There are a lot of guitar tuner apps clogging up the App Store these days. Many of them work quite well and are reasonably accurate, and some are even free, but you probably wouldn't want to try to set your intonation with most of these apps, and with many of them tuning anything other than a guitar in standard tuning is probably out of the question. Their value is derived mostly from their convenience and low/no price. IK Multimedia, creators of the well-known and highly regarded AmpliTube amp modeling software, are trying to change this with the UltraTuner, an extremely precise (down to 1/100th of a cent! ) instrument tuner app for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, or as an in-app purchase within AmpliTube for iPhone and iPad. The UltraTuner works with all audio interfaces for the previously mentioned Apple mobile devices, or with said device's internal mic, and is more than accurate enough for setting guitar and bass intonation. With its many options for calibration, sensitivity, and temperament, the UltraTuner is also useful for tuning vintage synths and non-chromatic acoustic instruments like violin, stand-up bass, brass, or even voice.
Using the UltraTuner
The IK MultiMedia UltraTuner is available from the App Store for $4.99, so acquiring it for your device is just like acquiring any other app. I downloaded it to my iPhone 4, fired it up, and started tuning in Stage mode. The main feature in Stage mode is the large, bright LED that's easy to read from a distance. It has a typical sort of flat and sharp display to indicate how far off you are from the target note in either direction, and the LED bar turns green when you're dead on – supremely simple to use. I was tuning a nylon string acoustic, so I tapped the "Settings" button and turned the sensitivity about halfway up for my iPhone's internal microphone. While I was rooting around in there I examined the other settings available. A440 is the standard tuning reference, but users can calibrate this as they see fit. There are also 8 different temperaments to choose from; Equal, Pythagorean, Just Major, ¼ Comma Mean Tone, Kirnberger III, Werckmeister III, Young, and Kellner. In all honesty, I am but a simple rock guitar player and I don't have a clue what most of these temperaments are for – instruments that are not guitars, I assume. I do know that my guitars are set up for Equal temperament, so I stayed with that setting. There are also settings for Root Key and Transposition, which again, are going to be useful mostly for non-guitar applications. Picking a root key is necessary for any temperament other than Equal, and the Transposition setting lets you offset the detected note by a given number of semitones in either direction.
If you're doing some serious tuning-related business, like setting your guitar's intonation, tweaking your axe for a studio session, or even some ear training, you're going to want to use the UltraTuner's Studio mode. Studio mode gives you a real-time waveform motion display, with a flat note indicated by the waveform moving to the left, or moving to the right when you're sharp. The faster it moves, the further off you are. When the waveform is still, you're in tune. This mode seemed noticeably more sensitive to tiny movements of the tuning machines, as you would expect. If you tap the main display with your finger in Studio mode, the UltraTuner's waveform visualization changes to a pitch-tracking visualization. Pitch-tracking lets you observe how the pitch varies over time, which is useful for non-chromatic instruments, as well as pitch and ear training with vocals. I can see this being incredibly useful for music teachers, music majors, producers, arrangers, and just about anybody else working in a serious music profession. For me, I'm just delighted that I can accurately dial in my guitar's intonation with my phone – very cool, indeed.
I was very impressed with the IK MultiMedia UltraTuner. It proved to be stunningly accurate, rock-n-roll-caveman simple to use, and with its advanced features and $4.99 price tag, I think it's a must-have for any musician who has an Apple
mobile device and an appreciation for a well-tempered instrument.
What We Like: Professional tuning power in your pocket, for a pittance.
Concerns: Nothing really, except…after you purchase and download the UltraTuner IK MultiMedia makes you register with their website before you can access the user's manual. That's kind of annoying.
Build Quality: 5 Star
Value: 4 Star (Free would have been a 5)
TR Rating: 4 1/2 Star