Review: The iVCS3 raises the Bar for iPad Hardware Emulation

The EMS VCS3 — with other models known as the Synthi or Putney — is a legendary analog synthesizer from the Golden Age. Pink Floyd’s “On the Run” from Dark Side of the Moon famously uses the VCS3, and that same synth arpeggiation now serves as the “Hello World” application for many current analog beatboxes, like the Korg Monotribe.

The iVCS3 app, developed by apeSoft, is the official EMS VCS emulator for the iPad, and frankly, this rich and detailed app raises the bar for analog synthesizer emulation. So there.

The iVCS3 for the iPad Features

  • Three Oscillators (Two Main, One LFO)
  • Noise Generator
  • Two Amps, One Envelope, One VCF
  • Virtual Patch Board Matrix, Joystick, and Keyboard
  • Sequencer
  • Audiobus 2.0 Support (Including State Saving)
  • Inter App Audio Support
  • Available at the iTunes App Store for $14.99

Like the hardware original, the iVCS3 is perfect for sound effects and processing external audio. It does function nicely as an Audiobus Effect, so the same use-case works on the iPad. The dead-on simulation of the VCS3’s unique hardware interface and wonderful sound make the app a must have for iPad synth aficionados.

A Richly Detailed iPad Synth App

Thankfully, the iVCS3 app comes with hundreds of patch presets, as the synth’s rich synthesizer architecture makes it a bit difficult to dive right in. The app includes copies of the original VCS3 synthesizer manual as well as the iOS version. Be prepared to spend some enjoyable time reading the original manual as well as perusing the collection of patches, which include some of Delia Derbyshire’s work for Doctor Who.

iVCS3 Screenshot

The iVCS3 is a dead-on simulation of the classic hardware original. Screenshot by Author.

The VCS3’s peculiar interface with its pin board patch matrix and joystick are nearly perfectly emulated on the iPad. As you navigate between the app’s three main screens (two for the synth and one for the sequencer and other functions), it is possible to bring the joystick along for some real-time patch tweaking. The virtual keyboard is similarly “portable.”

While deep, the architecture should be somewhat familiar to anybody who knows subtractive synthesis; the names of some of the parameters may have changed, but they work the same. The touchscreen operation of the knobs, switches, joystick, and patch matrix are all top notch; I wish all the knobs on iOS synth apps worked as well.

A Classic Emulation of Analog Sound

The sound of this app is stunning, hearkening back to the classic albums and science fiction TV shows of the early 70s. The VCS3 earned a reputation as a top notch synth for sound design instead of prog-like keyboard wizardry, and the iVCS3 is no exception. It is possible to lose hours playing around with the preset patches.

I was able to get cool results running some beats from DM1 into the iVCS3 with Audiobus, using the iVCS3’s filter and ring modulator circuitry. Once again, the preset patches were a godsend as far as getting things running. I’d recommend starting with a preset to make your own patches; wide varieties exist for most usage scenarios.

iVCS3 Screenshot with Audiobus

The iVCS3 app in action as an effect in an Audiobus session with DM1 providing the input. Screenshot by Author.

Speaking of presets, let’s talk about the data architecture around patches. The iVCS3 contains any number of banks which hold individual patches, called snapshots. It is possible to load 4 snapshots in each bank to the SnapPad, an X-Y controller that allows for real-time morphing between the snapshots — ala the Animoog.

The iVCS3 loves its Computing Power

Like many recent iOS music apps, the iVCS3 requires a fair amount of computing horsepower. It behaved mostly well on my iPad 2 with the latency set to 512 samples. Occasionally there were audio stutters, especially when switching between the synth and the sequencer. Apps like Korg Gadget, Stroke Machine, and iVCS3 have put an iPad Air in my future sooner than later.

The iVCS3 is a rich synth app with incredible sound and a stunning emulation of the unique hardware interface of an analog synth classic. Any musicians interested in vintage synths and edgy sound design need to head over to the App Store for a downloading session.


  1. Hi, I am a ideas consultant and patch preset designer for APESoft and we’re glad you’re enjoying iVCS3, many thanks for the great review, please feel free to ask us any questions that feel your readers might be interested in. We are currently designing and programming more #iVCS3 features and have more preset banks coming soon!