iOS all-in-one electronic music production apps roundup

PrintWhen it comes to making music – whether the platform is hardware based, desktop-based or mobile-based – there are limitless different ways you can get the job done. However, for electronic music production, where the focus is placed upon synths, samples and sequencing, there are all sorts of software options that can allow you to do the whole task within a single environment.

On the desktop, perhaps the classic example of this is Propellerhead’s Reason. While Reason now includes audio recording (so it can now be considered a full-blown audio+MIDI sequencer), the initial release (and for many versions after that), were MIDI only. Yes, you could use audio samples and spin those into your projects but the emphasis was on virtual synths and sample-based instruments.

Reason became hugely popular with dance and electronic music producers (and it still is) who liked the ‘all-in-one’ ethos and, if they needed to add audio to a project (perhaps for the vocal elements), they would simple sync Reason to another piece of software more suited for audio sequencing (e.g. Pro Tools, Logic or Cubase). Indeed, Propellerhead developed their own synchronisation protocol – ReWire – to enable just that and most major DAWs support the format.

Electronic music production of all genres is well catered for under iOS.

Electronic music production of all genres is well catered for under iOS.

While Reason can now do audio recording, the concept – and attractiveness to electronic music producers – of the all-in-one software environment has survived and thrived though. Indeed, under iOS, a whole new generation of musicians are experiencing music technology for the first time and being exposed to electronic music making apps that they can carry around with them in their pockets.

So, if you like the idea of making some electronic-based music – virtual synths and drum machines with some samples and FX thrown in for good measure – what are the best apps to start with on the iTunes App Store?

In fact, this kind of approach to music making is very well served and there are lots of apps to choose from. I’m certainly not going to claim that what follows is a definitive list…  but it does contains some crackers and, from a personal perspective, these would be my recommendations for some brilliant starting points.

I’ve divided the apps into four groups; heavyweights (top apps, most features), middleweights (er… well, you get the idea), lightweights (fewer features, easy to learn, less likely to create a next club classic on their own) and loop-based (music built around audio loops rather than virtual synths/drum machines).

In each group I’ve suggested a small number of apps that, for me, represent leaders in their class and tried to highlight their key features. While there are plenty of alternatives to the apps I’ve listed here, you would not go far wrong with any of these…. and given the relatively modest cost of almost all iOS music software, they all pack a considerable punch given their price….

… read, consider, purchase, discover, enjoy :-)

The heavyweight class

By ‘heavyweight’ what I mean here is those apps that – in iOS terms – are perhaps the equivalent of Reason when it first appeared on the desktop. These are music production apps that can, in the right hands, and without any other software in sight, provide all the tools you need to create some full-on electronic music tracks. If you really wanted to focus (and not suffer from the distraction created by owning every cool music app there is on the App Store), buying one of these and really mastering its feature set will allow you to get some serious music made.

The only qualifier I would add here is that, like the original version of Reason, beyond the use of some samples, none of these apps supports audio recording. These are tools for electronic music production first and foremost. That said, there is nothing to stop you taking the music created in any of these apps and passing it to an iOS DAW such as Cubasis or Auria where you could add audio elements; the choice is yours.

nanostudio logoNanoStudio

As with Reason on the desktop, under iOS, NanoStudio (UK£9.99) by Blip Interactive is something of a long-standing classic. First released in July 2010 is allows the user to use multiple instances of its built-in synth – Eden – and drum machine – TRG-16 – to create complete instrument tracks. You also get a mixer and, if you opt for the UK£2.99 IAP, you can expand up to 16 of these instruments from the default of five plus the mixer.

You also get a MIDI sequencing/editing environment, built-in effects, the ability to record your own samples, MIDI input so you can use an external keyboard, plenty of export options and the option to port your projects over to the Mac/PC version of NanoStudio. NanoStudio is also a universal app so, if you want to whip out your iPhone for 5 minutes of music creation wherever you are, NanoStudio makes that possible.

