Sunday, 23 March 2014

Add a Sustain pedal to Symphonix Evolution with iRig BlueBoard


Recently IK Multimedia introduced the iRig BlueBoard, which provides four programmable buttons and two external controllers.

The BlueBoard is an excellent way to add a sustain or expression pedal to Symphonix Evolution.  It's a wireless solution and is battery-powered for maximum portability.  When combined with a USB keyboard controller via a suitable MIDI adapter, you can quickly create a piano or keyboard setup for live gigs that uses Symphonix Evolution as the sound engine.  Guitar players and vocalists will also find the BlueBoard useful as a way to quickly switch through a playlist of backing tracks.
The iRig BlueBoard allows a Sustain pedal to be connected
  
Setting up a sustain pedal is very easy:  Simply start the BlueBoard’s own control app, connect the pedal to one of the ports on the side of the BlueBoard itself and then tell the iRig BlueBoard to use MIDI controller #64.  Symphonix Evolution will immediately “see” it as a sustain controller.

The four buttons marked "A", "B", "C", and "D" on the BlueBoard can be used in either a program change or MIDI controller mode.   When in Program Change mode, pressing a button will send a MIDI "program change" message, and Controller mode treats each button as a control "toggle" where the button is either on or off (the buttons stay lit when they are "on").

 Symphonix Evolution can use either mode, but the BlueBoard’s controller mode only sends “toggle” type messages so it is of limited use in our app when controlling functions because you have to press a button twice to toggle between "on" and "off".  However, Program Change mode is much more useful; by using the External Command function in Symphonix Evolution it’s possible to map the program change messages to different functions, and this works much better.  For example, I was able to map the buttons to “Next Track in Playlist”, “Previous Track in Playlist”, “Play” and “Stop” by setting these up on the BlueBoard as program changes 124, 125, 126 and 127 (I chose these preset numbers because I don't use them often on my other MIDI gear, which limits the potential for conflict).

If you are currently using a keyboard controller that doesn’t allow you to connect an external sustain or expression pedal, or if you just want a set of foot switches for triggering the different functions in Symphonix Evolution, then the iRig BlueBoard is highly recommended.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Symphonix Evolution version 2.1.1 is coming soon

We've been working on Symphonix Evolution version 2.1.1  This update will focus mainly on stability rather than adding too many new features but there will still be some surprises.

Most importantly, we're pleased to announce that version 2.1.1 fully supports the 64-bit ARM architecture so that it can take full advantage of the processor improvements in the iPad Air.  This required a complete rewrite of the virtual synth engine, which also gave us the opportunity to add some architectural improvements that will become apparent over the next few months as we make further enhancements to the app.

The update will be available early in February 2014.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Symphonix Evolution and the iPad Air

We've now had a chance to play with the new iPad Air and were very impressed with the new form factor and processing power.  Symphonix Evolution runs better than we've ever seen it before!

For those who are lucky enough to have an iPad Air, you will find that it is now possible to set the Virtual Synth in Symphonix Evolution as follows:

  • Polyphony to 256 voices
  • Reverb ON
  • Chorus ON
  • Full Instrument Mode ON
As a result of the increased polyphony the app's internal synth was able to handle any MIDI files we could throw at it including some rather intense orchestral pieces, without dropping any notes or stuttering (normally when the polyphony increases, the load on the CPU causes digital noise in the output due to the synth not keeping up with the sample rate).  This is the first time that we've been able to do this on the iPad.

Astonishingly, the average CPU load during our tests was about 30%.  This is truly an excellent result: Symphonix Evolution can now work as the keyboard or sound source for other apps without impacting performance.  The iPad is now approaching laptop performance levels.

(For those interested in a comparison, on the iPad 4 we were able to get the polyphony to 128 voices but still had to disable Reverb and Chorus effects for some songs).

The main limitation now is RAM where the iPad Air still only has 1GB of memory to work in.  This is the main thing stopping us from adding higher quality instrument samples, although we are working on some new functionality soon in this area.  It is going to be very interesting to see what happens in the next iPad generation!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Symphonix Evolution 2.1 for iOS 7

We're pleased to announce that version 2.1 of Symphonix Evolution is about to be released!  This update supports iOS 7 and the user interface has been changed to a "flat" look, while preserving the familiar layout of previous releases.  We think you'll find that the new interface is much cleaner and more modern-looking:

The old look is also retained when running under earlier versions of iOS, so if you haven't yet upgraded you won't see too many differences to the screen design.

Other changes in this release are:
  • Added a new setting so that the Drum Percussion MIDI channel can be changed or completely disabled
  • Added a new setting so that the mixer volume controls can be locked during playback so that a song cannot change the volume using MIDI messages.
  • The Piano Roll now scrolls when a song is playing
  • New Tempo Track function allows the user to select which track to use for tempo change events
  • Tempo Changes can now be edited in the Piano Roll screen using the Controller lane
  • It is now possible to connect two or more instances of Symphonix Evolution running on different iPads using the remote connection function
There are also some bug fixes:
  • Resolved an issue with Audiobus initialization on iOS 7
  • Fixed crash when saving a file that was last loaded using Dropbox
  • Fixed incorrect note values when selecting chord inversions
  • The Undo function was not working for ties and slurs
  • General stability enhancements

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR EXISTING USERS:
In order to resolve an iOS 7 bug that affected Audiobus integration we needed to change the app's internal product name.  This means that you may have to delete the old version from your device and then reinstall it manually using the "Purchases" tab in the AppStore app.   DELETING THE APP WILL ALSO DELETE YOUR FILES so it is important to back them up before you update.  (We understand this is inconvenient - we made this change because our only other option would have been to require you to purchase a new app).

