ust as the Mac became the predominant tool for creating music in the 1980s, the iPad quickly assumed that role during this decade. The touch screen combined with powerful hardware make it an ideal surface for building digital musical landscapes. While enthusiastic budding musicians can begin their explorations with Apple’s Garage Band, experienced music architects will need a program that allows the sampling, sequencing, and looping possibilities to be fully realized. That’s the space iOS developer Retronyms hopes to fill with its incarnation of Akai Professional’s dedicated MPC music hardware in a software equivalent called iMPC Pro 2.($24,990. Is the app worth its relatively high price tag (compared to other tap-centric music building apps in the App Store)? Read on to find out.
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For those unfamiliar with Akai Professional’s line of MPC hardware, these boxes provide a grid of 4 x 4 tappets used to capture, edit and arrange audio samples into musical beats, loops and melodies. Retronyms has translated a number of the capabilities of dedicated MPC devices for use on the iPad. iMPC Pro 2 retains most of Akai’s features while spreading functions across multiple screens to avoid clutter and to highlight the typing grid used in all app functions. Musicians who are already familiar with the Akai MPC Xwill feel right at home and immediately productive with iMPC Pro 2. Those who haven’t dialed much with such a device or are new to center-rhythm loop sequencers in general may feel slightly overwhelmed at first. Fortunately, the developers have included an innovative 10-step tutoring system, known as iMPC University, which helps newcomers learn the intricacies of the program. University graduates are rewarded with an exclusive, free sound pack called “The Diploma”, which encourages newcomers and veterans alike to take the course. There is also online documentation available, but it is rather rare and even incomplete in some sections. However, like most iPad apps, many user interface elements are more or less descriptive and can be quickly understood after experiencing the actions and/or effects they apply to musical data.
The feature set of iMPC Pro 2 is quite extensive. Along with the basic controls one would expect to find in an audio sampler, sequencer, editor, and looper, the app also includes a 64-track mixer with the usual audio effects of chorus/flange, delay and reverb, quantize with swing, 24 pan modes (including wind, blues, and chromatic), and more. The app also supports MIDI, IAA, and Ableton Link hardware that makes an iMPC Pro 2-equipped iPad the true brains of musical performance live or in the studio. Samples can be imported in many ways, from external mics and hardware audio interfaces, to the iPad’s built-in mic, to royalty-free audio clips downloaded from the internet, commercial wave packets via Sound Packs and even samples from Spotify. Although all sample rates of these files are supported (developers have stated that the application supports up to 96 kHz with a maximum of 32 bits), rendering and output of the sampler is limited to 44.1kHz at 16-bit due to iPad hardware limitations.
Once the samples have been imported and tracked individually (the app supports up to 768 simultaneous voices, although such a cacophony of streams is unlikely to reach such a limit), they can be selected, mapped and manipulated through the input grid and other user interface elements available on the various control screens that the application provides. The only somewhat annoying limitation that the developers might consider addressing in the future is the fact that iMPC Pro 2 is currently not a universal app, which strictly limits it to iPad-only status. Considering the iPhone X’s larger screen and the fact that Retronym’s other iOS apps are universal, it would be natural for the program to support both iOS platforms. Additionally, if/when Apple opens up its API for the iPhone X’s sensor array, it would be great to translate facial expressions, jaw movements, and the like into real-time playback effects. In the meantime, an old dedicated APIiMPC for iPhone offers an inexpensive alternative.
Thanks to the nature of grid beat generation, using the app is simple and straightforward. Assigning sounds, tracks, and events using the grid is painless, as are audio effects and mixer controls. Those who have used beat-driven loops and sequencers before will be up and running in minutes. Newcomers will need a bit more time to explore and understand the composition process using such an expansive and flexible musical canvas. Fortunately, Retronyms has included several demo projects that can be imported and tweaked (changes will be saved to your own project, leaving the source demos untouched) and provide a fun and engaging way to experiment and experiment.