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TF7 Review – Guest Review from Adekoye Adams

Note: The following is a guest review from musician Adekoye Adams. Taking an integrative approach to electronic music, Adekoye loves the new movement of IOS music apps and how they can be applied to all manners of music. He enjoys art, science, the evolution of the user experience along with good food, music and revelry. His tracks on Soundcloud can be found here. I am pleased to share his review of TF7 on iOS MARS - Sean

Opening

TF7 is the brainchild of Pier Lim, who gives us an app that brings back hardcore, spare-no-expense FM synthesis on the iOS platform. While there are some alternatives to FM synthesis on iOS, this little monster takes the cake in regards to giving what many of us remember about FM synthesis...deep subtle strings, punchy basses and percussions, sweet swelling pads, and lots of rhythmic patches that make it stand out.

Another synth that is in essence a one man band, there are a few things to consider...aside from the fact that it sounds so good. First off you can get a stripped down version for free...but the app really shines when you buy all of the IAP's....each one taking you deeper into an abyss of sublime modulation...where uncharted timbre territories is the name of the game.

So why don't we hear more about it?

When from my perspective it is definitely NOT due to sound quality. Hands down this is one of the best sounding synths you can get your mitts on...especially is you are looking for ambient pads and strings...even on the low settings it is lush...so lush that I always felt the need to tame it just a little bit.

When you see the generous portions of effects given....it really does gain another wow factor...not that they are absolutely necessary, but a good portion of them are useful and unique.

The patch examples are well laid out...giving you instant access to the ballpark so you can customize a patch and get into the zone quickly.

So when you look at everything there is quite a package here...especially once you realize this is a synth almost completely devoted to FM synthesis.

This review is not going to give you a tutorial on FM synthesis. There are plenty of resources on the web to assist you with that, should this be of interest to you...i.e. Just google it.

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Fantasy versus Reality

Let it be known that TF7 is a CPU hungry monster. There are three settings and if you are on iPad 2 then chances are you will never get past the medium settings. It just eats RAM like a fat boy eats cake. Often what needs to be done is to switch off effects. I wish there was a more detailed screen for optimization...like call switches to make it ultra efficient to ultra effective. Otherwise on the more complex patches I found myself limited to one or two voices. Even a maximum voice control that would make the early note taper off would be a welcome addition...because what happens is alot of clipping if you over do it on a few patches and effects.

The next big thing that causes head scratching is how there is no listed MIDI implementation...so while you have some on screen controls to make modifications in your patch...in most cases you are confined to making those modifications via the onscreen user interface...which also means you cannot automate parameters...uh...oh...because while you can purchase an arpeggiator...the arp is for notes...not cc values or sysex.

Follow this up by the realization that many...if not the majority on the controls that you are given access to on TF7 update the patch on the next note on note off...so you may need a sequencer like midiSequencer to play your notes while you change the parameters to see what effect they will have on the patch. Humph.

Oh, and you are given a grid of pads to play on...that's right, no piano roll...there is an aftertouch parameter to which you can assign a whammy bar or vibrato to your keys strokes...but no piano roll for traditional chord playing. There is chord memory and other goodies...but for some reason...only the patch library pad gives you a pulldown menu...which is indeed a quick douse of lame sauce on your meal of user experience.

Oh, and there is no hold note switch, and no mod wheel nor pitch bender.

Finally the cherry on top is the brown/orange/khaki colored interface. Its not bad...its drab.

These are the things that could turn someone off when using the app...even though the app is free at its introduction.

Under the Hood

While other apps give you a mod matrix, this hot little number can give you up to 39 algorithms for generating timbres based on frequency modulation. That is more than any other app in the ios universe, and more than most synths ever made...hardware or software. The only issue with 39 algorithms is the time it takes to figure out what each of them is good for and how to get the most out of them. If you want a good idea of what an FM synth master is capable of then check out this Dutch producer who goes by the name of Legowelt. While the fad is to celebrate analog ad infinitum...Legowelt cut his teeth on a Yamaha DX21 and due to this limitation, he was able to coax unimaginable timbres from his keyboard. So while FM synthesis is not popularly known for its ease of use...trust me...great patches of all kinds can be made with it...yet the tendency for appreciate falls into the strings and pads category. The irony is that FM synths can also make astounding percs and bassline if you put your mind into it.

Not interested in becoming an FM synth master? No worries, TF7's preset library is huge and properly partitioned. Just select a patch and repurpose it to your needs...maybe saving iterations of your progress.

Unlock the Swaggery

In order to get to the guts and gravy of TF7, you must buy the IAP's.

Each one opens a bit more functionality to TF7. The first being the Chaos arpeggiator. It gives you a random rhythm generator that hold your last note...and can switch from regular to chordal diatonic format. It also ships with some presets especially designed for rhythmic pulses.

As arps go...it is alright. It only lets you press one key at a time, the speed dial doesn't give great feedback...so its functionality is very lopsided and to be honest when I do use it I jam on the dice button and listen...and the way I slow down the arp sequence is via the BPM setting...but then the truth is that the quality of the sound engine makes it easy some great melodic pads and rhythmic sequences.

The Weird and Wonderful preset pack is a great purchase to help you get more of an idea of how far off the deep end you can go with FM synthesis...even if you choose not to get the Pro Pack upgrade. If you want a tip from a penny pincher...then you can take the additional presets from both of these packs and work on reworking the effects slots.