NanoStudio offers a well featured MIDI editing environment for your compositions.

NanoStudio offers a well featured MIDI editing environment for your compositions.

NanoStudio has built a very loyal following and, because the basics of the app are very easy to learn, it is an attractive proposition for new iOS musicians. In the early days of iOS, it is probably fair to say NanoStudio ruled the roost. However, it now has been joined by some other serious contenders in this category.

NanoStudio



caustic logoCaustic

One of NanoStudio’s more recent challengers is Single Cell Software’s Caustic (UK£6.99). This app is a bit of an exception to the bulk of those listed in the article. There is a version for Windows based PCs (free) but the mobile version started life on Android and, given that that platform had (and still has) some underlying issues that make it less attractive for music production, Caustic became something of a hit amongst Android users. However, late 2013 saw Caustic’s first appearance under iOS and it was great to see it arrive.

Caustic provides a collection of virtual instruments – synths, beatboxes, mono synths, a modular synth, a vocoder – plus a mixer, effects, mastering section and a sequencing environment. Up to 14 of these can be combined to create a full project. The principle is much like NanoStudio but, in fact, Caustic, with its ‘virtual rack’ and rather retro graphical format, actually feels a bit more like a early version of Reason from the desktop computer environment.

How many different virtual instruments can you get into one app? Caustic manages quite a few....

How many different virtual instruments can you get into one app? Caustic manages quite a few….

Caustic isn’t on the same scale as Reason (it’s more like using an early ‘lite’ version perhaps?) but it is a powerful platform and, because of the range of different virtual instruments, perhaps offers the user a little more creative variety than NanoStudio. Again, it runs on both iPhone and iPad and, as an all-in-one production environment, provides a complete solution for electronic music production.

Caustic



gadget logoGadget

The most recent contender in this category is Gadget (UK£27.49) by Korg. Launched early in 2014, Gadget caused quite a stir on release. The basic format is not dissimilar to Caustic; a number of different virtual instruments (‘gadgets’ in Korg speak) that can be combined to create your finished production. However, the interface is ultra-modern and the MIDI sequencing environment with its ‘scene’ concept is slick and, in iOS terms, quite powerful.

The instruments cover a range of synth types and drum machines and are all easy to use. While there is plenty of choice, and some great sounds to be had, there are still a couple of ‘gadgets’ it would be nice to see )for example, a ‘sampler’ gadget). However, Korg have made plenty of noise about future developments for Gadget including the possibility of introducing audio tracks. That would help the app cross over into the DAW market and would open it up to a wider range of potential users. Even so, this is a powerful and brilliantly conceived piece of software. Note, however, that it only runs on the iPad at present.

Gadget's main screen with the 'scene' sequences at the top and the Mixer at the bottom.

Gadget’s main screen with the ‘scene’ sequences at the top and the Mixer at the bottom.

Of these three, from a personal perspective, I’d pick Gadget as I love the workflow it provides. It is, however, considerably more expensive than Caustic or NanoStudio and both of the latter also run on the iPhone. If cost and/or portability are an issue, these two make great alternatives.

Gadget



One point is worth repeating here; these are all ‘all-in-one’ music production apps. While they are not closed (you can export your productions into other apps such as a DAW for further work) the advantage is that you only have to learn one app. In terms of actually getting some music made (as opposed to getting distracted by all the possibilities offered by lots of different apps), for those lacking in self-discipline, this can be a good thing.

The middleweight class

With NanoStudio, Caustic and Gadget you can combine lots of different virtual instruments to build quite complex arrangements. Allowing for the track expansion IAP in NanoStudio, productions featuring over a dozen instruments are possible in all these apps.

However, not all electronic music needs to be this complex and, with a good drum beat, a solid bass synth, a chord part and/or a lead line, you can make a lot of (electronic) noise. In short, if the ‘heavyweight’ approach seems a little daunting or perhaps just a touch over the top for your needs, then something just a bit more compact might suit.

