The best iPhone/iPad music making apps in the world today
24th Dec 2012 | 11:14
The best iPhone/iPad music making apps in the world today
Popular though they are, iOS apps are sometimes criticised for being flashy rather than functional - software that you buy on a whim, use a couple of times and then never bother with again.
But while the App Store certainly contains its fair share of facile releases, many of its music making apps are not only fun, but also powerful, flexible and - yes - useful. Whether you want to create a complete track, play a virtual synth or control your desktop music software, there are countless options.
But which are the very best iOS music making apps? As 2012 comes to a close, we asked for your votes to help us update our list of the top music apps. The results are presented in the gallery that starts here. Unfortunately, with the iOS world moving as quickly as it does, there are a few notable omissions of apps that have been released in the weeks since we reopened voting: Korg Polysix, Steinberg Cubasis and Audiobus, for example, all came just too late to make the cut for this round of voting.
Anyway, read on to find out which apps have made the cut, and also be sure to check out the following:
6 of the best iPad/iPhone DJing apps
We check out the top iOS mixing software
Weekly iOS music making round-ups
The best new apps from the past year and a half
iOS app reviews
The big releases reviewed and rated
The ultimate guide to iPad/iPhone music making accessories
Interfaces, keyboards, mics, controllers, stand mounts and more
6 easy ways to connect your guitar to your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch
iOS audio interface review round-up
Wizdom Music Tachyon, £1.49
Tachyon is the latest app from Dream Theater keyboard player and vocal iOS champion Jordan Rudess and developer Kevin Chartier.
The app allows users to blend sounds and images to create unique instruments, with deep, hands-on control over the tone and pitch of individual notes and sounds.
VirSyn iVoxel, £6.99
Wizdom Music MorphWiz, £6.99
Kevin Chartier and keyboardist extraordinaire Jordan Rudess first teamed up to bring us this serious performance instrument designed specifically for iOS devices.
Notes in a scale are laid out across the screen as vertical lines, and you can morph from one timbre to another by dragging vertically along a note. The built-in synth is refreshingly direct, and you can record your performances.
Expressive and playable, MorphWiz feels like the kind of music making app that touchscreens were made for.
Full review:Wizdom Music MorphWiz review (review is of a previous version)
Wizdom Music SpaceWiz, £6.99
The third of four Jordan Rudess-affiliated apps to crop up in this list (the man has become something of an iOS icon) allows users to morph sounds by dragging and manipulating a spinning system of planets.
SpaceWiz is more than just cool toy though; behind that eye-catching interface is two-oscillator synth with filter and amp envelopes plus delay and chorus effects.
iceGear Cassini, £2.99
Cassini takes the winning sound of iceGear’s first iOS synth, Argon, adds polyphony and vastly improves on the interface. What’s not to like?
It’s brimming with features, meaning that Cassini is an immensely flexible instrument. In all, you’ll be hard pushed to find many better sounding synths on the App Store.
Full review: iceGear Cassini
IK Multimedia DJ Rig/DJ Rig for iPad, Free/£2.49
djay may be widely thought of as the top DJ app for iOS (more on that later), but IK's offering DJ Rig has a lot going for it too.
Particularly in it's iPad incarnation, DJ Rig is well equipped and fun in use. When paired with IK's neat little iOS mixer, the iRig Mix, DJ Rig really comes to life, becoming a fun little tool for sketching out mix ideas and messing around at home.
Full review: IK Multimedia iRig Mix/DJ Rig
iceGear Argon, £1.49
Argon may be merely a monosynth, and its interface can be fiddly, but it won our hearts thanks to the gorgeous sounds you can get out of its Minimoog-like signal path.
From nostalgic leads, to formant wobbles, croaking basslines and the soft pulses - Argon comes up with the sonic goods every time.
Full review: iceGear Argon
Tempo Rubato NLog MIDI Synth/NLogSynth Pro, £2.99/£10.49
If you want a superior-sounding analogue-style iOS synth, look no further. The iPad-exclusive NLogSynth Pro is an advanced version of the iPhone/iPod touch-compatible NLog MIDI Synth, and there’s even a Mac version.
Various import/export options and support for Core MIDI, Virtual MIDI and WIST serve to sweeten the deal further.
4Pockets Aurora Sound Studio/Aurora Sound Studio HD, £6.99/£27.99
Aurora Sound Studio isn’t a DAW, but an electronic studio with everything you need to compose and perform electronic music.
You get drums, subtractive and waveshaping synthesizers, a sampler, mixer and effects, all tied to a multitouch grid interface resembling the iconic Yamaha Tenori-on.
