GarageBand update – Apple bring some Alchemy to their iOS DAW/sequencer

Download from iTunes App Storegarageband logo 3While I’m more than happy to recommend recording apps such as Cubasis, Auria Pro or Gadget to more experienced iOS musicians, if you are just taking your first steps with the platform (and particularly if it represents your first serious encounter with recording/music technology in any form), Apple’s GarageBand for iOS is actually pretty hard to beat. Even if you just use it as an audio sketchpad, it would be worth the price of entry and, if you also happen to use GarageBand or Logic Pro X on the desktop, then GarageBand under iOS makes an obvious choice on your iPad or iPhone.

What’s new in GarageBand for iOS 2.2? Quite a lot actually….

Apple have kept a steady trickle of updates to the iOS version of garageBand over the last couple of years and, while it has been perhaps been missing some features that you might want in a fully-blown DAW/sequencer (most notably a more comprehensive mixing environment), in other respects it has features that are not found in some of the other leading iOS DW/sequencer (such as the excellent ‘touch’ virtual instruments) and that make it a great choice for a first music production platform.

Yay! Alchemcy returns to iOS…. as a virtual instrument within GarageBand.

Anyway, alongside updated to the OSX versions of Logic and GarageBand, a further update for GarageBand iOS arrived on the App Store yesterday taking the app to v.2.2. While it arrives with a fairly modest ‘X.2’ label, I think this is actually a pretty significant update for GarageBand. It brings a number of new features and some refinements to existing options….  and, considering it is (again) a freebie for all existing users, it represents a very worthwhile step forward.

So, what’s new with this release? Well, if you were a fan of Camel’s Alchemy synth under iOS  – and which sadly ceased to be when Camel went out of business a while ago – then you might well be glad to see it’s reappearance as a virtual instrument option within GarageBand. Alchemy was purchased by Apple and subsequently added to Logic Pro on the desktop a little while ago….   but to see it back under iOS is great….

You now get access to the GarageBand Chord Strips for all the virtual instruments… including Alchemy as shown here.

I have to say that I think Apple have actually done a pretty good job of integrating it into the GarageBand experience. You get some great presets, lots of touchscreen control over sound tweaking plus the GarageBand keyboard and chord triggering options. Incidentally, those Chord Strips – which were part, for example, of the strings touch instrument, are now available for any keyboard-style GarageBand instrument….  another great change. Yes, it’s still a shame you can’t use Alchemy outside GarageBand as, for example, a separate AU instrument, but it is most certainly a big plus for GarageBand itself.

The Sound Browser has been revamped and new options added that include preset collections of effects.

When you create a new tack, the ‘browser’ screen has also been overhauled with the available options much easier to find. This also includes some new features and the Audio recorder in particular has been beefed up. This now includes a whole bunch of useful presets that offer suitable effects chains for you to record through depending upon the type of sound you are looking to capture….  more on effects themselves in a minute…. A new multi-take recording option has also been added allowing you to loop through a song section and then simply select the take you like best to use within your project. Again, very useful….

Multi-take recording has also been added to the GarageBand feature set….

For those working with Logic Pro on the desktop, Apple have enhanced the options for moving projects between the two platforms. OK, this is something you could easily do with a little bit of audio rendering and existing routes for importing/exporting audio….  but now the whole process can be achieved via iCloud file sharing with features built into both Logic and GarageBand. This is not perhaps ground-breaking not it certainly up the convenience of using your iPad as a musical scratchpad for your Logic projects.

Apple have significantly improved the options for track-level insert effects with this update.

While all of the above additions/changes are very welcome, perhaps the highlight change with this release is in the way audio effects are handled. The changes here go some way (although not yet all the way) towards addressing my own personal ‘missing feature list’ for GarageBand for iOS; a proper mixing environment. OK, we still don’t get what you might call a full-on mixer, in terms of the required functionality, we are now a lot closer.

The new ‘visual EQ’ is a nice addition.

This is down to two things. First, for each track, there is now a proper effects insert system you can access. It’s populated with a good number of Apple’s own effects options and these include some very respectable EQ and compressor options as well as a good selection of more creative possibilities. Amongst a few others new effects, there is a new ‘visual’ three band EQ which is rather nice (maybe the compressor, which is well-featured otherwise, could do with some visual elements also, especially a gain reduction display?).

However, you now also get access to any AU-based effects apps that you have installed. AU instruments have been accessible within garageBand for a little while….  but it is great to (finally!) see Apple add effects functionality to GarageBand as well. Having given a few such AU plugins a run through this morning, I have to say this all works pretty well. In terms of insert effects, therefore, on individual tracks, Apple have really upped the game.

Finally, GarageBand can handle Apple’s own plugin format for audio effects; AU effects apps can now be accessed within GarageBand :-)

We are not fully there though….  As far as I can see, we are still stuck with just two standard ‘master’ (send-return) effects in delay and reverb….  and no options for using anything other than the stock Apple effects in these roles. Maybe that’s something slated for v.2.3? Or maybe not….  because lots of folks might then find GarageBand does all they really need and never consider moving up to Logic Pro on their OSX machines? :-)

The support for AU effects plugins seems to work very smoothly….

