iStrobosoft is the tuner that I probably use the most. I find strobe tuners are much easier to read quickly and I like that they are showing you more than just the fundamental pitch. The app has been greatly updated since my first post about it and is now a plus app so that you only have to buy it once for all of your devices.
The first thing to know about a virtual strobe tuner, is that alas, unlike the mechanical strobe tuner, it cannot show you the true harmonic overtone series. Basically, it can only show you the fundamental pitch and whether the octaves in the overtone series are in tune. From Wikipedia:
“However, there are limitations to the virtual system compared to the disc strobes. Virtual strobes display fewer bands to read note information, and do not pick up harmonic partials like a disc strobe. Rather, each band on a virtual strobe represents octaves of the fundamental. A disc strobe provides “one band correspondence”—each band displays a particular frequency of the note being played. On the virtual strobe system, each band combines a few close frequencies for easier reading on the LCD display. This is still extremely accurate for intoning and tuning most instruments—but, as of this writing, no virtual strobe tuner provides detailed information on partials.”
The tradeoff is that iStrobosoft is much less expensive than Peterson’s physical tuners that can show you those overtones and it’s easily portable in the form of your iPhone or iPad. (It’s also available for Android but that version has less features.) You also don’t have to worry about replacing any bulbs or mechanical service on your virtual strobe tuner.
The features of this tuner that I really like and use often are:
- The ability to do manual tuning. Meaning that you can choose to tune only that one note. This extends even to the correct octave only. It can be very helpful if you are working on a phrase that has broad leaps or if you have to pick out a note in the extremes of your range and only want to focus on that note.
- Being able to display tuning in cents, by frequency or by MIDI.
- Full screen mode which is even bigger in landscape.
- Having a decibel meter…although on the latest version, this is obnoxiously small even in the less cluttered landscape view. If you are really trying to check how loud you can play something, Audio Tool is a better choice now.
- Recently added are multiple tuning temperaments. To use these, you will have to pick a key but very helpful to practice in Just intonation or on a period instrument.
- The temperaments available are:
- Just Major Intonation
- Just Minor Intonation
- Pythagorean Temperament
- Quarter Comma Meantone Temperament
- One Sixth Comma Meantone Temperament
- Kirnberger III Temperament
- Werckmeister III Temperament
- Young Temperament
- Kellner Temperament
- Vallotti Temperament
- Rameau Temperament
- The temperaments available are:
By default, the tuner is in Equal temperament. This is the standard when playing with a piano or other fixed pitch instrument. Usually, when you are playing with other orchestral instruments, you’ll use Just Intonation. (If you’ve ever been asked to lower the third in a chord, that’s Just Intonation.) I do practice my long tones in Just Intonation to be sure that my embouchure and ears are flexible enough to put any given pitch where I want it to be. I often do this by looking at the cents marker and putting the tone where I know it should go but having a tuner that will do this for you is quite handy. What tuning system people use is a whole giant can of worms that I’m so not going to open. There’s actually a book on my to-read list called How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care) by Ross W. Duffin. But if you want to explore more and hear some samples of different tunings, here are some sites to check out: Just Intonation Explained and Scales: Just vs. Equal Temperament
Getting back to iStrobosoft, it also the ability to transpose for your instrument’s key or where your capo is. Lucky for me, my main instrument is in C so I don’t use that. You can also change the colors of the tuner to whatever you wish. It also has an input boost, which I don’t use because this messes with the decibel reader and a noise filter in case you are in a loud room environment. Lastly, you can show the tuner on a tv quite easily with an AppleTV. This would be quite nice if you were in an ensemble environment and wanted someone to check their own tuning.
Now to the part of the post that I’ve been dreading. The extras. There are so many in-app purchases that you can make here that I had to make a chart for myself. But here’s the thing, unless you are a guitarist who often uses “sweetened” tunings or a professional in audio, you might not need most of these in-app purchases.
They do have all of the extras available in one package for $59.99 if you need all that iStrobosoft offers. Or you can buy just what you need individually.
- Tuning sweetners
- The sweetened tuning for orchestral instruments are Just Intonation which the app already has and some fourth & fifth tuning for strings.
- Tuning tools scopes
- Spectrum Waveform Analyzer
- Spectrum Bar Graph
- Harmonics Tuning
- Has bands that tune the fundamentals in octaves
- Extended Frequency Modes
I am definitely interested in some of the extras. The Harmonics Tuning has a series of octaves (not overtones but fundamentals in octaves.) They suggest that it is good for tuning or checking old strings. When I asked them about it, they said that there are no user settings for this yet but there might be. If they make it so that you can pick your own, I’d be all over that. The extended frequency mode might be great if I have to start practicing contrabassoon again. And the spectrum waveform analyzer might be great if you were recording and wanted to try and figure out where a hum is coming from. (FYI. Tunable has a type of oscilloscope and it’s also a great app.) So far, I haven’t gotten any of the extras but I’m glad to know that they are there.
Even if you only need a tuner, this is a great one that I use very often and I highly recommend it. iStrobosoft is available on the app store for $9.99. It’s a plus app that requires iOS 7.0 or later.