The touchy feely tablet revolution is spawning a new wave of audio applications, putting the power to make music in every tablet owner’s hands. Single Cell Software are riding this wave of change with Caustic 2, bringing affordable music production to Android tablets and Window PC’s everywhere.
Caustic 2 is far more than a virtual synthesizer or rack-mount simulation, with its touch screen interface and affordable price tag ($10) it is the gateway to success, add talent and time for best results.
Highpants in-house audio expert ‘Norbut Verse the World’ has put on his headphones and dived head first into a tablet full of Caustic. Turning out the tunes with a swish and a tap here is his take on this audio app.
Caustic Demo Track ‘The Sweetest Little Man.’
The audio production world is one full of sliders, dials, buttons and other very tactile controls. It is also an environment that has transitioned to touch screen interfaces exceptionally well. Audio production may just be the killer app for touch screen devices, as this latest music revolution is demonstrating.
Designed from the ground up for the tablet world Caustic brings the touch interface to life with its clean graphics and snappy interface. Simulating rack mount audio equipment Caustic and the touch interface bring a more tactile experience than previous generation virtual synths, Reason on the PC for example.
Two versions of Caustic are available, the Android version is cheap at $10 while the Windows copy is an absolute bargain at $0. The free Windows version of Caustic is a by-product of the Android app development and testing process, a product of the debugging process being done in Windows. Completely identical, fully unlocked and operational, there is zero support offered for the free version however. Not a huge issue with the large collection of tutorials available on YouTube, and the helpful community.
The Android Latency Issue
Much of the responsibility for the lack of good audio software on Android has to be handed to Google, Android up until Versions 4.1 and 4.2 of Android Jelly Bean has suffered audio latency issues, with latency often measured in seconds not milliseconds. Recent versions of Android have improved the latency issues immensely.
Scanning forums reveals the resolution is still a little spotty. The Nexus 7 seems to be the most successful device for low latency music on Android. The brand of tablet however isn’t the secret to low latency on Google’s mobile OS, the secret is all in the CPU. An ARMv7 class CPU is required to achieve the lowest latencies. For tablets using Nvidia’s Tegra chipset Tegra 3 or later is required.
Norbut Verse the World ‘Relax’
Caustic very successfully rides the fine line between advanced functionality and ease of use, it is by far the easiest audio application to learn and master yet is still a fully featured audio production suite. In one afternoon anyone can come to terms with digital audio recording. The low price and ease of use make Caustic one of the best places to start your musical journey.
Caustic’s competition Reason (by Propellarheads) and NanoStudio are more polished, the prices though are high and learning curves long if you’re just starting out. Yes they are now a lot more professionally done (better in other words), remember though in its first incarnations REASON was a dog of an application that spent more time crashing computers than actually being used to make music. Thankfully while using Caustic I have had none of these issues.
Being a modular rack style application with no patching or complicated mixing routine, getting started is a matter of selecting what different modules your song will be comprised of. A limit of 8 modules can be used at once. This includes the mixing and also sequencer modules, which if you are sequencing, means a limit of 6 instruments. Hopefully in time Single Cell Software will expand the instrument count.
Caustic has clearly been designed with ELECTONICA in mind, and it excels in this genre. Though it is not bound by musical style, I also use it for jamming out Blues and Jazz sessions with my musical buddies, in which case it acts as an instant backing band. And unlike a lot of bands I have played with, it keeps time and doesn’t forget what it was playing.
By default four authentic sounding modules are available; PCM Synth, Beatbox, Bassline and Subsynth. Each really packs a punch and they all operated glitch free during testing. The wider community is also hard at work building other sound modules, the Modular Synth being the most famous and a must have. Also there is no end of patches etc to download for those who wish to as well.
Hardware requirements for Caustic are on the light side; generally it is very easy on RAM and CPU during usage. The PC version will run happily on older machines, any issues will generally revolve around audio drivers, not CPU limitations.
The Windows version supports all the standard audio formats including the ultra low latency ASIO engine. I have found the overall latencies to be well within specification for use as a live tool. In fact part of the reason it feels so tactile is because of the great latency (Reason versions 1 & 2 did not have this sort of Ultra low latency). By this I mean, hit a note on a keyboard then the time the sound takes to leave the device is its “output Latency”.
