August 6, 2011
by Chris Randall
I thought, since I've had this combo for a bit now, and had a chance to work with it in a production environment, I would take this opportunity to provide some further thoughts about the Alesis iO Dock and the Korg Monotribe.
First up, the iO Dock. The first order of business was covering up the Alesis logo with a piece of black electrical tape. Having that blue harbinger of Doom staring at me while I'm trying to work is just not gonna happen. I was briefly tempted to take the whole thing apart so I could spraypaint that one piece. I may still do that.
I will say the following, after having it for a bit, though: apps that were stupid before are still stupid. They just have better outputs. But apps that were pretty good without the iO Dock are stellar with it. Figure $399 or thereabouts for an iPad 1, $199 or so for the iO Dock, and $39 for Korg's iMS-20 app, and you've got a pretty capable VA monosynth with a touchscreen, balanced I/O, MIDI I/O, and some wireless features, for the sum total of less than $650 that can also play Angry Birds. In all honesty, I'm having a hard time coming up with a scenario that has more bang-for-the-buck, synth-wise.
There is a lag when playing synths via the iO Dock's MIDI ports. One should remember at this juncture that the iPad isn't any more powerful than an iPhone or iPod Touch. It just has a bigger screen. People tend, in my experience, to think it is just a funny-shaped computer that is on-par, power-wise, to any other laptop. This is not the case at all. The lag isn't terrible. I didn't time it, but applying my experience to a SWAG, I'd guess about 60-70ms. So long enough to feel, but not too long to be playable. It would have been more annoying 10 years ago, but now we're all used to a certain amount of time passing between when we play a note and when we hear it, so this isn't such a big deal in the grand scheme of things, and isn't a deal breaker.
EDIT: I discovered a fun fact: the latency changes. I was working with the iO Dock / iMS-20 in a song, and last night the latency was 120ms. (Easily compensated for in Live.) This morning, I pressed play, and everything was fucked, timing-wise. Turns out, the latency now is 60ms. The iPad was in its dock, on all night, and the iMS-20 app had focus. Nothing had changed in the setup at all. I've never seen anything like this. Use this information as you see fit.
Since someone on Twitter asked, I hooked up my iPhone 4 to the Monotribe, using Korg's SyncKontrol app, and slaved it via WIST to the iMS-20 app. This works fine, with the caveat that the Monotribe has a funny idea of what to do with the sync info, as I mentioned in the previous post.
Which brings us to the Monotribe.
On the one hand, for $220 or thereabouts, this is a true analog drum machine and a true analog synth that is mildly hackable (no doubt pleasing Peter Kirn to no end) and sounds pretty good. Or does it? The drum sounds are, in my professional opinion, unusable, and no amount of modding is gonna change that, unless you mod DR-110 drum circuits in to the Monotribe. There just isn't enough contextual information to make them anything besides novelty sounds, and the attack is so clicky that it is nearly impossible to use them without resorting to a transient designer of some sort. And honestly, I have better things to do with my time than spend hours dicking with three little rudimentary drum sounds in order to get them to sit in the mix. (Which they steadfastly refuse to do.)
The drum channel also has a fair bit of noise (the synth side of things is much quieter than the Monotron, if you were curious) that renders it nearly useless, as well. I have many high-quality and comprehensive sample sets of great drum machines, most of which I've made myself, and it is so much easier to use one of these sets than the one in the Monotribe, I can't even tell you. So it's fun for a minute, but in a professional environment, you can't shake the novelty. I'd love to be proved wrong here, but I doubt I will be.
The synth sequencer is nearly unusable as well. Your choices are 8th notes, or clocking it in double time for a half measure of 16th notes. On the one hand, I can get behind this, from a certain aesthetic standpoint. On the other, it's fucking annoying. And there's only the one pattern, so it's not like you can get crafty.
In short, while it is fun, you'd be better off doing one of two things:
1. Saving up for an MS-10, which is much more capable and useful.
2. Buying an Electribe EA-1 for 1/3rd the price.
In short, I'm changing my "must buy" on the Monotribe to a "this is a toy; don't buy unless you have $220 burning a hole in your pocket" recommendation. As far as the iO Dock goes, my general opinion after 2 weeks with it is that it is worth the money. I'll still point out that competing products are on the way that will no doubt be less expensive (if not necessarily physically better) so if you're not in any particular hurry, waiting for a couple months would be my advice there. But it, unlike the Monotribe, is $200 well-spent.