iPad Music App Review: BIAS

by chip on November 15, 2013


APP NAME: BIAS
VERSION: 1.0.1
APP DEVELOPER: Positive Grid
PRICE: $19.99
PLATFORM: iPad, requires iOS 7.0 or later
TYPE OF MUSIC APP: Amp Simulator

Overview
BIAS is an amp modeling app that provides a huge amount of tone options and massive customization, delivering world class tone from the makers of the highly regarded JamUp Pro. BIAS is an essential tool for iOS guitarists, bassists, and producers that opens new sonic worlds.

What Does It Do?
Upon opening BIAS, many long time iOS guitarists will be presented with a familiar interface, similar to the front panel found on the main JamUp Pro interface. The middle of the screen contains a very life like representation of the currently chosen amp head with knobs to adjust common settings like volume, bass, treble, middle, and presence. Skeuomorphism may be a thing of the past with iOS 7, but that’s easy to forget when you see these amps – the knobs are life like and easy to manipulate. Most guitar players have a visual connection to classic amplifiers as well; while you could get the same audio results with a flat interface, the visual connection to a classic amps just feels right. Along the bottom of the screen, you’ve got options to adjust both your input and output volumes, as well as noise gate and room control. The volumes give you some nice control over your gain, and a button to lock the input control onto one level can be especially useful. Tapping on the Noise Gate button reveals settings for threshold and decay, letting you control exactly how noisy your amp actually sounds. The room control takes BIAS beyond the realm of amp simulation, giving you the ability to shape the room where the amp sits with controls for size, damping, color, and mix. There’s also a “Quick Snap” section with 8 buttons where you can save your favorite presets. This isn’t the only place that you can save presets, but it offers the ability to quickly swap between your most commonly used presets. The main BIAS screen offers you a clean and intuitive interface that makes the app a familiar and welcoming experience for guitarists hopping into iOS amp modeling.

Along the top of the main screen, you’ve got the bulk of the BIAS experience, with access to all of the amp categories, both factory delivered models and custom configurations. When you choose “FACTORY” in the upper left hand corner of the main screen, you’ll find a sliding selection of nine different amplifier categories. When you buy BIAS, you’re given nine different amp categories, that each contain four different amp models. While we don’t have any guarantees at this point, I’m going to make an educated guess that we’ll be seeing more amps offered in BIAS as in-app purchases. The currently available categories are: “Clean,” “Glassy,” “Blues,” “Crunch,” “Hi Gain,” “Metal,” “Insane,” “Acoustic,” and “Bass.” That makes a total of 36 distinctive and highly customizable amps to get you started with BIAS, a great deal to say the least.

In the “Clean” category, you’ll find the “’76 RC-120,” the “British 900 Clean,” the “’94 MATCH 30,” and the “Hiway 103 Clean.”

In the “Glassy” category, you’ll get the “’67 Blackface Duo,” “’66 British TB 30,” “’65 Blackface Vibro,” and the “’67 Dumble Clean.”

In the “Blues” category, you’ll get the “American Bass,” “Tweed Lux,” “Mini Duo Reverb,” and the “’63 British J45.”

In the “Crunch” category, you’ll get the “British Plexi 50w,” “British Lean 800,” “Hiwy DR 103,” and the “’69 Super Lead.”

In the “Hi Gain” category, you’ll get the “British Rock 50,” “RB 101B,” “SLO 100,” and the “Monster VH4.”

In the “Metal” category, you’ll get the “5153 MK II,” “Triple Treadplate,” “Mark IIc+,” and the “SLO SP-88.”

In the “Insane” category, you’ll get the “Fire,” “Insane 5153,” “Positive Insane,” and the “Power Place.”

In the “Acoustic” category, you’ll get the “Acoustic Slim,” “Acoustic Amp,” “Keyboard Amp,” and the “Vocal Amp.”

In the “Bass” category, you’ll get the “Blue Line,” “GK 800,” “British AD 20,” and the “Super Bass.”

