When I reviewed Waldorf’s excellent Nave iPad synth app, I remarked that the company needs to release an iOS version of its very cool Attack drum machine plug-in. Stroke Machine, created by former Waldorf man, Wolfram Franke, is just that app. A very detailed and powerful beatmaker with a host of interesting features — including the ability to program your own sounds — Stroke Machine ranks with DM1 at the top of the iPad drum machine scene.
Stroke Machine for the iPad Features
- Drum Machine with Synth Programming Features
- Patterns with 12 Drum Voices and 12 Melodic Voices
- Sample Importing
- Each Voice with Two Oscillators, Ring Modulation, FM, and More
- White and Pink Noise Generator, Transient Generator
- LFO, Filter, 4 Bus Multi-effects
- Rich Library of Sounds, Kits, and Patterns
- Support for Inter App Audio, Audiobus, and WIST
- Available at the App Store for $19.99
Stroke Machine is a must for anyone looking to build their own drum machine patterns from the sound programming upwards. The well-written and detailed manual is another great feature — and necessary as this is a detailed app! A robust amount of functionality and fun fits on an iPad screen.
Breaking Down the Stroke Machine Architecture
Featuring an almost garish color scheme (optimized for rave viewing) that can be toned down in the options, Stroke Machine’s interface is very functional. All the necessary synth parameters fit on one screen, with a transport bar located at the bottom of the app. A vertical menu bar on the left of the app gives access to each voice (or part in the app’s nomenclature) in a pattern; they can be easily soloed or muted as necessary.
All saved patterns, kits, and sounds are easily accessible from the app’s menu interface. Stroke Machine treats patterns and kits interchangeably. As the manual states: “a Pattern is a Kit is a Pattern.” Indeed.
An “Ableton Live” style is used for the synth knobs, switches, and sliders. Graphic displays in the app feature convenient handles to allow for easy touchscreen editing. The range of parameters in sound creation rival most iPad synth apps, let alone small iOS drum machine world.
Sound creation in Stroke Machine is a blast. Throwing in some FM and/or ring modulation is a breeze, and when combined with noise and variety of transients, it opens up a sonic world of percussion creativity — melodic sounds too. Filters, a drive stage, a decimator, EQ, a detailed LFO, two envelopes, and a modulation matrix — with most controls automatable — round out this rich, rich synthesizer engine. Sounds can be saved separately from a Pattern/Kit and used in other Kit/Patterns.
Wait, there are four effects busses. Each bus includes two dynamic effects, a modulation effect (chorus, flanger, etc.), and space effect (reverbs and delays). Each sound is separately assigned to one of the four busses.
Pattern writing takes place on a step sequencer screen with both beat and note entry; the latter being used for melodic sounds. A swing percentage and the tempo are modified on the transport menu.
Stroke Machine allows for some time signature tweaking, but not enough for me. You can do variations of 2, 3, or 4 notes per measure (including 9/8), but 5/4, 5/8, 7/8, 11/8 need to be added in a future update. Being able to enter actual time signatures as well would be more intuitive than the current method, which involves entering beats per bar and steps per beat separately with both limited to a range of 1 to 4.
Support for the iPad audio standards — Audiobus, Inter App Audio, WIST, etc. — finishes off this incredibly deep drum machine app.
Stroke Machine thrives on newer iPads
With such a detailed synth engine, Stroke Machine stretches the capabilities of my iPad 2. Setting the audio buffer size to 1024 samples definitely helps. The latest version of the app (1.03) greatly improved its stability, as it would freeze pretty regularly beforehand and still occasionally drops a sound during beat playback — the latter does lead to interesting pattern variations.
Wolfram Franke is very responsive, so expect things to get better with each successive release. Still, Stroke Machine is such a powerful app with great sonics; I may have to consider upgrading to a newer iPad sooner than expected. Feedback for the app from owners of the iPad Air is generally positive.
Anyone interested in beat creation needs to check out Stroke Machine. Sure, it runs better on newer iPads, but expect that to happen more and more in the future as music apps become more complicated and thus more CPU-thirsty. Apple just discontinued sales of the iPad 2 in favor of the iPad 4 anyway!