It’s not perfect, but this is a truly inspiring production environment nonetheless.
Full review:4Pockets Aurora Sound Studio HD (review is of a previous version)
4Pockets Meteor, £13.99
Meteor is a multitrack recorder for iPad offering up to 12 audio tracks and featuring a built-in mixer.
All the basic trimmings you'd expect are included, such as a sample editor, simple (though slightly fiddly) automation and effects. The effects are very good, including reverb, stereo delay, chorus/flange, tone boost, compression, distortion and EQ.
On the downside, some of these are paid-for add-ons, as is the MIDI editor and virtual instruments package. If you invest in Meteor, though, you’ll get a formidable mobile music making package.
Full review:4Pockets Meteor(review is of a previous version)
Wizdom Music SampleWiz, £6.99
Jordan Rudess’s second app to be released (and the highest placing of four in this list) is a fun, slick and easy-to-use sampler.
You get a selection of presets, but the fun really begins when you start capturing your own sounds. Sampling comes in three flavours: Classic, where the speed is altered as you play up and down the keys; Granular, with control over grain size and speed; and Modern, which allows you to change the pitch without affecting the speed of sample playback.
An onscreen keyboard lets you play back samples and there are effects, too.
Full review:Wizdom Music SampleWiz (review is of a previous version)
IK Multimedia SampleTank, £13.99
If you want to turn your iOS device into a sound module for performance use, SampleTank is the solution.
136 instruments come as standard (though four are only available once you register) and this library can be expanded to more than 500 via in-app purchases. There are 16 instrument categories to choose from, plus more than 1000 patterns for groove creation. A 4-track MIDI recorder enables you to record you own parts.
SampleTank sounds more than acceptable and, when used in conjunction with a MIDI keyboard, can become very useful.
AppBC touchAble, £17.49
A controller app that’s designed specifically to be used with Ableton Live, touchAble enables you to get hands-on with the popular DAW from the comfort of your iPad.
As well as being able to do expected things such as launch clips and tweak the mixer, touchAble also gives you a keyboard and drum pads so that you can play instruments and beats.
Some will argue that even a multi-touch screen will never be able to complete with real buttons, faders and knobs, but you can’t argue with the level of functionality that touchAble offers.
Full review:AppBC touchAble (review is of a previous version)
Yamaha TNR-I, £13.99
Both hardware versions of the Tenori-on are prohibitively expensive for many people, so it’s great news that you can now get a version of this iconic button-grid-based instrument for iOS devices.
The sound of the Tenori-on is certainly distinctive – if not to everyone’s taste – but an update to the app has made it possible to sample your own.
If you’ve always wondered what all the fuss was about in regard to the Tenori-on, TNR-i gives you the perfect chance to find out.
Full review: Yamaha TNR-I (review is of a previous version)
Retronyms Tabletop, Free
We must admit that, upon its initial release, we saw a lot of potential in Tabletop’s modular design but weren’t entirely sold on the app’s capabilities (see review below).
However, through a number of significant updates Retronyms have really won us over. Crucially, the core app is now free with extra devices available as in-app purchases, and with the recent update to version two - adding proper note editing, MIDI control and introducing iMPC as the first compatible standalone app - Tabletop is closer than ever to living up to its immense potential.
Full review: Retronyms Tabletop (previous version)
Xewton Music Studio, £10.49
Music Studio was one of the first DAW-style apps to arrive on iOS and version 2 ups its game considerably.
Audio tracks, mic recording, Audio Copy/Paste, new instruments and drum pads represent just some of the many improvements, making this a serious mobile production contender.
Other features on the menu include a 127-track sequencer, effects, MIDI import/export and a piano roll for editing.
Hexler.net TouchOSC, £2.99
TouchOSC is a multitouch controller application that uses the Open Sound Control (OSC) protocol. It enables you to use your iPhone to control your DAW, synths and other audio software.
To use the app, you need to bind its controllers to an OSC-compatible application running on your computer. This requires a little juggling of IP address and incoming and outgoing port numbers.
TouchOSC requires a bit of setting up, then, but once you’ve got it running, it’s great.
Full review: Hexlar TouchOSC (review is of a previous version)
Propellerhead Software ReBirth/ReBirth for iPad, £1.99/£10.49
If you’ve ever used ReBirth on the Mac or PC you’ll feel immediately at home with this: it’s exactly the same.
