- When Korg released iElectribe for iPad back in April 2010, it felt like the beginning of something important. For the price of a night at the movies, iPad owners could download a groovebox with the same sound and function as a physical unit costing hundreds of dollars. The original app combined their seminal ER-1 MK2 with the physical layout and faux-tube distortion of its older brother, the ESX. There were a few gaps in that initial release—first on the list being the inability to sync with other devices via MIDI—but by and large the original iElectribe could be considered a hit. Over the next five years iElectribe saw periodic updates which, along with other feature enhancements, addressed the MIDI sync gap and kept things up to date with the changing iOS technology landscape. Despite these updates, iElectribe remained an iPad-only affair until this past September, when Korg introduced a new version for iPhone. The decision to release it as a separate app—rather than updating the original to Apple's Universal format, whereby a single app can run on any iOS device—had been controversial, so I was curious to discover what Korg had done to make the iPhone version worth its own price of admission.
When you launch the new app, one major difference is immediately obvious: there's a brand-new user interface, modelled more closely after the first version of the Korg ER-1 hardware. In addition to looking cleaner and more streamlined than the iPad app's user interface, this new layout maximises the iPhone's smaller screen by dropping space-wasting elements like the vacuum tube window. This more economical use of space certainly makes the app more usable than a straight-up Universal port would have been. However, not all of the sins of the past have been rectified. Korg kept the iPad versions' rather garish and unwieldy settings menu dialogue, a mismatched set of out-of-the-box iOS controls forced upon the user to perform simple tasks like setting the length of a pattern.
While the user experience of the settings menu may not be the best, there are a number of useful tools hiding within that show how far the iElectribe has come over the past five years. In addition to CoreMIDI support, Korg gives users the ability to sync devices with either their proprietary WIST technology or the cutting-edge Ableton Link, which was released to the public late last year. Link support is the star of the show here. It's an incredibly easy way to get multiple apps running on a single device—or on multiple devices across a wireless network—without the drift inherent to MIDI sync. Thanks to support for Inter-App Audio, you can also integrate iElectribe with other apps using AudioBus or shuttle audio to your DAW with StudioMux or Music IO. The settings menu also features the same offline audio export and patch backup tools of the original version, although I imagine those options will see less action given the availability of these newer apps.
Outside of the user interface overhaul, the synthesis and sequencing workflow of iElectribe for iPhone is largely unchanged from its iPad predecessor. You still get four voices of virtual analogue-modelled percussion synth and four PCM sample-based voices that can be sequenced using a pattern of up to 64 steps. The iPhone version increases the number of total patterns available by including 192 patterns from the original ER-1 and adding another 64 slots for storing user-generated patterns. The same selection of eight effects is available, and the chosen effect is enabled and disabled per part in the same, somewhat limited, manner of the original. One useful control that was removed as part of the UI redesign was the tube distortion gain knob, which is an especially odd omission since the spec page clearly states that Virtual Valve Force Tube Modelling is still available. Out of curiosity I tried sending a MIDI message via CC#10 (the Tube Gain MIDI CC from the iPad version) to iElectribe for iPhone and lo and behold, the display showed Tube Gain applying that characteristic distortion. This is a definite head scratcher; how am I supposed to achieve that Container-style grit on the bus without the knob to do it? I need answers, Korg.
The one real addition to the iElectribe's DSP backend is the addition of ring modulation. This puts the iPhone app in line with what the ER-1 MK2 synth engine boasted, and so what we ironically end up with is an iPad app that has MK2 looks with an MK1 engine, and an iPhone version that's the opposite. Regardless, ring modulation is a pretty nice tool to add to the box and it undoubtedly expands the scope of sound design possible with the app. If you're not familiar with ring modulation, it's a great way to make dissonant, robotic sounds that you wouldn't otherwise be able to create with the iElectribe's oscillators.
When all is said and done, I still believe iElectribe for iPhone to be a worthwhile investment, especially for anyone who doesn't own an iPad or uses their iPhone for music production. If you own a "Plus" version of the iPhone 6 or 6S, you've got more than enough room to work with thanks to the larger screen. Having said that, even the iPhone 5 didn't feel too small in my tests. Yet if you already own the iPad version, I'm not sure there's enough new stuff here to justify buying the same app for your iPhone.
Ease of use: 4.5