The Windows version is the only version that has midi integration with support for external midi devices such as piano keyboards. I have not managed to reliably get things like rotary knobs or sliders to engage with the software though. Adding a feature such as button/slider “LEARN “function as other Audio Apps use, would take this little beast into killer app territory.
Caustic is best suited to those with a touch screen PC, it excels in this case. Testing was done without touch screen on the PC, things like ADJUSTING rotary knobs with a mouse becomes very old, very quickly.
Norbut Verse the World ‘Galactic Sounds’
The Not So Good…
The audio quality tends to sit on the muddy side, needing quite a bit of post production to get sparkling clean tones and clarity from each channel. Reason suffered from this all the way up to the 2012 revision, so don’t think it’s about money.
The main reasons for this have to do with multiple signals being leaved into a single output channel. Basically, if possible you don’t want the different instruments sharing the same frequencies or tones. Having a bus would be one fix for this, as would having multiple audio output support. The main thing I found was in order to keep the sonic clarity of the SONG I really needed to restrict each instruments spectrum, sonic tone, via EQ or using Effects. Which worked fine, but surely something can be done to address this?
As with all instruments of this ilk, be it hardware or software, when channels are limited a work around must be applied. The best method in this case is the oldest method, splitting. Each different part of your song is saved out as a different song title in Caustic by way of the “Save As” function. So on final export you will end up with 6 different songs that need to be combined back together.
When working like this one must use another audio app such as Cubase, Music Creator, SoundForge etc to stitch the parts together and finalize the song. The results how-ever are super xlnt as your final song will flow and show a lot more emotion. This technique is also a great way to avoid that over robotisized song that sounds like it was made on some cheap CASIO synth.
The next problem I encountered was confined only to my AUDIO PC running Windows 8 and Laptop 1 which runs Windows XP. This error appeared to be a specified application crash or in other words shutting down due to an internal error. The best I could figure out was that it was caused by either windows memory management and/or the ANTI VIRUS software interrupting communication between the Sound and Video drivers. CAUSTIC on Windows7 and Nexus 7 tablet under lengthy testing ran completely error free and with no sync issues at all even under load.
Under Windows some GUI issues seemed to occur when on-board sound and on-board Intel video card where in use. It felt like a shared memory issue but the cause is still unknown. Also, when using on-board sound hardware in combination with on board Video the application had serious video sync issues. Switching to using external USB soundcard with laptops seemed to fix these issues.
Platform Testing Results
On my AUDIO PC (quad core AMD, 8 gig ram, Windows 8) Caustic wasn’t happy at all. I got the distinct feeling that Caustic does not like my PC, spending more time hanging and crashing than actually being used. Audio jitters galore, not even under load. The funny thing is that I use this PC for serious audio recording in CuBase and get well over 32 channels of glitch free recording.
The old office Laptop (dual core Pentium M, 4gig ram) also had a complete failure trying to test the app. While the CPU probably would have been powerful enough there were too many issues to list.
A previous generation Laptop (Quad Core i5, 4gig ram) was also tested, this time around the results were much different. On this system Caustic 2 ran like a dream, no crashing, no sync issues.
The tablet of choice for audio on Android was also tested, the NEXUS 7, (Quad Core A7 CPU with 1 gig ram) which also ran like a dream, producing the best results obtained across the board. The touch screen environment and fast processor combine to produce a smooth user experience.
A generic brand tablet (duel core, 512meg ram) was given the Caustic treatment. Caustic ran fine, with no real issues although it was a little slow to do standard tasks. The GUI did become a little jittery due to the lack of memory and limited processing power.
Caustic is ultimately a great little band in a box suitable for everyone to have fun with. You don’t need to be a genius to learn to use it and even the experienced musicians will have fun getting Caustic with it. A great community and a well supported application simply sweeten the deal.
With Caustic 3 nearing completion the future looks bright for this plucky little app. Hats off to Single Cell Software for a top notch product, and for bringing the fun back to making music…
Free for windows PC version.
Under $10 for the Android version, available for Download at the Google apps website.
PC & Android (no Mac or ipad)
Written by Norbut Verse the World, edited by Buddhas Brother.
Buddhas Brother out…