From the Novation offshoot team who brought us Blocs Wave comes a fabulous looking beats studio for iOS called Groovebox. Blocs Wave was good but limited in what you could achieve with it. Groovebox looks like a much bigger deal, so much so that the developers decided to leave the Blocs name behind and rebrand as “Ampify” (yes, the missing “l” is intentional – I bet they’ll get asked that a lot).
Can’t believe that name’s not been used before – good catch! Groovebox is a music making app for iOS 10 compatible and above iPhones and iPads. It’s packed with synths and drum machines a bit like Gadget from Korg. The app starts off as being free with three built-in instruments. There’s the “Drumbox” drum machine, “Retrobass” bass synth and the “Poly-8” polysynth.
Load up an instrument and you initially select a preset that comes with a preloaded pattern. So it feels like you’re making music before you’ve started. You can quickly bin the pattern and get on with the task of building your own tunes – which is dead easy in Groovebox. Hit the “Rec” button and off you go. I found that the metronome was a bit hidden away under a menu and didn’t automatically kick in when I went to record a new drum pattern. Needs a toggle button on the front screen. You can play in a real-time loop, tapping away at the drum icons or simplified keyboard. Or you can enter notes into a grid style step sequencer.
There are plenty of options for tempo, key and musical scale. You can restrict the keyboard to 3, 5 or 7 note scales, covering a handful of musical modes. It makes it very easy to get your bass lines and leads to sound great.
The synthesizers have been developed with Novation and the sounds, patterns and presets have been crafted by that magical band of world-class sound designers. From my messing about with it on an iPhone I can testify that it sounds pretty brilliant to me. The design and workflow is very smooth and simple to navigate. Ableton Link is included and just sort of works in the alarmingly easy way that it does. There’s Ableton Export for sending projects directly to Live, or you can export as a zip file for use in other software. It’s a doddle.
For all the free goodness of Groovebox you can get a lot more done by throwing it some of your money. The instruments can all be expanded with drum packs, presets and patterns available as in-app purchases from 99p to £1.99. But you also have to “unlock” each instrument to access anything more than the basic controls. £4.99 will give you 5 pages of synth editing on the Retrobass and Poly-8, whereas it will buy you effects and sample editing on the Drumbox. So, really it’s a 15 quid music making app which is probably about right.
I confess to being underwhelmed by Blocs Wave. They made a big fuss about this innovative team that Novation put together after the success of Launchpad for iOS and I was disappointed that Blocs was the result of all that promise. Groovebox is a bit more like it. I’m not sure that it’s innovative but it works brilliantly and offers a smooth and creative workflow for messing around with beats and synths. There’s more to come (so I’m told) in terms of MIDI support, swing and chromatic scales along with possible instruments – groovy!