Peterson iPhone and iPad apps are accurate and low-cost strobe instrument tuners
Update April 15, 2013 - the Peterson iStrobosoft tuner has become my go-to tuner for all stringed instruments, guitar, mandolin, banjo and uke.
It’s easy to use, accurate and with me everywhere my iPhone goes.
I only wish they had Android and Windows Phone versions.
I wanted to see just how accurate the iPhone Peterson would be. I was not disappointed, although the under $20 Snark SN-1 clip on tuner was almost as accurate.
Last night I was practicing guitar while the news was on. It was handy to refresh my tuning without looking for a tuner. I’m not sure if musicians will risk damaging their iPhones in a studio or stage environment to use the iStrobosoft app. The practicality of the iStrobosoft tuner for those uses is up to each person to decide.
Peterson Strobe Tuners have been the pinnacle of stringed instrument tuners for decades and known for accuracy and high cost.
How a strobe tuner works
Strobe tuners convert the signal from the mic or instrument to the frequency of lights behind a spinning disk. The disk speed is changed to represent the exact frequency of the real note. The lights shine through holes on the disk. If the string is sharp the disk will seem to be moving forward. Conversely if the string is flat, the disk will seem to be moving backward. A perfectly in pitch string causes the disk to appear stationary. The video below explains the process.
Explanation of how a strobe tuner works – Peterson Electro-Musical Products, INC
Peterson has worked to digitize the process and get the cost of a tuner down from $400 to about $200. Peterson strobe tuners are still the gold standard with their accuracy to 1/10th of a percent. Musicians in a recording studio need strobe tuners to avoid being off-pitch.
Most needle tuners are accurate between 1% and 3% but cost less than $100. Sometimes, needle tuners are easier to use on stage since there are complaints the strobe tuners are too sensitive. However, we’ve all seen musicians tuning far to long on stage with needle tuners, attempting to entertain us with weak jokes while they struggle with tuners.
iStrobosoft tuner app
The genius of the iStrobosoft tuner app is that it uses the existing microphone, processor, memory and display of your smartphone.
In a reasonably quiet environment, say practice at home, the iPhone app can accurately hear an acoustic guitar for tuning purposes. Pluck the string and the 4 segments of the screen rotate until you get the string in tune. String dynamics being what they are, only luck and a good tail wind will get .1% accurate tuning. That being said, it is easy and quick to tune a guitar within .3% accuracy which is better than any needle tuner.
There is a noise filter to help if the room isn’t quiet, that is partly capable of removing background noise. iStrobosoft looks great and the display is easy to see, partly thanks to the iPhone. There is also a 24 dB gain for weak signals.
For electric guitars there is an adapter that fits in the headphone jack, Peterson iPhone/iPad/iPod touch Adapter Cable ($13). Plug a 1/4″ instrument cable from the guitar into the adapter and the tuner works. Tune your guitar as you normally would.
I already had an IK Multimedia iRig Adapter ($30) which worked perfectly. The iRig is almost 3 times the price of the Peterson adapter but it has a headphone out jack you might find convenient.
An iPhone with the adapter and 1/4″ instrument cable can easily yank the iPhone from the safe place you put it onto the floor. I’ve never liked this set-up for IK and actually dropped the phone several times with the adapter / instrument cable overpowering the phone.
The app lacks any sweetened tunings but does allow tunings that are +- 12 semi-tones.
Is iStrobosoft useful? In a pinch it does the job but the risk of breaking a $700 iPhone seems like a poor trade-off. On the flip side, it’s always with you if you carry a smartphone and is accurate enough to set intonation. And it only costs $10.
Quick video showing the iStrobosoft app in action
The iPad has its own app (normally $20 on sale this month for $10). Besides being formatted for the larger screen, the iPad app has individual note select, output to a projector for teaching, and MIDI notes as well as Hz.
I didn’t try the iPad app since the iPhone app worked on my iPad. Using the iPad app would be more stable since the iPad is not going to move as easily with the adapter and cable attached.
The app also works on the iPod Touch but you will need the Mini Microphone for iPhone 3G/iPod/touch/classic ($2).
What people say
Other than a few complaints about the adapter, most online comments are positive.
“Luckily, now you can carry around a bona fide Peterson tuner in your pocket via the iStroboSoft application. I’ve not had any issues with the application and have been impressed by how sensitive it is. Plus, it just looks great.” Brian Sacawa
“At $9.99, this is the most expensive app on my iPhone, but it’s worth every penny. In fact, having now used it for a few months, I’d pay twice this and still feel like it’s a great value. I’ve been working on a record with an artist called Sea of Bees, and almost every song used a capo on the guitar, which made tuning and subsequent overdubs just that much more challenging.” TapeOp