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With the deluge of cool audio and synthesis apps on iOS, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out from the pack—but the long-awaited iVCS3 is raising eyebrows and potentially blowing out speakers across the land. While it’s billed as a software simulation of an analog synthesizer that found favor with bands like Pink Floyd and The Who, iVCS3 is really a virtual laboratory of sonic mayhem and aural outrageousness. It’s not useful for playing standard musical riffs, but is infinitely capable of generating insanely complex, dynamic, and downright chaotic soundscapes that will amaze, delight, and terrify, all at once.
The words “modular synthesizer” conjure up big beasts with tons of patch cables hanging from the front panel, but the iVCS3 is based on a “routing block” patch system, with virtual pegs that connect together the various modules of the overall synth. While this provides a truly astounding range of programming opportunities, it also means that you’ll have a hard time instantly getting useful sounds out of a initialized fresh patch, so studying the many supplied presets is a useful step in taming this monster. We highly recommend viewing the YouTube videos that explain some of the finer points of the original EMS VCS hardware.
The iVCS3 does things that the original could never possibly accomplish, like a four-patch morphing feature, which lets you move smoothly between four completely different sounds by running your finger over a “morph-pad.” That makes it perfect for live performance and extreme sound mangling. The original EMS hardware had chronic tuning instability problems and lacked a musical controller, while this software-only version is solid as a rock, and has a slick little keyboard that can be positioned anywhere on the screen—a nice touch.
It also has support for external MIDI controllers and AudioBus, and allows you to use the built-in iPad speaker or other audio input as a sound source and run it through the insane filtering section. For example, the classic Who song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” features an organ run through the EMS, and the iVCS3 includes a patch that perfectly recreates this effect. Considering that the original physical synth sells for many thousands of dollars these days, iVCS3 proves a serious bargain for just $14.99—assuming you can get a hang of its complexities.
The bottom line. While not designed to replace your primary iPad synth app of choice—and certainly not ideal for mundane pop music—iVCS3’s unique sounds make it a digital wonder, despite the tough learning curve.
iPad running iOS 6.1 or later
Unique-sounding app. Deep programmability. Endless sonic possibilities.
Complex learning curve. Can damage speakers and ears alike if you’re not careful.