Driven by the dual revolutions that are the internet and mobile devices there is an explosion of audio applications occurring around the World. Applications that are bringing a simplified and more accessible audio revolution to life. Bringing audio to the people this is the democratization of making music.
Fresh out of the Highpants Review Labs for your reading pleasure we are proud to present our first next generation audio app review, AudioTool the audio production app that can make you smile. A free to use Flash based web app that will have you expressing your inner voice in no time at all. Stay tuned for more to come as well, this is just the first article in our new series on next generation audio applications, Audio for the People.
In the not too distant past (a decade ago) if you wanted to start that first chart topping electronica track you would get yourself a PC or Mac (very large cheque in hand) then choose from the dozen or so sequencer applications. How quickly things change, desktop applications have now been joined by Web, Android and iOS applications. Apps number in the hundreds and collectively musicians have the power to choose how they want to work.
Version 2.0 of AudioTool was released to high acclaim in March 2011, since then it has continued to improved. Evolving to become a very impressive cloud powered audio production tool. There are no applications to install, no serials to enter, simply create an account (with your Google or Facebook ID for ultimate simplicity) and start laying down those funky tracks.
Developed by a pair of crazy German DJ’s AudioTool is a flash back to the old days, literally. Bringing the fun days of audio back, a time when digital musicians worked away in their dorm room or parents basement.
The ultimate goal of any audio production software has to be the completion and publishing of musical tracks. AudioTool published tracks can be can be downloaded as MP3 or vob, as long as the creator has selected the Creative Commons licence.
While working on tracks they can also be saved as a draft that is underway, or as a template that will allow you or others to reuse the mixers setup and track arrangement. Saving a published track as a Remix allows it to be returned to draft and built upon. Published tracks can be listened to, shared and downloaded, depending on the commons license used.
An integrated community based radio station makes your tracks available to the community and the wobbly world of the internet. Radio is a free to access audio playback app that does a semi decent job of randomly shuffling through the available released tracks. With no playlists to navigate, just a previous and next button, it is fairly basic in design.
Radio has many shortcomings, annoyingly the volume control is missing, but it does more than make up for these shortcomings with built in visuals, full screen mode and the generally really good quality of music being released in the community. Playback quality is also really good, in terms of audio quality and smooth playback. AudioTool Radio has quickly become our favourite web radio station here at Highpants HQ, simply because of the extensive collection of excellent new material, audio discovery is underway.
All testing of AudioTool was done on an old dual core Windows 7 laptop and a quad core Windows 8 desktop. The application ran rock solid for the entire time. Being a cloud based app the quality of your experience will be dependent on your internet connection. While using WiFi a few drop outs were experienced, with some issues between audio and video sync. Using a network cable (gigabit) there was not a drop out or glitch.
A mouse is a definite MUST have if using a laptop, being forced to use a track pad can slow down the process, potentially reducing your fun at the same time.
AudioTool in Action
With Highpants in-house audio expert ‘Norbut versus World’ on hand we set about testing this new generation of tool for building audio masterpieces. While Norbut has years of audio production experience under his belt I could never claim to be anything but an enthusiast.
Those new to working with sequencer software may want to keep the wiki and tutorials close during the early days of use. Those familiar with Rebirth or any classic sequencer will feel right at home from the start. Graphically AudioTool strikes a strong resemblance to those classic sequencers of the past, making for an easy to use and familiar starting point.
It is plainly obvious that the developers have spent a lot of time creating a program which is easy to learn, and dare we say it, Fun. In use AudioTool is a great light sequencer with all the basic synthesizers and effects needed to learn the art of sequence recording and produce some impressive block rocking beats.
The AudioTool interface is broken into three sections, the desktop for instrument layout (taking up the top left portion), the right side of the interface is dedicated to the Toolbar (drag and drop all synthesizers and effects) while the Sequencer is positioned in the lower part of the desktop.
Before starting any track, as with most sequencers, the process begins with the linking of the audio equipment, building the desktop in AudioTool speak. Emulating the real world process of hooking up guitars and effects pedals to your amps and mixing desk this step defines the instruments and effects that will be available for use in your song.
Helping to make life easy AudioTool offers a number of pre-defined desktop layouts or templates. With all of the devices in place, patching / linking and setup work already done; allowing a new user to dive right in. The tutorials also walk you through this process, a worthwhile read even for the experienced musician.
An impressive list of virtual hardware is available to you during layout; 3 drum machines, 4 synthesizers, tools and effects, all available to plug into the 16 channel mixing desk. Instruments and effects can all be daisy chained to create channel groups or use the mixing desks 2 aux to add effect groupings.
The desktop layout flexibility allows anyone to easily create their own custom micro studio environments, a studio for every occasion with a template for sequencing music or simply as something to jam along to. Being able to connect instruments and effects in chains adds to the programs fun and retro vibe. It is also a great way to simplify making unique sounds without having to use channels or inserts within the sequencer/ mixing desk, which tends to be a more CPU intensive method of creating sound groupings.
Once you’re happy with your device layout on the desktop it’s time to lay down the beats on the timeline, the heart of the sequencer. The timeline has been a standard of sequencer software since the very beginning, sure it was far simpler on the early Amiga/Atari ST trackers, 4 channels and sample lists but the timeline has essentially remained the same.
The AudioTool Sequencer has 3 tabs to organize functionality; Tools, Channel Strip and Timeline. At the top of the Pattern Sequencer you will find the applications control surface that includes Tools such as BPM, Time Signature, Time Counter, Play/Stop, Magnifier and each panels Visibility button.
Instruments can be sequenced either in Pattern Mode, which is done in each instruments step sequencer or by Note Track mode within the sequencers timeline. Samples can be imported from file, other audio apps or from the community.
An old favourite also makes a comeback with AudioTool, the Randomize pattern property which randomizes the patterns within the sequencer, a live performance favourite.
With all of this audio technology at our disposal the first track was quickly completed, hit the play button on Tinkerbell to hear the results. Credit where it is due mind you, Norbut wrote, produced and published Tinkerbell, while I simply enjoyed the ride. A process that has been as much fun to watch as it has been for Norbut as familiar tricks and techniques are remembered from days of old.
Striking a balance between ease of use and function AudioTool won’t compete directly with the high end audio apps like Cubase or ProTools, it does however provide more than enough functionality to get you started on that first chart topping hit.
As with all audio applications the results must speak for themselves, the published tracks coming from the AudioTool community offer a powerful voice in answer. As dodgy as Radio is it is worth checking out even if only to see what is possible with AudioTool, we were pleasantly surprised when we did. While you may need to hit the skip button a couple of times a catchy track will pop up quickly. A track produced solely with AudioTool.
AudioTool is a fun and easy to use audio production system limited only by your imagination. With an advanced audio production system and growing community AudioTool is democratizing the making of music. Never before has it been cheaper, easier or more fun for anyone to make music.
Rating: 7/10 (Easy to use, good audio quality, closed shop)