Anyway, it is good to see GarageBand for iOS get such a significant update. As a ‘my first recording app’ candidate, GarageBand for iOS is a very good bet….  if you are newbie iOS musician looking for a place to start, you could do a lot worse…. It’s priced at just UK£3.99/US$4.99 and worth every penny/cent….  download, spend some time with it and then, if you do outgrow it, take the very useful experience on with you to a more fully featured iOS recording environment…

I’ve not seen an ‘official’ Apple demo video as yet but I’ve embedded a few user clips below if you want to see some of the new features in action….  Otherwise, hit the download button to find out more. GarageBand for iOS just became an even better bet as a starting point for those getting into home recording for the first time….

GarageBand for iOS

Download from iTunes App Store

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    1. It puzzles me why I don’t use GarageBand/iOS more, as “on paper” the app has so much going for it. The option to export projects to Logic Pro X (my Mac DAW of choice); integrated audio and MIDI tracks; ease of use; some highly-usable guitar amp/FX; the excellent Drummer feature (a “port” from LPX)… maybe the “purist” in me thinks GB makes music-production too easy :-P

      I’ve found GB most useful when I do intensive songwriting challenges like FAWM – i.e. where I have to write and record new material at a ferocious pace, and have to do so wherever I find myself. I’ve recorded the (software instrument) backing tracks using GB for FAWM (and 50/90) songs, on buses and in hospital waiting rooms, overdubbing guitars, vocals, etc. when I get home.

      Maybe I’ll be doing so again in a week or two, assuming I sign up for FAWM 2017… at least there are some new features to play with this time!

      • One other thought: I agree totally with you, that GB/iOS falls down badly (for me) in lacking an even half-decent mixing environment. It’s not always possible for me to take a GB project to our home project studio, and sometimes you just need to bash out even a rough mix which doesn’t sound awful, on the iDevice itself without going to Logic.

        Maybe the new AU FX capability might allow one to insert an external AU EQ app, but I haven’t got that far yet… in the meantime, I may just have to rely on MicSwap Pro to “improve” my miked-up sources when I record them into GB?

      • Our Lord Jesus says:

        What the **** is FAWM?

    2. Wow. I haven’t tried it yet but this seems a great update. Alchemy and improved mixing and effects capabilities? And greater integration with Logic. For free? Well done Apple. This just cements GB as my go-to DAW on iOS. I just find it a slicker, easier interface than others on the iPad. iPad music making is about composition for me, rather than full-fledged mixing and production and in that regard I personally find GB better. Can’t wait to try it out this evening.

    3. If you have an Air 1 say goodbye to Alchemy and if you’re plan to run some AU instruments or FX don’t expect fluid results. I guess to much Logic code inside GB, the Air 1 is only 1 GB Ram. With apps like Auria Pro, GB and the existing and the incoming AU the Air 1 is obsolete. My Air 1 has served me well but I think it’s time for upgrade to fully enjoy those amazing apps. About GB sure you can make tweaks here and there, but it’s a great update.

    4. John you’re so right about GB being a great starter DAW, it’s really what got me going full on with iOS music making. Over the years I have used MusicStudio, and Auria and ended up with Cubasis being my main DAW, but I still occasionally go back to GB. It has such a rich environment for my creativity and I really like the enhancements Apple has made. Sure, it has its limitations but this new release has a heck of a lot of cool features that I’m looking forward to diving into. I’ve only skimmed the surface this morning but I can already tell that I’ll spend quite a bit of time checking things out, especially with having AU effects available for each track. Looks like a real winner of an update.

      • Nathan Brazil says:

        Yeah, my experience is much the same as yours, Toz. Although, I’m verging toward Auria Pro these days due to Fab Filters. This Garage Band update is a nice, unexpected gift. Especially closer Logic integration. All I need now is to master Logic. (-;

    5. John (Film4Q) says:

      It looks like the update requires iOS 10 as it’s not showing up for iOS 9; either that or it’s only for Air and later.

      Also, I’m a bit puzzled by the inclusion of Alchemy, which I don’t think is included with desktop Garageband.

      It’s a very welcome surprise but I wonder if people who transfer projects to their Macs are going to find they need it there too?

      Maybe an IAP for the OS X version would be the answer. Or perhaps Apple hope it will spur people on to becoming Logic users…?

    6. Lewis Childs says:

      Hey John, love the work you do. I thought I would share this link of a video that I created:
      It covers what happens when you take a project from Logic to GarageBand that has tempo and time signature changes within a song. It’s not perfect, in that we still do not have the ability to map tempo changes within a given project, but its the best solution I’ve seen to handling tempo and meter changes in a single song. To my knowledge you can’t do this on Cubasis, or Auria Pro, so this is an exciting step forward. Hopefully the video will be helpful when you do a full review.
      Lewis Childs (Groundswell Studios)

    7. Thank you for excluding my ipad 4 from the update mama Apple. So nice of you. No Alchemy for me

    8. Well I gave it another try recently… I guess the 2.2 update is only iOS 10. I’m on iOS 9 at the moment.

      I can’t help feeling GarageBand is what you’d end up with if Disney made a DAW for kids.

      I tried recording something on the loop section and found it clunky. The FX disappeared every time I went to record a loop.

      I’m gonna wipe it today.

    9. I totally agree with @Raf, Garageband is so frustrating to even get a basic two track mix going that it’s ridiculous how much goes into the virtual instruments/drummers/strings/fluff that they totally ignore the very basics of a DAW.

    10. So far so good, this update took GB a long way. It’s turning out to be a great musical companion.

      Hope we don’t have to wait until NAMM 2018 to get AU on sends and clip muting.

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