Going Further — AudioTechnology
Things are stepping up in the world of iOS audio. Greg Simmons updates ‘On The Go’, his story from 2018 about moving from laptop to iPad, with new solutions and new recommendations.
In August 2017 I bought a 10.5-inch iPad Pro and moved my life from laptop to iPad. Eight months earlier I’d given Sydney the finger as it disappeared beneath the clouds, and since then I’d been travelling around South East Asia recording and filming endangered music. My 15-inch MacBook Pro (early 2013 model) was getting too old and heavy for that lifestyle; moving to iOS was the most sensible option.
One year and many challenges later, I wrote about the process in ‘On The Go’. I described my reasons for moving to iOS, discussed the frustrations of making it work the way I assumed it should, and detailed the apps, hardware and workflows that allowed me to finish my recordings, sync them to video and upload them on-the-go while travelling.
I’ve shared ‘On The Go’ many times since it was published. Every time I share it the interest level from readers gets higher but the fundamental question remains the same: “how do I make it work for me?” Every time I start to answer that question I realise how quickly things are changing with iOS and the iPad Pro. Apps are getting more consistent with their terminology, it’s easier to transfer data in and out, and there are better third-party solutions aimed at content creators. The wireless solutions I recommended in ‘On The Go’ are no longer essential. So, what’s changed?
When the 10.5-inch iPad Pro was released in 2017, the exciting news was the forthcoming iOS11 with its drag-and-drop capabilities and the Files app, which is sort of like the Finder on MacOS. Before the Files app, moving a file had to be done from within an app that could access the file, but there was so much inconsistent terminology and different user interfaces between apps that moving a file always brought uncertainty – especially when using the apps made specifically to accompany third-party storage. Why can’t I move it there? Where did it actually go? Did I just move the file, or a copy of it? How many versions of this file are hiding in there, consuming valuable memory? The Files app allowed us to see inside and organise things to fit the way we wanted to work, rather than how the app designers thought we should work.
iOS11 was also the final stage of a transition to 64-bit processing in all iOS devices. The App Store has been rejecting 32-bit apps since 2015, and from iOS11 onwards only 64-bit apps are supported.
Major productivity improvements came in September 2019 with the release of iPadOS, a variation of iOS13 with features tweaked for iPad users. Three of those features closed the productivity gap between the iPad Pro and a laptop: an improved Share system, a greater emphasis on multitasking, and the ability to directly connect external drives and see them in the Files app.
The improved Share system has the familiar Share icon (a square with an arrow pointing out) that brings up an improved and expanded Share Sheet showing all the places the selected file can be shared to. It has a more organised layout, is more consistent between apps, and is customisable; a number of subtle changes that become significant with continued use.
iPadOS’s multitasking allows multiple apps to be used at once, either overlapping each other (Slide Over) or side-by-side (Split View). You can create numerous multitasking ‘spaces’, you can have the same app running different documents in different spaces, and you can even have two instances of the same app running side-by-side. I’m drafting this in the Notes app, and I’m using Split View with Safari alongside for researching and fact-checking. If I find an important URL, a useful text selection or an interesting picture I can drag it across from Safari to Notes in one simple move; just like sliding a coin across a table. It’s very intuitive in a ‘put that there’ manner…
My next computer is not a computer, and neither is my current one.
I do all of this stuff fast, as if I was starting a live mix without a soundcheck...
FILES APP & DRIVES
Seeing external drives in the Files app builds on Apple’s earlier decision to replace the Lightning port with USB-C, and is of huge value to people doing audio and video work. Finally, you can connect a USB drive or SD card directly to the iPad (via the appropriate adaptor/reader if necessary) and see it in the Files app, from where you can move files into folders, open them in apps and so on – just like you’ve always been able to do on every other platform. This is a dramatic improvement that simplifies the workflow, significantly reduces transfer times, and removes the need for all the wireless hardware solutions I’d recommended in ‘On The Go’. [See ‘Formatting External Drives’]
These changes don’t turn the iPad Pro into a laptop; rather, they bring it alongside the laptop or push it ahead – depending on your needs. They allow you to achieve the same or better levels of productivity on a smaller, lighter, cheaper and possibly smarter device that is silent (no fans), runs for at least nine hours on a single charge, and is a post-social media design in which wifi and cellular connections, GPS, gyroscopes, accelerometers, and multiple cameras, speakers and microphones are fundamental parts of its architecture. It knows where it is, it knows where it’s going, it knows which way is up, it knows when I’m talking to it, and it knows me when it sees me. As Apple says in its current marketing campaign: “Your next computer is not a computer”. That’s an interesting slogan from a company that’s been designing, manufacturing and selling computers for decades…
So what’s changed for me since ‘On The Go’? I’m still travelling around South East Asia recording and filming endangered music, and I’m still doing it with a matched pair of Sennheiser MKH800 microphones, a Nagra Seven field recorder, Etymotic ER4 microPro canal phones and a Sony RX100 MkIII camera. I’m still loading everything into the same 10.5-inch iPad Pro for post-production, but that’s all done with direct transfers from SD cards now. I cannot remember the last time I made a wireless connection to the hardware solutions recommended in ‘On The Go’: specifically, the SanDisk Connect wireless USB stick, the Toshiba FlashAir wireless SD card and the Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro wireless hard disk.
