Technical Library

TUNING VIII: Chromatic tuning apps

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Chromatic tuning apps…

If you need electronic assistance to set a temperament—and prefer not to carry a separate dedicated tuner like the Korg OT-120—perhaps you’d rather find a suitable app for your smart phone? All of the tuning apps shown on this frequently-updated page run on either iPhone or iPad. The prices mentioned for each app below are for the iOS apps in USD and were current 18 February 2021.

Some of these apps discussed here have Android versions which can be found on GooglePlay. Please note those are likely to have different pricing, and may not have all the features of iOS apps evaluated here.

The Apple App Store has many tuning apps, but most are for guitars or other simple stringed instruments, so only offer Equal Temperament. The price paid for any app has no bearing on its quality or suitability for tuning early keyboards: Many are next to useless, so buyer beware. This page provides the rundown on thirteen current tuning apps which might be considered appropriate for early keyboards: Airyware Tuner, APTuner, Cleartune, insTuner, iStrobeSoft, linotune, n-Track Tuner, Pano Tuner, TonalEnergy Tuner & Metronome, Tunable, Tune Again, VITALtuner™ and Well Tempered. Some apps like iPegs, PitchLab, and Sound Tuner have been discontinued but still appear here for those able to continue using them if already installed on earlier devices.

All these discussed apps have a variety of historic temperaments built in, and the better ones enable you to program your own temperament. Just because an app goes beyond Equal Temperament by offering historic temperaments does not mean that it is fit for purpose, as you can judge by the Demerits noted below. (Note that the lists of temperaments—available by following the links to the pop-up window for each app—are exactly named and ordered as they appear in the app: Without detailed external reference provided by most of the app developers, there may be some doubt of the exact derivation or pitch placement of some of the temperaments on many of these apps, and some apps have temperaments which are blatantly incorrect.)

We are now seeing a trend with app developers moving from the usual one-off purchase model, to exorbitant weekly or monthly licence fees. In my opinion, this is a deplorable practice, and it would have to be a pretty extraordinary app used very frequently to justify that.

The free but now obsolete iPegs app produced tones and had no meter. The paid app Cleartune is well known: It has a chromatic note wheel display with the familiar waving needle and can also generate tones. Most of the glitches in the initial (July 2012) release of the insTuner app were rectified in v2, and the developers engaged me to assist with some necessary refinements in an update. It’s very regrettable that PitchLab is no longer available, because it was streets ahead of all the others.

As these apps appeared, or I was alerted to them, I tested them using the then-current iOS software. I am now using an iPhone 11 Pro and iOS14.4. Please note that none of these apps can really be considered sophisticated enough for tuning a modern piano, although APTuner and Well Tempered have three forms of Equal Temperament stretch programmed, and Airyware Tuner has fully-programmable stretch.

App developers are encouraged to contact me to test flight and/or review their offerings here.


Hints for a great tuning using an app…

Happy tuning!


Carey’s tuning app feature wish list…


Airywave screen shot 56K jpeg Airyware Tuner v1.18.9
  • 9 octave tuning range: 15–8000Hz
  • Up to 0.1 cent accuracy
  • Ambient noise reduction
  • A4 (a') calibration from 300–600Hz
  • Calibration to live sound
  • Strobe or oscilloscope
  • 400+ instruments, 900+ alternate tunings
  • Thirty-seven selectable temperaments
  • Customizable stretch
  • Last update 20 Nov 2019
  • Fully-functional free app for trial period (Licence USD4.99)
  • Android version available

Demerits:

  • Guitar focus
  • Status bar hidden
  • Lurid colors throughout
  • No in operation readout of selected temperament
  • Cent deviations for temperaments based on C rather than A
  • Meantone flats named as sharps (ie D instead of E; A instead of B)
  • Central display point for in-tune note related to ET, not the temperament selected
  • Constant reminders every 30 seconds after trial period expiration to purchase full licence

Rating: ⭑ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒

Airyware icon 4K jpeg

APTuner screen shot 38K jpeg APTuner v3.1.1
  • Choice of needle or strobe screens
  • 0.1 cent precision
  • User selectable noise threshold
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration from 300–600Hz in 0.1Hz increments
  • 8-octave stroboscopic display
  • Portrait or landscape orientation
  • Graph of pitch & loudness over time
  • One hundred and thirty-six selectable temperaments
  • Automatic note selection or manual lock
  • Last update 19 Apr 2018
  • Paid app (USD9.99)

Demerits:

  • Status bar hidden
  • Lurid colors in strobe display (needle display much better)
  • No readout when in operation of pitch or temperament selected
  • Too many temperaments, obviously lifted from Well Tempered app
  • No user definable temperament possibility
  • No tone generation
  • Strobe segments are fixed octave bands, so much screen space
    is irrelevant to the note being tuned

Rating: ⭑ ⭑ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒

APTuner icon 4K jpeg

Cleartune screen shot 53K jpeg Cleartune v2.3
  • Note Wheel Display
  • Needle Damping option
  • Twenty-four selectable temperaments
  • User-defined temperaments by input of 0.1 cent offsets
  • Detectable reference pitch
  • Support for transposing instruments
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration to 1000Hz in 0.001Hz increments
  • Tone generator with four selectable waveforms
  • Automatic or manual note selection
  • Portrait or landscape orientation
  • Last update 16 Jun 2020
  • Paid app (USD3.99)
  • Android version available again

Demerits:

  • Previously-reported bugs mostly resolved
  • Poor pitch detection for instruments with complex waveforms like musette or regal
Rating: ⭑ ⭑ ⭑ ⭑ ⭒
Cleartune icon 5K jpeg

insTuner screen shot 33K jpeg insTuner v2.5.3
  • Four different displays
  • Paid optional FFT & Spectrogram modes
  • Thirty-two selectable temperaments
  • User-defined temperaments by input of 0.1 cent offsets
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration in 0.1Hz increments from 390.1–489.8Hz
  • Auto detect A
  • Frequency displayed in 0.1Hz
  • Tone generation of 9 octaves
  • Four pitchpipe waveforms
  • Real-time spectrum graph
  • Portrait or landscape orientation
  • Eight help screens
  • Most glitches from initial release corrected
  • Last update 7 Jul 2015
  • Paid app (USD3.99)
Demerits:
  • Status bar hidden
  • Rather slow pitch detection
  • Selecting square or sawtooth waveforms may read slightly over-frequency
  • Accidentals are always displayed as sharps () even in temperaments when flats () are required
  • Meantone temperament has all accidentals flats; Meantone temperament has all sharps

Rating: ⭑ ⭑ ⭑ ⭑ ⭒

nsTuner icon 4K jpeg

iPegs screen shot 46K jpeg iPegs v1.1
NO LONGER AVAILABLE
  • Designed by a musician
  • Chromatic circle display with adjustable accidentals
  • Fourteen selectable temperaments
  • Quick pitch selection of A392/A415/A440/A465
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration in 1Hz increments from 300–500Hz
  • Simple sound only — no meter
  • Tone generation of 8 octaves
  • Quick mute
  • Free app

Demerits:

  • “Werckmeister III” is not the usually expected temperament, but actually Werckmeister V.
  • When iPhone set to silent and sleeping, running app will squawk when phone wakes with incoming text or call even if app “Mute” button was selected.

Note:

  • This early-developed app ceased working from iPhone 6S and was withdrawn from the iTunes store. iPegs v2 underwent Beta testing and was expected for release April 2016 but it looks like we will never see it.
iPegs icon 3K jpeg

iStroboSoft screen shot 27K jpeg iStroboSoft v2.98
  • Strobe screen
  • Twelve selectable temperaments
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration in 0.1Hz increments from 340–540Hz
  • Automatic or manual note selection
  • Detectable frequency range from E♭0 – E♭8
  • Portrait or landscape orientation
  • Last update 22 Nov 2017
  • Paid app (USD9.99), with in-app purchases
  • Android version available

Demerits:

  • Status bar hidden
  • Seems to be mainly aimed for guitarists
  • No user definable temperament possibility
  • Difficult returning to default ET from an historic temperament
  • Substantial errors in some programmed temperaments (>10 cents) unacknowledged by developer
  • Programmed temperament deviations are set from C instead of A
  • No tone generation
  • In-app help requires internet access
  • In-app upgrades rather expensive
  • Very disappointing offering from Peterson Tuners, a long-established name in strobe tuning
Rating: ⭑ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒
iStroboSoft icon 5K jpeg

linotune screen shot 49K jpeg linotune 1.14.1
  • Strobe screen
  • Thirty-one selectable temperaments included
  • Virtually unlimited temperament options with additional .scl files
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration in 0.1Hz
  • Portrait or landscape orientation
  • Last update 29 Oct 2018
  • Paid app (USD5.99) for a limited two-week trial version(!)
  • Android & Cross-platform desktop versions available

Demerits:

  • Exorbitant licence fee required after two week trial expiry:
    EUR20/month or EUR299 for a single computer licence
  • Almost a Windows-like appearance despite being designed on Mac desktop
  • Too difficult to change temperaments, requiring navigating & double-tapping on file folders
  • Tone generation almost inaudible & no choice of waveform
  • Programmed temperament deviations are set from C instead of A
  • Buttons are too small & too close to bottom of screen for reliable use on iPhone 11, especially in portrait orientation
  • Impossible to see the data label on buttons when tapping
Rating: ⭒ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒
lintune icon 4K jpeg

n-Track Tuner screen shot 21K jpeg n-Track Tuner v3.0.12
  • Choice of four views including spectrum analyzer (six in Pro upgrade)
  • 0.1 cent precision
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration in 1Hz increments
  • Portrait or landscape orientation
  • Ten temperaments only available after Pro purchase
  • Last update 13 Apr 2021
  • Free app with in-app upgrade to Pro (USD7.99)

Demerits:

  • Status bar hidden
  • In-app Pro purchase essential to remove annoying ad banner & pop-up full screen ads
  • Unable to access settings without upgrade
  • Must restart iPhone after app upgrade to access settings
  • Unable to change pitch from A440 [except “tune fork” screen] without upgrade
  • Unable to change temperaments without upgrade
  • Poor choice of too few temperaments
  • No user definable temperament possibility
  • No selectable waveform for “tune fork”
  • Why does this app require Location data?

Rating: ⭑ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒

n-Track Tuner icon 4K jpeg

Pano Tuner screen shot 34K jpeg Pano Tuner — Chromatic Tuner v1.2.14
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration over wide range
  • Nine selectable temperaments
  • Continual frequency readout (0.1Hz)
  • User defined temperaments
  • In-built recording of reference pitch with tone playback
  • Last update 2015
  • Free app with in-app upgrade to Pro (USD1.99)
  • Android version available

Demerits:

  • What is a “Pano”?
  • Landscape orientation only
  • Goofy appearance
  • Continual ads in free version
  • Rudimentary temperament choice only available after upgrade
  • No in operation readout of selected pitch or temperament
  • Must change Temperament Key from default C to A for correct operation
  • Non-adjustable waveform for reference pitch tone playback

Rating: ⭑ ⭑ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒

Pano Tuner icon 5K jpeg

PitchLab screen shot 23K jpeg PitchLab v1.0.21
NO LONGER AVAILABLE
  • Chromatic circle display with adjustable accidentals
  • Forty-one selectable temperaments
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration in 0.1Hz increments from 381–508.3Hz
  • User-defined temperaments by input of 0.1 cent offsets
  • Tone generation of 8 octaves using keyboard layout (C0–B7)
  • Portrait or landscape orientation
  • Last update 18 Dec 2015
  • Free app, with in-app purchases

Demerits:

  • Status bar hidden
  • Insufficient margin on screen
  • Tone generation wave choice lacks sine
  • Obscure temperament list with many commonly-used ones not included
  • No permanent on-screen indication of selected pitch & temperament standard
  • Keyboard note names bug when transposed
  • Confusing note nomenclature: C4 instead of C4
  • Lurid color-coding of different pitches for display
  • Distracting motion in certain display modes
  • Annoying key click on selection of menu items, even when phone in Mute
  • App will not sleep
  • App freezes on incoming call
  • On large-screen iPhone 7 Plus, artifact of split display in oscilloscope mode

Note:

  • This app went through a period on devices later than iPhone 7 Plus where the microphone could not be accessed, rendering the app unusable. The developer did not respond to requests for an update to properly allow microphone access on those later devices. With the system software update to iOS13, however, some users reported the app accesses the microphone and works correctly. Sadly no longer available on the App Store, although it still remains for free download on Amazon for Android devices.
PitchLab icon 3K jpeg

Sound Tuner screen shot 38K jpeg Sound Tuner v1.0.2
NO LONGER AVAILABLE
  • Colored “Tuning Correctness Bar” display
  • Auto or Manual modes
  • Nineteen selectable temperaments
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration in 0.01Hz increments over wide range
  • Reference Listening to set reference pitch to currently detected tone
  • Frequency readout to 0.01Hz & ±0.01 cents
  • Selectable detection of one of first six partials (multiple partials in Pro version)
  • Battery Saving Mode to slow down processing and stop otherwise rapid note display confusion
  • Portrait orientation only
  • Detailed Help screen
  • Free app, with in-app purchase for Pro upgrade

Demerits:

  • In-app purchase essential to remove annoying ad banner from centre of screen
  • Temperament and Instrument text truncated on main screen
  • No tone generation

Note:

  • This app is no longer available.
Sound Tuner icon 3K jpeg

TonalEnergy Tuner & Metronome screen shot 83K jpeg TonalEnergy Tuner & Metronome v2.0.7
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration over wide range
  • Sixteen selectable temperaments
  • Note readout ±0.1 cent deviation & frequency (0.1Hz)
  • Polyphonic tone generator with three selectable waveforms as well as instrumental sounds
  • User defined temperaments
  • Metronome and recording features
  • Within app user guide
  • Last update 16 Jun 2021
  • Paid app (USD3.99)
  • Android version available

Demerits:

  • Screen is too cluttered and busy
  • Appears temperament data derived from disparate sources
  • Some temperament data only to nearest whole or 0.5 cent
  • Some temperaments including Meantone 1/3 Comma and Vallotti clearly very incorrect
  • Only way to use this multipurpose app for reliable tuning would be to reprogram many of the temperament offsets from C, ensure “Maintain A frequency when using alternate temperaments” option is selected, and C is selected for Key Center.

Rating: ⭑ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒

TonalEnergy Tuner & Metronome icon 5K jpeg

Tunable screen shot 27K jpeg Tunable v3.2.6.89
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration over wide range
  • Eighteen selectable temperaments
  • Tuning history
  • Clear display with note readout, ±0.1 cent deviation & frequency (0.1Hz)
  • Polyphonic tone generator with four selectable waveforms
  • User defined temperaments
  • Metronome
  • In-built recording
  • Last update 19 Jun 2021
  • Paid app (USD8.99)
  • Android version available

Demerits:

  • Portrait orientation only
  • No detectable Concert A
  • Concert A Calibration moves from setting if anything other than “C” selected for Temperament Key
  • Temperament list including categories obviously based on Cleartune
  • Serious doubt as to temperament accuracy: Almost Equal temperament is nothing like ET,
    Vallotti is something else entirely
  • Within app user guide requires internet access

Rating: ⭑ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒

Tunable icon 5K jpeg

Tune Again screen shot 24K jpeg Tune Again v0.1
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration over wide range
  • Nine selectable temperaments
  • Continual readout of frequency (0.1Hz) & cents (0.1)
  • Edit included temperaments or define your own
  • Polyphonic tonal playback of pitches in temperament edit screen
  • Last update 14 Nov 2015
  • Free app
  • Android version available

Demerits:

  • Portrait orientation only
  • Impossible to eliminate banner ads
  • Rudimentary temperament choice
  • No in operation readout of selected pitch or temperament
  • Must change Temperament Key from default C to A for correct operation in anything other than ET
  • Sensitivity and Scale sliders don’t work on iPhone

Note:

  • This app represents an improvement from Pano Tuner by the same developer—although it would be nice to be able to get rid of the ads.

Rating: ⭑ ⭑ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒

Tune Again icon 4K jpeg

VITALtuner screen shot 42K jpeg VITALtuner™ v1.1.4
  • Four display modes
  • Advanced mode includes notation of detected pitch
  • Sound level meter
  • Frequency readout to 0.1Hz, and cents deviation from desired
  • Equal Temperament & ninety selectable historic temperaments (7 Pythagorean; 2 Just; 20 Meantone; 48 Well; 13 Quasi-Equal)
  • Ten popular Select Temperaments for quick choice
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration in 0.001Hz increments from 380–480Hz
  • User-defined temperaments by input of 0.01 cent offsets
  • Tone generation with four waveforms of 3 octaves using keyboard layout (c–b'')
  • Simple instruction graphics screens
  • Last update 15 April 2017
  • Paid app (USD4.99)

Demerits:

  • Status bar hidden
  • Landscape orientation only
  • Needle freezes at last detected point until new pitch heard
  • Comprehensive but rather obscure temperament list

Rating: ⭑ ⭑ ⭑ ⭒ ⭒

VITALtuner icon 6K jpeg

Well Tempered screen shot 43K jpeg Well Tempered v2.1
  • Pitch Pipe (three different wave forms) or Tuner function
  • Two hundred and sixty-eight selectable temperaments, sorted alphabetically with search function
  • Temperaments can be marked “Favorite” or “Dislike” to order in list at top or bottom
  • Temperaments can be transposed to any note
  • Adjustable A4 (a') calibration in 0.01Hz increments
  • Frequency readout to 0.01Hz & ±0.1 cents
  • Keyboard layout to select tones (polyphonic) when pressed
  • Tuner sensitivity adjustable by slider
  • Last update 29 Aug 2015
  • Paid app (USD4.99)

Demerits:

  • Portrait orientation only
  • Still too many temperaments leading to confusion in naming and needless duplication
  • Source of many temperaments doubtful & errors likely
  • Many temperament names truncated on selection menu
  • No possibility of user-defined temperaments
  • After detecting note, display freezes until new note heard
  • In iPhones with face recognition, display sleeps in tuner mode rendering it useless unless you are looking directly at it [Workaround which will affect all apps: Change Auto-Lock time to “Never” in Settings → Display & Brightness]

 

Rating: ⭑ ⭑ ⭒ ⭒ ⭒

Well Tempered icon 4K jpeg

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