It wouldn’t be controversial to say that Korg’s self-contained sequencer and instrument suite Gadget is one of the best music making apps for iOS.
The range and quality of sounds it offers is unrivalled on the platform, but its winning formula owes as much to its smartly designed interface, accessibility and flexible export options as it does its actual sonics.
Gadget for Mac is - somewhat obviously - a macOS port of the same application. For the most part, it remains identical to its iOS counterpart.
Once again, the star of the show is the ever-growing library of sound modules, aka the titular ‘Gadgets’. At the latest count, 30 of these are on offer, most of which replicate the essence of some classic hardware synthesizer or drum machine, although a growing number deviate from this formula to incorporate sampling, looping, FX boxes, modelled pianos and more.
The quality level is high throughout; most Gadgets offer a slightly simplified variation on the style of instrument they’re based on, but still pack a healthy amount of flexibility. Sonically, the analogue-inspired Gadgets - which include a 303 clone, MS-20-inspired semi-modular and a great four-part percussion synth - hold up pretty well.
They arguably lack some of the heft and texture of the best analogue emulations, but they maintain a convincing level of character. Generally, it’s the digitally-inspired Gadgets that provide the highlights though. These include excellent PCM sound modules filled with retro Triton and M1-sourced sounds, a woozy ‘ambient’ synth module, two arcade-inspired chiptune machines, a gritty vector synthesis module, a special FX box and a phase modulation synth.
The workspace remains very similar to the iOS versions, albeit with a few notable tweaks. As before, the UI is divided into four elements - a clip launcher, a mixer/channel strip, a piano roll sequencer and a space for the gadgets themselves. The primary difference is that, compared to the iOS versions, where only one or two of these elements can be accessed at once, the interface here is divided into quarters allowing all sections to be displayed simultaneously. The result is a tidy and accessible UI, which offers up pretty much every element from a single window.
The similarity between versions does mean that Gadget for Mac keeps some interface elements that were clearly designed for a touchscreen rather than desktop workflow. The heavy use of ‘function’ buttons, for example, could easily be replaced by right-clicks here, while the separate input and select modes in the piano roll are clearly designed with fingertip editing in mind. Still, this compromise keeps the workflow unified across all versions, and there’s a definite benefit to that.
The Latest Gadgets
New Gadgets are now available across all versions. Most notable are two designed for recording and importing audio. While audio handling is fairly limited - you can only adjust start and end points or gain level - these do offer studio- and stompbox-inspired effects. Also added to the line-up are Gadget versions of Korg’s own M1 and ARP Odyssey emulations (both of which are very impressive), with a version of the iWavestation to follow. The audio Gadgets are free to all users, but on iOS the latter three require purchase of their corresponding standalone apps to unlock the Gadget versions.
The other major difference is that, as well as offering the sounds within this self-contained suite, the software also includes every Gadget as a standalone VST/AU/AAX plugin. This works pretty much as one would expect: plugin incarnations are identical to their in-app counterparts, sans sequencers.
That said, there is one minor bugbear in the form of Gadget’s naming convention. Sound modules are given names borrowed, for the most part, from world cities, such as Helsinki, London, Dublin or Brussels.
Within Gadget itself, the library also offers a more practical sub-head and brief description of each. In your DAW’s plugin browser, however, you’re limited to the city names themselves, meaning you’ll want to keep a notepad handy lest you forget whether your favourite PCM module was a Bilbao or a Marseilles.
On the whole though, what Gadget for Mac offers is great - it’s a well- rounded, well-implemented package with impressive cross-platform compatibility. There is, however, one significant sticking point: its price. At $299 (currently available for an intro offer of $199), Gadget for Mac is over seven times the price of its iOS counterpart, although, to be fair, the Mac version does include all Gadgets, whereas on iOS roughly half of these require a separate purchase of between £5 and £20.
Share and Export
Gadget For Mac’s inclusion of iCloud Drive support allows project sync across multiple Mac and iOS versions. Gadget for Mac can also export individual channels as audio or MIDI files for easy loading into other applications. There’s Ableton Live project export too, allowing a project to be opened in Live complete with audio, MIDI and all appropriate Gadgets (although no effects). Ableton Link support allows sync with a growing list of applications. Finally, support for Allihoopa and Korg’s Soundcloud-powered GadgetCloud allow tracks to be directly uploaded to online communities.
Clearly, Korg is also calculating a lot of that value based on the inclusion of the standalone plugins, and it’s hard to argue with the breadth of sounds included here. Despite this, there are still rough edges to these that reveal their iOS origins - the drum machines and sampler lack individual channel outputs, there’s no sample auditioning, UIs can’t be resized - and they lack some of the polish of native macOS plugin suites that the price puts them up against.
Given its accessibility and cross-platform compatibility, Gadget for Mac is likely to appeal most to two groups: current users wanting to bridge the gap between the iOS version and their main DAW, and beginners after an easy-to-grasp workspace.
In the former case, assuming users have already paid for the iOS version, it seems tough to justify an extra $300 simply to avoid the hassle of having to bounce out audio. In the latter scenario, it’s worth considering that $300 could also buy a Mac user Logic Pro X ($199) with plenty of change to buy additional sounds or even a controller.
It’s not that Gadget feels cheap, or that it isn’t great at what it does - it is, and theoretically it comes very highly recommended - but taken in context it’s a little hard to get your head around the price point. It’s worth acting while it’s at the considerably more reasonable intro price!