If anything, there is even more choice within this ‘middleweight’ class than in the heavyweight class discussed above. There are lots of apps that provide some combination of a drum machine plus 3 or 4 synths parts. I’ve no intention of covering them all here. Instead, what I’ll offer is just three examples, each of which have something interesting and unique to offer.

oscilab logoOscilab

Oscilab is a relatively recent arrival on the App Store and 2beat’s app provides a combination of electronic-style sounds based upon modelled analog synthesis, samples and drum sounds As is clear from the screen grabs shown here, the app’s name is derived from the various ‘virtual’ oscilloscope displays you get of the oscillator waveforms and which you can interact with and adjust via the touchscreen.

Essentially, you get six channels of sound with four of these based on the synth/sample engine and two dedicated to drums/percussion. The various preset sounds are very good indeed but the way that you create your own sounds or modify existing sounds makes great use of the oscilloscope-style views and your ability to draw waveforms within them. This is both fun and pretty painless; just tap, drag and pinch to tweak settings for the frequency, filter, amplifier and pan.

Many of the sound and pitch sequence settings in Oscilab can be adjusted by tweaking the various waveform displays.

Many of the sound and pitch sequence settings in Oscilab can be adjusted by tweaking the various waveform displays.

There is a fairly conventional (but nicely implemented) drum grid editor for setting up your drum patterns. However, when it comes to sequencing the synths, the approach is somewhat more novel. Pitch variation can be defined by creating a waveform and can either then be controlled by that waveform (essentially continuous pitch variation) or the waveform can then be ‘pitch quantized’ to a scale to produce a more conventional series of notes. Timing and length of notes is then controlled by a strip at the base of the window. This is a really interesting route to creating sequences; intuitive and very quick.

The app allows you to define patterns for your six channels and to save that as a ‘scene’. You can then instantly switch between scenes so, if you want to construct a series of ‘song sections’ as scenes and then perform a full piece by moving between these then it is easy to do. The scene function is obviously great for live performance and the app offers even more on that front via the six X-Y pads that can be used to tweak the sound in real-time. You can ‘lock’ the setting on these pads in a fixed position or, if you wish, set movements in motion and lock them into that motion; very cool.

Oscilab sits right on a knife edge between a music production environment where you are in full control of the notes in your tune and ‘generative’ apps that can, to greater or lesser extent, right music for you. I think 2beat have done a great job here in giving users a bit of both and while you can push the app in the melodic direction you want, if you let it, the app will also do some of the heavy lifting for you. It’s not yet the complete deal (for example, Audiobus support and MIDI Clock sync would be good to see) but this is a fabulous app with a great interface.

Oscilab



ReBirth logoReBirth

If you know anything about electronic music production software, Propellerhead’s ReBirth will be a familiar name. Indeed, ReBirth was a precursor to Reason and, while it doesn’t offer the power and versatility of something like Reason, it is still considered something of a classic.

ReBirth was introduced for the desktop back in 1997. It was, itself, an ‘emulation’ of something else…  the software attempted to reproduce the sounds and features of the Roland TB-303 Bass Line synth and both TR-808 and TR-909 Rhythm Composer drum machines. In their original hardware format, these are the musical tools that became the default options for many pop, Hip Hop, R&B and electronic music producers.

As the hardware versions became more expensive and more difficult to find, ReBirth provided those same sounds in a convenient – and relatively inexpensive – format. It was a hit in it’s own right. However, as the world of music software moved rapidly forwards, in 2005 Propellerhead discontinued work on ReBirth to focus on their other major platform; Reason.

Roll forward to 2010, however, and ReBirth was reborn under iOS in the shape of a UK£10.49 app. In this format it offers 2 TB-303s and one each of the TR-808 and TR-909. Two bass synths and two drum machines doesn’t sound like much but, in the right hands, there is a lot of noise to be made here. Properllerhead have gradually moved the app forward and it has received a number of updates, most recently in late 2013. It includes Audiobus, WIST (a Korg protocol for syncing music apps) and MIDI Clock sync support so it can play nicely with other music apps if required.

