SuperMegaUltraGroovy – Capo 3
With a company name that cool … you have to check it out!
by Chris Loeffler
Billed as a tool for “Reverse Engineering Rock and Roll,” Capo 3.5 is a song learning tool that features phrase training with the ability to change tempo, pitch, and loop audio; it’s also supported by enhancements such as automatic chord detection, a bar/beat grid, and region marking. It retains features from the previous Capo versions such as center-channel canceling, spectrogram display, and a powerful EQ and panning engine called Neptune.
Capo 3.5 is available for MacOS devices, with a companion app available for iOS devices. It supports the AIFF, WAV, MP3, and M4A file formats, and can pull songs directly from your iTunes library. Capo 3.5 requires macOS El Capitan (10.11) or macOS Sierra (10.12) to run, and is not combatible with audio files protected by Digital Rights Management.
What You Need to Know
Opening a new song in Capo 3 is a seamless process, with only a few seconds needed to analyze and then create the waveform and spectrogram displays, as well as show the detected chords and their respective chord diagrams. Any information about the song carried in iTunes, such as song title and even album art, is displayed at the top of the music bars. There are two views available, Practice view and Tabbing view, which toggle between the most recent Capo view with chord and tablature displays or a more sophisticated Spectrogram display, where notes can quickly be drawn in. You select the playback speed either by dragging manually, or using one of the presets – 1/4x, 1/2x, 3/4x, 1x, and 1.5x. At even the slowest settings, there is little to no evidence of audio artifacts.
Pitch is adjusted independent of speed in one cent (1/100th semitone) increments – handy for transposing songs to accommodate your instrument (if it isn’t guitar) or voice. There’s a two octave pitch shift available in either direction. Like the speed settings, I didn’t hear any particularly distracting audio distortion at pitch extremes.
For users of previous versions of Capo, a new scrubber feature of interest is the freeze feature, which will hold a paused note so you can identify an individual note or chord without looping, it literally plays the millisecond audio snippet indefinitely until you unfreeze it. This is surprisingly easier to use than micro-loops, which can be distracting and require fidgeting to get just right.
A handy grid at the top of the interface denotes where you are in the song, which is helpful – it’s easy to get lost when focusing on a piece bar by bar, and feeds into the spectrogram area. The spectrogram area is no doubt visually appealing and gives a visual representation of the feel of the music, but is a bit deeper than it appears; the notes it contains are best estimates, so some vetting is required.
In addition to pure playback manipulation options, there are three additional enhancement types to be applied to a song: Isolation (Neptune), Beats and Notes.
Isolation (Neptune) enhancements:
- Neptune – Capo 3.5’s Neptune engine replaces the previous Effects enhancement and provides extensive audio isolation that allows users to pull individual instruments or vocals forward in the mix, or fade them out entirely so you’re only hearing what you want to hear. What makes the Neptune engine so powerful is that it uses panning width in addition to EQ for more surgical cuts that don’t cause funky EQing on the highlighted tracks. From karaoke-style vocal elimination to pulling out a backing guitar rhythm track, the uncluttering of sonic space is certainly a boon to learning the part.
- Tempo – Song’s BPM, accurate to one decimal place
- Time Signature – Displays time signature and denotes changes
- Metronome – Plays in time with the song
- Instrument – Selects the type of instrument being played
- Tuning – Based on the instrument, provides more than 50 alternate tunings to account for chord charting
Chord detection was one of the features I was excited (and skeptical) to check out. The concept is that Capo 3 analyzes the song intelligently and creates what it believes to be the correct chord and fretting. Because no chord analyzing software is perfect, Capo 3 offers alternative chord suggestions when you click on a chord that isn’t correct. Better yet, by selecting among one of seven instruments included in Capo 3 (guitar, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, and 4-6 string bass), the tab will be tailored to that instrument.
So how correct was Capo 3.5 in identifying the chords? Depending on the complexity of the song, that answer varies from “pretty” to “not really.” On most rock and country music, if the chord it selected wasn’t correct, one of the suggested alternatives was, and the editing process was extremely easy and intuitive. Throw Miles Davis’ Pangea at it, and it’s a challenge. While experienced transcribers might find the process less efficient than using their ears, less experienced players will likely find it helpful in sussing out mystery chords in a song. At the very least, I discovered a half-dozen or so chords to add to my vocabulary, even if they weren’t the correct ones for the song.
As to why you’d want to correct the chords, once you do those chords will automatically transpose along with everything else when you adjust pitch or key.
Capo 3.5’s audio is only as good as the audio you put into it. While the enhancements it provides are useful in getting you the final 10%, poor, compressed audio will start getting funky at extreme speed and pitch adjustments.
Capo can only be used with purchased, DRM-free audio from iTunes and WAV, AIFF, MP3, MP4, M4A files.
Having reviewed other types of song-learning software, I can say that Capo 3.5 easily meets or beats the frontrunners, with an intuitive and attractive interface, satisfying integration into iTunes, and useful (if not always accurate) chord constructing algorithms. As a tool for learning, slowing down, looping, and pitch shifting, Capo 3.5 makes pretty much any passage accessible. The additions, such as distinct fretting recommendations based on instrument and optional chord recommendations, really enhance the experience as well. – HC-
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.