BeepStreet Drambo changes the face of iOS music apps

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BeepStreet Drambo on iPad and iPhone
Drambo works on any iOS device.
Photo: BeepStreet

Once in a while, an app comes along that changes the way you think of a computer platform. Like Photoshop on the Mac, Lotus 1-2-3 on the IBM PC, or GarageBand on the iPad. We just got another one of these apps Tuesday. It’s called Drambo, from veteran music-app developer BeepStreet, and it redefines music apps on iOS.

Yes, iOS. This amazing, modular, do-almost-anything app works on the iPhone as well as the iPad.

What is Drambo?

The Drambo music app even looks good.
Drambo even looks good.
Photo: BeepStreet

Essentially, Drambo is a sequencer app, with modules. The sequencer is a set of 16 or more steps, all of which can play a sound. You could have one track, with steps 1, 5, 9 and 13 all playing a kick drum, for example. Then another with snares, another with piano notes and chords, and so on. So far, all I’ve done is describe a step-sequencer for those unfamiliar with the concept.

What Drambo does next is the amazing part. It contains a huge library of modules, which you can drop into audio tracks in order to generate and manipulate sounds. There are samplers, synthesizers, filters and effects. You can combine them to make custom-built synthesizers, or to slice up your own sounds, and then you can sequence the results to build songs.

Even taken together, this still doesn’t sound that impressive. But it’s when you actually start using Drambo that you realize how amazing it is. Just like how Photoshop was just an image-editing app, Drambo is “just” a modular sequencer. But it’s also really, really easy to use, and yet still extremely deep. In fact, Apple might want to take some tips for its own iOS apps, instead of practicing its absurd brand of rug-sweeping minimalism to hide complexity.

Elektron, on an iPad

Drambo is like a $1,400 Elektron Octatrack, on your iPad.
Drambo is like a $1,400 Elektron Octatrack, on your iPad.
Photo: Elektron

The gold standard for step sequencers are the hardware boxes from Swedish music company Elektron. These boxes combine step sequencers with drum machines, synthesizers and samplers. And they also introduced the world to something called the parameter lock (ignore the name, because it’s a little misleading).

The importance of p-locks

A p-lock lets you hold down a step button, and then turn any knob on the machine to change only that step. For instance, you could hold down a sampled piano note, and turn a knob to change its pitch. Or add a big mess of reverb to only one snare hit in a sequence. These “locks” can all be stacked, too, so you can really go to town. It makes programming music super-intuitive. And once you’ve used it, it’s hard to do things any other way.

Drambo, as you may have guessed, has p-locks, and they work just the same way. Thanks to multitouch, you just tap and hold the step you want to “lock,” and then swipe on any of the virtual knobs. And Drambo’s implementation is flawless. Everything just works as you’d expect it to.

That’s far from everything. The app is much too deep to fully describe, but here are a few extra highlights. You can load it as an AUv3 Audio Unit inside another music app, like AUM or GarageBand, in which case the entirety of Drambo can become just another module in another app. It can also communicate with other apps via MIDI, and even control (and be controlled by) music hardware. Or how about using the iPad’s built-in sensors to trigger drum hits when you tap the table?

I’ve barely scratched the surface of Drambo, and I’ve been using it since its launch yesterday. And here’s the kicker: It only costs $20!

Drambo modular groovebox

Price: $19.99

Download: Drambo from the App Store (iOS)