ReBirth's main screen - it certainly packs a lot in :-)

ReBirth’s main screen – it certainly packs a lot in :-)

It has to be said that the iOS version of ReBirth has not been without its critics. One of the key complaints has been the design of the interface; describing it as ‘busy’ is perhaps being polite. This is not an app you would want to try and use on a screen smaller than a full-size iPad and, even then, you might find yourself reaching for a magnifying glass. Indeed, some of the controls are so compact that those with fingers of a stubby character might find that a suitable iPad stylus pen (for example, those my Griffen) is required.

All that said, there is a lot packed into the app with pretty much the full feature set of the desktop software is reproduced in a mobile format. And, whatever complaints some might have about the busy interface, there is little to complain about in terms of the sound; providing your eyesight and fingers are up to it, this is classic electronic music production tool in the form of an app.

ReBirth



cotracks logoCotracks

When it comes to having fun with music, collaboration with a few friends is often better than endless hours of playing by yourself. If you are an electronic musician, Cotracks (UK£6.99) by Futucraft makes that possible using a single iPad. In fact, the app can be used in three modes; as a solo performer, with two users or with four users. In all cases, the instruments – consisting of a drum machine, a mono synth and a poly synth – are organised into four banks, each of which can play up to three different instances of one of the three instrument types. You can, therefore, have up to 12 virtual instruments in play at any one time (iPad CPU resources permitting) and in any combination of the three instrument types.

For each instrument, you can either record a short sequence (you can set the length of this for each instrument independently from 1 to 128 beats) or just play ‘live’. Each instrument panel includes a Record’ button and, once triggered, recording will start the next time the pattern gets ‘in sync’ with the overall playback of the project. Once you have recorded a pattern for one instrument, it will automatically start to loop playback alongside any other patterns.

Cotracks main screen - lots of features and a lot of fun to use.

Cotracks main screen – lots of features and a lot of fun to use.

While the synth and drum engines are very good and the way the app keeps all the performances locked in sync very clever, the really cute bit, however, is how the user interface reorganises itself for 2 or 4 users. For example, in four-user mode, the app reconfigures the whole screen so that one panel faces each of the iPad’s edges. Four users could, therefore, sit around the iPad and each control a single panel.

The concept is brilliantly executed and, as the app also includes Audiobus support (amongst other useful export features), you can easily take your Cotracks compositions further if you wish. Cotracks is perhaps not really a recording app in the conventional sense of that term but if you think of it as a ‘live jam compositional tool’, then that perhaps catches the strength of the app fairly accurately. And if you have friends to play with, it is also a lot of fun.

Cotracks



As indicated above, these are just three examples of something in the middle ground of electronic music production apps; the brilliant new contender in Oscilab, the recreation of a dance music classic in ReBirth, and a novel, fun and friendly music collaboration tool in Cotracks. All are great in their own way….  and there are plenty of others to explore on the Store if these don’t float your particular boat.

The lightweight class

Got 5 minutes to spare and want to make some music? Or maybe you are just starting out with high-tech music making and just want something to break you in gently? If so, then one of the more ‘lightweight’ electronic music production apps might be a more suitable starting point.

Again, there are plenty of options on the App Store but my personal favourites would be Figure, iKaossilator and triqtraq. They do offer different levels of features but all are fairly intuitive and will get you making music very quickly. All of them also work on the iPhone as well as the iPad so, if you just have 5 minutes to spare and your iPhone in your pocket, then you can indulge in a little hi-tech music making at any opportunity.

Figure logoFigure

For electronic musicians, Figure (UK£0.69) by Propellerhead is for those occasions when you want an instant musical fix. Propellerhead are, of course, the company behind the amazing Thor synth discussed above and, while the two apps are both aimed directly at electronic/dance musicians, in other respects, they couldn’t be more different. While Thor is a mighty beast and takes some learning, Figure can be learnt within minutes. Both, however, sound brilliant and Figure is perhaps the ‘classic’ example of a developer redefining how you might ‘play’ a musical instrument with a touchscreen surface.

