Can A Free App Recreate The Magic Of The Tenori On?

Sonic State Takes A Look At The New Beatwave Matrix Synthesizer For The iPad, iPhone      23/04/10

Can A Free App Recreate The Magic Of The Tenori On?

Buying Choices

Ever since the Yamaha Tenori On was introduced in 2005, people have been intrigued by the device's visual approach to sequencing.

With the Tenori On, notes are visualized on a grid of glowing squares. The pitches of a scale are notated up and down each column, while position in a sequence is notated left to right.

The Tenori On's style of visual sequencing has spawned many imitators, ranging from inexpensive matrix synhthesizers like the Bliptronic 5000 to the Flash-based ToneMatrix site.

Now collect3 has released Beatwave, a free matrix synthesizer for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Can a free app like Beatwave be as hypnotizing and addictive as something like the Tenori On?


I tested Beatwave on an iPad, but it also can be used on the iPhone and iPod touch. There are advantages to using an iPad for an app of this type, including enhanced visuals, responsiveness and a more forgiving scale for the interface.

Beatwave operates in both portrait and landsape modes.

There are three main sections to the UI, shown above:

  • The top section lets you control patterns, settings and sounds, and also lets you share your work via email;
  • The main section features a matrix of squares on a field, arranged with 16 columns with 18 buttons per column; and
  • The bottom section lets you switch layers, adjust the tuning, control the sequence and change the tempo.

Getting started is easy. Pressing play activates the sequence, which is represented by a blue vertical row of squares that moves left to right across the matrix.

By tapping squares in the grid, you toggle notes on and off.

  • The bottom two rows in the default sounds control kick and snare percussion sounds.
  • The top 16 rows control notes, arranged in a standard pentatonic scale.
  • As you move up the scale, notes are panned from left to right.

Beatwave supports 4 layers in a sequence:

  • Each layer has its own grid and can be assigned its own sounds. 
  • Tapping one of the Layers buttons at the bottom of the screen activates the layer.
  • You can assign a new sound to the layer by tapping the Sounds button at the top of the screen and then tapping the icon for a new sound. 

One feature that is not immediately obvious is that you save, copy and paste Patterns.

To do this, you:

  • Create a Pattern on any layer;
  • Click the Patterns link at the top of the page to access the Patterns area; and
  • Click the "+" icon to add a saved layer.

Once a layer is saved, you can "paste" it to a new layer by simply tapping on it.

Here's an example of Beatwave in action on an iPhone:


In App Purchasing

Beatwave draws you in quickly, because feedback is immediate and because the pentatonic scale limitation means that anything you do will at least sound pleasant.

You quickly run into limitations though, including sounds and app features. The pentatonic scale is fixed, for example, and you can't sequence notes outside the 16-note range of the matrix sequencer.

collect3's model for making money with Beatwave is to give you the app for free, and then offer additional sounds and features as in-app downloads.

Currently, audio recording is available as an Extra Feature and a variety of sounds are also available. I tried this out by downloading a collection of additional sounds, including upright bass and Roland TR-909 drum sounds. In-app purchasing is easy and pricing is reasonable.


Beatwave is very easy to use and shows the potential of mobile devices, especially the iPad, for doing Tenori On style matrix sequencing. Beatwave's interface is immediate and attractive, and quickly draws you in. No application errors were encountered during testing.

The current limitations of Beatwave, though, will leave you wanting more. Additional sounds and features are available, but still fairly limited.

I'd like to see Beatwave offer some sort of "scene" support, so you could save sets of pattern combinations and sequence between them. Scale selection or the ability to edit scales needs to be added, too. Wish list items include per layer panning and effects, and the ability to use a layer to sequence other software wirelessly.

At the price, recommending that you download and try out Beatwave is a no-brainer. Time will tell whether collect3 can generate enough interest in in-app purchases to develop Beatwave into a more serious matrix synthesizer.

If you've got an iPhone, iPod touch or an iPad, give Beatwave a try and let us know what you think!


  • Easy to learn and use
  • Immediacy of the user interface
  • You can't make it sound bad


  • Scale is fixed
  • Limited range of sounds
  • Note selection is fixed to the 16 pitch matrix
  • Lack of "scenes"
  • Lack of standard save & load

Pricing and Availability

Beatwave is available now as a free download in the App Store. In app purchases start at US $.99.


James Lewin
Twitter @podcasting_news


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