Review: Accurate Tuner Pro


Of the two approaches to instrument tuning using phones, Accurate Tuner Pro takes the more technical by far. Never mind generating tones and tuning by 'ear' (the other approach, which this app does too if you pony up for the full version), here we have a chromatic (sampling) tuner on steroids, able to tune just about any instrument in any tuning, in any temperament, in any transposition. Impressive. But is it over the top?

Author: Asinulus

Version Reviewed: 1.1

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Guitar playing and fiddling with tech seem to go hand in hand, judging from the number of fellow strummers I've come across. Many worse than me and a greater number a lot better. But we all have to tune our guitars every time we get the 'ol six string (or in my case the 12-string) out - which is why there's a booming cottage industry on every mobile platform in guitar tuning aids of every type. Here's a comprehensive option for Windows Phone....

Before delving into what Accurate Tuner Pro (ATP) does, I should go a little philosophical, noting that there's a distinct benefit to staying 'old school' and low-tech, in that sampling tuners reduce tuning each string to tweaking the tuning pegs and watching the fancy animations - you essentially stop fiddling when the display says so and never mind how the string sounds. Ultimately, as a player, you want to improve, but you also want to improve your musical ear, I'm often appalled by the numbed of players who carry on strumming something which is obviously out of tune because they just can't 'hear it'. I should emphasise that I haven't got 'perfect pitch', but I can recognise when a note's not 'right'. In part this is because I've usually tuned my guitar by ear, playing a tuning fork to get a reference tone and then tuning by harmonics across the strings, or by playing the appropriate notes on a nearby electronic piano or organ and tuning to those.

Even with ATP, after tuning across all the strings, my guitar didn't sound 'right' - every guitar has its own little, miniscule idiosyncrasies, i.e. no instrument is perfectly intoned. By tuning by ear, I was able to make these little allowances as I went.

The argument against tuning using reference tones, by ear, is that 'on stage' (i.e. in a noisy and busy environment), it's hard to hear accurately enough to make the needed changes. By plugging your instrument into an electronic tuner, you can interface directly with a tuning engine and get accurate pitch even if Motorhead are playing on the other side of the room.

This then is the big selling point of sampling/'chromatic' tuners - except that here, on your Windows Phone, you can't plug your instrument in - you're reliant on the microphone - which brings us back to problems in noisy rooms: in this case, the software having to pick individual frequencies from a barrage of sound. Which often doesn't work very well.

All of which is a lengthy background preamble explaining why ATP isn't really needed or worthwhile! But don't switch off...

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You see, I rated it very highly, scoring it at 86%. This is because, with the huge caveat already mentioned, it's perfectly programmed, utterly comprehensive and amazingly configurable. So if phone-microphone-based chromatic tuning works for you, in your use case, then this is absolutely the application to go for. Whatever your instrument, whatever type of band, whatever era your source material comes from, there's a tuning and a help-mate here somewhere.

As with traditional chromatic tuners, you pluck a string (or blow a note) and watch while its sound is sampled in real time, the component frequencies extracted, the root frequency established and then displayed. In this case on a handy analogue guage - once your note gets within 'in tune' range, the whole backlight turns green, for even easier identification. The note picked out (e.g. "G3") is also clearly shown in a very large font.

Geeks will appreciate details like an oscilloscope-like graphical depiction of the sampled waveform, though this doesn't really add much in a practical tuning situation. Rather handily, there's a transposition dial, letting you skew the tunings by a set number of semi-tones - for a guitarist, this means being able to tune, in theory, while having a capo in place. (In real life, experience has taught me that tuning with a capo on is a terrible idea, mind you. You should always tune with open strings and only then apply the capo. Still, being able to tune one problematic string while 'capoed' is a useful emergency function.)

Where Accurate Tuner Pro really impresses is in its flexibility. For example, in thirty years of playing guitar (yes, yes, you'd have thought I'd have better at it by now....?! moving on.....), I've never once experimented with alternative tunings, yet there are dozens, repeat dozens of guitar tunings to try out here - 90% of which I'd never heard of. Wow. 

I do get the feeling that ATP is more geared to pianos and more static stringed instruments though, not least because of the way you can vary 'temperament' (essentially, the way notes are spaced) - it's almost as if ATP was designed as a piano tuner's aid - it could certainly perform this function with aplomb.

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One delightful way in which ATP is 'pitched' (pun intended!) is the balance between the trial and full versions. Casual use of Accurate Tuner Pro is perfectly possible using the trial, with most functions full working, but with top-of-screen ads appearing throughout - not a huge issue, but you're certainly aware of them. This way you can get very comfortable with the utility in your own musical set up and find out whether it works for you (or not). Certainly, £2 is an absolute steal for the full version if you find that you like it. You also then get even greater customisability and the aforementioned tone generator.

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Whatever you play, run, don't walk to get the trial version of Accurate Tuner Pro. Comments welcome as to how well it works for you and your instrument - I'm genuinely curious!

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