If you ever wished for a sampler that you could carry around in your pocket, Way Out Ware's iSample 2 ($9.99) is your ticket. It offers a nice combination of power and straightforward operation, which is not a combination you find too often in iPhone music apps. (Note that there is actually another app on the iTunes Store called iSample. If you want the app discussed in this review, make sure to choose the one made by Way Out Ware.)
The main screen features six sampling pads. From here, you can record 16-bit, 44.1kHz samples into each pad, through the iPhone's mic or an external mic like the Alesis Pro Track. (Users of the iPod touch will need an external mic.) Samples can be played back from the pads in either looping or one-shot mode, and any combination of the six pads can playback simultaneously. The pads are nice and big (by iPhone app standards), and very responsive. I didn't notice the latency that the pads on many music apps suffer from.
Fig. 2: In the Mixer view, you can adjust the levels of the six pads, trigger samples, and turn on and off the global delay and reverb effects.
From the Pads screen you can adjust BPM (for your song) and turn on the Wi-Fi sharing feature. You can also access the preset sample banks, which were developed with Mutato Musika, the music production company founded by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo. The factory content is well done and useful. You get banks for a range of musical styles, as well as several drum kits (mostly electronic), which make it possible to drum from your iPhone. You also get a percussion kit, a sound effects bank and more. There is virtual storage space provided for your own samples and banks, as well.
Recording samples is as simple as hitting the big red Record button, which makes visible individual Record buttons on each pad. Pressing one of them puts that pad into record, and it can capture up to 30 seconds of audio on each pad. You can then edit the audio in the Editor Screen, which allows you to set the start and end point (see Fig. 1) and there's even a Scrub feature. Length is the only sample parameter you can alter. There is no control of pitch or sample envelopes. However, you can quantize the sample length to a note value (16th-note, quarter-note, half-note, 1-bar, etc.), which iSample calculates based on the BPM setting.
Fig. 1: The Editor Screen lets you set start and end points and scrub the audio.
Once you have your samples edited to your liking, you can build a song using iSample's easy-to-use pattern sequencer. A Mixer view (see Fig. 2) lets you alter volumes of the samples (you can also trigger from this screen), but, as of this version, there's no panning; everything is mono. However, Way Out Ware programmer Jim Heintz assured me that stereo support will be implemented in an upcoming release. From the mixer screen you can also adjust the global delay and reverb controls. The reverb sounds pretty good, and the delay is really fun to experiment with on a looping sample. Too bad you can't add the effects separately for each channel.
The Wi-Fi sync feature works well and goes both directions, although the procedure for importing content into iSample is a lot easier than for exporting. You can only transfer samples, not songs. This is a feature that Way out Ware should change. If you come up with a cool beat or song while sitting on a train, plane, in the back of a classroom or wherever, you have no way to transfer it to your computer. All you can send is your samples.
Of course, considering that it's an iPhone app and costs less than $10, you can't expect iSample to do everything your software sampler does. That's not the idea. It's a handy app to have with you to capture audio on the run, to experiment with musical ideas while you're traveling or waiting in line somewhere or even to use for jamming with other musicians. Overall, iSample is a very cool app. It's well-designed, easy to use and promises to get even better in the future. Have sampler, will travel.