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Modal Pro review- New modular synthesizer from dango Inc.

If you're like me, the world of modular synthesis is a strange, mysterious world. Admittedly, as a guitarist, I know more about UFO's than LFO's. If someone mentions "sine", I immediately think about high school trigonometry classes.

Since coming to the world of iOS music apps, I've amassed a considerable number of virtual synths. And I can admit that I'm mostly a "preset" guy. I'll tweak an ADSR here and there, but filters, oscillators, and all that have been a foreign concept so far.

Which brings me to the new modular synth from dango Inc. called Modal Pro. I've been playing with this one for the past few days, and I can say that I've actually learned quite a bit about sound synthesis. And that is one of the goals behind this app - to educate the user.


I've tried reading Gordon Reid's "Synth Secrets" series (an excellent series of articles, I'm told). I've watched the classic New York School of Synthesis "Intro to Synthesis" videos on YouTube. I've even tried (and failed) to learn by using Audulus and Modular, two other iOS modular synths. For various reasons, all of these attempts have failed. For one, reading about the concepts behind synthesis can be a boring exercise. The YouTube videos proved helpful, but my brain just didn't retain the knowledge. And Audulus and Modular, while fine apps in their own right, just had too high of a barrier to entry.

Modal Pro, on the other hand, is designed as both a synth and a tool to teach sound synthesis. And for me, it has so far succeeded. Upon opening Modal Pro, you are greeted with a "Getting Started" tutorial. The tutorial takes you step-by-step through the process of creating a basic patch. For some, this may be unnecessary, but for me, it was exactly what I needed. This hands-on tutorial shows you which components are needed, how to connect them, and how to modify them to further tweak the sound.

In addition to the intro tutorial, the help menu within Modal Pro is first-rate. Each component has its own description, further explaining what it is, what it does, and when to use it. These are explained in easy to understand terms, but also contain enough "technical" info to be more helpful as you learn more about synthesis. I am sure I'll find myself re-visiting these help menus in the future, as my knowledge grows.

Some of the things that Modal Pro gets right are the pop-up boxes when adjusting parameters. One of my complaints about Modular and Audulus is the interface is cumbersome, and making changes to parameters can lead to some frustration. When tapping on a parameter in Modal Pro, a large box fills the top of the screen, with a nice big slider that allows for very precise control. No twitchy dials here. Also, tapping and holding on an output node will highlight all possible input connections for your wires, which is incredibly helpful while learning the ropes.

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As you can see from the screenshots, the interface is more Audulus, and less Modular. I prefer Modal Pro's interface above the others. It is a very nice, clean look. All parameters are clearly labeled, and easy to read (good for us old guys). While Audulus goes for a very futuristic Tron look, Modal Pro feels almost retro.

The keyboard is another major plus for Modal Pro. The keyboard stretches across the entire bottom of the landscaped interface. If you've tried using the onscreen virtual keyboard in Modular, you'll instantly appreciate this feature. Modal Pro also features 24 custom scales, which allow you to transform the keyboard into fixed-scale keys (no wrong notes here). Of course, you can also plug in an external MIDI keyboard, or use virtual MIDI to run a sequencer into Modal Pro as well.

Above the virtual keyboard is a strip that contains 8 presets. With these, you can morph between presets on the fly. If using an external keyboard, your mod wheel can serve to move you through these presets as well, creating some real interesting sonic possibilities.

So, up until now I've spent a lot time talking about looks. The big question is how does it sound? It sounds great. Modal Pro has a very classic analog synth sound. You can choose between sine, square, triangle, sawtooth, white and pink noise to get whatever sounds you are looking for.

As I would not currently do this app justice with my demo sounds, I've included two demos from Eric Feremans, a synthesizer veteran and member of the iPad Musician Facebook group. Eric has created some lovely patches, recreating incredibly realistic flute and woodwinds sounds.

One note is that Modal Pro has both a "Polyphonic Workspace" screen and a "Monophonic Workspace" screen. These are entirely separate, and as the names imply, allow you to build either polyphonic or monophonic instruments. Or more likely, create your effects in the monophonic screen, and connect those to your instruments on the polyphonic screen. These can be saved independently as well.

As far as presets go, Modal Pro does not offer a lot (7 polyphonic presets and 8 monophonic effect presets). But the fun here is either making some changes to these presets, or just starting from scratch to create your own. Other minor quibbles would be the lack of mod wheel and pitch bend onscreen, but using these two wheels on my external MIDI keyboard worked just fine, no adjustments to settings needed.

This is a really great v1.0 launch from dango Inc. I experienced no issues with crashing, glitches, etc. Version 1.0 supports IAA and AudioCopy, and at the time of this writing, an update is already pending with Apple to implement Audiobus compatibility. UPDATE (05/22/14): Version 1.0.2 has added Audiobus compatibility.

The developer has told me that there are already plans for more modules and features, including more tutorials highlighting specific aspects of the app. It is very exciting to see what the future holds for Modal Pro, as it is already a fantastic modular synthesizer. One of the developer's goals for Modal Pro was for this app to have an educational dimension, and bring users into the world of sound synthesis. I know that this app has really opened my eyes to what is possible. Maybe now I can finally figure out what all those "extra" screens on Thor are all about.

Modal Pro (AppStore Link) Modal Pro
Developer: dango Inc.
Rated: 4+
Price: $13.99 Download

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