Embertone Sensual Saxophone
Sexy and sensual sax app for your iOS device
by Phil O'Keefe
My earliest musical experiences as a player were with reed instruments, and while I spend more time with guitar, keyboards and bass these days, reeds still hold a special place in my heart. That's why, when I learned about the Sensual Sax app from Embertone, I knew I had to check it out. It looks kind of corny, but the real question is, how does it sound?
- Sensual Sax was developed by Embertone, in cooperation with Blue Mangoo (I must resist the temptation to comment on that name!). Designed for iOS devices (iPhones, iPad, iPod Touch), it requires iOS 9.0 or later. There's also a Kontakt Instrument version, but I didn't test it as part of this review.
- As the app is loading the splash screen says "Loading Your Sexperience," which kind of sets the tone for the whole app.
- One of the first things you'll notice when the app finishes loading is the large Sex Knob in the center of the screen immediately above the virtual keyboard. This is the very first app I've come across with a Sex Knob, and playing with it liberally is really the key to getting the most enjoyment from Sensual Saxophone. Yes, I just told everyone to enjoy playing with their Sex Knobs.
- Higher settings of the Sex Knob gives the sound more reverb and delay, more vibrato, and most importantly, more of the articulations "between notes" that separate real saxophone parts from most imitations. This includes grace notes, slurs, falls, ghost notes, lipping notes up and down and all the other sexy articulations that make playing sax so expressive.
- Tonality-wise, the sound is very reminiscent of Steve Gregory's sax tone used on George Michael's "Careless Whisper" (
), especially at high Sex Knob settings.
- With billowing pink smoke (and droplets of, well, I really don't want to know what that is), neon colored indicators and gold accents, the graphics are pretty kinky, and they get more over the top the higher up you crank the Sex Knob. At the highest settings you get six animated sexy sax man profiles - three on either side of the Sex Knob.
- The samples are extensive for an iOS app, with over 600 samples used for the sound engine.
- There are three main articulations, which are selected from a main panel switch. Staccato plays short samples, no matter how long you hold the keys down, while the Sustain setting provides more flowing lines and the ability to play chords. Legato is a mono (one note at a time) mode, and it's where this app really shines. It's here that you can get the most expressive and sax-like performances from the app.
- In Legato mode, Sensual Saxophone plays true legato samples, which greatly increases the realism compared to many sampled saxophones. They sampled a sax player transitioning from each note to every other note, and incorporated those in what you hear, with more and more of it as you push the Sex Knob higher.
- The Keyboard can be locked into position with a main panel switch, or allowed to scroll from side to side as you're pressing down and sustaining notes, giving it extended range. There's also a switch for selecting a dual keyboard, which allows you to play duet lines with two legato sexy saxophones.
- OSC is supported, so you can connect to OSC-enabled applications running on other devices. Inter App Audio and Audio Unit 3 are also supported.
- Inside the Sex Knob, there's a small green button that you can press to access the Advanced mode. Here you'll find slider controls for adjusting the amount of Reverb and the Room Size, as well as the Vibrato depth. Delay controls are also available, with separate sliders for controlling the delay Amount and the delay Time.
- Alternate graphics are available via the MIDI menu's Modesty Mode switch (accessed by pressing the green button in the upper left hand corner of the screen), but the change is fairly limited - instead of a Sex Knob, the labeling for the main control is changed to LUV. You still get the same amount of pink smoke, gold accents and even the side profile shots of the sexy sax men when the knob is dimed.
- The MIDI menu also allows selecting a MIDI input source, MIDI output destination, and the corresponding MIDI input and output channels.
- Unfortunately Sensual Sax currently does not support MIDI CC2 (breath control), so if you want to use it with a MIDI saxophone or wind controller, you won't have breath control and won't be able to perform some of the dynamic techniques that those controllers are usually more adept at (at least compared to a keyboard controller), such as sforzandos and crescendos. Embertone has promised this will be coming in a future update.
- The only other thing I'd really like to see is a Reverb & Delay Follow Sex Knob (On/Off) switch in the Advanced mode. Being able to control how busy and expressive the "in between notes" stuff gets using the Mod wheel is a great feature, but because the reverb and delay also get heavier at higher, more expressive settings of the Sex Knob, it's a dead giveaway when you're shooting for a more authentic-sounding sax. Being able to uncouple the reverb and delay from the Sex (Sensuality) Knob would let you leave the delay and reverb at fixed settings (like you'll hear on most recordings) while allowing the player to retain control over the notes' expressiveness (via the modulation wheel / CC1).
While the naming of the Sex Knob, along with the honeymoon suite in a cheap Vegas hotel-inspired graphics are an obvious play to make the app funny and slightly risqué, the actual functionality of the Sex Knob, with more expressive transitions from note to note at higher settings, is a really cool feature that lets you play more expressively and provides a lot more realism. The sample set is really well done, particularly the legato samples.
This is a very fun app that comes oh so close to greatness… with a few minor additions, not only would it be fun for imitating Sexy Sax Man or playing along with the "Careless Whisper" music at the end of Deadpool, it could be a breakthrough app for emulating saxophone parts, whether you play them via the built-in keyboard / dual keyboard, or even better, an external keyboard or wind controller. Unfortunately wind controllers are not quite as well supported as they could be, but hopefully Embertone and Blue Mangoo will consider adding MIDI CC2 support and a switch to make the reverb and delay not follow the Sex Knob. If they do, they will rule the sexy sax world. It's a fun app now, but with those additions people everywhere - including serious musicians - will discover the fun of playing with their Sex Knobs! -HC-
Embertone Sensual Saxophone app for iOS ($4.99 MSRP)
Embertone's product web page
You can purchase Embertone's Sensual Saxophone app from the Apple App Store.
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Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.