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!)