Behind the Scenes: How We Built SteadyTune

July 18th, 2013 by Jack Ivers
SteadyTune icon

We’re excited to launch our first all-new app in over a year: SteadyTune, the Mac menu bar tuner. We thought we’d give you a little peek behind the scenes in this blog post to explain how SteadyTune came to be.

The Idea

Agile has been in the tuner business for a long time; GuitarToolkit was one of the 600-odd apps in the App Store when it opened back in July, 2008. The idea for SteadyTune was a case of scratching a slightly different itch. Most of our team are both developers and guitar players. We regularly caught ourselves launching GuitarToolkit in the iOS simulator to tune our guitars. Certainly we had our iPhones and iPads nearby, but when sitting in front of one’s Mac in Xcode, it was slightly more convenient to just launch the GuitarToolkit tuner, sim and all. This got us thinking: wouldn’t a native tuner app be great? And what if it were a there-when-you-need-it, out-of-the-way-when-you-don’t, menu bar app? Thus was SteadyTune born.

Leave Well Enough Alone? Never!

We figured that if we were going to do a stand-alone tuner app, the tuning visualization had better be great. So we discarded our two current tuner visualizations—GuitarToolkit’s tuning meter and AmpKit’s tuning strip—in favor of something completely new. Because animation is a key part of the tuning visualization, simple screenshots don’t do SteadyTune’s viz justice. Instead, take a look at this very short video:

We then took another detour, this time technical. One of the most difficult challenges in tuning algorithms is avoiding needle twitchiness while preserving tuning accuracy. Although we’ve been told that GuitarToolkit rivals the best dedicated hardware tuners in this regard, we decided to see if we could do even better in SteadyTune. In the end, we entirely rewrote the tuning algorithm, and the results—both on steadiness and accuracy—are striking.

Successful Simplicity

We didn’t leave well enough alone, but all told we’re thrilled with how well the combination of new visualization and new algorithm work together. Enhancing lives, one tune at a time.

Lick of the Day Relaunch and a Great Contest

May 15th, 2013 by Jack Ivers

Lick of the Day icon

Agile and TrueFire have teamed up to bring you Lick of the Day 2.0, a big update to our guitar learning app. Lick of the Day 2.0 launches with new features and 20 new TrueFire Lick Packs spanning 500 blues, rock, jazz, rockabilly and acoustic lick lessons. The result is a rich and immersive learning experience.

Each of the new Lick Packs includes 25 video lessons from a skilled TrueFire instructor, interactive tab/notation and backing tracks. Lick Packs come in sets of two volumes per genre, where the second volume builds on the concepts and techniques presented in the first. Check out the video:

Lick of the Day is a free download on the App Store, and free Licks are available for each Lick Pack so you can try before you buy. To celebrate the launch, we’re offering 40% off of all Volume 1 Lick Packs.

Best. Contest. Ever.

Giveaway graphic

In celebration of Lick of the Day’s relaunch, Agile and TrueFire have put together a fantastic giveaway contest, with the best prizes we’ve ever offered:

  • Grand Prize: Fender Strat (American Special Sunburst) + iPad (Retina 32GB WiFi)
  • First Prize: iPad (Retina 32GB WiFi)
  • Second Prize: iPad mini (32GB WiFi)
  • Runner-up Prizes (10): $25 iTunes Gift Card + $25 TrueFire Gift Card

 

Visit the contest page for full details and contest rules. Enter now!

AmpKit Arrives on the Mac

November 21st, 2012 by Jack Ivers

AmpKit IconToday marks a wonderful milestone for Agile Partners and Mac guitarists alike: Agile has released its first Mac app, and AmpKit, our well-loved amp and effects app for iPad and iPhone, now has a powerful companion on the Mac App Store. With AmpKit Mac, simply connect your guitar to your Mac using a guitar interface (like the upcoming AmpKit LiNK HD), and your Mac is transformed into a powerful amp, effects and recording studio. Check out the overview page for features; or download the demo and see for yourself.

AmpKit Mac is custom-built for OS X 10.7 Lion and 10.8 Mountain Lion, taking advantage of the best new capabilities in OS X. We’ve worked hard to carry forward the design philosophy that has made AmpKit so easy to use, powerful, and great-sounding on iOS. We’re already getting early reviewer feedback that AmpKit Mac has significantly raised the bar for Mac-based amp & effects apps.