The downside is that this means that the interface can feel fiddly, but then you realise that you have access to all the things that made ReBirth great: two 303s, an 808, a 909, the Pattern Controlled Filter, the compressor, the delay, the step sequencing, the song mode - everything’s here.
So if you want to go on an awesome nostalgia trip, look no further.
Full review: Propellerhead Software ReBirth (review is of a previous version)
BeepStreet Impaktor, £2.99
Impaktor is an iOS beat machine that converts your finger drumming into highly usable synthesised drum sounds. It's no novelty item though, as it's powered by an impressive and flexible synth engine.
It's packed with features, and in use we found it to be one of the most innovative and genuinely useful percussion tools on the App Store.
Full review: Beepstreet Impaktor
IK Multimedia AmpliTube/AmpliTube for iPad, £13.99
The second version of AmpliTube for iOS adds several new features. A one-track recorder comes as standard (this can be upgraded to four tracks via an in-app purchase); there are five new stompbox effects; and sound quality has been improved.
When combined with the iRig audio interface, AmpliTube becomes an amazingly portable guitar amp/FX solution. If you’re a guitarist who doesn’t yet own an iOS device, this could be the app that makes you buy one.
Free, LE and Fender editions are also available.
Korg iElectribe, £13.99
Boy were we excited when we first heard about this: it’s a spot-on emulation of the classic Korg Electribe-R groovebox.
You have four percussion synth parts and four PCM synth parts to work with, and patterns can be programmed using the step sequencer. As well as being a fine app in its own right, this was the software that first made people believe that the iPad has a future as a ‘serious’ music-making platform.
A special Gorillaz version of iElectribe is also available.
Full review: Korg iElectribe (review is of a previous version)
Yonac Magellan, £6.99
With two independent, three-oscillator synth engines, multiple filter and modulation options and a feature list as long as your arm, Magellan is easily one of the most well equipped synths you’ll find for iOS.
But it’s the app’s well designed and pleasingly retro interface - which makes excellent use of the tactile playability of your iPad’s touchscreen - that really sets Magellan apart from the crowd.
Full review: Yonac Magellan
Liine Lemur, £34.99
Originally a piece of high-end multi-touch hardware, Lemur is now a (relatively) affordable iOS app. It enables you to combine objects (faders, buttons, balls, knobs etc) into custom controller templates for pretty much anything.
Total flexibility is the ethos here - you can easily lose hours tweaking templates. That said, if you just want to keep things simple, Lemur has you covered, too.
The iPad always had great potential as a portable controller platform, and with Lemur, it feels like it’s met its perfect partner.
Liine Lemur review (review is of a previous version)
WaveMachine Labs Auria, £34.99
Upon release, Auria was certainly the most serious, pro-level DAW-style app available for iOS.
With the very recent release Steinberg’s Cubasis, however, that title may be under threat, and it’ll certainly be interesting to see how the two compare in the long run.
Competitors aside though, Auria is a brilliant and well-equipped audio DAW (although right now there’s no MIDI, unfortunately). It comes complete with excellent PSPAudioware channel strip plug-ins (with more VSTs available to purchase in-app), makes great use of the iPad’s touchscreen for editing, and features 24-bit/96kHz recording.
For those who are serious about audio on the iPad, it definitely justifies the price tag.
Full review: WaveMachine Labs Auria
BeepStreet Sunrizer/SunrizerXS synth, £2.99/£1.99
Virtual analogue synths are now all over the App Store, but this is one of the best.
Sunrizer (iPad) and SunrizerXS (iPhone/iPod touch) sport two oscillators, with one of the available waveforms being an emulation of the SuperSaw that made its debut on the Roland JP-8000 synth. You’ve also got filters, various modulation options, effects and an arpeggiator.
Specs aside, the most important thing is the sound… and it’s great.
Vlek Beatsurfing, £7.99
Beatsurfing is an immensely clever and surprisingly powerful MIDI controller app that allows you to create your own interface by add and arranging various combinations of four Objects - Lines, Circles, Polygons and Faders.
In our tests, we thought it could use an added internal sequencer, but that’s only a minor quibble. On the whole, Beatsurfing is undeniably fun and inspiring to use.
Full review: Vlek Beatsurfing
Korg iKaossilator, £13.99
Korg’s pocket-sized, touch-based Kaossilator hardware always seemed ripe for iOS porting and the app version duly arrived late in 2011.
Put simply, it enables you to make music just by "stroking, tapping or rubbing" your Apple mobile device's screen, which also displays visual effects. There are 150 built-in sounds, scale/key settings and a five-part loop sequencer.
It might not be as open-ended as some other music making apps, but like the original hardware it’s a whole lot of fun.
