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So you’ve transformed your iPad into an endlessly evolving musical instrument, programmed your own tight drum beats and discovered the huge potential of AudioBus. You’ve sacrificed disk space for samples and your bank balance for virtual analogue warmth – and you’re ready to move on to the next stage.
Sticking with the theme of iOS music creation, today’s article highlights some of the best budget digital audio workstations (DAWs) on the App Store. These apps provide the blank canvas you need to begin putting together your own samples, loops and live recordings, before mixing down and exporting your work. It’s time to lay down a rough mix.
Retronyms Tabletop (Free, iPad-Only)
Free to try with a ton of in-app purchases, Retronyms’ Tabletop seems like an obvious place to start. The app is designed solely for use on the iPad and after a rather large download of nearly 650MB, you will have the barebones you need to begin producing music. There are 12 included “devices” from keyboards to effect modules, with more available for purchase within the application.
Tabletop takes the virtual studio idea to the next level, and approaches inputs and outputs in the same way desktop software like Reason does it, allowing you to create complex chains of effects and triggers. It’s free and most definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in an all-in-one solution, or if you own any Tabletop-compatible apps (at present the AKAI iMPC and iMini). There’s the usual support for AudioCopy and AudioPaste for moving samples between apps, though AudioBus support is currently absent.
Tabletop is an attractive tool at this price point, but once you begin to outgrow the included modules you might find yourself spending rather a lot on in-app purchases, when you could put that money towards bigger and better dedicated synths and route everything through AudioBus. Food for thought.
StudioTrack is a barebones multi-track recorder for the iPad. It was developed by Sonoma Wire Works, the team who standardised AudioCopy and AudioPaste, so these features were included from the outset (though there’s still no AudioBus, disappointingly). The Digital Audio Workstation currently supports up to 8 tracks with features like mute, solo, reverb and a range of effects for each.
It might be a rather basic on the surface, but StudioTrack includes customisable effects, the ability to record from external inputs, bouncing (re-sampling), accurate meters for mixing and a clutter-free UI that won’t make beginners want to run for the hills. Best of all at $10 it won’t break the bank, though if you’re going to need fine control over 8 tracks or more you might want to look elsewhere.
It seems that every time I write an article about iOS and music GarageBand is a mandatory mention, and here it is again. This will be the iOS DAW that most people reach for first, being one of the cheapest ways of repurposing your tablet into a virtual orchestra, drum kit or recording studio. Much like StudioTrack above, GarageBand is limited to 8 simultaneous tracks though Apple included a track merging tool for freeing up space.
GarageBand is probably an altogether better deal than many of the other apps on this list, though the lack of serious control over effects, a rather limited mixer implementation and fiddly sample trimming means this is certainly no professional outfit. To put it altogether more simply: most of the DAWs on this list might not have half the features included in GarageBand but they’ll outperform it when it comes to the main functions of a digital audio workstation.
I’d definitely recommend purchasing GarageBand, just don’t expect to do too much with the timeline editor or mixer functions. Instead you should make use of its guitar amp and stompbox effects for live recording, as well as virtual synths and smart instruments.
MultiTrack DAW ($9.99)
Now we’re talking – MultiTrack DAW offers up to 24 simultaneous stereo tracks for $9.99, with an optional in-app purchase of $7.99 to add 16 more tracks. That’s a total of 40 stereo tracks, each with its own compressor and equaliser and each capable of recording from the in-built mic, headsets, as well as USB devices like sound cards.
There’s a reason that MultiTrack DAW has built up such a loyal following, and that’s down to its simplicity. There are no instruments or generators – this is a tool that is designed for throwing together the grooves, melodies and samples you’ve already made in other apps. With support for AudioCopy as well as AudioBus, monitoring, overdubbing and fine-control over the trimming and arrangement of samples, MultiTrack DAW is a barebones workhorse that does one job, and does it well.
Nanostudio is another all-in-one DAW solution that comes with the powerful “Eden” synthesizer and a sampler, as well as a 6-track timeline editor which is upgradeable to 16-tracks for a one-off additional purchase of $4.99. Much like MultiTrack DAW above, Nanostudio has been on the App Store for a while and has developed an army of fans, with positive reviews across the board.
Other features include MIDI input, a powerful sequencer for triggering in-built instruments, track effects and AudioCopy and AudioPaste, though AudioBus support is still absent. The features and price make this app ideal for those who want a little more than what MultiTrack DAW provides, though even 16 tracks can feel limiting. If you’re curious and want to know more developers Blip Interactive have made the Mac OS X and Windows versions of Nanostudio free on their website, so you can truly try before you buy.
More Money Than Sense?
The following DAWs are expensive, and thus probably beyond the interest of casual users. If you are thinking of taking your iOS music making to the next level, you might want to consider paying pretty penny for a lot more oomph.
Offering a total of 48 separate tracks, Auria is one of the most complete tools for iOS recording, mastering and mixing. If $50 for an app seems a little steep to you then Auria LE is a lighter edition with only 24 tracks for half the price. This is an app that’s designed to take your desktop PC out of the equation when it comes to making music, check out the video below for the dazzling array of features.
FL Studio Mobile HD ($19.99)
Initially known as Fruity Loops and later evolving into FL Studio for the Mac and PC, developers Image-Line have finally unleashed a mobile version of their famous workstation. This tool is ideal for anyone who already uses FL Studio on their desktop as you can export your projects to your PC or Mac and carry on where you left off.
Cubasis ($49.99, iPad Only)
Steinberg made quite a name for itself with software like Cubase and now they’re taking on the mobile market with Cubasis. This app promises “unlimited” audio and MIDI tracks on the latest iDevices, and the ability to export back to Cubase too. A serious tool for those already invested in Steinberg’s other software.
Do you use a DAW on your iPhone or iPad? Any recommendations? Share your experience, thoughts and tracks in the comments, below.