The iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch are no longer toys when it comes to serious music production. No more will your “crippled” iOS devices be restricted to GarageBand when it comes to laying down a rough mix, and GarageBand itself is no longer the fluffy, family-friendly workstation it once was after a recent update which added support for AudioBus.
AudioBus is serious music production technology that acts like an unending set of cables, allowing you to connect a series of apps together. It’s just like MIDI, working behind the scenes to process and record beats, grooves and melodies from other running apps. There is so much potential in iOS to be the new home producer’s go-to platform for production, and AudioBus for iOS is the missing puzzle piece that’s paving the way.
What Is AudioBus?
AudioBus is an app, which you can download like any other from the App Store for the usual price of $9.99, though as I write this the price has been halved to celebrate a big update to GarageBand. AudioBus is also an interface built into many of the best iOS music making apps, with more apps being added all the time. Once an app is AudioBus compatible it is either an input, an effects processor or a digital audio workstation (DAW).
This is a three-stage system that you should get used to, because it’s likely you’ll be using it a lot. Some apps can function in all three roles, particularly the higher-end advanced synthesizers which support sampling and processing, as well as samplers like Loopy.
As well as being a standalone app, AudioBus must be built-in to any apps that wish to make use of it. The developers would have a lot more supported apps right now if they hadn’t spent so long getting the SDK right, weary of releasing a version that thwarts developers and the iOS producer population with problems. As it stands the SDK is now ready to go, so expect to see a lot more AudioBus compatible apps being released over the coming years.
When you purchase AudioBus you’re not just purchasing an app, you’re also unlocking the potential for your other apps to far surpass what you thought they were capable of. The ability to route audio from one app, into another, manipulate the sound before looping it back into a DAW or sampler essentially means you have a ready-to-use studio and performance hardware in your back pocket.
How Do I Use It?
First thing’s first – AudioBus is only able to operate within the limits of your device’s hardware capabilities. This means older devices like the iPad 2 may struggle compared to the iPhone 5. You will need at least an iPhone 4S, iPod Touch 5G or iPad 2 to play, though the newer your hardware the more you’ll be able to do before you encounter the dreaded crackle. AudioBus is very CPU intensive, and it should go without saying that using it along with 5 or 6 other apps will destroy your battery life.
If you find you’re experiencing popping or crackling then you can increase the buffer size two-fold to 512 frame using the AudioBus settings, located at the top of the screen within the app. This might increase latency (and definitely increase CPU usage) but if you’re depending on a lot of apps interacting you might have no other choice. Remember, performance can only get better from here as Apple supplies faster hardware with each new generation of iOS hardware.
To begin routing apps through AudioBus you must first have some compatible apps. A full list of compatible software can be found on the Apps tab within AudioBus, or by visiting the website. You can also check out our recent post featuring some of the best sub-$10 music making apps for iOS if you’re on a budget. The only tab you really need to worry about is the Connections tab, on which you can add apps using the plus “+” icon next to the Input, Effects and Output sections.
Tap the plus and a list of installed, compatible apps will be displayed – pick one and AudioBus will briefly launch that app before returning to the main interface. You can now add more apps until you are ready to play.
The main AudioBus interface will allow you to quickly switch between and control apps. A new bar should appear on the right-hand side of the screen which lists all currently connected apps, along with the option to switch to them, pause or begin recording depending on the app.
If you’re using an effects processor in stage 2, you might need to enable the speaker output in under the Output section in order to hear anything. That’s pretty much all there is to setting up AudioBus, now you’ve just got to experiment!
Use the bar that appears on the right hand-side of each connected app to control your connections. This bar can be hidden and revealed in much the same way as the iOS notification centre, by swiping from the edge inwards, useful if it gets in the way of your playing. In order to disconnect an app hit the eject button in AudioBus.
But It Crashed?
One thing that AudioBus doesn’t do, and quite possibly won’t do any time soon, is quit in a tidy manner. This is because it’s a background service that stays awake in case you’re still using it, and needs to be told when to quit. You can manually quit AudioBus using the iOS app switcher: double-tap the home button, press and hold the AudioBus icon and then close the app using the cross that appears.
You will have to do this after every time you use the app, which is a small price to pay for the interoperability offered by the service. Similarly, I find GarageBand and JamUp tend to hang in a similar manner after being plugged in to AudioBus, so you might need to force-close them too.
That’s pretty much everything you’ll need to know about AudioBus to make music, a must-have app for hobbyists and professionals alike. Take sources, route them through processors and record them in a DAW. Expect to see the refinement and further expansion of this system as our devices become increasingly powerful over the next few generations, and expect your bank balance to suffer as a result of the ever-increasing number of quality audio apps out there.
If you’ve used AudioBus, are an iOS musician or just starting out we’d love to hear from you as well as any samples of your work so do leave a comment below this article.