Sound ideas for Christmas

Keith White
16 December, 2011
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It’s that time of the year again when I look at possible gifts for Mac users interested in music and sound. There are three updates to favourites of mine and something new.

VocaLive for iPad

Back in May I had a look at VocaLive on the iPod/iPhone. It ran okay on the iPad but it was just a 2 x magnification of the smaller version. IK Multimedia have now released a dedicated iPad version with a few nice additions. To recap: VocaLive is a vocal processor which enhances your voice with a selection from five vocal and seven standard effects.

Vocal effects include Choir, a powerful three-part harmoniser, Pitch Fix to keep you nicely in tune and Morph for a wide variety of vocal gymnastics. Standard effects include delay, chorus, compressor, parametric EQ, reverb and phaser.

You can assemble these effects in a four-rig chain (up from three in the previous version). Two of these can be vocal effects (up from one in the previous version). When you’ve got a set-up just like you want it, save it as one of up to forty favourites, up from four in the previous version. If you don’t know where to start there are fifty factory presets to get you going.

The program comes with a single track recorder which simulates the old Tascam or Fostex tape decks. The single track can be expanded to eight as an in-app purchase. Although VocaLive will work with the iPad’s built-in mic I would strongly recommend a specialised microphone particularly the iRig Mic which is specially designed to work with VocaLive. This unit comes with a dual minijack connector so you can monitor via headphones or an external amplifier.

I particularly like the Choir effect because I can adjust the pitch of each of the three voices to create some quite unusual harmonies. I also use the Song function which allows me to load in songs from my iTunes library for singing practise, using the iRig Mic with headphones. It’s very hard to get away with a bum note with this setup.

VocaLive is a very powerful tool at a sliver of the cost of dedicated hardware units. Apart from the expanded features the obvious standout with the iPad version is the use it makes of the extra screen real estate. There’s far less swiping, and tweaking the knobs on individual effects is much easier.

Summing up – a great app has got even better. The iPad version of VocaLive is a fully professional tool for singers, songwriters, podcasters and even karaoke freaks.

$20.99 from iTunes store

Band-in-a-Box 11.5.

Earlier this year I had a good look at Band-in-a-Box 11. 11.5 as you’d expect is not a major upgrade but rather a continuation of adding features, particularly in the RealTracks aspect of the program, which is probably the direction in which BiaB is headed.

Very briefly, RealTracks, as the name implies, are short samples recorded by real musicians using real instruments rather than synthesised MIDI instruments which was the basis of earlier versions of BiaB. Biab pieces these samples together to create very authentic-sounding arrangements.

Version 11.5 adds a number of new Real Track styles to what is now a sizeable library. There are also a number of minor improvements which add even more reality. Listen to samples here, keeping in mind that these are accompaniments for you to supply a melody or play along with. They are generated on-the-fly when you type in a chord progression and set some basic song dimensions

It is always difficult to decide whether an incremental upgrade is worth it and it basically becomes an individual choice. For people considering Band-in-a-Box for the first-time the choice is not so difficult. If you’re a music student or music teacher I urge you to have a look at this program. It has so many excellent features for practise, arranging and learning musical fundamentals that by the time you’ve mastered half of them version 12 will be out with even more.

Check out the upgrade purchase options here.

djay 4

In the March edition of Macworld Australia magazine I reviewed djay 3 for Mac. djay 4 has now arrived with quite a number of improvements. In a nutshell djay is a virtual twin turntable rig which turns songs you drag from your iTunes library into shiny vinyl discs (complete with artwork) and then spins them for you.

New in version 4 is the single window interface which contains everything you need including your iTunes library. New audio effects have been added and each song displays as a visual waveform which is very handy for accurately setting cue points.

Harmonic matching searches your iTunes library for songs in the same key and allows you to transpose songs into different keys. The sampler has been extended with 20 professional samples and you can record your own using the built-in or an external microphone. This is very useful feature for creating jingles or sting inserts in podcasts.

iCloud integration seamlessly links djay on your Mac with your iOS devices. With beat syncing, gain and EQ sliders, the Automix function and the ability to record your own mixes as high-quality audio there is no real reason for DJs, wannabe or professional, to lug a physical rig to a gig. With a Mac laptop or an iMac and djay 4 you can now go virtual and not miss a beat.

$20.99 from the App Store

Hear Here

And finally the new kid on the block, an intriguing little audio application called Hear. Hear sits on your desktop ready and willing to enhance the sound of any software you use which produces audio. I ran some tests using djay 4, iTunes, Band-in-a-Box and GarageBand, both with my iMac speakers and a pair of average quality headphones. I know sound is a subjective matter but even on first hearing the difference is quite impressive, especially on my headphones. I would be intrigued to listen to Hear on a good speaker system.

Hear is an advanced DSP system which enhances the tonal and spatial qualities of your Mac audio. A mixer function allows you to select which of your open applications you want audio enhancement and the level to which that is applied. After initial setup Hear will be active without you actually launching the program itself.

A 10-band EQ pane can toggle between standard sliders and a manipulable curve. The 10 bands are expandable all the way up to 96 but they don’t all fit within Hear’s smallish panel. The app ships with a number of presets which you can freely modify and rename. The presets are marked with S for speakers and H for headphones, although some of the presets actually sounded better on my iMac speakers with the H setting!

Presets are grouped into categories: FX – such as vast halls and subway tunnels, games, movies/TV, music and speech. There’s plenty to choose from and each preset is minutely customisable.

Hear is great for listening pleasure but I’m particularly looking forward to using it to enhance voice-overs and music and then save out through WireTap Studio as a remastered audio file.

Buy direct with electronic download.  $US19.95

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