Monday, 18 March 2013

Android and music: we have the technology

The only thing that Android seems to lack in terms of applications at the moment is proper support for music making. Not to sound like a complete anti-Apple person (they just priced me well out of the market, is all!), but Apple's low-latency audio drivers and substantial market share for the iPad have allowed companies like Arturia, Korg, Moog and Propellerhead (to name but a few) to develop touch-enabled software synthesisers, as a way of bridging the gap between virtual synths on desktops controlled through a DAW and a fully blown standalone hardware synthesiser. There are even iOS versions of full DAWs including FL Studio and Garageband, bringing full mobile music to anyone who has these devices.


Meanwhile, Android stuff have been somewhat left out in the cold, for a variety of reasons including supposed hardware fragmentation, higher latency audio drivers and lack of market interest. However, tablets like the Nexus 7 and Samsung Tab have been good at driving forward high-specification tablets and ensuring that plenty of people have similar hardware platforms and device specifications, allowing developers to make programs that they know will run on the majority of devices. As with anything Android related, given enough time, interesting programs start to emerge and music making apps are certainly no exception. 

First off is Sonoma's somewhat underrated announcement at the NAMM show this year that they are developing a low-latency audio driver for Android, which will hopefully destroy the major software hindrance that is keeping developers from making programs for the platform.

More details are available at:
http://www.sonomawireworks.com/pr/android-low-latency-audio-solution.php

While this is encouraging for future Android device manufacturers that license Sonoma's driver, other developers have begun making their own music making apps that are designed to mitigate these existing problems for the here and now. Heat Synthiser is a popular example, which works as a three oscillator mono or polysynth, with plenty of features to tweak, a pattern sequencer, built in effects and full online patch collaboration for users to share their sounds - something I really think is a great idea for the online generation.



As you can hear, this can produce a number of very complex tones and sounds and to my ear rivals other somewhat more "professional" offerings. What is more, the free version of the Heat Synthesiser app is not at all gimped or hampered, allowing ordinary users to get used to the signal paths and make their own sounds before dropping what boils down to only a couple of quid for the full version.

Link to free version of Heat Synthesiser:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nilsschneider.heat.demo&hl=en

It's heartening to hear that there are some alternatives for Android tablet and phone users coming out; granted they are a little rough around the edges compared to official apps like Korg's Electribe for example, but these will improve over time and perhaps even convince app developers to produce Android versions of their iOS counterparts as well. In short, more popularity equals more apps which then equals more choice, and that can only be a good thing. If you're not convinced that there is a market for these kinds of programs, Music Radar recently featured a nice list of Android music applications to play with as well and is well worth looking at as well.

Music Radar article:
http://www.musicradar.com/news/tech/the-best-android-music-making-apps-in-the-world-today-276167

Will Android ever become a challenge to the powerhouse of iOS and Apple? I have my doubts, but the initial feedback I have from testing apps is very positive and I look forward to seeing how non-Apple users can benefit from using their hardware for music making as well.