, play weird noises on top, effect the living shit out of the whole thing….mmmm nice.

    as for iphone/i-touch instrument app coverage, i would love to see more of the different ways people are using these apps in actual musical situations, as opposed to most youtube dudes who are just sitting at home, not playing shows or even jamming with other people
    im interested in seeing more real life people using the stuff in real musical situations! are there people out there? if so, i want to hear and see!

    btw, dudes can listen to rob walmart broadcasting live in-studio sessions every monday night 10-12 pacific on the internet radio @ (

  • and by "play out our can" i of course meant "play out our van"

  • Scott


    Yay. Now all the emo kids can be "ReAllllY good GuiTar plAyERs" and strum out the newest "My Chemical Romance" tune.

    But really, not a bad idea for songwriters bored on a train or a hotel.
    And 3.99 is reasonable, I may have to try this out.

  • RichardL

    Impressive that they got permission to use Depeche Mode, Coldplay and the Rolling Stones in their promotional video. Wow!

  • Surely, iphone is a power tool.

  • what about jasuto? seems like the most promising iPhone music app to me. a modular synth app, like a mini iPhone version of reaktor! it even gives you access to the mic. seriously fun.

  • Martin

    i got iSyn and like it, sounds pretty good. However, they should have added copy pattern and notes.

  • Ray

    I bought iSyn yesterday and i like it despite some Ui flaws, It's nice to have a mini daw available.
    Im not a big fan of step sequencing though, with a touchscreen working with long midi sequences should be very easy, so being locked to one bar at the time is kind of silly too me.
    However it's a bang for the buck and its probably the most complete iphone daw out there, considering the step sequencer, i wish had this too, but being locked to one bar at the time makes it kind of irritating, well for me at least.
    Some auto tuning would be handy in the live mode like bebot has, not to mention a way to record what you do live(or am i missing something?)
    Another thing i would like to see is a export to midi function.

    Despite all that, the synths sound great and you have a LOT of tweaking options, i just hope it gets a update that adds more functionality.

  • micro_evaw

    Yeah I would say that iSyn is pretty limited compared to Jasuto. You could probably make every synth in the app store with Jasuto, it also exposes all the hardware of the iPhone, mic, accelerometer, multitouch. iSyn is still cool to mess with though.

  • mainmix

    ??! ???? ??-??????!
    ????? ?????? ???? ???????????????? 🙂

    Somebody speak russian? 🙂

  • Jer

    You really ought to check out iShred, iShred LE, and Guitar. Here's some vids showing them in action:

    One user put together a tutorial on how to turn guitar tabs into a song on iShred:

    iShred LE is only a buck making it easy to check out the interface and the 8 stomp box pedal effects.

    If you opt for the full version of iShred or Guitar you get the ability to record performances, back up over the net (also great for sharing songs with friend/band mates), and have more simultaneous effects.

    The full versions include AirPlay which lets you listen to iShred/Guitar performances from all over the world (over 600 already). If you want to learn a song you hear on AirPlay it's only a button press to download the song setup, effects, and performance. Nothing else comes even close.

  • Machines

    Bought iSyn last night and messed around with it a bit. Very cool app. I've been approaching all the stuff in the App Store as stuff to use when I need to scratch down an idea really fast. iSyn is great for that. Definitely going to be checking out Jasuto now as well. Watching the videos make me want it!!

  • I bought it. I posted my brief review at I more or less share Peter (Kirn's) sentiments. Needs a little work but a promising first cut.

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  • Mitchell from here. I'll address some comments on iSyn:

    >>i got iSyn and like it, sounds pretty good. However, they should have added copy pattern and notes.

    You can copy patterns. On the "Pattern" screen, press and hold down the pattern number you wish to copy until it flashes. Now press and hold any other pattern location until it flashes. Voila', pattern copied.

    >>Im not a big fan of step sequencing though, with a touchscreen working with long midi sequences should be very easy, so being locked to one bar at the time is kind of silly too me.

    Point taken. Obviously we couldn't practically fit two bars on the screen and we were trying to keep it simple, so paging screens was out. Kind of a limitation, but please try to judge it for what it is: a $5 app for a portable platform with limited processing horsepower. Believe me, I want Logic on iPhone too :>)

    There's one way to sort of cheat and get two bar patterns (that I used on the demo song PA3)- do the whole thing in half time. You're limited to eighth-note grid resolution, but for slow weird tunes, it's not that big a deal.

    >>Some auto tuning would be handy in the live mode like bebot has,

    If you lift your finger and strike a new note, it's always correctly quantized, but maybe we should have an option to switch between a "fixed" half-step mode or the current "gliding" mode.

    >>>not to mention a way to record what you do live(or am i missing something?)

    You're not missing anything, there isn't one right now.

    >>Another thing i would like to see is a export to midi function.

    Yes, the biggest request we've had is for MIDI and audio export functionality. It's likely we'll add that in the future.

    >>Despite all that, the synths sound great and you have a LOT of tweaking options, i just hope it gets a update that adds more functionality.

    Cool, we certainly wanted to make a very complete virtual analog implementation! Be sure to mess with the X/Y and tilt mod assignments- you can some really unexpected weirdness that way.

    If anyone has questions on iSyn, please visit our forum at

  • Sorry, I had an extra space in that URL for iSyn forum:

  • Lephrenic

    Oh yeah. I'd tap that.