For years, anyone with doubts that soft synths had become commodity needed only to look to Crystal. Not only is this proprietary synth completely free-as-in-beer for Windows and Mac, but it could easily be your only synth if you so desired. Crystal is a semi-modular instrument with the usual trimmings – subtractive and FM synthesis, modulation, multi-stage, graphical envelopes, tempo sync, chorus, flanger, comb filter, delay, and even a band splitter for adding effects per frequency band. If the bread-and-butter stuff doesn’t satisfy, Crystal also has Granular and Wave Density parameters for wavetable synthesis that can be used for granular-style effects and more out-there sounds.

Now, Crystal pairs the absurd value of its free desktop instrument with a mobile version that starts at 99 cents.

While it’s not quite the round-trip workflow of bleep!BOX, mentioned earlier today, Crystal’s new mobile edition for iPhone and iPad could be ideal for people who can never find enough time (cough) to do all the sound design they want. Once the currently-unreleased (and premium-priced) XT plug-in is available, you’ll be able to share patches between desktop and modular versions. You’ll also be able to use MIDI input via the iPad’s Camera Connection Kit, using a compatible USB MIDI class-compliant device. And if you’re stuck for ideas, the mobile version also uses the “Breed” feature. That means that you can do some idle sound design while on the go, so that knob-tweaking doesn’t have to distract you when you’re back at your desk and ready to actually finish a production.

Now, we have quite a few readers who aren’t terribly interested in mobile versions of software – and with good reason. While Crystal on an iPhone or iPad is portable, you lose a lot. Some of that involves sacrifices in Crystal itself. Some editing, import, and patch browsing is missing. The limited real estate of the iPhone screen knocks out editing, which is largely copied from the desktop version – meaning, as well, this isn’t necessarily designed from the ground up for mobile use. And, oh yeah, you lose polyphony. Other restrictions have to do with the iPad itself: finding compatible MIDI hardware is trickier, and the single dock connector – for now – means that you can pick one option from MIDI, external audio, and power, but not all three, depending on your hardware. (Want MIDI? Load up the battery. Want audio? Stick to the headphone jack. Update/correction: Glad to hear from substrain that hardware with class support for audio and MIDI in one device should work, and that there’s hope from third-party, non-Apple adapters! More on that soon; have to experiment.) Then there’s the fact that just sequencing an instrument is easier on a computer. For half the price of an iPad, you could get a netbook with all these features and still have something light and compact. My guess is, then, that Crystal will be best for doing sonic exploration on the go, particularly with the iPad editing interface – and that makes the availability of the free plug-in version all the more critical. On mobile only, this has questionable utility. When you have a desktop, too, it could be a killer app.

The news isn’t just for mobile users, however. While some pricey synths and effects aren’t available in 64-bit versions, an update last week also delivered 64-bit compatibility for both Mac AU and Windows VST. That gives you full 64-bit compatibility on both operating systems; no bridge needed. Cost: entirely free.

Thanks to readers who reminded me of this, especially Flplsx of In & Out fest. Full details: [Desktop version]
Crystal on the iTunes App Store (eagerly anticipating that XT version!)

  • I can't believe this is free. The sounds are incredible and I love using synths so I'll def have to get my hands on this

  • It's a great synth. You can hear the patch used in the video here in context of a full piece of music: Crystal comes in around 1:53

  • @Peter: "the single dock connector – for now – means that you can pick one option from MIDI, external audio, and power, but not all three. "

    iPad recognises and uses BOTH the MIDI and audio in/out from Behringer UMA25S when powered from PSU.

    And you can now get (unofficial) camera connection kit adapters with 3-5 various ports including a USB slot for charging.

  • i need to download Crystal again. the version i have tends to crash a lot in OS X using Ableton 7

  • Hmm. I'm still in 7. Haven't noticed that problem.

    For the desktop version, I've collected a sizable portion of soundfont presets and banks. Frankly, I don't know precisely what crystal borrows from them-does it use them in the attack of the envelope generator to make the patches more robust? All I know is that it installs them among the library preferences and utilizes them. Then how does the iphone adaptation implement crystal's use of soundfonts?

  • Oh sure, now I read the fine print. No soundfont import. I was just curious because I didn't think crystal could function without them. Maybe they'll make in-app purchases for more fonts.
    As for your comments on portable smartphone, x/y noisemakers:  I'm not in love with the whole concept, and I would like to hear from more people who are passing over the trend. But I might make exception for this if just to build patches while away from the computer on the XT version. The monophony doesn't trouble me. When else would I have time to actually learn this synth, or any synth for that matter? That's like a whole studio work-block for me. The fact that its features are stripped down will make for a more gradual learning curve.

  • You should be able to send midi over wifi as well on 4.2… haven't tried that yet, though.

    Anyway… I agree, Crystal, has just so much flexibility and good sound quality that you have to check it out if you haven't already!
    It might be fun to play around with on the iPhone, if you are travelling a lot and spending many hours in trains and so… though I prefer more "complete" solutions for that like nanoloop or nanostudio for instance…

  • Crystal is one of the first instruments I pull up when trying to get new song ideas. The long envelopes are great for adding little bits of interest toward the end of a 4-bar pad. Plus, the modulation possibilities are almost endless.

    Thanks for the shout-out!

  • Hans Meiser

    Crippled on Iphone… 🙁

    "Important note for iPhone and iPod Touch users: Crystal runs on both the iPad and the iPhone/iPod Touch. Because of the limited screen space on the iPhone however, the editing pages which contain the edit controls are not available when running on that device. But on the iPhone you can still browse sounds, play notes from the keypad, and create new sounds with the Breed feature."

  • the number of pages required for editing on the iphone would just be ridiculous, there's no way it would work. As it is, the ipad version has 5 pages (like the plug-in version). It would just be impractical. And no, I don't work for Green Oak, but I do fully support Glenn as this synth is so wonderful.

  • Leslie

    Love It, Love It, Love It… Ditto 😉

  • Daniel Zook

    What is the point of embedding a video that is private?

  • Daniel Zook

    What is the point of embedding a video that is private?

  • Daniel Zook

    What is the point of embedding a video that is private?