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.
What errant nonsense and dangerous to boot. The dumbing down of music and musical product began with Crapple. And there is plenty of evidence to support that statement. Crapple has sold their clever lie ‘it works’ to the audio world for 20 odd years which has allowed errant button pushers to peddle their inferior product and worse allow these errant button pushers to think they’re composers and musicians. Lev Manovich was right – Crapple machines are media consumption machines and not creation machines. And let’s not forget the biggest issue with Crapple – for the most part their machines are nothing more than paper weights in comparison to a similar PC product. How about a Gigabyte Aero 15 inch laptop…roughly the same size as an ICrap. You can use a H6 from Zoom as interface. Roughly the same amount of kit for traveling…more power though and much easier to do actual work on…like audio editing. With a decent phone for vid.
Wow Benjamin … you really come out swinging in your response – but it seems to be more of a vague flailing dogma than addressing specifics of what I thought was a reasonably qualified approach in particular circumstances. But you could best advance your argument by presenting your own substantial achievements in the field … or just chill a little and lower the volume.
Yes Benjamin seems to have an extensive body of work and seems to rely on very basic plug-ins for his graphics: https://1331.space/
I’m 62 and have been working in audio most of my life, and I have to say that this comment is probably about the most ridiculous, stuck in the past, backwards attitude that I think I’ve heard for a very long time. This is the the future. No, this is the now, and it’s only going to get better. C’mon man, if you consider yourself to be an audio professional of any kind, get with the program, or get left behind in the cobwebs of the past.
Why do you consider it ‘dangerous’, Benjamin?
Greg, I love your setup… realising the potential and meaning of “Ultra portability” Travelling light is hard to come by especially if one was to capture audio in the most remote areas.
Thank Conan! Sorry for taking so long to reply…
It is easy to underestimate just how important it is to keep things light, because it all adds up and, as I often say when trekking with equipment, “every kilo becomes a tonne”.
Sometimes I think I’m overdoing it (or should I say “underdoing it”?) but then I talk with someone who also travels and records and we exchange notes, solutions and ideas. For example, I recently spoke with Tim Cole, and for the Small Island Big Song project he saved weight by not taking microphone stands; improvising on the spot using stick stuck into the ground, or hanging mics over branches!
We all find ways to make it work, and, in the process, determine what we consider priorities and what we can get by without. Even though I’ve been doing this for years, I often lay in bed wondering how I could simplify the rig further – change equipment, imagine a stereo bar that would allow me to set up faster, and things like that…
Wow Greg! What a blast.. I wonder how 5G may enhance or change your program? I’m early 70’s been in and out of the music biz most of that and over th last decade discovered I could write good lyrics and reasonable songs which I’ve been creating on an iPhone. I just play guitar sing and or add free stuff off the net. So I’m having fun but want to take it further. my age qualifies me as endangered. Tried DAW and wasted money and time an discovered I’m no geek. But I’m keen on the audio side. I get bored quickly if stuff bogs me down and stops the feel for the songwriting flow. What you’ve offered here is fast. But shit I’m gonna have to sell a lot of redundant stuff – who pays you I wondered. My good lady has commented on my ‘studio’. Somehow I’ve painted myself into a cnr. on this one. What’s your all up cost if you were to maybe just pay attention to audio? Where do you intend making your admirable efforts available to public?
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I’ll go through your questions one at a time, Franke…
“I wonder how 5G may enhance or change your program?”
I don’t think it will affect me much in the field while making the recordings and doing the on-the-spot post-production, but it should improve upload speeds to Google Drive, iCloud, Youtube, etc.
“My age qualifies me as endangered.”
LOL!! We’re all endangered; the sooner we realise it, the sooner we get on with pursuing our passions.
“I get bored quickly if stuff bogs me down and stops the feel for the songwriting flow.”
