Formerly Free Synthesizer for the iPhone

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This was a profile of NLog Free I wrote for a website with which I no longer maintain a relationship. While the app is no longer free, the paid version costs only $2.99 and it is a worthy product for anyone looking to explore the world of synthesis on their iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

Here is the review:

When compiling a recent list of excellent free music apps for the iPhone, the first version of NLog Free didn’t make the cut. The sounds were good; the price was right, but the app didn’t effectively use Apple’s multitouch interface.

That problem has been rectified with this new release of NLog Free. Its new X-Y modulation screen, similar to the Korg DS-10’s Kaoss Pad, is a blast to use, allowing for easy patch tweaking with a swipe of a finger.

NLog Free 2.0 Features

  • Five screens to control all aspects of synth performance
  • X-Y Modulation Screen
  • Easily scrollable virtual keyboard
  • Three sound banks – each containing over 30 patches
  • Configurable modulation controls

An Overview of NLog’s Interface

The main performance screen of NLog Free features a scrollable virtual keyboard. Above the keyboard is a modulation section containing two wheels (one for the pitch) and four knobs, vital for real-time synthesizer control. All of these controls are configurable, which is another highlight of NLog Free. At the top of the screen are buttons that switch between NLog’s four other screens and the performance screen; also including an “About” dialog pop-up box.

NLog Screenshot

NLog is an easy to use iPhone synth app. Copyright tempo rubato

In normal performance mode, the user can play the keyboard using their thumbs or any combination of fingers. The keyboard scrolls up and down in octaves by dragging it in either direction. Any spare digit can be used to control the wheels and knobs in the modulation section – just like on a real synthesizer. Since all of the controls are configurable, this opens up many possibilities for sonic manipulation depending on one’s imagination.

Tweaking the X-Y Axis

The X-Y Screen in NLog Free is where the fun starts. In X-Y mode, the four knobs on the modulation section are swapped out with a rectangle with a small ball in the middle. Dragging the ball around the rectangle while a sound is being played results in all sorts of strange modulations to that sound, especially when the X and Y axises are configured to control one of the two oscillator’s pitch.

This sort of real-time sound control using the multitouch interface is the essential reason the iPhone and iPod Touch are revolutionary musical instruments in addition to their more typical functions.

The Utility Screens

NLog’s other screens support the synthesizer’s other functionality. The Keyboard screen allows the user to control all sorts of parameters for the virtual keyboard, including the size of the keys and its velocity sensitivity. Scrolling of the keyboard can be locked, and an organ-like dual keyboard setting can be turned on, with a second keyboard replacing the modulation section.

The Sound screen allows to user to switch between the three sound banks and their patches. Since NLog Free doesn’t allow synth patches to be saved, or started from scratch, exploring the patch library is essential to gain insight into the types of sounds NLog produces.

Finally, the important System screen is where one configures various global settings for NLog Free, including tuning, delay, pan, and detuning. All of NLog’s modulation controls can be set to control any number of synth parameters, including filter cutoff and resonance, LFO frequency, oscillator pitch, envelope attack – in short, most of the standard parameters for any synthesizer. This allows for an amazing amount of sonic control, especially considering NLog Free’s focus is the real-time performance aspect made possible by the iPhone’s multitouch interface.

The Best Synthesizer Value for the iPhone

In short, the new 2.0 version of NLog Free is arguably the best music app value for the iPhone. Totally usable and fun as a real-time performance synth, it’s one of the highlights of the App Store. iPhone users with any interest in synthesizers should try it out today.

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