The app’s name is derived from one of the key design elements of the instrument’s user interface. The app’s instruments are ‘played’ via a touch pad zone in the bottom half of the screen – and the user is encouraged to draw ‘figures’ with their fingers to generate sound. This drawing is done within a sort of X-Y pad and allows you to both play notes and vary the tone of the sound as you tap and drag. And as the notes are constrained to the chosen key/scale, it is almost impossible to create something that contains duff notes.

Figure - insanely fun but brilliant user interface and sounds great.

Figure – insanely fun but brilliant user interface and sounds great.

With three tracks available – drums, bass synth and lead synth – you can build up compositions of a few bars in length, record them and then improvise to tweak them in real time during playback. The experience is just brilliant and, while Figure is easy to learn, given that your mini-compositions can be easily exported and the fact that the app has Audiobus support, if you want to take any of your ideas further, it is perfectly possible to do so.

The real genius though is the user interface; while experienced musicians can exploit it, even those without traditional instrument skills can quickly put together musical ideas in an idle moment. About as much fun as it is possible to have for UK£0.69.

Figure



ikaossilator logoiKaossilator

While there are some obvious differences between Figure and Korg’s iKaossilator, there are also some similatiries and, in some ways, Korg’s app might be described as ‘Figure+’. Here you can get to combine five sound sources into your composition but, rather like Figure, creation of parts simply requires you to tap and drag a finger around a big, colourful X-Y pad. The app also allows you to select a key/scale combination and, whatever melodic parts you create will be confined to notes that are in key.

As well as the option to use up to five layers of sound, you also get a somewhat larger selection of built-in sounds to worth with. These are, of course, all electronic in nature; dance, techno, electronica, etc., are what iKaossilator is all about.

Rather interestingly, while you collection of five instrument performances can be saved into a preset (Korg call these ‘loops’) for later recall, when you open the list of saved Loops, you actually have access to not just the whole of a preset but also the individual instruments within each ‘loop’ preset. You can, therefore, mix and match loops from the different presets. There is a lot of fun to be had here creating ‘performance’ on the fly by selecting individual instruments from within your different saved loop presets. iKaossilator keeps everything in sync as you trigger a new loop or part only starting playback at the start of the next loop cycle.

iKaossilator's main screen - you even get disco lighting effects thrown in for free :-)

iKaossilator’s main screen – you even get disco lighting effects thrown in for free :-)

Given that it is breathtakingly easy to get started with, iKaossilator is a surprisingly deep and well-featured app. That does, however, mean one other difference between Korg’s offering and that of Propellerhead; price. While Figure is available for chump change, iKaossilator is a somewhat more serious investment at UK£13.99. Lightweight in terms of the learning curve for the user but perhaps not in terms of price. Still, this is a very capable app and well worth exploring.

iKaossilator



triqtraq logo 2Triqtraq

Triqtraq is a pattern-based compositional tool and, given the default sample sound sources, is aimed firmly at the electronic music producer. You can create up to 16 patterns within a project (each pattern with a default length of 16 steps, although there are some interesting things you can do to the pattern length to create some compositional variability) and then sequence the patterns to create a full composition. The app supports Audiobus so you can easily bring your compositions into other music apps for further work if you wish.

Located bottom-left of the screen, the Pattern button toggles the display between Triqtraq’s two main views; the pattern grid (with the 16 pattern pads) and the performance grid (with the 8 trigger pads for the samples in whichever of the four sample banks is currently selected).

