I’ve gotta stop starting review with “people keep criticising the iPad as being merely a device for content consumption and XYZ app proves them otherwise.” Although first people have to stop saying it.
The DM1 iPad app from Fingerlab is a top notch drum machine that does a great job of “getting out of your way”. There are many many great music making apps for the iPad (just look through my past reviews) but some are far too complex, requiring too steep a learning curve to let you sit back and create without first requiring the acquisition of a complex set of skills. On the other hand some are far too simple (Propellerheads Figure I looking at you with eyes full of disappointment).
DM1 manages to strike a pretty perfect balance of powerful yet intuitive design. I opened the app and laid down a beat in minutes, without ever once having to resort to the inbuilt help (which is a simple overlay on buttons so hardly complex).
The DM1 comes with an interesting array of kits. All the usual suspects are here, with classic beatboxes of yesteryear sitting side by side with analogue kits and a few percussion kits. Where things get a bit more interesting is with the inclusion of some custom kit – Glitch, 8 bit, Pong, and more. There are also a few melodic instruments loaded so you can experiment but the DM1 is first and foremost a drum machine.
There are two ways to make beats with the app – pads and step sequencing. Both should be familiar to anyone who has ever use a drum machine, but even to the uninitiated there’s a really simple spirit of pick up and play captured here.
The step sequence enables you to visualise the track and see exactly where all the notes sit in relation to each other. Tap to enter a note and double tap for emphasis. You can solo channels just but tapping on the name of the sound. You can also isolate loops from a strip at the top by running your finger across the top. I’ve used a lot of step sequences and believe me, this is a joy to use.
There’s also a pads interface where you can tap out a beat. If you’re used to banging on a real kit, or even on a table this is a good way in. You can overdub or replace notes at the flick of the toggle switch. My favourite feature of the pads loop is the Ribbon, which you can use to pitch-bend sounds and creates a really cool live performance feel.
If you want to play with pitch in a bit more detail head to the mixer where you can adjust the pitch, level and length of individual notes. You can also hold on the play icon under the name of the track to reverse the sample – great for backwards cymbal sounds, or change the assigned sample for the track.
There’s also a great FX selection on offer, with compression, overdrive and delay but also amusing oddities such as a robotizer and texturizer. You can move the effect parameters around using an XY controller so you can really play with the sound and have some fun tweaking your sounds.
You can export to iTunes or AudioCopy (sending the track to supported apps) and DM! supports WIST and MIDI in.
There’s a lot going in here, for a laughable small amount of money. All in all, an excellent beatmaking app.
Here is a video demo of the DM1 – The Drum Machine app on the iPhone
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