Earlier this summer, we posted a round-up of seven 7 iPhone apps designed to help people become better musicians.
As a musician who’s benefited from many of these apps, it was a very satisfying piece for me to put together. But any survey of the morass of apps in iTunes is liable to miss a hidden gem or two.
So when the developer of BeatFactor, a completely novel rhythm app for iPhone, contacted me with a friendly challenge, I was all ears. He believed that his app is the best metronome in the iTunes app store, citing features he claimed took his app beyond my pick of the litter, Metronome Plus.
So I guess it’s rebuttal time. Is BeatFactor really your best metronome option on iOS, or was I right in picking Metronome Plus? Non-musicians might scoff at the distinction, but to us musos, these metronomes are important gear indeed.
The answer: BeatFactor really might be better, but it depends on what you need.
Truthfully, BeatFactor bears very little resemblance to a traditional metronome at all — in fact, I would qualify it as more of a practice-oriented groove machine. With its enhanced feature set and distinctly non-metronome-like interface, it almost isn’t fair to compare this app to the rinky-dink pendulum simulations that make up the majority of this category.
Frankly, the degree to which this app set itself apart from every other metronome in the app store, both visually and functionally, led it to being overlooked. Is it even a metronome? Upon closer examination, it is — and a great one, at that, quite possibly the best.
BeatFactor offers near 100 preset grooves in a variety of styles and meters, which already goes beyond the regular downbeats etc., but it really shines through its groove editing options, which leave your father’s metronome in the dust. The app offers over 150 instrument samples, each individually assignable to each pulse in a beat. And each beat can be customized to one of six dynamics, from pianissimo to fortissimo to subito.
Musicians with the requisite skills can thus add, remove, accent, and tailor beats to fit nearly any song in any genre, making it easier to practice.
You also get all the basic metronome parameters, like BMP with tempo marker, tap tempo, time signature, straight eighths and sixteens vs triplets, so if you don’t need the groove-editing tools mentioned above, they won’t slow you down.
Say you still want a steady pulse to keep you grounded — as well as a separate rhythm track with syncopated accents to help you lock in on the soloist. Beatfactor allows for that case, whereas more traditional metronomes do not.
You can export your custom-groove-edited beats to share them with bandmates as well. Or if you’re unhealthily committed to mastering that tricky rhythm, you can even set it as your iPhone’s ringtone.
I could enumerate some other ways in which BeatFactor’s groove creation options could help a musician, but I think you get the message here: No one would reasonably expect a metronome to do all of the things that it does, but that’s what makes BeatFactor an exciting practice tool.
Our verdict: If you’re looking for a metronome that does exactly what metronomes have been doing for years, you’ll likely be satisfied by a simple, reliable app like Metronome Plus, which is the best app that most people would think of as “a metronome.”
But if you’re looking for the brainchild of a rhythmic mad-scientist that offers virtually limitless groove options — in addition to providing that steady backbeat — you couldn’t ask for more than BeatFactor… at least until another developer emails us with an even more innovative idea.
On that note, so to speak, a message to app developers: While we try to keep track of every awesome music app release, occasionally we miss one. If you feel like you have something truly unique that isn’t getting the attention it deserves, please, let us know. Again, we’re all ears.