Auria raised a lot of eyebrows at last January's NAMM show when it was shown in early prototype form. A real multitrack DAW for the iPad, complete with third-party plug-ins? It seemed impossible, or at least overly ambitious. Could Auria possibly do all it claimed?
In a stroke of good timing, just as we started production on our "DAWs of 2012" issue in early July 2012, the app came out of beta and was submitted to Apple for inclusion in the App Store. While the folks at WaveMachine Labs awaited Apple's approval, they were kind enough to provide John Rossi III with an advance copy to review. Auria has been approved and is now available on the App Store as of a few days before press time; we are pleased to bring you this early look at the app based on two weeks of tests. Take it away, John! -- Ed.
I've been dabbling in iDevices, and especially music applications that run on them, for several years now, and from my early iPod touch to my current iPad retina I have become enamored of the many useful and high-quality musical apps available to the iCommunity. Still, it was a major shock when, about two weeks ago, I received Auria from Rim Buntinas at WaveMachine Labs. If you don't know what Auria is, it is a full featured digital audio workstation (DAW) with 24-track simultaneous recording and 48-track playback. From the moment I turned it on, I was immediately convinced that this is the hottest musical app ever to make it to the iPad, and my conviction has only grown stronger through my initial tests.
My two weeks of testing the app consisted primarily of working with supplied audio files-there are some generous demo tracks provided with Auria that are exceptional for learning purposes. Just before the end of my review period, I was able to obtain a PreSonus AudioBox 1818VSL, which tops the list of approved USB 2.0 audio interfaces tested with Auria, and do some 18-track audio recording tests with it. While that part of the test period was short, I was able to confirm that Auria does in fact record at least that many tracks of audio, and does so with very high recording quality.
With that said, I will now step back to my tests with the provided audio files, which were certainly sufficient to see how Auria handles the many tasks done by a DAW after the audio is captured, i.e. editing, effects processing, and mixdown. Time to play...
So what comes in the package?
First and foremost, you get a 48-channel professional DAW-one that runs on an iPad, I might add. You get all of the features you would expect to receive in a DAW (except for MIDI) at audio quality up to 24-bit/96 kHz. If you own an original iPad, the best you can do is 24 tracks at 48 kHz.
The centerpiece of Auria is its track mixer. Along with faders, two aux sends, eight subgroups, pan (with adjustable pan laws), and transport readiness functions as well as track arming, solo and mute, each input channel provides a PSP channel strip, combining a 6-band equalizer (3-band parametric), an expander, and a compressor with side chaining. Each subgroup and master channel strip provides the PSP Masterstrip which provides PSP's new BussPressor as well as an eq and a mastering limiter. There are lots more plug-ins available both bundled with Auria and as options; see below.
The app runs in landscape or portrait mode. If you rotate to portrait mode, fewer channels are visible but they're larger and easier to work with (Auria says that in this mode the faders have a familiar 100 mm throw). Auria has an excellent transport section with complete facilities for auto punch, and dedicated subwindows for automation, track editing, etc.
One of my first irritations when working with Auria was in performing actions on the mixing screen. Sometimes attempting to turn knobs on the mixer will allow the page to slide around. Fortunately there's a simple fix: pressing and holding any of the fader tops locks the page in place, as does getting a grip on a knob (the screen won't slide while you're turning it).
Editing and track export functions
Auria gives you all of the general processing functions that any DAW should have, among them multiple controls over gain, selective normalization, control over DC offset, track reversing and silencing. From within Auria's editor, you get probably the most easy to use and intuitive editing tools available in the industry -- certainly on iOS, perhaps on any platform. Independently of the iOS-centric things Auria can do with audio, it incorporates a number of bread-n-butter edit functions. All of the standards are here: cut, copy, paste, delete track, delete region, delete control point, crossfade, duplicate, etc., with undo and redo (Auria remembers more than one undo operation but can't display an undo history list).
Fading audio is a thing of beauty in Auria. Four nondestructive fade types are available, linear plus both fast and slow exponential fades as well as an 's'-curve fade that is non-linear and slows the fade differently at different points in the fade. In addition to standard fades Auria has provided a rich assortment of crossfades, among them exponential and 's'-curve.
Every DAW enthusiast demands automation and Auria serves it up in an understandable and usable form. Every channel or plug-in window has automation controls, and you have a full graphical interface for editing automation data after it's recorded as well as simple Read and Write buttons on every mixer channel. Other features under the hood include delay compensation, adjustable meter modes, sample-accurate looping, sample rate conversion, track freeze, and way more.
Plug-ins for iOS? Yes!
In addition to the channel strip plug-ins, Auria comes bundled with some valuable insert effects processors as Auria VST plug-ins (a special iOS version of VST). You can put up to four insert plug-ins on every channel.
First, the PSP StereoChorus is very luxurious and is capable of rendering the chorusing effect on par with anything I've heard. Similarly, the PSP StereoDelay is very CPU efficient and and will render any delay effect you could imagine.
A simple reverb is provided in the from of the PSP ClassicVerb; it's primarily of use when you need a simple reverb and must keep power consumption to a minimum. When you want higher quality at the cost of more CPU power, Auria provides a convolution reverb which to my ears rivals convolution reverbs that sell for ten times the entire cost of Auria (with extra impulse response packs from companies like MoReVoX available in-app for a few dollars each). There's even a pitch-correction plug-in from Mu Technologies called ReTune.
