C.ARP is a fun retro instrument iPhone app inspired by the Suzuki Omnichord

C.ARP app screenshot
(Image credit: Apple)

C.ARP app icon

(Image credit: Apple)

iOS  $7.99 / £7.99 / €7.99

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While it’s 80’s electronic tones were once seen as cheesy, the Suzuki Omnichord’s distinctive sound has made something of a resurgence in recent years, with the likes of Sharon Van Etten, Bjork and John Mayer all featuring the quirky keyboard on tracks.

First released in 1981, the plasticky bean-shaped device is something of a hybrid of an accordion, a keyboard, a harp and a drum machine and was originally designed as a simple way to accompany a singer. 

With its basic built-in rhythms and auto-bass, plus its chord button arpeggiator and a unique touch-sensitive strum plate, its ideal for novice musicians, while also serving as a handy song writing tool, and has been used by the likes of David Bowie, Brian Eno, U2.

Recent weeks have seen it come back into the spotlight after Gorillaz’ mastermind Damon Albarn revealed in an Apple Beats Radio interview that the main hook for their hit song Clint Eastwood, was based around one of the Omnichord’s auto-accompaniment presets.

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Sadly, its hipster rediscovery has meant that second-hand prices for the instrument and its variants have gone through the roof on auction sites, and while Suzuki has plans to resurrect the Omnichord, its sparkly sounds are currently out of reach for many musicians.

The good news is that there are a number of apps inspired by the beguiling instrument that do a great job of approximating how it works and sounds. I’m a big fan of the venerable Polychord, which sadly hasn’t had an update in over five years, but arguably more fun and flexible is C.ARP.

The fish-themed app takes the basic controls and sounds of the quirky Japanese instrument but adds real-time audio effects, drum pads, midi compatibility, plus the ability to record your voice or other sounds with a built-in sampler. These recordings can be edited, reversed and looped and used to make chords and melodies.

While nicely designed and thoughtfully laid out, the play area can still get a little bit pokey on iPhone, so I’d recommend using an iPad if you have one at hand, but otherwise C.ARP is a superb emulation of a much-loved instrument that will inspire musicians of all abilities.


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Kevin Lynch

Kevin Lynch is a London-born, Dublin-based writer and journalist. 

He started out as a music writer in the late 1990s, before moving to the Daily Mirror to become the newspaper’s technology editor, during which time he wrote a weekly column that saw him chart the boom of consumer tech and gaming as well as the resurrection and rise of Apple Inc. 

He has also served as editor of GuinnessWorldRecords.com and has been a member of the judging panel for the BAFTA British Academy Video Game Awards.