Given how well Apple's mobile devices lend themselves to software control, it should come as no surprise that new controller apps are hitting the iTunes App Store on a regular basis.
The last month has seen the launches of Griid (£14.99) and touchAble (£9.99), two brand new wireless controllers aimed at iPad-owning Ableton Live users (there's an iPhone version of Griid, too). Griid is the first app from Berlin-based software developer Liine, and was created in conjunction with Canadian techno legend Richie Hawtin.
Its main rival, touchAble, comes from AppBC and courtesy of programmer Christian Blomert (coincidentally also based in the German capital) in partnership with French producer Sylvain "Le K" Garcia.
At the time of writing Griid is only compatible with Live for Mac, but we're told full Windows support should be arriving "very soon". touchAble, which was released yesterday, works on both platforms.
The setup processes for each app are broadly similar and, thankfully, fairly straightforward in both cases. A software patch is applied to Live in order to add control surface scripts, then it's simply a case of adjusting a few settings in the software before establishing a wireless network connection and getting started.
Griid requires a couple of settings to be made in your Mac's Audio MIDI Setup utility, while Windows users should note that touchAble also requires the installation of MIDI-OX's free MIDI Yoke utility for signal routing.
The setup process for each app is relatively simple. Griid requires you to install the Griid Connector application and adjust some basic MIDI settings.
In addition, both apps require software to be installed on your host computer; the Griid Connector must be run every time you use the app, while the touchAble Server application is only required for Pads and Keys functionality.
touchAble's interface is a little more cluttered than Griid's, but the feature set is significantly more complex.
Griid is the first instalment of Liine's modular Ableton control system. Liine is remaining tight-lipped about the details of forthcoming modules, but we imagine device controls and mixing features are likely at some point in the near future. As things stand, the main Griid module simply functions as a clean, intuitive clip launcher.
Three versions of the app are available. At £14.99, Griid Pro for iPad is fairly priced, but there are two more options to consider. Griid for iPhone and iPod Touch comes in at a very reasonable £3.49. The features are identical, but the interface is optimised for the smaller screen, offering a maximum of 48 clips on screen at once in portrait mode (as opposed to 128 on the iPad).
Griid's clip launching interface is clear and effective. A doddle for anyone familiar with Live's session view.
Alternatively, Griid Lite for iPhone is really intended as a free demo version. Displaying just 16 clips in landscape and 18 in portrait, it'll also run in compatibility mode on the iPad so you can try before you buy.
touchAble is an all-in-one Ableton controller with plenty of tricks up its sleeve. In addition to clip launching, the app offers mixing features, device controls, MPC-style pads and on-screen keyboards. The mixer section includes real-time metering, effects send levels, solo and arm buttons, pan controls and instant reset buttons for key parameters.
touchAble's on-screen keyboards and MPC-style pads are a nice touch, offering hands-on control of your devices.
Dedicated transport controls include tempo nudge, overdub and metronome buttons, headphone level control and access to play and record quantisation settings. A separate menu enables pitch, loop, length and position parameters to be adjusted for individual clips. Clearly, touchAble is a seriously powerful tool.
Griid couldn't be much easier to get to grips with. The clip grid mirrors Live's Session view, with all clip names and colours instantly imported. Response is lightning fast - tap a clip or a Scene and it's instantly cued up for playback. Tracks are stopped by selecting empty clip slots or by holding down the Stop button in the top right hand corner and selecting tracks.
Larger sets can be navigated in Griid using a handy overview. Tap anywhere to jump straight to that section of your set.
touchAble is significantly more complex. The Clips, Mixer, Devices, Keys and Pads buttons running down the right hand side of the screen enable you to jump between the five modes.
One of the nicest features of touchAble is the flexibility of the interface. The app only runs in landscape, but the top and bottom halves of the screen can be adjusted independently. Pads on the top half and mixer on the bottom half? No problem.
It's a neat setup, but the touchAble interface still gets cluttered or text-heavy at times. Editing device parameters in particular is far from user friendly.
touchAble's plus sign-shaped navigation cross makes things easy to navigate, and it's also possible to drag the set around when viewing clips or devices. Griid would benefit from the ability to navigate by dragging, but scrolling the track and scene title bars is smooth and easy. The overview mode, activated by tapping the bottom right corner of the screen, makes it even easier to jump around large sets.
touchAble's mixer section offers two modes. Here we're controlling two parameters for eight tracks, but you can also pick a single parameter and view 16 tracks simultaneously.
Liine recommends setting up an ad hoc Wi-Fi network in order to minimise latency and ensure a stable connection, but we didn't notice any lag or dropped signals when running over an existing wireless network.
touchAble, on the other hand, benefits significantly from an ad hoc connection. The app sends and receives a lot more data than Griid, so running through a router can induce lag and latency, especially when using the keys and pads features. The problems disappear completely with a direct connection.
Griid and touchAble are both excellent apps, each offering a different take on the Ableton Live controller. Griid is a very stable clip launcher with a developed feel and a clear interface, but it's impossible to ignore the fact that it offers only a fraction of touchAble's feature set.
Things get much more complex when touchAble is switched to Device mode. The compressor settings shown here certainly aren't very user-friendly.
The cheaper, more fully featured touchAble is a clear all-round winner. Its advanced control options give it the advantage in terms of power and make it the obvious choice for studio use and live performance. Griid can only really beat it in terms of simplicity and ease of use, although the iPhone version is a surprisingly capable controller for owners of the smaller device.
Even on the iPhone's smaller screen, Griid is a very capable clip launcher.
Although it might not be our first choice, Griid certainly shouldn't be forgotten just yet. The app is set to expand in the future, developing into a much more complete modular control system. We're intrigued to see where it goes from here - Liine is keeping its plans secret for now but we can't wait to see what it has to offer.
Griid and touchAble set the standard for iOS-based Ableton controllers. In fact, iPad owners should be certain to check them both out before buying a dedicated hardware alternative such as the Akai APC40, Novation Launchpad or even the JazzMutant Lemur.
Hardware manufacturers beware: when it comes to wireless control, the iPad should be taken very seriously indeed.
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