On the right hand side of each screen, there’s a gear button that opens up the real power of the BIAS amps – the extremely customizable signal chain. In this portion of the app, you have access to the custom panel, the preamp, the tone stack, the power amp, the transformer, the cabinet, and two EQs. The EQ modules can be taken out of the signal chain or moved to a different place in the order, but everything else stays firmly placed. This doesn’t limit your options at all though – each module can be tweaked to a high degree, letting you have some serious options. One the preamp, power amp, and transformer, you can change out tubes, and in some cases, use different combinations of tubes. You’ve got a wide array of cabinets to utilize, that include different size speakers and different amounts of speakers. You can simulate the use of a microphone in front of the cabinet, with a choice of an “SM57″ model mic or a “C414.” In addition to the huge differentiation in sound between these two mics, you can move them around the screen, placing them at different spots in front of the cabinet. The EQs are powerful devices that allow you to sculpt your tone around eight different spots in the sonic spectrum; when you use both EQs, that’s sixteen points, giving you some highly defined sound!if you prefer the sound of solid state same, you’ve got options on both the power amp and the transformer to emulate that type of tone. There’s a huge amount of choice throughout the signal chain, which you can save into your own patches on each device. If you’re looking for a starting point though, Positive Grid hasn’t left you in the cold – there’s plenty of meaty presets in each device. The signal chain is really the beauty of BIAS that takes a collection of good amp models and gives you the ability to make them great.

With the options built into BIAS, there’s no doubt that you’re going to find some great tones that you’ll want to integrate into your great musical life; fortunately, Positive Grid has given you plenty of options to make that happen. The most essential piece of the puzzle is the ability to use amps that you create in BIAS and run them directly into Jamup Pro. Once you’ve customized an amp in BIAS, you can save it as a custom patch and then press the button in the upper left hand corner that looks like the JamUp Pro icon. If you’ve got the latest version of JamUp Pro installed on your iPad, you’ll quick switch to Jamup Pro and your BIAS amp will be inserted directly into your current signal chain. At that point, you can use your BIAS amp just like any other amp in JamUp, combining it with the great effects, sampler, 8-track, and more. Back in BIAS, you’ve got the ability to create a number of your own amp patches, using a standard save protocol. You can also post your amps onto Facebook to allow for some social tone sharing. Beyond making your tone settings, you can also make the amp your visually by altering the style of knob, the color and look of the tolex, gillcloth, and panel, and even give the amp your own name; these alterations all save along with the amp, making custom models a complete reality. If you put some time into BIAS, you’re going to create some nice tones, customize your amp look, and then come back to it later – this is an app that lets you build some serious musical tools.

Experience Level (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced)
BIAS is really an app that would be appropriate for any level of user, from the beginner to the advanced musician. Any guitarist with a way to plug their instrument into their iPad should give BIAS a spin.  You don’t really need in-depth knowledge of tone shaping to benefit from BIAS; there’s so many outstanding preset amps in BIAS that anyone could spend all their time playing through the pre-packaged amps.  Musicians with some experience turning knobs on physical amps will undoubtedly be able to pull more interesting tones out of BIAS.  It’s easy to imagine folks that really have a defined idea of their “sound” spending ample time adjusting their BIAS amps and collecting a wealth of original patches.  The advanced user is going to have a blast with BIAS, whether they play guitar or simply want to use BIAS as an effect in their production work.  These musicians will be designing their own amps in BIAS and then sending them over to JamUp Pro to make use of the great effects and practice tools.  Some other musicians will be using BIAS as an amplifier and effect for their synth apps with some awe inspiring results – put BIAS in the Audiobus effect slot behind an app like Animoog, Thor, or Nave, and you’re going to find some unbelievable sonic madness.  There’s honestly so many possibilities both on the surface of this app and buried deep within it that users of all backgrounds and experiences will find BIAS useful.

