Samplr is a new app for iPad that has promises on the fly manipulation of samples, effects, looping, keyboards, and more, all in a pretty package that the developer unashamedly admits is an homage to the Teenage Engineering OP-1 (check out our review of the OP-1 here!). We liked the look, so decided to find out how it performed in our Samplr for iPad review…
Samplr – Getting Started
Importing sounds into Samplr is done via iTunes on your computer, and is a case of dragging in samples into the app’s documents folder. It’s a crying shame there’s no direct record available, as that would be an absolutely fantastic addition to the feature set. As it is, once a sample is imported Samplr will have a stab at its length in beats and bars but if it gets it wrong you can correct it. Import up to six samples, a set of which can be saved and loaded (along with all the other project information), and then the fun starts.
Samplr revolves around seven different approaches to manipulating each of the six sample banks. There’s slice mode, loop mode, a ‘bowed’ mode, tape mode, vinyl mode, keyboard, and simple seamless looping. It’s these very different playback modes that give Samplr a ton of possibilities and make it pretty exciting to use; let’s have a quick run down of each mode in turn:
It’s easy to add move, and remove slices by tapping below the waveform to add a marker, dragging it to move it, and flicking it away to delete it. You can do this all completely manually, or have four, eight, 16 or 32 straight slices automatically placed for you. Completely aside from Samplr, for a second, this form of sample editing is a fantastic use of multi touch capabilities. Combining this with a physical pad controller and a little more in the way of editing capabilities – zoom, zero crossing, etc – is one of the best signs of potential for multi touch displays in the technical aspects of music production.
You can play slices back automatically as well as record them, but one thing I would like to have seen from slice mode is a monophonic option to allow you to overlay slices over the original without doubling up the sample. Other than that it works great, and you can choose to quantise taps or not.
If it’s possible to break something, we’ll figure out a way at OD. On our iPad 2 trying to trigger more than four slices simultaneously would mute playback, and if I did it enough times eventually cause all kinds of havok with the GUI requiring a cache clear and restart. I had to force this to happen, although I could do it fairly regularly, but your mileage may vary because sometimes I feel like we’re cursed.
Using two fingers on the sample waveform, you can instantly create a loop (or use four fingers for two loops). Somehow this just feels awesome, especially combined with length quantise and latch. There’s also ping pong loop, which reverses the sample back to the beginning at the end.
E-Bow is a novel way of looping sections of samples melodically – a sort of granular synthesis light in a way. You can trigger the sample up to three times with a finger each, and then move the sections you’re looping and change the size of the loop. It works best on pads and the like to create big, weird sounds.
Starting from the centre of the sample waveform, tape mode allows you to drag back and forth to simulate running the sample through a tape machine at different rates. Drag from the centre to the right and the sample will slowly increase in speed forwards, and from the centre to the left and it will slowly increase in speed in reverse. Tap either end to instantly create a moving tape sound, with up to six simultaneous sounds at a time. Tape sounds great on melodic and pad sounds, and sparing use is really cool on drums too.
Vinyl mode turns the sample waveform into a scratch pad, allowing you to scrub through the sample. It doesn’t sound great if I’m honest, as unless you’re working with extremely short samples there’s just too much movement to make subtle sounding effects. The tape mode actually makes a much nicer sound, and it’d be nice if the vinyl mode worked similarly to it but created the centre wherever the sample waveform was touched. There is a single speed mode for the scrubbing, which sounds more useful, just not very expressive. As a nod to a full DJ setup there’s an on/off switch for volume too.
It’s somewhat self explanatory, but keyboard mode overlays an octave and a half of keys onto the sample waveform and pitches playback. Glide and quantise are available, but the sample will always play polyphonically and from the start of the sample, two things I’d like to see tweaked.
Loop Player Mode
If you just want a simple loop, loop mode strips away any manipulation controls and does nothing more than continuously loop the sample, with the option of quantising the start point.
In most modes, the base sample pitch is adjustable. Sample pitch is achieved by resampling the audio (ie not timestretching), and is adjustable by semitones, octaves, or can be automatically locked to the project tempo for seamless looping. There’s also a pitch slide that goes two semitones up or down, with cent level adjustments, and the sample can be reversed too.
Whichever mode you’re in, the higher up on the sample waveform you tap the more volume you get from the sample. Overall volume, attack and release are adjustable by faders, and samples can be muted or unmuted via a play/pause shift layer. It seems a little unergonomic to have these track mutes underneath a shift layer, though, and I’d prefer to have them directly accessible from a single tap.
Of course, there’s a master project tempo, volume, metronome, and, separate from the sample are effects…
There are five effects: distortion, dual mode filter, amplitude modulation/gate (which has a kind of FM/ring mod section as a side effect), feedback delay, and reverb. They work on a dual control X/Y pad, and impressively all five can be stacked both within the sample slots and on the master. The effects all sound good, and the lack of any complicated controls allows you to experiment with sounds – and again, the ability to have per sample and master effects is really great.
Recording sequences is a simple case of pressing the record button before the start of a bar and then again before the end of the last bar in your loop. If you haven’t a master rhythm track to record against, there’s a metronome available. After that, the sequence will immediately begin looping. It would be nice if you could set a loop length rather than manually turning off the loop, though, as sometimes playing all the way to the end of a bar and turning off the loop can be a bit ergonomically awkward.
Each mode works independently – there’s no layering different styles of sample manipulation. Each sample’s recorded sequence is recorded a layer above the modes, so your recorded movements will be present whichever mode you use – this can give you interesting and unexpected results.
Recorded sequence events can be muted on each sample, allowing you to record a sequence but mute it out for some soloing and so on, which is a handy feature. It’s a bit of a shame there’s no copy or undo, but as the focus for Samplr is live use it makes sense to have things as direct as possible.
Samplr for iPad Review – Overall
Whenever we review an iPad app I say the same thing. £3 is unbelievably low price for what you get here, and so it makes objectively reviewing something quite difficult. Samplr is undoubtedly a great app, though, and if it had direct record it would be amazing. As it is, if you want something to create on-the-fly remixes and sounds with, especially live, then Samplr is a pretty good punt.