Next up is the Pro Pack. This gives you the ability to modify the patches on a deeper level...and gives you a palette of 7 algorithms to design with. Now we are talking! This is where it gets GREAT. Unlike the Yamaha FM synths of old, Pier Lim has given us a multitouch interface for FM synth noodling! So if you look at say a DX7 or a Yamaha TX802...great sound machines with deep editing on two screen menus. Now everything is laid out for you, in an easily digestable interface! Not just that...but you also get Inter App Audio...along with 10 additional effects. Again, highly worth it...mainly because it instantly expands your palette and nothing else sounds quite like it.

Now if you bought the Chaos arpeggiator, then turn the BPM to a setting of 60 and then select your favorite preset , turn off ALL the effects and go to the tone page. Proceed to move the sliders and make adjustments to get a deeper feel of what the patch can really do. So many hidden harmonics...quirky patterns can be found. Takes time and patience though...but the digital goodness is great!

Once you get a taste of this kind of sound and you realize that FM synthesis is probably the most underrated and least understood forms of synthesis...and that previous user interfaces where prohibitive, then you realize you have a potential gold mine...so the next logical step is to double down and get the expanded algorithms pack...so you go from having 7 algorithms to a whopping 39 algorithms....along with 200+ examples on different ways to use them. You also get 3 more effects (maelstrom filter is one of my favorites)...

...yes indeed it is the motherload...on iOS...in your face...for less than 15 dollars.

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Requested Feature Enhancements

When you realize how difficult it is to properly implement FM synthesis in an app, and you see and hear the other worthwhile examples, then we really need to take our hats off to Pier Lim. It is a great app and a sound business model. That being said...here is what I would like to see in regards to updates.

  • Update the Chaos arpeggiator pack and give us more functionality. It is cute, somewhat useful feature that could really have so much more to offer. Ability to select multiple notes...add in swing....adjust tempo in multiples/divisions of BPM.
  • Hold note feature...seriously should have been done a long time ago.
  • Increment buttons on all the sliders...maybe with snap toggles...anything to help better dial in a sweetspot setting...also let us double tap and insert precise values from the keyboard, please.
  • Deeper controls on the effects settings...especially in regards to tempo.
  • Give us multiple filter models to choose from...maybe even two filter options.
  • Carrier, modulation and LFO waves need finer controls for more complex waveforms.
  • A different colored skin(s) that stands out a bit more...I am not the biggest fan on the "I pooped carrots color scheme"...so having another option would be great.
  • If time permits an init patch(s) showing off the potential glory of each of the algorithms.
  • Drop down menus for all menus, not just the preset menu.
  • Please give us a piano roll to work with.
  • A step sequencer that you could direct to various aspects of the synth engine would be great.
  • Continual optimization of the code for even more efficiency.

Playing the Pads

I will be perfectly frank about how I use the TF7 in the studio. After I design my patch, I will then set up the keypad and make some experimental chord progressions. I record a take and then chop it into a long loop...usually 16-64 bars. Due to the very unusual pad layout, square matrix...I set the root note and the scale. Again, this takes some patience because there is no drop down menu. So once the scale is set, I lock the matrix to full screen and let my fingers find harmonic patterns. There are three aftertouch settings...whammy, full tone and vibrato. I like the whammy because it feels more expressive...the full tone and vibrato do what they say they are supposed to...but the truth is I would love to see more control available in this area of the app.

Another way I use TF7 is to send MIDI in via the midiSequencer app...that way once I lock down my sequence I can proceed to make more delicate fine tuning on the patch. In FM synthesis, these fine tunings can lead to gradually dramatic changes in timbre.

Verdict

The biggest crime when it comes to TF7 is not in getting the IAP's. If Pier gives you the introduction for free and you think you like it, do everyone a solid and support the independent developer. Most people don't talk about the Pro Pack or the expanded algorithms and it is a veritable treasure trove of timbres.

With the In App Purchases, TF7 transforms itself from a tame demonstration of how FM synthesis can happen on the iPad into this monstrosity synth that has no problem with pads, percs, soundscapes and all manner of synthesis that was almost forgotten in favor of new school analog timbres and wavetables. I am a fan of all kinds of synthesis...but this is some really, really special. Believe me 39 algorithms is unheard of on any platform, hardware or software.

The effects could be optimized and need deeper code...lacking clear BPM controls or dry/wet settings...along with being unable to order which effect comes first...but hey...most of them can be replicated with other apps with audiobus...for instance I often nix the stereo reverb and use the AUFX:Space or AltiSpace plugin...and if its pads then the Crystalline app is more than happy to give the lush sheen I am looking for.

So in short I cannot recommend it highly enough. My hardware samplers adore this app. I love how it sounds in the mix. I not only recommend it, but I would be more than happy to support its future development. The IAP's are fairly priced and when you realize that your iPad can easily outpace a DX7 at the tiniest of prices it makes sense to give this developer your full support (as long as he continues to find ways to optimize his code for iPad 2, grrrr.)

If you're thinking about picking up TF7, please consider clicking through our App Store link below. Thanks!

TF7 Synth (AppStore Link) TF7 Synth
Developer: Pier Lim
Rated: 4+2.5
Price: Free Download

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