Developer Adam Kumpf, maker of Fiddlewax Yellow and Fiddlewax Blue, has released another app in the Fiddlewax collection - Fiddlewax Pro. Yes, I just used the word "Fiddlewax" four times in one sentence. Off to a great start! But on a more serious note, I have recently had the chance to play with Fiddlewax Pro, and I am pleasantly surprised. Not only is this app deeper than I had originally thought, the developer Adam Kumpf has proven himself to be worthy of praise.
In this review, I will spend some time discussing the app, but I will also veer into a discussion about iOS music app developers, and how important it is that we continue to have developers like Adam Kumpf involved in this scene.
But first things first - the app. Fiddlewax Pro is a sort of sketchpad/looper/MIDI controller that has some onboard sound sets to get you going. To help keep the creative juices flowing, the app keeps everything simple in regards to the interface. Their are drumpads (which contain both acoustic and synth drum sounds), a transport section, and the majority of the remaining real estate is filled with the keyboard playing area. Dividing these sections is a horizontal row from which to choose your instrumentation for the keyboard.
I've over-simplified the description of the layout a bit, because quite frankly it is very intuitive. That is one of the strengths of Fiddlewax Pro. The UI is not going to get in the way of your ideas. This is really well-designed, and a breeze to use. Well done.
The keyboard section is where I find that this app sets itself apart. I've taken an online music theory course through Coursera.org (highly recommend for those interested in learning basic music theory), and admit to having a limited amount of knowledge. Circle of Fifths, simple major and minor scales, and that's about it. So when I first started using Fiddlewax Pro, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I found myself breaking out of my "normal" playing style. Usually I find myself falling into a I-IV-V chord progression without even thinking about it. But seeing all the other chords in the key laid out for me took away any fear that I'd be playing the "wrong" thing.
Let me explain a bit more about the layout. On the top row of the app, you can select the tonic, mode, and scale that will be utilized by the keyboard. So, selecting C# Major Blues will give you all the correct chords, including suspended chords, 6th's, 7th's and 9th's, minor/major of the chord (opposite of which is in key), and a fifth above and below on the Circle of Fifths. This is great, because I don't like to think. Seriously, I don't have enough music theory knowledge to work these out in my head, but I can tell if they sound good or not.
Below the chord selections is a chromatic keyboard, which I honestly never used - because it is what is below that keyboard that makes Fiddlewax so playable. You will find two additional rows of "keys" that contain all of the notes in the scale, as well as a row that has the notes of the triad of the chord you've selected. It's really simple. If you play a C Major chord above, the notes on the bottom row will be C-E-G, in several octaves. This makes playing inversions particularly easy. My rudimentary self-taught piano skills have me always playing chords in root position, so this frees up my mind to play in a new way.
The looper is a breeze to use as well, and makes this app a great sketchpad for your song ideas. Simple record and overdub functions allow you to just play, and not get hung up on technical issues. As a less-than-stellar finger drummer, being able to overdub individual drum parts into one slot was appreciated. Of course, there are quantization options to tighten up some minor rhythmic variances you might have as well. The app also can record up to 90 minutes of your performance, as either an .m4a file or MIDI. This is great if you are just working out some ideas.
The in-app sounds are very serviceable, but nothing to write home about. If you're using this as a sketchpad, they should work fine, but I don't know that I'd use them in a recording. As previously mentioned, Fiddlewax Pro also serves as a MIDI controller, so you can use this to control some of your favorite iOS synths or piano apps, which is what I did. I liked using this to control Galileo, Neo-Soul Keys, and M3000 Ultimate Edition. Fiddlewax is also compatible with Audiobus and IAA, and seems to work well in iOS 8 (yes, I finally took the plunge).
Which brings me to the second half of my post...
The recent Apple update to iOS 8 has not gone as smoothly as most would like. I don't need to go into details, but many (most?) of us have had our fair share of issues with apps not working, not being updated to the latest Audiobus SDK or being iOS 8 ready. I believe that most of the blame for this falls squarely on Apple. Like it or not, I don't think that they fairly evaluated the impact that this update would have on the iOS musicians using their devices.
Amid the chaos, we have seen quite a few developers who have stayed ahead of the troubles, proactively updating their apps, or immediately squashing bugs caused by the update. Developers like Christopher Rice (Holderness Media) and Jonatan Liljedahl (Kymatica) instantly spring to mind. Releasing a new app in the midst of an unstable iOS must certainly be a daunting challenge.
But here is where I must extol the virtues of Adam Kumpf. I'll be honest here and admit that when I first heard about Fiddlewax Pro, I didn't get too excited. It just didn't look like "my kind" of app. But I followed closely the threads on the Audiobus forum, in which Adam was (and still is) a daily participant. Upon the app's release, Adam spent countless hours conversing with customers (and those who hadn't yet bought the app), discussing details about its functionality. He's actively listened to feature suggestions, pledging to incorporate many of these into future updates (note: During the few days I've been writing this review, he's already released Version 1.2, incorporating many of these very suggestions). His responses have been incredible in their detail, their patience, and their openness. Adam even created a one hour Google Hangout to show more of the features of the app, and take live questions. Who does that? That's phenomenal. I highly suggest that you head over to the AB forum and read through some of these threads.
When I reached out to Adam about reviewing Fiddlewax Pro, he responded immediately. Included in his email were hi-res photos for use in my review, links to demo vids, Soundcloud links, and the user manual. I'll keep this G-rated, but this guy has his "stuff" together. Very organized, very committed.
Sometimes when we are deciding on whether or not to purchase an app, we evaluate the developer. I've even written an entire post about great iOS app developers. I've joked in the past that Apple needs to implement an "insta-buy" option in my iTunes account for any new Holderness Media or Kymatica apps, because they are brilliant apps from brilliant developers. Conversely, there are certain developers that invoke instant apprehension about their new offerings. How many of us remember Mosaik? Or developers that provide months worth of teaser videos, yet still underwhelm with the released app?
With Fiddlewax Pro, you're getting quite a few things. You get an app that can work as a great tool when writing new songs. A very user-friendly interface, with tools that help make it look like you know what you're doing. You get a real nice MIDI controller for your other iOS synths. And very importantly, you get a developer that is actively listening to the customers, dedicating time and energy to make Fiddlewax Pro the best that he can. When many of us are frustrated with all of the iOS 8 issues, it's reassuring to see a developer put so much effort into their app.
The app by itself is going to please a lot of users. It is great for when you need to just jam, and let the ideas flow freely. If you're like me, it may even help expand your range of chords and progressions. But as I've just went over before, this app is supported by a great developer. While Fiddlewax Pro is not the cheapest app around, the combination of content and excellent support make this a great buy.
If you're thinking about buying Fiddlewax Pro, please consider clicking through our App Store link below. Thanks!Firo - Music Maker, Instrument, Drums, Chords, Looper, and MIDI Controller
Developer: Fiddlewax LLC