Suddenly in need of some drums? The iPhone in your pocket has you covered. Easily one of the most prevalent of all musical aids on the App Store, touch screen drum machines and grooveboxes are a lot of fun to play with.
Whether you’re composing music with your iPad or are looking for pocket-sized percussion for your next one-man-band performance, iOS is the budding musician’s best friend. We’ve rounded up our favourite software drummers for your percussive perusal.
DM1 by Fingerlab ($4.99)
DM1 is one of the original iOS drum machines, first appearing on the App Store way back in July 2011. It has been tirelessly updated ever since, and now includes most features you would expect from a refined hardware drum machine. Perhaps best of all, DM1 isn’t fraught with in-app purchases to unlock additional sounds within – everything is available for the price you pay.
Your $5 gets you 86 drum kits (some vintage, some produced), the ability to import your own sounds using the usual methods and AudioBus support. Record and tap-out your beat using the on-screen pads then tighten (or simply compose with) the multi-touch step sequencer for ultimate control.
Once you’ve come up with a beat you’re pleased with you can export a high quality loop to SoundCloud or your own private storage, or alternatively enable background audio and jam using your favourite synth. With full MIDI implementation, WIST support, a user-friendly interface and no hidden costs DM1 does one thing, and it does it very well indeed.
Funkbox by Synthetic Bits ($5.99)
Funkbox is a vintage drum machine emulator, complete with many of the quirks and restrictions found in the original hardware. It recreates the sound of classic vintage hardware including the 808, 909, DX and CR-78 drum machines. The samples are deliciously old school and punchy, and Funkbox provides quite a lot of percussion for your $6 entry fee.
Gorillaz used this app in their “The Fall” album, and the likes of Glen Tilbrook of Squeeze fame has even used it on-stage while performing. The app comes complete with three banks of eight programs, a step-sequencer, adjustable tempo and swing controls as well as pads for manual recording and overdubs.
You can go to the effort of importing your own sounds, but there are better apps for that (namely DM1, above) – Funkbox is all about the old school emulation, and the included samples are perfect for use in your own projects. Find out more about Funkbox: check out our full review.
Following in the footsteps of the great MPC sound, the Akai iMPC is the company’s first foray into the world of musical iOS apps. Initially released only for the iPad, iMPC is now available on both the iPad and iPhone with a couple of dollars separating the versions. The app uses 16 pad input with a variety of additional controls to build sample-based grooves and rhythms over four separate tracks.
The iPad version comes with more samples, but other than this both versions are the same. The iPad version is nicer to use due to the extra screen space, but the iPhone version is just as fun to play with. The included samples vary, with plenty of acoustic snares and hi-hat alongside the electronic squelch of an 808.
MPC stands for “music production centre” and that means that this is more than a drum machine but a fully fledged production suite and even an “instrument” you can perform on. For this reason there are a lot of non-percussive samples included, and the step sequencer is sadly absent here (though there are time correct and note repeat controls). Find out more about iMPC: check out our full review.
iELECTRIBE by KORG ($19.99, iPad only)
The KORG Electribe grooveboxes (pictured, below) date back to the late 90s, and were known for their warm analog sound (using two valves) and ability to program not only drums but synth and bass too. For a couple of hundred dollars you too could own one, or you can pay $20 for a very convincing software replica, which is what we’ve got here.
Complete with “virtual analog sound” the iELECTRIBE is designed to be powerful and fun. With 160 available banks (96 presets, 64 blanks) and detail as high as 64 steps per part, not to mention bonkers BPM ranges of 20-300 bpm, iELECTRIBE is a very capable drum machine.
There’s no AudioBus support, though you can export a pattern or record a performance then post it to iTunes File Sharing or SoundCloud. Optionally you can use iELECTRIBE as an instrument in your live or studio setup.
Impaktor by BeepStreet ($4.99)
And now for something a little different: Impaktor isn’t a drum machine at all, but is an app entirely designed for creating drum loops. The app uses your iPad or iPhone’s microphone to detect loud sounds, such as those made by banging your hands the table. Place your device on a tablet in a quiet room, and tap out the rhythm you would like Impaktor to record.
A synthesizer takes these loud sounds and turns them into percussion. There are no samples included, all sounds are generated by a simple on-board synth which can be tweaked, and played with to your heart’s content. There are a ton of presets you can also fall back on, with four tracks for layering and building a beat.
Impaktor isn’t a traditional drum machine – it doesn’t specifically generate beats for you, though it can with your impulses guiding it. Ideal for an iOS producer or studio setup, Impaktor isn’t suitable for performances as it relies on a quiet environment.
GarageBand by Apple (free)
Ugh… GarageBand, by Apple – boring right? Correct! However GarageBand is now free, which means it should be the first place any iOS user with a passing interest in creating music should go. The app comes with a whole band’s worth of musical prowess, not least are two percussive options – drums and smart drums.
Drums are simply that – either a drum kit which you must hit in all the right places, or a selection of pads as per sample-based grooveboxes like iMPC. Set tempo, record a beat, loop, jam, and enjoy. In fact, you’ll probably want to watch the video above if you’re not familiar with GarageBand’s two-finger drumming techniques.
Smart drums encourage you to arrange various parts of the percussive pie onto a grid. Each grid space represents a pattern or speed, and each time you move an element the beat changes. There’s even a random button for coming up with beats in literally a tap. It’s not bad if you’re learning guitar or simply want to play with drum patterns, but there’s no step sequencer so you’ll be limited in what you can achieve.
What’s your favourite drum machine on the App Store? Let us know in the comments!
Image credit: Akai MPC 5000 (Yianni Mathioudakis)