Yes, technology can easily get in the way. That’s why I use the Nagra 7 rather than a laptop; I turn it on and it’s ready to put into record mode in about 10 seconds. That’s important when working with people who don’t understand why it is taking more than two minutes to record a two minute song. Of course, there’s still all the time required to set up the mics, run cables and so on, but I’ve learnt how to create distractions to keep them interested and take their mind off what I’m doing.
“What you’ve offered here is fast.”
It’s fast for me, but I’m determined to make it work and tend to work best with a bit of pressure (like, “if I don’t finish this and get out of here within the next hour, I’m going to be trekking through the jungle in the dark”). However, if you are just going to be using one or two mics and an iPad to record in a consistent performance situation (i.e. yourself singing with guitar), then it’s really just a matter of remembering workflow and what to do next. The objective side of it at least can be turned into a series of steps that should always bring you the same results – unless there’s a major app or iOS upgrade of course!
“But shit I’m gonna have to sell a lot of redundant stuff – who pays you I wondered.”
If you end up with a system that works for you, then you should consider selling off or even giving away the redundant stuff. Otherwise it just sits there housing dust bunnies.
I self-fund my expeditions so that no-one is pulling my strings; except for one early last year which I crowdfunded through Pozible to record the endangered music of the Moken, aka Sea Gypsies of the Andaman Sea (see the opening pic of this article). Some of my expeditions are educational, where people pay to come with me and I add a lot of other things like lectures, workshops and so on, and that tends to offset the costs.
“What’s your all up cost if you were to maybe just pay attention to audio?”
If you mean the cost of the audio side of my rig, that’s quite expensive because most of the components are premium products. You could achieve very acceptable results with much less expensive equipment of the same type.
Rather than going through my stuff, it might be wiser to look at what would work for you as a singer/songwriter/guitarist. I’m hesitant to recommend too much without more information about what you do and how you think you’d like to do it, but if you’re interested in an iPhone or iPad solution then you should definitely get on to Youtube and check out Apogee’s HypeMiC and MiC+ (both mono), along with Shure’s stereo MV88 (or MV88+ if your device doesn’t have a headphone socket) and some of the other mics in their Motive range. Most of those can plug straight into an iOS device and record to whatever DAW or audio app you want to use. Or, if you like the idea of recording to a dedicated recording device and then transferring it into an iPad or laptop (as I do) there are plenty of options there as well. If you like the idea of recording yourself ‘live’ in one take with singing and guitar, the dedicated recording device is a good option because you can set up your mics and recorder and leave them set up, ready to record whenever the creativity hits you. Capture it while it’s fresh, and do all the other stuff later.
“Where do you intend making your admirable efforts available to public?”
As widely as possible on line…
My big focus these days is on Endangered Music, and to that end I am slowly building a collection of stuff. At present it is focused on the Moken (the Sea Gypsies of the Andaman Sea), and on the hill tribes of Northern Laos. There’s a bit of endangered stuff from Bali as well, but I did that for another organisation with similar goals and don’t really consider it ‘mine’.
There is a lot of stuff but none of it is complete yet. Just about every recording has something that needs to be done before it’s ready to go: translations, interpretations, subtitles, sound and video/lighting issues, and so on. Subtitles are one of the major obstacles; if I cannot get them done on the day, then they have to wait until I can get back there. That is particularly time consuming with the Moken because some of them live on islands that are only accessible to the public for a number of hours per day, and a number of months of the year. So if I miss one season, I have to wait…
I plan to have an Endangered Music website along with a Youtube channel, a Facebook page, an Instagram page, etc. The whole point of this project is that the recordings and videos have to be easy to find and free to access, so that the people who need it the most (the people whose cultures are dying out) can find it with just a Google search or similar.
If you’re interested, here’s a link to one of the works-in-progress for your enjoyment – or boredom, whatever! This is from the Phou Noi ethnic group in the hills of Northern Laos. On this day I had two friends with me who both had cameras, so I got a few different angles to choose from. In this video I have literally thrown all the pieces into one place with no editing, just to remind me of what I’ve got. You’ll see all the false starts due to problems with chickens and people talking and so on. None of it is finished and it’s not the kind of thing I’d be sharing except that people have told me they enjoy it because it shows the whole process.