Amps & Effects, The Mac Way

Mac users tend to greatly appreciate native Mac apps, apps that are custom-built for OS X, follow the Mac’s thoroughly-documented human interface guidelines, and take advantage of OS X’s unique features to deliver a superb user experience. We saw an opportunity here, since most Mac-based amp & effects apps aren’t custom-built for Mac, but instead are “cross platform,” built to run on both Macs and Windows machines. Most haven’t optimized their user experience or performance for OS X.

AmpKit in Action on the Mac

With AmpKit Mac, in contrast, we went all-out to deliver a beautiful, immersive, and truly native experience for Mac users. Here’s how:

  • AmpKit is a true 64-bit app, and its core amp & cabinet simulation code are well-optimized. The result: AmpKit delivers amazing tone but consumes a minimum of your Mac’s resources.
  • AmpKit takes advantage of many features new in OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, some influenced by iOS. These include Multi-Touch gestures, Full Screen mode, Sharing via email or AirDrop, and gesture-enabled Quick Look. These features have a big impact on how easy and enjoyable AmpKit Mac is to use.
  • AmpKit uses a multi-panel UI, with a main “Stack View” and separate floating panels for Gear, Backing Tracks, Recording, and Metronome. The multi-panel UI is especially useful for users with multiple displays, where it works well combined with Full Screen mode.
  • AmpKit does all the little things that make it a good OS X citizen, from a searchable “AmpKit Players’ Guide” integrated into Apple’s native Help Viewer to a fully-scriptable menu with dozens of keyboard shortcuts.
  • AmpKit is available on the Mac App Store, delivering a simple and secure purchasing, installation, and upgrade experience. The Mac App Store makes life so much simpler–no complex registration and activation process, no troublesome update managers, no intrusive anti-piracy mechanisms like USB keys.

Mac Power to Complement iOS Mobility

AmpKit on iMacAnother big advantage of AmpKit Mac is that many iPhone and iPad users also have Macs, and having AmpKit running on both mobile devices and your main computer gives you the best of both worlds: jam anytime, anywhere with AmpKit iOS, or sit down for some serious setup crafting and studio recording with AmpKit on your Mac. Since the gear available in AmpKit Mac is the same as that on iOS, AmpKit’s Setup Sharing means you can easily use the same AmpKit setups on your iMac in the home studio and on your iPad and iPhone when traveling.

As powerful as mobile devices are these days, it’s still tough to beat a full-fledged Mac when you’re ready to do serious tone design or recording work, and AmpKit Mac takes full advantage of your Mac’s extra power.

  • We use the Mac’s larger display (or multiple displays!) to expose more of everything, eliminating the need to drill down to see details.
  • AmpKit enables Full Screen mode, and even works Full Screen on multiple displays, for a truly immersive user experience.
  • We use the Mac’s extra CPU power to improve the simulation fidelity of amps, cabinets, and complex pedals.
  • AmpKit leverages the full breadth of the Mac user interface, embracing mouse, trackpad, gestures and keyboard with equal enthusiasm.

A No-Brainer for Mac Guitarists

AmpKit for Mac - AmpsAlthough AmpKit includes many professional-grade features, such as non-destrucive re-amping and precise control of the effects chain, we wanted to bring the benefits of AmpKit to as many Mac users as possible. Here’s what we did:

  • Rather than selling individual amps and pedals, we decided that AmpKit Mac should include all the great gear that AmpKit is famous for: 22 amps with 38 separate amp channels, 28 pedals, 28 cabinets and 8 mics.
  • We chose a price point for AmpKit Mac that we felt was highly affordable, particularly when compared to the high prices on similar apps: just $49.99 (US Mac App Store)

With this combination of powerful capabilities and a competitive price point, we’re confident that AmpKit Mac will be a no-brainer for many Mac guitarists, from GarageBand users seeking more in-depth modeling options, to pro users who’d prefer to work in a truly native Mac app. Thousands of musicians have made AmpKit their go-to for jamming and recording, and we expect thousands more Mac users will do the same.

Grand Opening of the TabToolkit Tab Store

June 19th, 2012 by Jack Ivers

TabToolkit We are delighted to announce the grand opening of the Tab Store as part of TabToolkit Release 2.0. If you play guitar, bass, drums, or keyboards, we believe that TabToolkit 2.0 is the best way to learn and jam along with your favorite songs on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. The addition of the Tab Store gives TabToolkit users access to officially-licensed, full-score songs with notation for each guitar, bass, drum, and keyboard part, as well as vocal tracks with lyrics.

