Futuristic Looping Sequencing Filtering Real-Time Recording Audio Extravaganza: A Review of Werkbench for iPad
So it all started when I saw this video. I highly recommend watching the video before reading the rest of the review because it is: A) rad and B) short. It will give you a very quick understanding of what Werkbench is and the rest of the review will assume you have watched it. Consider yourself warned.
After seeing that video, I was quite intrigued but have definitely developed app fatigue. I have what I consider to be all the legit music apps: NanoStudio, Sunrizer, Studio.HD, DM1, Animoog, Loopy, Ricepad, Thumbjam, Kaossilator, Loopseque, Figure, iMaschine, etc etc etc… I have used all the other apps as well that are popular but illegitimate: GarageBand comes to mind. It takes a lot of time to go through apps, see which ones you like, see which ones actually have staying power, and separate the wheat from the chaff. After that, you then have to discern which ones you actually have FUN with. For instance, no one is going to tell you that Animoog is not amazing, but I personally just don’t really enjoy it. Me and Animoog don’t think the same way. What can I say.
So anyway, after seeing this, I finally bit the bullet and bought Werkbench. And what I have to say is, in TL;DR form–”I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun this soon.” Loopy and Thumbjam come close but HOT DAMN a super-quick-crazy-user-friendly step sequencer with individual pitch/level adjustments and real-time sampling with effects is a full-on game changer.
First Things First
The first thing I look for in a music app is how quickly I can get up and running and just experimenting and exploring. Werkbench passes this test with flying colors. I started by just recording myself coughing and then messed with pitch and effects and had a beat that I was nodding my head to in like 35 seconds.
And that’s pretty important. Because what it means is that this app is FUN. I would even reckon to say that it’s as fun as what I would consider to be the most “fun” app of all: Figure. Where it differs from Figure though is that you VERY quickly come upon the limitations of Figure. You have step sequencing but you only have the built in sounds that Propellerheads included. After about a few weeks, it starts to kind of become a yawn-fest. With Werkbench, because you are doing all of the sampling and sound creation yourself, you find yourself continually coming up with new ideas, like “Oh!!! What if I sampled the toaster or what if I tried slurping through a straw” that keep things interesting.
Another way that Werkbench separates itself from some of the toy apps is that sculpting the sounds doesn’t introduce some of the strange “gaps” that can occur in other apps–for instance, when you change drum kits in Figure. In Werkbench, it’s rare to make any kind of change that causes the beat to sound “bad” momentarily. This really encourages experimentation and increases the likelihood of it being used in live performance. It feels like the kind of thing where a skilled performer could do an entire set using a microphone for vocals and Werkbench–even allowing the audience to create some of the samples and then sculpting them into something useable.
A Unique Interface
Room for Improvements
The major improvement I’d like to see with Werkbench comes in recording. It seems to me that live sampling and performance are the main areas for an app like Werkbench to shine. Unfortunately, when you record a new loop, everything mutes until the recording is finished. If you want to record a live performance and introduce a new sample while recording is happening, you are going to have a gap in your recording. This is not ideal. Karl, the programmer of Werkbench, let me know that in the top-right corner you can just tap to unmute on record. Duh Otis. Thanks Karl!
Another improvement which I would think is coming soon, considering how ubiquitous it is becoming, is SoundCloud support. I am not a huge fan of SoundCloud, but I can not deny that it has become the de facto standard in getting one’s music up ASAP from mobile production apps. And I think it would be fun to bang something out and then get it online and shared on Facebook, all in a matter of a few minutes.
Finally, I can see an enormous potential for combining Werkbench through tempo and stop/start sync with something like Loopy or Thumbjam or even a synth like Sunrizer. I am especially geeking out about the possibility of incorporating Audiobus into this app and pulling in samples quickly from other apps but that still remains to be seen.
The Rousing Conclusion
I can’t recommend this app highly enough. Even better than that is that you get the feeling by watching the YouTube videos that these are some passionate dudes making this app. It feels like you are supporting a real person, as it does with Loopy/NanoStudio/ThumbJam. It always just feels better that way.
This app should be added to the exclusive family of super-high-quality iOS music production apps made my independent developers. The creme de la creme. I think it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches on to this fact as well.
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day for music production. We’re really getting to a point where our tools become more and more direct and immediate extensions of our creativity and we can just play. It feels good.