To back up your existing files you can use the iTunes "file sharing" method to copy them to your computer as explained in the Symphonix Evolution user manual, or you can use a tool such as the excellent iExplorer application from Macroplant.  Alternatively, saving the files to a Dropbox account will prevent them from being lost.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

About Symphonix Evolution on iOS 7

We're aware of a number of issues with Symphonix Evolution on iOS 7.  In particular, users will see a message on startup about Audiobus initialization failing due to Apple's tighter sandbox rules and improved OS security (it's taken us a little while to find a solution that works reliably).  The good news is that these problems have now been resolved by our development team and we'll be submitting the update to Apple for review in the next day or two.

In the meantime if you've not updated to iOS 7 yet and are using Symphonix Evolution, you might want to wait until our Version 2.1 is released.

I'll update this blog soon with more information about our new version!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Symphonix Evolution news

I can't talk too much about it yet, but we're really excited about the work we're doing for iOS 7.  A major refresh of the user interface is coming soon!

iOS 7 raises a number of challenges because so many things have changed, and one of the more interesting aspects is the need to make the app look great on iOS6 while simultaneously embracing the new look.  We believe we've accomplished this by allowing the app able to dynamically change its graphical elements depending on which operating system version it is running on.  This means that you won't have to worry about having to purchase a separate "iOS 7" version of the app - we're absolutely committed to supporting our existing users as much as we can!

Unfortunately there are some changes that we can't avoid, and one of these is that the minimum iOS version required to run Symphonix Evolution will soon be iOS 6.0.  This means that the next major update will no longer support the iPad 1.  We'll be releasing one more minor update to the current version so that our iPad 1 users get the benefit of the latest bug fixes.

But now is a good time to tell you about some of the things we've got planned for the next few versions so I'm delighted to present the product roadmap.  These enhancements won't all happen at once but you will see them over the coming months:
  • Major UI refresh for iOS 7
  • More guitar functions including support for bass, capo, strum patterns and user-defined chords.  We're also looking at a way to zoom the fretboard.
  • Digital audio enhancements such as the ability to bounce down MIDI tracks to audio and apply filter/processing effects
  • Improved interoperability with other apps
  • Improved track editing functions and notation entry
  • Piano Roll improvements
  • New sheet music editing and viewing modes
  • Improved support for custom instrument presets
Symphonix Evolution continues to grow thanks to the great user support and feedback that we receive.  Keep the great emails and suggestions coming!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

MIDI BreakOut Box 2.0 is Coming

We've been working on an updated version of our MIDI BreakOut Box app.  For those who aren't familiar with it, the MIDI BreakOut Box provides a way to monitor incoming MIDI messages and redirect them to one or more output channels.

For example, you can use the app to add a layering capability by taking a single channel's input and routing it to multiple outputs at the same time.  Each output can have its own separate instrument preset, pan and volume.  It's even possible to create keyboard split points so that the output switches seamlessly as you play a keyboard controller.  This is useful because it adds a feature that's often only found on high-end keyboards and makes it available to any MIDI device.

The app is also great for remapping channels: For example, some synths use a different channel for percussion when they are not in "General MIDI" mode but the BreakOut Box can be used to reroute incoming MIDI data to the correct channel.

Another useful function is the ability to transpose incoming data before routing it to the output.  When combined with the layering this makes all sorts of interesting effects possible such as "octave piano".

Version 2.0 of the app adds a number of features that have been requested by our existing users and these make the app much more useful:
  • It's now a Universal App!  Previously available only for the iPad but it's now possible to use the app on an iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad.  This makes the app much more portable and useful.
  • It's now possible to monitor and redirect multiple input channels at the same time.  This makes it possible to swap channels, for example to map channel 10 to channel 16 while at the same time mapping channel 16 to channel 10.
  • On the iPad you can finally use the app in both Portrait and Landscape orientations so it "fits" into your studio setup.
Here's what the app looks like on the iPad (To those who already have version 1.0 you won't notice too much of a difference until you switch to Landscape mode):

On the iPhone we've tried hard to keep every feature, but obviously screen space made this challenging to do.  We ended up with a landscape design, and it's possible to scroll the output channel list to see all 16 channels.  The transpose and keyboard split points are still available too - just scroll the output panel horizontally to see them.


Updated: Version 2.0 hits the App Store this week and requires a Core MIDI compatible hardware adapter such as the iRig MIDI.  On the iPad you can also use a compatible MIDI adapter connected to the Apple USB Camera Control Kit.  We hope you'll find the app as useful as we do!