I still use the Western Digital, but only to back up SD cards and as a power bank. It travels with me as far as home base, but I rarely take it into the field any more. If I was starting again, I’d consider the Gnarbox 2.0 SSD or the Sandisk Extreme SSD. The Gnarbox 2.0 is the same concept as the Western Digital, but is a premium second-generation device, and its firmware and supporting apps are iPadOS-aware. It allows backup of SD cards and USB drives, offers wireless and wired connections to the iPad Pro, and comes in capacities from 256GB to 1TB. The Sandisk Extreme SSD is a ruggedised SSD with capacities from 256GB to 2TB. It does not do automatic SD card backups or wireless connections, but it’s much smaller, lighter and cheaper than the Western Digital or the Gnarbox 2.0. As long as there’s some memory space available on-board the iPad Pro the backups could be done manually, ie. copy from SD card to iPad Pro, transfer from iPad Pro to SSD, and then delete from iPad Pro to reclaim the memory. [See ‘Formatting External Drives’]
I’ve added an Insta360 One X camera and a Shure MV88 microphone to the rig. These are both ‘iOS aware’ products supported with clever apps, and their benefits outweigh their weight.
Because iPadOS changed the way external storage is accessed, it also affected apps that use external storage – such as audio and video editing apps. Some developers embraced the changes and adapted quickly. Others have not been so fast, and some have given up altogether. It’s been a good filtering process.
In ‘On The Go’ I mentioned three apps that formed the core of my iOS audio/video workstation: AudioShare, Auria Pro and Lumafusion Touch. I’ll revisit them below, followed by recent additions and recommendations.
AudioShare remains indispensable for working with audio files. It offers previewing, duplicating, re-naming, normalising, trimming, fading, and sample rate conversion. It’s one of the places that most audio apps will default to when opening or saving files, and it shows up as a Location in the Files app. It is essentially an audio version of the Photos app.
Auria Pro remains one of the most powerful and best-sounding DAWs on iOS, and my copy is loaded with apps from FabFilter. It looks and feels dated and ‘desktoppy’ in comparison to Steinberg’s Cubasis 3 but it is better suited to my needs, for now at least…
LumaFusion Touch is an excellent video editing app from the people behind Pinnacle Studio. It has grown considerably since ‘On The Go’ and now offers six video tracks with embedded audio and six audio-only tracks, along with a heap of on-going improvements and new features. It integrates directly with popular external storage devices, and requires only the desired segments of video footage to be loaded into the iPad’s memory rather than the entire files.
Cubasis 3 is an inspiring DAW from Steinberg that takes advantage of all the features of iPadOS, supports AUv3 plug-ins, offers Steinberg and Waves plug-ins as in-app purchases, and also runs on iPhones. If Cubasis 3 offered control over the shape of the fade curves along with the ability to resize the waveform displays to fill unused screen space, I’d be saying goodbye to Auria Pro (unless the latter allowed users to reclaim wasted screen space by hiding unused subgroups).
Auditor is an ambitious new audio editor with a lot of potential. There’s a huge range of actions available and the app looks and feels very professional. It also offers batch file processing and a useful spectrograph display, but at present it does not run AUv3 plug-ins.
Twisted Wave and Ferrite Recording Studio have loyal followings, especially among those working with voice (podcasters, voiceovers, etc.). Twisted Wave can run AUv3 plug-ins in a ‘Preview/Apply’ manner, and is also available in browser form and as an app for MacOS (which is the most powerful version and probably the force behind its loyal following). Ferrite is aimed at podcasting and radio journalism, but is finding users in other areas.
Final Touch and Grand Finale are stand-alone mastering apps offering multiband compression, EQ, spatial processing and so on. Final Touch is clearly inspired by iZotope’s Ozone and is good when you need to get analytical and surgical. In contrast, Grand Finale offers an intelligently simplified interface, along with LUFS metering for getting your on-line streaming levels right.
