In a number of recent music app reviews, I’ve mentioned a workaround involving Audiobus that allows you to use iOS effect app such as AudioReverb, VocaLive, AUFX:Space or AUFX:Dub as a sort of ‘DIY send effect’ within Cubasis. A couple of readers of the blog emailed me to ask for some further details on how this is done so I thought I’d provide a fuller description on the procedure here. There is also a free step-by-step PDF you can download if you wish.
The advantage of insert and send effects
As I discussed in the guide to using insert and send effects in iOS recording, while you can apply effects while you are recording audio (for example, guitar stomp box effects), the important advantage of both insert and send effects is that they are applied to your audio after you have recorded it. You can monitor these insert and send effects while you record – that is, you can hear them applied to your audio through your monitor speakers or headphones – but the actual audio you record is ‘dry’ without the effects.
The big advantage is that you are not committing to the effects settings when recording. Instead, when you get to the final mixing stage, you can tweak the effects as required, adjusting them so that they fit will all of the other elements in your recording.
All of the respectable iOS DAW apps – Cubasis, Auria, BeatMaker 2, Meteor and MultitrackDAW, for example – support both insert and send effects as part of their virtual mixing environments, although the range of features and flexibility with which they can be used does vary between these different apps.
However, compared to a desktop computer DAW environment, at present (as I write this, iOS 7 is still a couple of months away) iOS doesn’t have a plug-in protocol. This means that, for good or for bad, you are stuck with whatever insert or send effects plug-ins are included with your chosen DAW.
Well, sort of…. because there is a workaround and, with Cubasis, that workaround is actually quite straightforward…. and that’s the subject of this post.
Audiobus includes an ‘Effects’ slot as well as its Input and Output slots, so potentially at least, there is the possibility of adding 3rd party audio effects (that is, ones not included in your DAW) into your recording workflow. Good examples would be Turnado, AudioReverb, VocaLive, AUFX:Space and AUFX:Dub and even some of the better iOS guitar amp sims can be used in the Effects slot if you want to.
However, even using these excellent new crop of iOS audio effect apps within the Audiobus Effect slot, what you have is closer to the way a guitar player using a stompbox effect with their guitar amp rather than an insert or send effect. Your audio is passed from the Audiobus Input slot, processed by the app in the Effect slot and only then does it reach your virtual mixer within the DAW app running in the Audiobus Output slot. You are recording the audio already processed and you miss out on the key advantage offered by both true insert and send effects; the ability to adjust the effects settings after the recording has been made as part of the mixing process.
DIY send (or insert?) effects
So, how do we work around this limitation if we want to use the top-notch 3rd party effects in our recording projects? Well, the approach required is a bit clunky and it doesn’t work exactly like either an insert effect or a send effect, although it is perhaps closer to the latter so I’ll use the term ‘DIY send effect’ to describe it from this point forward. This is most easily achieved with Cubasis (for reasons that will become clear below), but there is an alternative (even clunkier) approach that can be used with other DAWs. I’ll cover that in a future tutorial.
Aside from your DAW (or DAWs) and Audiobus itself you will, of course, need a suitable effect app or three that can work with the Audiobus Effect slots. AudioReverb, AUFX:Space, AUFX:Dub, AmpKit+, Amplitube, Harmony Voice, JampUP Pro, Turnado and VocaLive are some obvious examples.
The rest of this post describes the general process involved but, if you want more of a step by step guide, then simply download the accompanying PDF here. This includes screen shots of all the steps involved and is based around an example adding both reverb and delay to a vocal using 3rd party effects apps.
Cubasis in, Cubasis out
Cubasis can be used as both an Audiobus Input and an Audiobus Output at the same time. What’s more, given the audio routing (input/output) options the app offers, while there is, in reality, only one copy of Cubasis running at any one time, it is possible to have audio playing back within Cubasis that effectively originates from the Audiobus Input slot and can be recorded by a Cubasis track that is effectively in the Audiobus Output slot.
As that audio then passes through the Audiobus Effects slot, you can apply any dose of effects processing to the audio on the way. So, as an example, using this arrangement, if you had a vocal track you had recoded previously in your Cubasis project, you could pass it through an app like AudioReverb or AUFX:Space to add some high quality reverb to it and record the processed (‘wet’) version back to another track in Cubasis.
Press the ‘clunk’ button
Now for the clunky bit as this doesn’t really work like a ‘proper’ send effect. There are two things to note here and let’s continue with out vocal/reverb example to illustrate these.
First, you have to record the processed audio on to a new track within Cubasis instead of just hearing the effect applied to your vocal and varying its amount via a send control knob. What you therefore end up with in your Cubasis project is two separate audio tracks; one with the original ‘dry’ vocal on it and a second one containing a ‘wet’ version (that is, with the reverb added).
Second, when you are applying the effect and recording the processed version back into Cubasis, you have to solo the track you want to apply the effect to. This is because any audio playing in Cubasis is going to get passed through the Effect slot so, if you have your full mix playing, what you end up with on your ‘wet’ track is the same full mix with added reverb rather than just your target track which, in this case, was our vocal. Again, this is not like using a ‘proper’ send effect as it doesn’t allow you to hear the reverb applied to the vocal in the context of the overall mix until after you have created the ‘wet’ track. However, as we will see next, this second issue isn’t such a big deal.
Put it in the blender
So, if all has gone well, we now have two tracks with our vocal on them; the original ‘dry’ track and the processed ‘wet’ version with reverb added. Before we can properly monitor the end result with all the other tracks playing, however, we need to remove the Input slot instance of Cubasis and remove (or bypass) our reverb effect from the Audiobus Effects slot. Then, with Cubasis sitting on its own in the Audiobus Output slot, we can playback the entire Cubasis project.
On playback, we can hear all our other instruments and both versions of the vocal track. By simply adjusting the respective levels of the ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ versions of the vocal, you can blend in as much, or as little, of the reverb as you like. This blending is, effectively, like adjusting the send level knob on a ‘proper’ send effect reverb.
To read the description of this process, it does sound like a bit of a pain is the a** but, while it is perhaps not an ideal workflow, in practice, it is perfectly workable. And until we do get that official plug-in protocol under iOS to match VST on the desktop, it is one way to fully exploit all those wonderful audio effects apps that are now appearing for iPad musicians.
So this works for Cubasis… but what about other DAWs? Well, Auria offers something similar and I’ll look at that in a future post. Unfortunately, most other DAWs don’t seem to support passing audio from the Input slot to the Output slot in Audiobus in the same way that Cubasis allows. However, all is not lost as there is, of course, the ‘even lower tech’, old-fashioned (well, old fashioned in iOS terms) way of working with these effects that involves some rather tedious audio copying and pasting between apps. This works but is even clunkier than the route that uses Cubasis. I’ll try to come back to that in a future tutorial.
So there you have it; using Cubasis, Audiobus and you favourite 3rd party iOS effects apps to create a ‘DIY send effect’ workaround for your iOS recording workflow. Yes, this is a little clunky but until we get an audio plug-in protocol that mimics what VST and AU make possible in desktop music software, if a rather clunky workarounds is the worst issues we iOS recording musicians have to content with then things really are not so bad in the world are they.
Happy recording :-)
Oh, and if you prefer a more visual approach to these sorts of tutorials, check out the video version below from the Music App Blog YouTube channel :-)