It’s that time of the year again when we trawl through reams of music apps to find you some of the best gems out there. As we did last time, we’ll look at 10 Mac apps on the Mac App Store and 10 iOS apps from the App Store. We look at the good, bad and plain ugly and try to find something to suit a range of tastes.
If you like hosting the odd shindig at home where music is going to play a starring role, then you may just fall in love with PartyTunes. The app gives you the opportunity to display a web interface that your party guests can use to search your iTunes library for songs they’d like to add to the queue.
You can either set up a login with full privileges or allow guests to log in and add one song only. Once a song is added it’ll be played once other tracks previously added have been played.
The interface is very responsive although if, like me, you have close to 10,000 songs on iTunes, the search isn’t super fast but it’s bearable. Non-guest users can skip songs, clear a queue, disable shuffle mode and so on. There’s still some further development this app needs (particularly in regard to accessing the queue from multiple devices), but if you have regular events where multiple people want to control one playlist, then spending $5.49 on PartyTunes could be money well spent.
GG Radio : SID + Media Player
If you like retro apps, it’s hard to go past this little beauty. GG Radio is a media player allowing you to play MP3 files and internet radio streams. Nothing special there at all and I’ve certainly seen better apps that achieve the same thing – on GG radio you can only choose from a limited list of radio stations (although more are being added).
Even so, what appeals to me in a big way is the overall look of the app, plus its most important feature: the ability to play SID files from the Commodore 64. At the time of writing, there were a little more than 30 of these sound files available with more promised. If you owned a C64, you’ll get some laughs and reminiscences out of these files in a big way.
There’s a built-in chat interface as well if you want to get into conversations on C64 audio or anything else. At $0.99 Radio is good value if you want to relive some of the 1980s, and I have a feeling I’ll be getting bang for buck out of this app.
Sweet MIDI Player
Although MIDI is one ageing beast of a protocol, it’s still very popular with a range of musicians and hobbyists alike. Sweet MIDI player isn’t the prettiest app I’ve seen by a long shot, but it more than makes up for it with its feature set.
Load up a MIDI file, press play and then start tweaking with pretty much any MIDI setting you like. OS X’s own Audio Units do a good enough job, but if you have other plugins you’ll be even happier using MIDI. Using Katy Perry’s song Firework, I created a nifty string ensemble version with a harmonica lead – trust me it sounds better than it reads. Reverb, Chorus, Volume, Pan and Instrument can all be set for each MIDI channel, plus file-wide settings such as tempo can be tweaked.
Export options aren’t shabby either – you can create an AAC/M4A file or an AIFF file. All of this can be done in larger applications for sure, but if you want a simple way to customise a MIDI file, it doesn’t get much better than this. That said, you’d want to
be working with these sorts of files regularly because for $31.99 Sweet MIDI Player isn’t cheap – but it’s definitely effective.
This little app is at risk of being accused of flaunting style over substance. On first look it’s just a pretty 3D sphere with a bunch of internet radio station icons to choose from, and that’s basically all it is. But what makes it worth the $0.99 purchase price is the responsiveness of the station feeds.
Apple should take a serious look at this app to see how quickly it loads a radio stream compared to iTunes. It’s close to instantaneous – hang your head in shame, iTunes. The range of stations is good and you can filter by country and genre, plus there’s also a large pause button.
On the downside, there’s no ability to store favourites, and filtering genres/countries stops your current station even if it’s not in that category. The app does happily sit in the background, though, and as a random internet radio surfing mechanism, it’s great fun.
Avid internet radio listeners will find the feature set too small, but for less frequent users like meit’s a fun and simple option. Did I mention the responsiveness of the streams, Apple?
Black Cat Systems
In the ancient days of the 1970s and1980s, radio DJs had cartridges they’d use to create sound effects. Today, Sound Byte is a feature-rich cartridge rack for the digital era. What it allows you to do is organise sounds in rows and columns, and assign a whole range of parameters to them.
Once organised, one click triggers the sound for you. Sound output options can be set app-wide,
but you can also route sounds to different outputs individually. It’s very much designed for the radio broadcaster, podcaster or any user who needs on-tap sound effects.
In all the years iTunes has beenaround, I’ve looked for a great add- on that shows me the lyrics for songs playing. I’ve never found anything decent and, sadly, I’m here to tell you that LyricsSeeker continues the tradition of a half-decent attempt.
On installing this app you’re presented with a simple preference window from which you choose notification settings and the like. Then, on launching iTunes and playing a song, LyricsSeeker presents a window with the first section of the lyric, on which you can click to load full lyrics on the ad-laden MetroLyrics website.
Even the ads would be bearable if LyricsSeeker was able to find lyrics for at least half the songs played. There are obviously enormous gaps in the database as ABBA songs came up blank, as did Weezer and The Who, to name three diverse examples. Then there’s the regular ‘lost connection’ messages to annoy you. LyricsSeeker is free, but avoid it all the same.
Hype Machine is a website that aggregates new music as reported by music blogs all around the world. This app allows you to navigate Hype Machine content in a relatively simple interface. That said, the interface is bare-bones enough to have confused the hell out of me initially, but I worked it out and enjoyed using it.
The app is a little bit like browsing a Twitter timeline, the difference being you can listen to the music within the app as well as reading the blog post that mentioned the music, (that occurs in your web browser) and you can subscribe to blogs and favourite songs.
If you want a simple way to discover a huge array of new music, this $5.49 app could just be your thing. I’m hopeful there’ll be some improvements though: the inability to hide the app is a pet hate of mine – please fix this folks.
Rogue Amoeba Software
In the 10+ years I’ve been writing about Mac audio, Rogue Amoeba software has always been around – and is still creating new software in addition to its stable of classics. Fission is one of its newer offerings and its purpose is clear: waveform audio editing. There are dozens of apps that do this, but Fission combines a great interface and a clear manual to put it a cut above the rest.
The software imports MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless, FLAC, AIFF and WAV files and contains the usual stable of key audio editing tools. What sold me is that there’s an easy iPhone ringtone export option built in as well. If you need to tweak audio files regularly and don’t need a lot of the other bells and whistles, then you won’t mind forking out $33.99 for Fission for its ease of use.
Although OS X can do this for you as well with some added labour, Voice makes the whole process so much simpler.
Either cut and paste text into the app or import a text file directly, choose your preferred voice and hit the export button to save an .AIFF file of the text. Simple, effective and a free app – doesn’t get much better than that.
Drum Beats+ (Groove Machine & Rhythm Metronome)
If you like picking up a guitar or other acoustic instrument and just need a selection of drum beats to play along to, Drum Beats+ provides an attractive package of more than 75 beats. You can set tempo and a one- or two-bar count in, and the randomise button helps keep you on your toes.
At the time of writing the creators were on the verge of releasing a new version with further improvements. For access to a nice range of drum loops that save you opening up GarageBand every time you want to jam, $5.49 is a pretty good investment.