Tab StoreThe Tab Store launches with hundreds of popular songs in a wide range of genres and more songs will be added weekly. Here are just a few examples of the many great officially-licensed songs in the Tab Store: “Limelight” by Rush, KoRn’s “Freak on a Leash,” “Smoke on the Water” from Deep Purple, and The Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil.” Each song is available as an affordable in-app purchase for only US$0.99. We’re also excited to announce that TabToolkit, previously priced at US$9.99, will be available completely free of charge for a limited time in celebration of the Tab Store’s grand opening.

Taking Digital Sheet Music to the Next Level

TabToolkit goes beyond the capabilities of most digital sheet music platforms because it smoothly renders guitar tablature and standard music notation on-the-fly at full device resolution, rather than unevenly scrolling statically-formatted pages. With the 2.0 release, TabToolkit supports butter-smooth, full-resolution music notation rendering on the new iPad Retina display. Plus, TabToolkit supports live multitrack audio synthesis with tempo control. It’s a snap to mute, solo, or adjust volume on every track individually, a must for practicing and playing along. Even effects such as guitar bends and slides are perfectly synched with the notation.

The new Tab Store’s content likewise stands out from typical digital sheet music. Most digital sheet music is formatted into single sheets that include vocals and perhaps one or two instruments. Tab Store songs, in contrast, are “full-score” transcriptions with independent notation tracks for every guitar, bass, drum, and keyboard part, as well as vocal tracks with lyrics. And because Tab Store songs are transcribed into dynamic music notation instead of static pages, they not only display multiple tracks, they actually synthesize multitrack audio with independent control of each instrument.

Learning and Jamming

In addition to the new Tab Store, TabToolkit 2.0 has radically improved as a learning and jam along tool for guitar, bass, drum and keyboard players:

  • A/B looping: With a few touches, you can select a section of any song, and loop it for practice or to jam along.
  • Interactive drum guide: A popular TabToolkit feature is the visual display of fretboard and keyboard guides that shows finger positions synchronized with the scrolling tablature or music notation. In TabToolkit 2.0, drummers can now join in the fun thanks to a full drum kit display that shows drum hits synchronized with the drum track of any song.
  • Enhanced keyboard support: You can now combine left and right hand parts into a single keyboard track, showing hands both in the music notation and in the visual keyboard guide.
  • Tab rhythm notation: Guitar tracks can now display helpful tab rhythm notation.
  • One-touch soloing: Each track now has a solo button, in addition to mute.
  • Multitrack Volume Mixer: Lets you quickly change the volume of multiple instrument tracks on a single handy screen.
  • Vastly improved audio synthesis: Based on new high-fidelity audio samples for over 190 different instruments. (Available on iPhone 4 / 4S, iPad 2, and the new iPad.)
  • Innovative vocal engine: Based on actual male and female voice samples.

To sum it up, we’re happy to provide TabToolkit users with quick, easy access to great, full-score, officially-licensed music. We want to pass on special thanks to music publishers Alfred and Hal Leonard who have worked closely with us to properly license content in the Tab Store. Agile Partners is an ardent supporter of artists and we’re glad these artists will be able to share in the success of the Tab Store.

AmpKit Gets a Beautiful Update

March 27th, 2012 by Jack Ivers

AmpKit IconOn March 16th, Apple began delivering the new iPad with its breathtaking 3.1 million-pixel Retina display. Today, March 27th, we’re excited to release AmpKit 1.3, with full support for this new Retina display.

Few apps are more graphics-intensive than AmpKit, due to its extensive library of virutal gear, the most complete of any iOS amp simulator — now up to 36 amp channels, 24 effects pedals, 21 speaker cabinets, and 8 mics. Updating all the associated graphics was a major effort: over 140 separate images had to be re-rendered using four times as many pixels.

Why did we bother with visuals when AmpKit is all about tone? When you walk around NAMM you get to see firsthand how important the visual is to music gear. This seems especially true for the kind of guitar gear that lives virtually inside AmpKit. Amps, cabinets, pedals, and microphones all have intense visual presences. Iconic guitar gear is as iconic visually as it is tonally.

