12 of the best iPad/iPhone iOS DAWs and workspaces
20th Mar 2014 | 12:31
Apple GarageBand, £2.99/$4.99
There's no doubt that iOS music making has come on leaps and bounds in the past year or so.
While, given their nature, Apple's mobile devices still can't compete directly with Macs and PCs in music making terms, they've certainly become viable platforms for producers and musicians to work with. Especially since Audiobus arrived - allowing compatible apps to be routed into and through one another - the iPad in particular has become a viable tool for sketching ideas, making basic recordings and working on tracks.
But just as with any production platform, if you want to piece a track together, you're going to need a DAW-like application to act as your 'hub'. Here are some of our favourite options - listed in no particular order - starting with the big one...
GarageBand for iOS may look and feel very similar to its Mac counterpart, but the mobile version of Apple’s entry-level DAW is really its own entity. The app combines simple but effective Touch and Smart instruments, guitar amps and effects and an eight-track sequencer.
Since its launch, the addition of MIDI editing, Jam Session sync and, more recently, Audiobus support has made GarageBand even better. Now the app can act as a hub for an iOS music setup encompassing various different instruments, effects and even multiple iDevices.
At less than £3 (or $5) it’s a bit of a no-brainer.
Full review: Apple GarageBand for iPad (review is of a previous version)
WaveMachine Labs Auria, £34.99/$49.99
It may be the case that - now that it supports Audiobus - GarageBand provides a cheaper and simpler solution for mixing iOS projects. And Steinberg’s Cubasis has an edge in the sense that it deals with MIDI instruments rather than purely audio tracks. But you’ll still be hard-pressed to find a deeper, more fully feature and professional feeling app for mixing and arranging audio than Auria.
The app features channel strip and effects plugins from PSPAudioware, with extra effects and third-party tools available as in-app purchases. It’s 64-bit, can handle multiple different sample rates and can record up to 24 tracks simultaneously via a compatible interface and Apple’s camera connection kit.
Auria supports Audiobus too, meaning that even though it doesn’t support MIDI tracks, it can still be used as a hub for various iOS instruments and effects.
Full review: WaveMachine Labs Auria
Steinberg Cubasis, £34.99/$49.99
Apple aside, Steinberg is the first of the major DAW developers to port their big name applications to the iOS platform.
Naturally, Cubasis is a hugely cutdown version of its PC/Mac sibling, yet it maintains the look, feel and many of the key features of the original.
This iOS incarnation of Cubase features unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, 10 effects, 70 HALion Sonic instruments and 300 MIDI samples and loops - although in-use we found the latter two of these to be a little generic and restricted.
Still, Audiobus support, the ability to export projects to Cubase (6.5 and above,) and an impressive intuitive design make Cubasis a great option.
Full review: Steinberg Cubasis
Blip Interactive NanoStudio, £9.99/$13.99
NanoStudio is one of the most comprehensive ‘in the box’ production tools for iOS.
It won’t let you record audio, but it can handle six MIDI instrument instances (upgradeable to 16 via an in-app purchase,) allowing you to build full tracks with its excellent built-in subtractive synth and sample-based drum machine.
It features a mixer section with insert effects, two send channels and automation too. Plus, the app supports Audio Copy/Paste, Core MIDI and export to SoundCloud.
Full review: Blip Interactive NanoStudio (review is of a previous version)
4Pockets Meteor £13.99/$19.99
Meteor is an iOS audio recorder that features up to 16 recording tracks (upgradeable to 24), plus a mixer section and sequencer window.
Meteor’s trump card is its excellent sounding effects, although many of these require extra in-app purchases. It also features a handy little audio editor which can be used to trim and tidy up recordings brought into the app via Audiobus.
Full review: 4Pockets Meteor(review is of a previous version)
Intua BeatMaker 2 £13.99/$19.99
Version 2 of Intua’s micro-studio features two types of instrument - a drum machine and a well-equipped sample-based synth - and also supports multitrack recording.
