OK, I can admit when I am wrong.
When Nis Wegmann of Primal Audio first reached out to me to tell me about his new "80's synth" called FM4, I was rather ambivalent. I may lose some people here, but I don't like the sounds of 1980's synths. They conjur visions of Jan Hammer's "Miami Vice" theme song and Flock of Seagulls. I grew up in the 1980's on AC/DC, Metallica, and Guns N' Roses.
But, I checked out the beta pre-release version, and I was instantly hooked. This app is a beast.
FM4 has four operators which can be connected in any of eight different routing configurations. There are three different sound engines to choose from, and eight different waveforms. You can also select to use it in unison mode, which instantly fattens up the sounds. And based on your device, FM4 is polyphonic up to 24 voices.
Instantly getting past my pre-conceived (and completely incorrect) notion of what this synth would sound like, I started by browsing some of the presets. There are 128 presets included, and these showcase the range of this synth. This synth can get gritty, fast. This was a pleasure for me, as I like some "growl" in my sounds. FM4 can deliver.
Where FM4 really succeeds in my opinion is in its layout, and the previously mentioned sounds. Let's take these one by one.
The interface has all of the controls on one page, right in front of you. No menus and sub-menus. Much like Laplace or Sunrizer, you are free to concentrate on performace, and not need to have the manual open on another tab to figure out where to find everything. I know that this was a conscious decision on the part of the developers, and it is welcomed. I appreciate the musician who can master Thor or Nave and all of their "let's route the LFO to the sub-oscillator and then use the envelope to control the particle accelerator...", but that's just not me. Due to a lack of experience and a lack of patience, I've still never properly mastered that aspect of synthesizers.
But, I can use my ears to tell me what sounds good to me. FM4 makes it so easy for me to experiment. I love that I can make individual adjustments to each operator, and hear the results. Slight tweak here and I've got something new. If I don't like it, change it back. And with all the previously mentioned waveforms and models to choose from, new sounds can come easily.
Which brings us to the second selling point - the sounds. Tweaking knobs is fun, but if you can't get anything that you can use, you've wasted your money. Not the case here. This synth can produce some mean tones. The bass sounds in particular can get real big. There are some lead sounds here that can definitely cut through the mix, and have a very "Tron soundtrack" vibe. And these are just the presets.
Speaking of presets, it seems clear to me that these developers took some time in creating these presets, and had some fun doing so. These range from some great bass sounds, to some percussions, and some nice piano/organ sounds as well. The sense of humor of these guys comes through with presets such as "Lead crap piano", "FX farty", and my personal favorite "FX your wife", which let's just say is not a particularly flattering sound to associate with your significant other.
FM4 also includes a simple arpeggiator, with up, down, up/down, or random modes. You can control the rate and the octave range with the simple knobs as well. Perhaps not the deepest arpeggiator around, but a great way to test and experiment with your parameters. Creating a simple arp and tweaking away at knobs got me some really neat sounds.
Techincal details time: FM4 works on iOS 7.1 and above, which is nice for some of the iOS 8 abstainers. The app launched with IAA-compatibility, and Audiobus compatibility is on the way. The devs had originally said that MIDI wasn't working entirely properly, but I was able to use StepPolyArp to control FM4 with no issues. Be assured that the devs are buttoning that up as we speak as well.
After reading all of this, you may still not convinced. Graciously, the folks at Primal Audio have launched FM4 with an intro price of $0.99 through the end of December. That's right, less than one dollar American. I have no idea what the full price, but I suggest you do not wait to find out. This app should be an insta-buy for everyone reading this. There are very few FM synths available on the iOS platform. To be able to add one to your arsenal at this price is insane.
If you're thinking about buying FM4, please consider clicking through our App Store link below. Thanks![app 910545680]