Pattern creation is both straighforward and, compared to a traditional compositional environment, unconventional. By default, at the top of the performance grid window is a 16-step sequence grid for the currently selected pattern/sample bank combination. You can create a performance – that is, a sequence of which sample from the current bank to trigger at any of the 16 steps either via manually (engage the Step Edit button) or by engaging the record button (the button with the large red circle positioned bottom-centre) and then hitting the playback button; once in this record mode, the pattern loops and you can add and remove sample triggers using the performance pads. While recording, you can switch between the four sample banks on the fly. The 16-step pattern sequencer at the top of the screen changes to reflect this (and matches the colour of the selected bank; yellow for bank A, blue for bank B, etc.).

The Sample Pad screen allows access to the four banks of eight samples so you can build your patterns.

The Sample Pad screen allows access to the four banks of eight samples so you can build your patterns.

The bottom line here is that Triqtraq is brilliant fun to use and, if you are a dance and/or electronic music maker, capable of producing some seriously good tunes. At the current price of UK£1.99 it is most certainly worth purchasing and it unlikely to break anyone’s bank. If you like Figure then I suspect you will also like Triqtraq. It is perhaps a little fussier to look at than Propellerhead’s app but it is an equally clever user interface that makes brilliant use of the iDevice touchscreen. At this price, there is no need to over-think the decision – just buy it and enjoy making some tunes on your phone!

triqtraq



The loop-based class

While all of these electronic music production apps might be considered to be ‘loop-based’ in that you build your compositions by creating short musical phrases that are repeated, in all the apps considered so far, those loops are played by virtual instruments built into the apps. There is, of course, another sort of loop-based approach to creating music. Here you use pre-recorded audio loops – a synth line, bass, chord part or drum loop, for example – and then mix and match these to create a unique music composition.

This type of loop-based composition has been around on the desktop of many years and software such as Sony’s Acid Pro (for example) pioneered this approach. On the desktop, software generally includes sophisticated algorithms for pitch and time stretching audio loops; regardless of the root key or original tempo, loops can be manipulated in real-time so that they play in time with the overall project and, to some degree at least, will match the overall key.

Of course, developers have also bought audio loop-based music production to iOS and while the current crop of apps don’t match the very fully featured capabilities of software such as Acid, there is still a lot of fun and creative options to be had. My current favourites in this class would be Cakewalk’s ScratchPad and Novation’s LaunchPad but, just for the fun of it, and as we are talking about loops, I’ve also included Loopy HD here. As we will see in a minute, this is a slightly different beast, but it’s also brilliant so well worth adding to your music app collection.

scratchpad hd logoScratchPad HD

As its name suggests, ScratchPad HD is pretty good as a musical scratchpad; you can mix and match between a maximum of nine audio loops at any one time and the tempo-matching and playback sync is handled by the app to ensure everything stays locked tight. The name is also suitable because you also get a range of audio effects that you can apply to these loops in real-time, one of which is the ability to ‘scratch’ the loop DJ-style.

The interface is split into three main areas. An upper strip of global controls, the Browser/Inspector panel on the left and the main loop playback area that fills the remainder of the display and allows you to load up to nine loops to you’re your ScratchPad project. Each loop slot includes a number of rather neat controls for adding effects, etc.

As well as a small collection of example loops that are included to get you started, there are additional loops packs you can purchase as IAPs. These are priced as UK£1.99. However, most welcome is the ability to import your own loops via DropBox and this works very smoothly. ScratchPad can recognise the tempo of loops you import and seems to tempo-match them pretty well if you adjust the global tempo of the project. Of course, if you take things too far from their original tempo, you will start to hear some audio artefacts but, on the whole, the quality of the tempo-matching is pretty good.

ScratchPad HD from Cakewalk; loop-based music for the masses?

ScratchPad HD from Cakewalk; loop-based music for the masses?

The real fun with ScratchPad HD is when you start to trigger those loops. Each of the nine loop pads features a large ‘play’ button that, by default, once tapped, will trigger playback starting from the next event set by the Resolution setting. This keeps everything tightly locked in sync.