And this video I made early last year to promote the crowd-funding campaign for recording the songs of the Moken. That campaign is now finished but it explains the story behind my ‘endangered music’ project. It has some subtle sound sync issues that I totally missed until later. I remember causing them, but I forgot to go back and fix them. Doh! Still, it was a temporary video for a crowdfunding campaign and it needed to go live by a certain time, and it did.
I hope you found some of this interesting, Franke!
Is there anywhere we can view the videos you’re producing?
They’re all still works in progress, unfortunately, and covid hasn’t helped at all.
Subtitles is the biggest challenge; if I cannot get translations and interpretations sorted on the day or while I’m in the area, I have to put them aside for next time.
My current focus is on the endangered music of the Moken ethnic group (aka Sea Gypsies of the Andaman Sea), and also on some of the ethnic minority groups living in the hills of Northern Laos – the Phou Noi, the Khmu, the Lanten and the Sida.
I will put some links in the following reply. They are to works of progress, mostly put together in a hurry on-the-spot to give to the performers and/or to get subtitles done. They are by no means finished, most are just the raw video footage synced with the raw audio files so I had something to work with and to hand back to the performers. In some the subtitles might go off the edge of the edge of the screen, simply due to doing it on the spot with a local translator and needing to move fast. I will fix those types of things before they are disseminated. The important thing is that I’ve got the translation and interpretation.
See next reply…
Please do not share or otherwise disseminate these beyond here. All rights are reserved between me and the performers. I always pay the performers for all of the recordings/videos I make, and I own the mechanical rights to them. That means if any part of these end up in someone else’s music or video without my permission, there will be lawyers involved. [I have to put that awkward little qualifier in because it’s amazing how many people seem to think they can just take this stuff and use it with impunity on the assumption it belongs to ethnic groups with no legal representation.]
This video features Moken musicians Tat and Sabai Klatalae of the Surin Islands off the West coast of Thailand. Sabai is blind (possibly due to cataracts) and so you will notice Tat prompting her with his hand at the start and end. I have captured many songs from these two, but this is my favourite. It’s called ‘Baap’ and is about summoning the spirits of the sea and the spirits of their ancestors for safe passage.
This video is Tat and Sabai talking about their lives. You will hear themes of displacement and of infant deaths that tend to recur with many of the older people I record and film.
This is the ‘famous’ 100 Year Old Woman from one of the villages in Northern Laos. She is from the Khmu Kwan tribe and, as it turns out, is doing her own version of what I’m doing: collecting local music and trying to keep it alive. She could not sing well on that day. I had planned to go back and meet her again, but covid got in the way. I hope she is still there when I make it back. I had two, maybe three cameras on this, this footage uses just one of them. There is one directly in front of her as well but it’s not seen here.
And finally, this is Phoud from the Phou Noi (small people) of Northern Laos. She starts off with a short life history, then eventually we get to a song. I had two friends with me on this visit, so we had three cameras in total. For this video I quickly threw in footage from all three cameras to remind me that I’ve got more than one camera angle to choose from. It is not edited at all, and I’ve left in all the false starts and so on with me in it for now, just to give people a feel for how these sessions go – because communicating is often difficult! Of course, in the final version I will take that stuff out. I need to return to her village with a translator to finish the subtitles.
I hope you enjoy these. This last one I made for the crowdfunding project I did back in February of last year. It’s a bit rough and there are some audio/video sync issues at the start. I remember what I did that caused them, but I forgot to go back and fix them before uploading in time for the deadline for when the campaign went live. Nonetheless, it should give you the idea…
Oh, I should’ve put this one in as well. When I had finished with Seng Boun (the 100 Year Old Lady) and had started packing up, she had a burst of energy and started singing randomly. Thankfully, we captured some of it with a camera with a Rode shotgun on top. Here: