Virtual instruments may be going the way of recorded music: free and online.
We've seen plenty of sites that let you make or mix music in a rudimentary way, but none that offer the deep feature set of Hobnox AudioTool. This free online electronic music studio lets you compose with two TB-303 Bass Line generators, Roland TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines and two banks of effects pedals including three delays, crusher, detune, flanger, reverb, a parametric equalizer and a compressor. By clicking the mouse button, you can drag virtual cables between any output and any input to customize the setup.
Composing music in this way is a bit tedious, because you need to add and shape each note individually. But this is exactly how many electronic musicians work, because it allows so much control over each element of the loops and allows you to create melodies and beats without playing them.
Testing AudioTool, I encountered no serious issues, and was able to create and edit beats in the same way that one would do with Reason or similar software. The only time I noticed a drop-out was when I messed with the length of a sequence as it was playing, which isn't something you really need to do anyway. The program loads with a demo song already in place, but you can start your own composition by clicking the Clear Pattern button on each synthesizer.
The site currently requires Java, although that could change soon. The developers at Hobnox who made AudioTool would prefer to use Flash entirely, but say its support for dynamic audio is lacking. They suggest that those who want to support online virtual instruments should join the Make Some Noise campaign, which hopes to convince Adobe to add sound manipulation features to Flash and to shore up one specific unstable audio feature, allowing Hobnox and other developers to push the envelope with more evolved online music tools.
As of right now, the only way to export a song from AudioTool is to record it as it plays using Total Recorder, Audio Hijack or similar software. Hobnox says it's working on a new version of the tool will allow users to save and load songs and will add new effects, a synthesizer, a drum computer, a sequencer and even a sample editor. In addition, the next version should support collaboration, so that groups of friends can work on the same song.
If you'd like to get started with Hobnox AudioTool but haven't programmed beats before, watch this simple tutorial.