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It’s hard to keep up with the wealth of synth releases flooding the App Store these days, but Virtual ANS is a happy aural mutation unlike anything else on your iPhone or iPad. While it bears a resemblance to the longtime Mac-only wonder MetaSynth, it’s a lot easier to fall into from left field, not to mention much less expensive.
Virtual ANS is a software recreation of an extremely rare Russian synthesizer (of which only one remains in existence) that used light and optics as the foundation of its synthesis engine. Time is plotted from left to right, pitch is mapped vertically, and onto this grid you'll use a variety of basic drawing tools to "paint sound," essentially. You have the ability to use real-time audio scrubbing to hear your work with maximum control, or otherwise forwards and backwards automatic playback with a lovely scrolling/glow effect to show you exactly where the head is triggering audio.
The basic oscillator tone is fixed, meaning you’re essentially using some very cool tools to trigger one type of sound; we’d love to see a future update add different base waveforms, and perhaps a typical synthesis audio filter of some sort. Because you're dealing with graphics, there are indeed "effects" that consist of basic visual filters – a blur effect creates slurred notes, while "echo" creates cascading, fading duplicates of your graphics. It'd be great to see some more advanced effects (like tremolo) down the line, as well as the ability to paste or load external graphics into Virtual ANS. One really cool feature that is here now is the ability to import sampled audio files (via iTunes) and create sound effects from them, and you can also attach a MIDI keyboard to your iOS device to play in proper musical notes.
Ultimately, if all of this seems a little bizarre and difficult to understand, there's a free Mac version available from the developer's website. It lacks the nicety of a touchscreen interface, but it's otherwise the entire experience. If you like the free taste on your computer, the App Store release warrants the fee as a one-of-a-kind iOS synth option.
The bottom line. Virtual ANS won't be the first choice for playing along with your classic-rock cover band, but if you’re into ambient tunes, electronica, or haunting drones, this little wonder will have your ears grinning.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 4.3 or later
Innovative synthesis method. Capable of making truly unique sounds.
Sparse documentation. One basic synth waveform. Needs more effects.