Review: A Tasty Pixel Samplebot

The fast and friendly way to get your groove on
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Sample-based drum machines for iOS are plentiful, so one would think that the territory has been thoroughly staked out by both big name and boutique developers. Apps such as Intua Beatmaker occupy the high end, with so many professional features that it’s essentially a full DAW. In the middle ground are familiar platforms like Akai Pro iMPC 2 and Native Instruments iMaschine.

Although simple to use, Samplebot’s tutorial quickly runs you through the app’s features.

Although simple to use, Samplebot’s tutorial quickly runs you through the app’s features.

While these apps offer deeper tools, along with more complex workflows, sometimes you just want to start making a groove right now. And when it comes to that kind of immediacy, Samplebot is so straightforward that it’s worthy of attention.

Upon first launching Samplebot’s friendly toylike interface, you’re greeted with a short tutorial that guides you through the process of making a basic vocal beat-boxing kit using your iDevice’s microphone. There’s a lot of digital handholding involved, but the tutorial is immensely enjoyable and within a few minutes, you have basically mastered the app.

Each of the 15 pads immediately starts recording as soon as you tap it. Tap it again and the recording stops. From there, you can trigger your recording, or swipe right to edit or delete it. Editing allows for start/end trimming, along with independent pitch and time stretching for each sample—and that’s it. While envelopes, filters, and effects would have been useful additions, this app is about making sampled beats quickly, not option overload.

That said, while you are inside any given pad’s editor, Samplebot will happily export that sound to the AudioCopy clipboard, save it to the device, or access a cloud service such as Dropbox or iCloud. This lets Samplebot double as a lightningfast recorder for audio of any kind. Of course, you can also import audio from a variety of sources including your music library or document picker, then do a quick edit before loading it to your selected pad or exporting it to your preferred cloud storage.

Sequence recording can be either real-time (via the pads) or event-based using a standard timeline that displays all pads as individual tracks. A handy drum kit icon opens a small gallery of classic kick-snare-hat sequence templates that includes essential presets like rock, pop, reggae, and funk, as well as adventurous selections such as “Motown” and even the Amen Break. These give you a great way to fire up a groove and then rapidly customize it.

As for software compatibility, Samplebot includes Audiobus 3, Ableton Link, and one of the most extensive MIDI implementations I have seen on an app this affordable. In addition to the usual options for triggering samples and adjusting parameters like volume and panning, there is a unique feature called Binders. These are short scripts that can control a series of actions, such as saving the current project, then loading a new project, followed by setting a new tempo—all from a single MIDI event.

As a side note, Samplebot’s friendly interface and brilliant tutorial makes it worthy of serious consideration for K-through-12 music programs. For more advanced users, Samplebot may not be crucial if you currently rely on other drum machine apps. Nonetheless, the $3.99 price tag makes it an impulse buy that is well worth it.

STRENGTHS
Impressively intuitive approach to real-time sampling and beat making. Doubles as quick and efficient editor for basic audio recording. Integrated tutorial. Ableton Link and Audiobus 3 compatibility.

LIMITATIONS
No envelopes, filters, or effects.

$3.99
atastypixel.com

Francis Preve has been designing synthesizer presets professionally since 2000. Check out his soundware company at symplesound.com.