Native Instruments iMaschine, £2.99
iMaschine is described as a ‘groove sketch pad’, indicating that it’s not so much a port of the full software as a mobile companion for it (projects can be loaded into the desktop Maschine for further development).
Offering 16 pads, it comes with 25 kits and over 400 samples, and lets you sample directly into the app. There are also four tracks, a keyboard mode, and in-app purchasing of additional drum kit and instrument sounds.
It might be a little feature-light in comparison to some of its rivals, but as Jamie Lidell has shown, iMaschine still enables you to do an awful lot.
algoriddim djay/djay for iPhone, £13.99/69p
djay is the undisputed king of iOS DJing apps. It’s simple to use, has pretty much all the features you’d expect and works surprisingly fluidly for an app.
Crucially, it seems that hardware manufacturers agree, and thanks to gear like Numark’s iDJ Pro and the Vestax Spin 2, djay seems set to become the go-to solution for house parties and bedroom DJs.
Intua BeatMaker 2, £13.99
This second version of the iOS mini studio is a big step up from its predecessor, offering a sequencer, two types of instrument (a drum machine and a sample-based synth with a large and varied preset bank) and a mixer.
Sounds can be recorded in from the mic or pulled from your iTunes library; swing can be added; the mixer looks great; tracks/MIDI can be uploaded direct to SoundCloud or exported; and you can swap audio pasteboard clips to and from iOS. And that's just for starters.
BeatMaker 2 isn't perfect, but you can certainly have plenty of fun with it and create some very pro-sounding results.
Full review: Intua BeatMaker 2 (review is of a previous version)
Propellerhead Figure, 69p
Upon first release, we totally fell in love with Figure’s excellently designed and hugely intuitive interface, but were somewhat frustrated by the lack of a few obvious features, such as export and save options.
However, with each subsequent update Figure has got better and better - along with various export capabilities, Propellerhead has since thrown additional keys and loop lengths into the mix, improved the already great interface and made the app properly iPad compatible.
Between its Reason-powered synth engine, intuitive design and bargain price, there’s basically no excuse not to give Figure a try.
Full review: Propellerhead Figure (previous version)
Korg iMS-20, £22.99
If you’re a fan of classic synth hardware, this is for you. Korg has not only virtualised its legendary MS-20 analogue synth, it's coupled it with a recreation of the accompanying SQ-10 16-step sequencer, and then taken things another step further with a six-part drum machine, seven-channel mixer and built-in effects processing.
All of which leaves us with a terrific self-contained music-making app that will keep you engrossed for hours.
Full review: Korg iMS-20 (review is of a previous version)
Moog Animoog/Animoog for iPhone, £20.99/£6.99
When Animoog was launched, some Moog purists questioned whether the company should really be releasing an iOS synth, but whatever your view on this, you have to say that it’s a very good one.
Animoog takes the form of a wavetable synthesiser, albeit one stuffed with samples from Moog’s modern and legacy synths. Essentially, there are up to eight timbres that are splayed across an 8x16 X/Y grid, and the sound can be made to move dynamically through those timbres each time a note is played.
Given that its special offer launch price was £0.69, £20.99 might seem a lot to pay for the iPad version, but Animoog is undeniably a quality product.
Full review: Moog Animoog
Blip Interactive NanoStudio, £10.49
NanoStudio doesn’t enable you to record audio tracks, but if you want to make complete music productions ‘in the box’, it’s as good an app as iOS has to offer.
Six sequencer tracks (expandable to 16 via an in-app purchase) can host a great, editable synth and a pad-based sampling drum machine. There’s a mixer and effects, too, plus a piano roll for MIDI editing.
NanoStudio enables you to produce music of a quality that you might not have though possible from an iOS device, and you can even try Mac and PC versions for free.
Full review: Blip Interactive NanoStudio (review is of a previous version)
Apple GarageBand, £2.99
Although it has similarities to the Mac version (and projects started on your tablet can be imported into it) GarageBand for iPad is very much its own app. There are Touch and Smart Instruments, an eight-track sequencer and a decent selection of guitar amps and stompboxes.
What you don't get is anything in the way of MIDI editing, though various quantize options can be used to sort out dodgy performances.
But GarageBand for iPad is still a winner: plug in a controller keyboard and you've got a powerful, fun and portable song sketching solution. And at this price, it’s pretty much a no-brainer purchase.
Full review: Apple GarageBand for iPad (review is of a previous version)
Liked this? Now read: The ultimate guide to iPad/iPhone music making accessories
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