I love the creative options and instant gratification that working with loops offers. And whether you just use commercial loop sets or you merge a few commercial loops with some you have rolled yourself and some other musical elements, there is no doubting the inspiration that a small number of suitably chosen loops can provide when you are looking for a spark to get a new idea underway.

Scratchpad HD



launchpad logo newLaunchPad

Novation’s LaunchPad concept – whether in its hardware format or one of the software recreations like the iPad LaunchPad app – has created a whole new way to get creative with loop-based music. Launchpad is brilliant in a live setting, allowing you to mix and match loops on the fly but it is equally at home in a recording context.

In iOS app form, LaunchPad is actually free to download and includes a decent collection of audio loops, organised into various projects, to get you started. There are also a number of IAP loop packs that you can opt for that will expand your loop collection. However, once you have tried and liked the basic concept, the IAP that allows you import your own audio loops is well worth the UK£4.99 asking price.

As with ScratchPad, what you essentially get here is a grid of virtual pads (or sample triggers) and these can be used to start the playback of the audio loop/sample associated with each of them. The app manages keeping everything in sync so all you have to do is play with the pads and mix and match the various audio phrases. It really is a doddle to use but also a lot of fun. As the app support Audiobus, you can also get your LaunchPad musical endeavours out into the wider music production world if you need to.

Launchpad's main screen - just tap some pads and get your loops looping.

Launchpad’s main screen – just tap some pads and get your loops looping.

Also like ScratchPad, LaunchPad offers you a number of basic audio effects that can be applied to your loop to add some suitable ear candy. And, as you can have up to eight loops playing at any one time, it is perfectly possible (with the right loops) to create a fairly fill-on musical arrangement using just this app. The LaunchPad concept is brilliant and, in it’s hardware format, lots of electronic musicians use it for live performance. However, providing you are happy to work with a touchscreen, you can now get pretty much the full Launchpad experience via your iPad and, as you can try before you buy, there is little not to like.

Launchpad



Loopy HD logoLoopy HD

Some musicians use audio loops in a somewhat different way to that offered by ScratchPad or LaunchPad. Instead, they record their own audio loops and then overdub additional loops on top to build a composition. Used in this way, loops have become an integral part of modern music making and ‘loopers’ have created something of their own musical sub-culture. The approach, however, actually crosses a very wide range of musical genres. In a live context, you can buy hardware units that provide looping features (in terms of mainstream artists, KT Tunstall is a user, but lots of beatboxers or more experimental musicians also use these devices).

However, you can also get the same technology in the form of an app and Loopy HD (UK£5.49) by A Tasty Pixel (the same developer behind Audiobus) is the best iOS example by quite a stretch. Loopy HD’s main workspace revolves (ouch!) around a set of circular loop waveform displays and there is a choice between six, nine or twelve loops in the display at any one time depending upon how complex you like to get. You can either record live audio into a particular loop slot or, if you tap and hold the center of the loop slot, import a loop file (WAV, MP3 and AIFF are all supported) via the context menu that appears around the loop slot itself. The app takes care of syncing playback of all the loops and, during a performance, you can drop loops in and out of your mix as required.

Loopy HD's main interface in nine-loop mode with the transport panel shown far-left.

Loopy HD’s main interface in nine-loop mode with the transport panel shown far-left.

The app also includes a very straightforward session management system and the ability to record a whole session. This latter option can also capture any live audio input so, if you want to sing or rap over your loop-based bed/arrangement, you can easily do so. Recordings made in this way can be exported via email, SoundCloud, audio copy or via iTunes transfer. In Audiobus, Loopy HD can be used as either an Input or Output device. Rather wonderfully, when loading the Loopy HD app into the Input slot you can choose to send either the final stereo output or the output of an individual track through to apps further down the Audiobus signal chain. If you wanted to transfer a full Loopy HD project to your favourite DAW app you could, therefore, do it on a track-by-track basis.