Sound Quality
Let’s face it – this is the defining element for the quality of an amp simulation app and BIAS delivers top notch sound quality on every level. The concept of “warmth” in tone is something that guitarists constantly seek and it’s also something very difficult to integrate into an electronic setting. It seems that Positive Grid has made the most progress in that category, filling their amps with depth and character unheard in other apps. Without a doubt, BIAS is an amp simulator that benefits guitars players in a very real way. There’s a sense that BIAS was lovingly put together by a group of passionate guitar players that know their stuff . . . and they just happen to be outstanding developers as well. As a result, the tones of their amps and the changes that you can make are both practical and inspiring, making BIAS a powerful tool for guitarists. Other folks will find BIAS useful too – as a bass player, I appreciate the inclusion of bass amps that have the same quality and range, delivering hard hitting bass tones. Everyone should remember that BIAS is Audiobus compatible as well, so you can run synths and other virtual instruments through these awesome amps. BIAS simply delivers great tone on every level and it packs more than enough flexibility to help you shape the sounds into anything your ear desires.

What’s It Missing?
BIAS is a pretty complete amp simulator, but there are a few spots where I might like to see some improvements:

We need an iPhone version of BIAS
There are several music creation apps that live exclusively on my iPad – I simply find the larger screen real estate to be more practical for music making.  JamUp Pro definitely gets more play on my iPhone though and I see BIAS fitting that same pattern.  It’s easy to plug into my bass, get set-up, and then put my phone in my pocket.  As an extension of a guitar or bass, I’d like a smaller iOS device running BIAS, so an iPhone version would be ideal.  

Make Tone Sharing Accessible Within BIAS
JamUp Pro features a very cool social aspect called Tone Sharing, which lets users trade tone patches – this is a great tool for expanding your tonal palette and connecting with other musicians.  You can export a BIAS app to JamUp Pro and share it through the JamUp Tone Sharing, but it would make a lot of sense to have a Tone Sharing option directly within BIAS, letting your trade custom amps.

Make BIAS Compatible With Pre-iOS 7 Devices
Don’t get me wrong – I like iOS 7 and I’m not really complaining about it . . . but a lot of folks have had bad experiences with the first few iterations.  Many older devices simply don’t hold the weight of iOS 7 well, especially considering the processing demands of music apps like BIAS.  At this point, BIAS only runs on iOS 7 devices; many folks would probably benefit from backwards compatibility, even if it means sacrificing part of the feature set.

Give Us A BIAS Store With Expansion Packs
I imagine that this request will be filled in a matter of time, but based on what I’ve heard already, I just can’t wait.  I’d love to get another round of bass amps on my iPad, and I’d be more than willing to pay for them.  I have no doubt that there are plenty of guitar players that feel the same way.  I can’t really be anymore clear – please Positive Grid, let me give you my money.

Bottom Line
BIAS is an impressive addition to the world of iOS amp simulation, delivering new levels of tone options and providing exciting new options that easily outpace the competition by a wide margin. There’s ample evidence that the folks at Positive Grid are building on the strengths of JamUp Pro, but they’ve done this is a way that does more than simply deliver a paid update to JamUp.  Instead, these two apps are complimentary tools that are much stronger together than apart.  In BIAS, you get a familiar interface that allows you to approach tone shaping from a similar direction conceptually, but you get to dig into much more detail on one piece of JamUp‘s signal chain, the amplifier.  BIAS allows you to really dig deep into the specs of your modeled amp, which you can then bump back into the greater JamUp signal chain.  This sort of detail within BIAS leads towards a greater quality that would please any guitar player with deep, rich tones.  As we’ve come to expect, the folks at Positive Grid are very generous, and they’ve rewarded our investment with a large number of amps that faithfully emulate world class models.  The fact that they let us look under the hood and tweak those amps to our specific liking is like a guitar player’s dream come true, giving us access to epic levels of tone control.  They’ve also authentically integrated BIAS into the iOS music ecosystem, making it a powerhouse tool for synth apps too; in so many ways, BIAS is an app for the music making iOS masses.  At the end of the day, BIAS is an essential app for the iOS musician that will light imaginations on fire and pump guitarists to new levels of inspiration.

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