In addition, optional plug-ins are available for the Auria platform as in-app purchases. WaveMachine Labs has ported over its exceptional Drumagog 5, easily the most famous drum replacement software around. Also available is the PSP Audioware Echo. I love this echo; it allows the nicest syncopations and can add color through a Doppler control. PSP Audioware has also ported over its PSP VintageWarmer to Auria in the form of PSP MicroWarmer, which really does take out that digital chill.
FabFilter has ported its Micro filter and Pro-Q equalizer, providing that unique FabFilter treatment for a very affordable price. Finally, when you thought you had all the insert effects you could use in a DAW, Overloud has ported to Auria its THM collection of virtual guitar modeling effects containing 10 amplifier emulations, 8 cabinets, 8 microphones, and 7 pedals.
Enough of the generalities, time to mess with some songs...
Using Auria to greatly alter a mix
The first little ditty in the supplied demos was called "I Only Wanted". Recorded on 32 tracks at 44.1 kHz, it ran a little over 3 minutes. The 700 MB file loaded from RAM in a few seconds, and then the fun commenced: listening, playing, and seeing if I could make it distort (in an unfriendly way). I put myself in the position of a producer working with a band's tracks to create a song with a particular mood or vision in mind-the same set of tracks can come out sounding very different depending on who does what with them. Since the whole purpose of this exercise was to put Auria through her paces, what better way than to actually use the program to alter the tracks that were present and create my own version of the song?
On first listen I felt that the song's mood was a bit "down", so I thought I'd use several of the included plug-ins to sculpt it a bit to make it more energetic and more cohesive. The PSP channel strips came very handy when placed on the more natural instruments such as guitars, keys, and vocals, as well as loops in the mixing buses.
When I sat the fabfilter Pro-Q on the vocals my eyes practically glazed over, the smoothness of the effect sounded unreal. One more thing was lacking that I noticed -- even with the Pro-Q, the lead vocalist needed something to give him emphasis and it shouldn't come from a frequency-varying effect. I found the PSP StereoDelay a godsend. This may be the most sounding natural delay effect I've ever heard, and the way it smoothly integrated with Auria was amazing.
Playing with editing features
A second demo I looked at was "The Rubens (untitled)". This is a much more uplifting track that I felt needed no 'mangling'; it was the perfect track to play while working with Auria's sound editing capabilities because all the sonic elements were predictable.
If you have ever experienced a track editor in a modern DAW you would be familiar with how Auria's works. However, being run on an iOS device with a multitouch graphical work surface, your interaction with Auria is directly through your fingers. Not having to grab a mouse or a trackball, all editing is much more fluid and intuitive. Many modern DAWs have made supposedly-simple edit operations such as 'cut and place' or 'cut and delete' amazingly frustrating; not so in Auria. The intuitive slide, pinch and mark operations familiar to all iOS users have totally revolutionized these editing processes. You have to touch it to believe it.
As with working on the mixer, I initially had some trouble with edit regions slip-sliding around. I soon found that a single slap opens the edit region and locks the region for easy editing.
File management and more
Of course, in a limited memory device such as an iPad, memory and file management is a must. I have an iPad retina-display with 64 GB of RAM; that should keep me going for a time. However, in the world of cheap multi-Terabyte disk storage, provisions must be made for project backup and file sharing, and Auria offers several options there.
Sessions can be exported to another app using Sonoma Wire Works' AudioCopy/AudioPaste. Data can be moved to and from the Internet in Dropbox and songs can be exported to SoundCloud. AAF support means you can import and export complete sessions to and from DAWs; I didn't get a chance to test this.
One very interesting feature of Auria is its ability to play video. This capability is available as an in-app purchase, and provides functionality not seen in some other full-featured DAWs. The video module provides sample accurate sync and adjustable offset times. Video can be exported from Auria.
Finally, there are a few iOS-specific features, like WIST wireless sync with other apps over Bluetooth or AuriaLink which syncs two iPads running Auria for up to 96 tracks of playback.
Some final thoughts
As hard as I find it to believe, I'm evaluating a $50 product (not including the optional plug-ins or video support) and holding it up to the same standards as computer-based DAWs costing far more, yet I find myself with practically nothing to gripe about... except for my one wish that when you tapped a knob it doubled in size and popped up. This is not a specific criticism of Auria, but a general comment about iOS music apps in general. Round knobs are hard to control on a multitouch screen, especially by fat-fingered musicians.
If this DAW existed anywhere but on an iPad it would sell for at least five times as much. It's really that good. My only regret is that I didn't have more time to work with it... but I might talk the Editors into letting me do a followup with more test results.
Price: $49.99; in-app purchases range from $4.99 to $19.99
More from: WaveMachine Labs, www.auriaapp.com
John Rossi III (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a recording engineer and musician living and working in Naples, FL. John (and the Editors) would like to thank Rim Buntinas of WaveMachine Labs for giving Recording a head start on the review, and Allen Goodman for a few last-minute clarifications as the review went to press.