Creating the beautiful Retina visuals in AmpKit 1.3 was indeed a painstaking, time-consuming effort, but we feel strongly about its importance. It gave us the chance to more fully evoke the visual aspect of the amazing guitar gear living inside AmpKit, and we hope you enjoy the results. Example Retina screenshots (you may need to hit the maginifier icon to see these full size):

Thoroughly Modern Bass Amplification Comes to iOS

Trace Elliot 1215 Bass Amp ScreenshotThe newest amplifier to arrive in the AmpKit Gear Store is the Trace Elliot 1215, the most feature-rich amplifier we’ve ever modeled in AmpKit, and the first modern bass amp simulation available on iOS. Modern bass amps are complicated beasts, with a significantly larger feature set than the average guitar amp. The Trace Elliot 1215 model in AmpKit includes the sophistication that bass players have come to love in the real Trace Elliot amps:

  • Switchable valve (tube) drive circuit, delivers fat, rich bass distortion.
  • Single-touch Pre Shape circuit which applies a set EQ pattern that produces the classic Trace Elliot tone shape.
  • 12-band Graphic Equalizer, with the frequency bands specially tuned for bass.
  • Dual-band compressor, likewise tuned for bass signals.

The tone fidelity is everything you’ve come come to expect in AmpKit. Besides our sophisticated amp simulation, we’ve included a convolution-based simulation of the 1215′s cabinet, which features a specially designed 15″ Celestion® speaker and high-frequency horn.

Digital guitar interfaces, like the upcoming AmpKit LiNK HD, are ideal for bass. If you don’t yet have a digital interface, though, AmpKit’s adaptive input compensation logic takes the input from less-expensive headset interfaces like AmpKit LiNK and adds back attenuated bass frequencies. The result is remarkably good – good enough that Nathan Peck, the bass player of the Alex Skolnick Trio, played through AmpKit LiNK at this 2011 performance:

More Rocktrons for Metal and Gain Enthusiasts

We worked closely with Bob Waller, President of Rocktron, to select the initial Rocktron pedals for AmpKit. Our criteria for new gear in AmpKit is (1) it needs to have amazing tone, and (2) that tone needs to be unique. The first Rocktron pedals we introduced in December, Zombie Rectified Distortion and Cottonmouth Fuzz, certainly qualified. In AmpKit 1.3, we’ve added two more Rocktrons that are just as unique and just as much fun.

Rocktron Metal Planet PedalThe Metal Planet Distortion pedal delivers sizzling metal tone that stands out even in AmpKit’s well-stocked Gear Store. Metal players like a scooped tone where bass and treble are emphasized and middle tone ranges attenuated. The Metal Planet has a pair of unique mid frequency controls that make it easy to get the perfect scooped heavy metal sound, or with a quick flip of the controls, create a modern rock tone. Take a listen to this preview audio for the Metal Planet over on SoundCloud and see what you think:

Rocktron HUSH Pedal

The final piece of Rocktron wizardry in the AmpKit 1.3 gear lineup is the HUSH Noise Reduction pedal. HUSH started life back in 1984 as an expensive rack device widely used by touring pros. Rocktron later miniaturized the HUSH circuitry and released it in pedal form. Unlike noise gates, which completely block or “gate” the guitar signal when it drops below threshold, HUSH applies a form of single-ended noise reduction that tracks the signal and pushes the noise floor below the point where your ear can hear the noise. Unlike a gate, HUSH doesn’t kill sustain; yet, unlike a static noise filter, HUSH makes sure that your music signal integrity remains unaffected. I’ve been using HUSH a lot, replacing AmpKit’s built-in Noise Gate in many setups. Here’s an example of what HUSH can do:

Other Refinements

Although this update was mainly about Retina and new gear, we also improved AmpKit internals in several areas. On AmpKit’s many multi-channel amps, we now save the settings for all the channels as part of your setup. We added support for Apple’s VoiceOver technology, which makes AmpKit more accessible for the visually impaired. We switched AmpKit’s input and output gain controls to use a dB rather than linear scale, making adjustment easier and providing increased headroom. Finally, we continued to improve AmpKit’s support for digital guitar interfaces, with better detection logic and support for interfaces with low signal levels.

So that’s AmpKit 1.3 – we hope you enjoy it, and if you do, please write us a review in the App Store!