Wednesday, 19 September 2012

App review - DM1 for iOS

I have been looking through the App store recently and there are quite a number of apps looking at drum machines and MPC style programs, some are very cheap and clunky and others more expensive that offer much more involved i/o and features, such as the iMaschine from Native Instruments. There is one particular app caught my ear, the DM1 drum machine from Fingerlab, so I thought to get hold of a copy to play with and wanted to share my experiences and opinions.

DM1 is a rhythm composer but really covers a lot more than that. The app is split into several full screens to navigate, including a sequencer, MPC pads, mixer, FX mixer, pattern arranger and song properties. From the get go you can start to create drum loops of 16 or 32 bars, assigning tempo and swing as well, either putting instances of sound on the sequencer using a 909 style button (press one for normal and once again for high volume) or directly recording beats through the MPC style pads, of which there are nine to represent the nine sample channels. It is intuitive enough to build some patterns and variation to make a song with quickly and this is to its credit. As you can see, the sequencer is fairly easy to use, especially if you are used to Roland style drum machine sequencers and you can solo each track to focus on each sample channel when laying down a beat.

The mixer, surprisingly, also allows for a number of sample parameter changes as well, as you can adjust the panning, sample length and pitch as well as the volume, if you want to change these. Speaking of samples, this is one area where DM1 really excels as the app comes with over sixty different drum kits to chose from and accounts for the large size of the app. There are a selection of classic drum machines (DM1, 808, 909, Linn to name a few) alongside acoustic kits, sampled machines and even some bespoke kits featuring synthesiser sounds and so on that work well for those who want to use the MPC for old school hip hop. Even better, you can mix and match samples from different kits so you can combine the 909 kick with the cowbell from the 808 and an acoustic snare, for example, although it is not possible to save these combinations and it is easy to clear your selections by accident. Also missing is the ability to import your own samples, but you shouldn't run out of sounds quickly given how many there are as standard. In truth, these are really minor issues here and the customisation is a great feature as you can add synth noises to a classic drum patches and make whole songs with the app.

The FX page is also worth mentioning as well. This allows you to affect all the unmuted channels with an adjustable effect, including a phaser, low pass filter, compressor, delay/reverb and formant, for adding vocaliser-style voice effects to your drum loops. This effect is adjustable via an XY graph and % dry/wet mix slider and in practice this works like a Korg Kaoss Pad. The most obvious disadvantage here is that you can only use one effect at once, although I have found this great fun to play with on the fly and I feel that this is probably the intended purpose - it is great to play around with. Even if you don't want to add or play with an effect I have found that the compressor works well to give the drums that extra bit of pump (sweet spot seems to be about there)and chances are that you may output the DM1 into something that would be able to add other effects as well.

As for uses, I have enjoyed creating drum loops on the fly and using them to jam with when running my iPod through a mixer, my Korg Monotrons or Microkorg. Either way it is great for a bit of experimentation when on the go and can give you some freedom to invent some new drum loops and the variety and number of combinations of samples means that you can create a wide variety of different styles or even use it for fast access to and MPC. When I bought it, it actually only cost me about 80p, which I feel is an absolute steal for what it is. The DM1 is available for a reasonable price on the App store and Fingerlab have done well to secure some prestigeous awards for their work as well.

  • Easy to use
  • Lots of different samples
  • Sequencer and MPC pads
  • Cheap!
  • Over 70Mb in size
  • Can't install personal samples
  • No save feature for custom kits
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