It’s far from perfect and features a fair few limitations, but BeatMaker 2 certainly looks great, has a host of useful little features and plenty of export options - all of which easily justify the price.
Full review: Intua BeatMaker 2 (review is of a previous version)
Xewton Music Studio £10,49/$14.99
Music Studio was one of the earliest DAW-style apps for the iOS platform. It’s evolved and expanded considerably since it was first released, however, to develop into a relatively powerful app.
Highlight features include audio tracks, Mic recording, 126 sample-based instruments (around half of which are in-app purchases) and a 127-track sequencer. It also supports Audiobus, along with a host of other import/export options.
Image-Line FL Studio Mobile HD, £14.99/$19.99
The mobile version of Image-Line’s FL Studio is based on Xewton Music Studio, offering a very similar set of features but re-skinned to look similar to the desktop version of FL Studio.
It also offers a set of sample-based instruments that are geared more towards electronic music and share names with those in the original FL Studio - although, on the whole, the iOS versions are far less flexible.
On the upside, since it was initially launched, additions including audio tracks, the Wave Editor and Audiobus support have made FL Studio far more usable. Fans of the desktop version may still be left wanting a little more though.
Full review: Image-Line FL Studio Mobile (review is of a previous version)
Retronyms Tabletop, free
Modular iPad production environment Tabletop has a lot of great features, but also a few frustrating downsides.
When it was first released Tabletop showed vast potential but also felt limited in its capabilities. Subsequent updates have really won us over, however, adding features like proper note editing, MIDI control and iMPC and iMini as integrated third-party apps.
The problem is that Tabletop doesn’t support Audiobus, and although it’s open to third party developers, at present the take-up hasn’t been anywhere near as big - meaning that the app isn’t as expandable as some of the others in this round-up.
Still, Tabletop is very nicely designed and great to work with - certainly worth investigating.
Full review: Retronyms Tabletop (review is of a previous version)
Harmonicdog MultiTrack DAW 3, £6.99/$9.99
MultiTrack DAW 3 is an audio recording app primarily aimed at musicians and songwriters looking for a solution for recording demos, quick compositions and simple recordings on the move.
It has eight audio tracks - expandable to 24 via an in-app purchase - and a host of features aimed at the recording musician, including auto punch-in, input monitoring and a variety of time signature settings. It also features and effects section with reverb, delay, compression and EQ devices.
Full review: Harmonicdog MultiTrack DAW 3
VividTracker is a tracker-style music making app which is able to load, create and export Amiga Protracker modules.
For the uninitiated, trackers are a type of alphanumeric pattern-based music creation environment descended from the original Amiga application Ultimate Soundtracker. Over the years a whole lineage of trackers has followed, including applications like ProTracker, Noisetracker and the more contemporary Renoise, all of which offer an alternative to the more traditional DAW approach. For more on starting with trackers, check out 12 tracker tips and tricks.
The app itself is MIDI and Audiobus compatible, includes a sample editor and an Autochord feature and is able to open and share ProTracker modules via Dropbox, email and iOS browsers.
Korg Gadget, £19.99/$28.99
Korg's latest iOS offering is described by the company as a 'mobile synth collection'. The app houses 15 virtual synths and drum machines, or 'gadgets' as Korg calls them, each of which is roughly based on a classic hardware unit.
Multiple gadgets can be loaded into a project, each devices offers its own sequencer, and there's a multitrack arranger and mixer, which allows the creation of full tracks from within the app. The sequencers and keyboards of each gadget can be locked to a set key too, which improves the workflow for those with a limited knowledge of musical theory, and generally helps circumvent the difficulty of playing melodic parts using the sometimes fiddly touchscreen keyboard.
Gadget is core MIDI compatible, and the recent addition of Audiobus compatibility is a major added bonus. The only real downside to Gadget is that it's fairly processor hungry, meaning that those with older iOS devices may struggle to run more than a few synths or drum machines at once, particularly when used in conjunction with Audiobus.