Even for a novice user, Loopy HD is a great little musical sketchpad for creating musical ideas. For dedicated loopers, the app might not have all the bells and whistles found in some looping devices (for example, the range of effects is not extensive) but it is a beautifully slick interface and, in the right hands, capable of some wonderfully creative things. It is also a brilliant addition to an iOS recording toolkit for anything from creating and manipulating your own loops to building a complete backing track.

Loopy HD



In summary

As I indicated at the start of this piece, when it comes to electronic music production, the App Store is not short of options. The selections included here do, of course, represent just my personal choices. If you are new to iOS music making, I do think anyone of them – within their particular category – would make good starting points however.

Of course, the more experienced iOS music makers amongst the readership may well now be shouting ‘but what about app XYZ….?’ Agreed! So if you do want to suggest some alternatives for others to consider then please just leave a comment below and add your favourite electronic music production app to my ‘highly recommended’ list….

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    Comments

    1. Very neat overview and summary.On the windows platform I would have waited for a more comparative review like this before buying my annual software ! On IOS I own most of them,hardly use the majority and I’m using your review to wonder whether I shouldn’t hoover up the rest of them…..

      • Hi Steve…. app addiction is difficult to cure… but at least it is a fairly affordable habit compared to a lot of desktop music software…. Best wishes, John

        • Cuscolima says:

          I guess the problem with this “addiction” is not about money but about time and quality of what I am producing. I spend too many hours looking for the next app I will buy and not enough time exploiting completly what I have. Frustrating at the end…

          • I know what you mean….to get round this I set myself the task of completing a tune a week….I find that makes me stick to the apps that I find the most effective and easiest to drive.Every time I finish something I play about with the new or the opaque for a day….then back to music…basically you can’t have your pudding til you’ve finished yer vegetables…

          • Im with you. Its hard to find the workflow with the apps you have sometimes. I go looking for the next greatest things. It is an addiction. have to push ahead and make the tools you have work for you.

    2. You know what I find really cool about Gadget in terms of “light weight”? If I just want to throw something down real quick I just launch it, one (1) gadget and go. It’s always there to be built upon later.

      • Hi KDub… good point. Any of the ‘heavier’ apps can be used in a ‘light’ fashion when you just want to do something quick…. Best wishes, John

    3. Excellent roundup John. The in-depth nature of your posts are much appreciated. Based on some of your previous reviews, recently I dove in and grabbed some apps that were not on my list, such as Co-Tracks, and I am very happy about those decisions.

      This info in this post helps me to gain some extra perspective on certain apps that I wasn’t sure about. I have all of the apps that I need (and more) to produce the music that I typically make, but I have an open mind and am happy to explore new sonic landscapes. I have already made some interesting tracks that I would label as “electronic” music and the further I delve into this the more I may look to a Korg Gadget or Caustic app.

      Without the help of posts like this I would probably not be exploring and experimenting as much…your contribution to iOS music making is large and growing. I Just hope you can keep up the good work, especially with all that you have going on.

      Cheers,
      Toz

      • Hi Toz… thanks for the kind words…. always appreciated… yep, a lot going on but I get as big a kick out of all the iOS stuff as everyone else so running the site is a lot of fun :-0 Best wishes, John

    4. Just started to play with Caustic and , IMHO, blows away Nanostudio in just about every category. The only thing missing is it doesn’t record pitch bends right now, a rather odd omission. Nevertheless it has so many other features that such as:

      Larger selection of effects than NS.
      Vocoder.
      Multi note pitch shifting sampler that also plays soundfonts!
      Modular synth that can also act as an effect from other synths (called machines) ..
      Much larger selection of drum kits.

      If you don’t own this, for $10 US, it’s an incredible value.

    5. Dear John, Thank you so much for this brilliant article! I would be interested in your opinion on Apples Garage Ban for iOS? Is there any reason you didn’t include it here? Thanks!

    6. Really awesome article,
      I really enjoy this. After few search I found a valuable article on your site, keep sharing and keep helping others.
      .
      Thanks a lot

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