Bark Filter is primarily a mastering plug-in. It’s a multiband compressor with 27 bands corresponding to the critical bands of human hearing (hence, the Bark scale). Plug it in, select the ‘Tripleband’ preset and stand back. You’ll be glad you bought it.
DirectionalEQ is a five-band full-parametric EQ plug-in with a difference: each band can be panned to affect a specific position within the stereo image. For example, in a direct-to-stereo recording it allows me to tame an upper midrange peak in a vocal at mid-left without adversely affecting the tone of a hand drum at hard left or a vocal in the centre.
Brusfri is a remarkable noise reduction app that works standalone or as a plug-in. It’s very effective at removing continuous background sounds such as hiss, hum and buzz without adding any artefacts, but it’s not designed for removing clicks, pops and similar transient sounds.
AUM is a flexible audio mixer and connection hub that allows you to connect hardware I/O, AUv3 plug-ins, Inter-App Audio apps, Audiobus, AudioShare, sound file players, DAWs and MIDI control. It’s perfect for creating unique signal flows for live performance, mastering and recording.
Filmic Pro turns your iOS device into a video camera with control over frame rate, shutter speed, focus, ISO and white balance, along with focus peaking, histogram, zebra pattern, colour profiles and more. If you’re into mobile videography, it’s essential.
And it’s all done on-the-spot with a device that saved me $2000 and 2kg of weight...
My workflow is now fast enough that I can easily do what I imagined in ‘On The Go’: trek to a remote village, record and film an elderly villager performing some endangered music, and leave them with a finished copy. Here’s how it goes…
Immediately after recording/filming I connect the SD cards to the iPad Pro, preview them in the Files app and transfer what I need. The 96k audio files go to AudioShare, where they’re re-named, trimmed and perhaps normalised. If they need any serious on-the-spot audio work I’ll transfer them to Final Touch or Auria Pro, depending on what is needed.
Final Touch is essentially the same as iZotope’s Ozone, so you can imagine what sort of processing I’d choose it for. If I choose Auria Pro the processing is typically FabFilter’s ProQ2 for a carefully-tuned HPF and general EQ, followed by DDMF’s DirectionalEQ to address tonal things at specific places in the stereo image, followed by subtle use of VirSyn’s Bark Filter multiband processor to bring it all together.
From Final Touch or Auria Pro I’ll bounce the mastered version back into AudioShare, convert it to 48k for video, import it into Lumafusion Touch, and sync it with the footage from the Sony RX100 MkIII. After a quick bit of colour grading in LumaFusion (if necessary), I’ll connect a USB stick or SD card (or make a connection to their phone) and give the performers a copy. It’s quick and basic, but it’s magic to people who have never been professionally filmed and recorded.
I do all of this stuff fast, as if I was starting a live mix without a soundcheck, because it doesn’t have to be perfect – it just has to be good enough to leave with the performers, knowing that the odds of returning later with a highly polished version are very low. And it’s all done on-the-spot with a device that saved me $2000 and 2kg of weight compared to upgrading my laptop to do the same thing.
Despite the positive spin I’ve created, I doubt I’ve answered the common readers’ question of “how do I make it work for me?” I’ve explained how I use it, and qualified that with the context I use it in and the reasons why I made the change. It is far easier to make the change now than it was in August 2017; iOS is better, the apps are better and the hardware is better.
Nonetheless, the decision to move from laptop to iOS should not be taken lightly. The core hardware is fundamentally different and iOS itself began life as a user interface for the iPod Touch and the iPhones, so it’s a very different user experience – a bit like the first time you used MacOS or Windows after years on DOS or CP/M. There are times when solutions or actions are so intuitive and obvious they’re hiding in plain sight, and times when you’ll bang your head against a wall because it does not work the way you assumed it would. iOS requires new ways of thinking and new working methods, and with those come new possibilities and new limitations. For my purposes, the possibilities outweigh the limitations.
I wrote ‘On The Go’ in September 2018, about one year after moving from laptop to iPad Pro. A lot has changed since then; my post-production workflows are simpler and faster, and I no longer need those wireless devices to make it work. I don’t think the iPad’s original designers – who envisioned a wireless device for a wireless world – expected users to be transferring and editing large video files, let alone trying to make complete music videos on the go.
All of the changes since iOS11 indicate Apple’s recognition that iPad Pro users are doing much more with their devices than anticipated, and the files they’re working with are growing in size faster than wireless speeds and affordable cloud storage can keep up. Instead of keeping the iPad Pro hog-tied and pigeon-holed in the hope of selling more expensive laptops, Apple enabled it to go where people were pushing it – and it’s going there. My next computer is not a computer, and neither is my current one.