iOS MARS is currently closed. Please read this for more information.

csSpectral review – New app from the makers of csGrain

csSpectral is the newest effects app from the development studio Boulanger Labs. You may be familiar with Boulanger Labs from their previous app csGrain. First off, any developer that has the word "Labs" in their name is OK in my book, as I envision mad scientists cooking up craziness in a basement lab. The fact their their logo is a beaker only confirms the madness that comes forth.

But, let's get back on track. csSpectral is billed as a "real-time, Csound-based, multi-effects processor featuring a Streaming Phase Vocoder and six other FFT-based spectral algorithms". In simple terms, this means that you've got a ton of effects available to absolutely tweak, mangle, flip, and warp your sounds. While much different than Sugar Bytes' Turnado effects app, it is similar in that you can push a simple tone into csSpectral and not recognize the end result. Imagine a psychedelic EZ-Bake sonic oven, and you're getting close.

Don't believe me? Check out the video demo below:

As anyone familiar with reading my previous reviews will know, I'm not necessarily the most well-versed in computer language, or "smart stuff" in general. The main component of csSpectral is that it is built on the Csound code programming. There are pages of computer-speak on the internet (Wikipedia page here) which is available to give you more info on Csound if you are interested, but thankfully it is not required knowledge in order to use csSpectral. However, if you're really interested in the details, the manual lists all the code for you to geek out on.

The interface of csSpectral is basically just two screens - a Performance page and an Editing page. Utilizing a very understated grey theme, this app may have the most absolute opposite look of Stroke Machine that could be possible. The Performance page is exactly what you'd expect it to be. Here is where you will find the various effects, and a few pads in which to manually manipulate some parameters.

While csSpectral offers your standard delay, reverb, and filter options, these are far from "standard". For example, while there are three tabs for different filters, within each of these are more options. Let me explain a bit more. The first filter option is the "Modal Resonator Module". Within this filter you have the option of seven different modal filters, ranging from bowls to wood to glass. To further the point, the "Multi-Mode Filter Module" has four different settings - high pass, low pass, band pass and band reject. Of course, in each of these separate filter modules you can further adjust the parameters, levels, etc., for each. There is also a Cutter module, which brings the crazy to 11, as you can really start mangling sounds in this one.

photo (11)

Presented large and upfront on the Performance screen is the main player in this app - the Spectral effects. Here there are seven different spectral effects to choose from, and countless ways to manipulate them. Each effect has its own sliders and knobs configuration, so it would take too long to list them all here. A few notable effects are the Vocoder module and the Sample & Hold Module.

One thing that may not be readily apparent is that most of these parameters can be automated by simply tapping and holding on the slider/button. This will bring up a pop-up box that lets you adjust the min/max levels, rate, and whether the effect will jump or slide between values. There is also a 'Randomize' option, which will always bring a smile to my face. I found that it's a good idea to go easy with too many automations at first, or things get pretty out of hand quickly. Little adjustments here and there, and then go back and tweak some more.

csSpectral ships with some preset sounds for you to play around with, and these are a good place to start when learning how to use the app. You can also load your own, through AudioCopy, Dropbox, or iTunes. The AudioCopy worked well for me (except for a crash on the first attempt). I would love see Audioshare integration, as that is where I store all my samples, and I know that I am not alone in this workflow. There is also the option to use "Live Input", which I will get to in just a bit.

At the bottom of the Performance screen are buttons for loading presets, record your own sounds via the input mic, adjusting settings, and the manual (found in the "Help" icon). Tapping the "Files" button brings you to the second screen - the Editing Page.

The editing page, as the name would imply, will allow you to edit your sound files for use in csSpectral. Some simple options such as trim, normalize, reverse and fade are here, as well as some more complex options. You can apply some convolution IR's here, and there are quite a few to choose from. You can also stretch your sample or add some crush. I honestly did not get into the editor that much, as I have spent most of my time on the Performance page. All the controls here are self-explanatory though, and are worth a look. One thing that is nice about editing your sounds in the Editing page is that your altered sounds are saved as a different file, so you can either discard what you don't like, or you can use that file to pile on some more edits.

With all of this power, you might be asking how well the app performs? At the time of this writing, there are some issues that are still being worked out by Boulanger. The Audiobus implementation is not working properly right now, but Boulanger has already tweeted that a fix is on the way. I did experience some crackling and popping occasionally on my iPad Air. This was likely due to me piling on multiple effects all at the same time, but it is advisable to work slowly and watch your levels. One piece of advise would be to turn off the 2D and 3D effects (even though they look cool!) in the Settings tab to lessen the CPU usage.

Boulanger has created a few demos on their SoundCloud account, which I've included below.

csSpectral is a very powerful, very deep multi-effects app. I probably won't be turning to this app for many of my guitar-based tracks, but for some more experimental tracks, csSpectral is full of goodies that will allow for sonic overload. There are so many various ways that you can use csSpectral - for example, even a simple drone sound can be radically altered into a glitchy lead sound. Vocals or spoken word can be manipulated to add a touch of reverb, or go all vocoder on them. This app is a full palette of effects, and if used wisely, can really make your track stand out. Not to mention, this thing is just fun to play with. If you're looking for something different, csSpectral might just be your thing.

If you're thinking about buying csSpectral, please consider clicking through our App Store link below. Thanks!

csSpectral (AppStore Link) csSpectral
Developer: Richard Boulanger
Rated: 4+
Price: $27.99 Download

Post Navigation