While 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.
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.
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….
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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? :-)
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….