iPad Music Production Apps: Music Meets Multitouch

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by TechHive's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

Synth for iPad. [image: Retronyms]

Here’s some great news for all your musicmakers out there who were able to defy the world economy and come out of it with a new Apple iPad. Following in the footsteps of the iPhone and the iPod Touch, the iPad brings over 1000 of new iPad-specific applications to the market. And you know what that means: new music production apps!

While the iPad is certainly not the first multitouch music controller on the market, it definitely brings a lot of potential to the music market--and we’re not just talking iTunes. As the market grows, I’m sure we will see a lot of creative apps that help take artists to the next level.

The iPad is still fairly new, so there’s not lot out there at the moment, but here are a few iPad apps to look forward to that will make your inner musician happy.


Retronyms Synth ($1; iTunes link) is a polyphonic synthesizer based on a MIDI keyboard. The application is modeled after the typical MIDI keyboard controller, and it comes with over 40 built-in instruments, five control knobs, a modulation wheel, and the ability to choose between five octaves using the octave buttons. There is also a “sample record” button, which allows you to sample sounds using the iPad’s built-in mic.

The design is consistent with the iPad’s idea of portability. Synth's on-screen keyboard lets you use two octaves at a time, which is a reasonable amount of keys for some riff work. (With the type of music that goes on the radio nowadays, I would be very surprised if more than one octave was even needed. I kid, of course.) Also, since Synth has five-note polyphony you will be able to do chording work as well.

Let's get back to Synth’s ability to record samples. I love this idea. This makes absolute sense for on-the-go music production, as well as in-house/studio creation. For those on the go, sometimes you just hear things that inspire you and you want to capture them right away. Or you might also just want more than the 40 instruments included with the program.

Synth's best feature may be its ability to record directly to Garageband or Logic. The developers have told us that you should be able to connect an auxiliary cable going from the headphone jack of the iPad and into anything like a line-in on a MacBook Pro. Moreover, the developers have told us that the iPad’s audio output port can easily be connected to mixers and other musical equipment. We didn't have the required equipment on hand to play with this, so I'll leave it up to you to try it and report back!

Not bad for $1, right?


Sonoma Wire Works StudioTrack ($40; iTunes link) is a multitrack recording program exclusively for the iPad. Its key features include multi-track recording, a metronome, an effects rack for each channel, 16-bit (44.1kHz) audio recording, as well as Wi-Fi syncing to import your tracks to any software that supports WAV files.

StudioTrack makes good use of the iPad’s touch interface: You can tap and drag to rearrange tracks, for example, and add effects when you need them.

You can record and manage up to eight tracks at a time, with the ability to bounce (export) and mix tracks. This means you can layer as many tracks as you need (so you’re not limited to 8).

Each channel has an effect rack at its disposal, which includes: Tempo-synched Delay, Compressor, Parametric EQ and Reverb Send.

On the Master Channel you have an output Compressor-Limiter and a 4-Band Parametric equalizer, allowing you to fine tune your sounds on the fly.

Like Synth mentioned above, you can use either the iPad’s built-in mic and headphones or a headset/microphone for recording.

One last note: Sonoma Wire Works tells us that you can connect the output of an iPad to another using a special 3 connector RCA cable, or 1/8-inch splitter, such as those from Belkin and KV Connection . So, if you’ve grabbed Synth or have any other synths you want to use, you can record them with StudioTrack.

Super-powered Instruments

It’s inevitable that we’re going to see a plethora of simulated instruments (guitar, piano, etc...) on the iPad. That’s all good and fun, of course, but you’d expect to the iPad to also have some “meaty” applications as well, right?

Korg’s iELECTRIBE for iPad ($20; iTunes link) is a full-on virtual analog musical instrument synthesizer with a ton of effects, sound banks and a step sequencer. It's modeled after Korg’s Electribe series of analog synthesizers.

Since iELECTRIBE is based on a full-fledged professional piece of equipment, this app is designed for intermediate musicians and above, but I don’t see why any beginner couldn’t get the hang of it with some practice.

Using the 16-step keys in the step sequencer, you can arrange a beat or groove, and then switch memory banks and layer another pattern on top of that, and so on.

If your creativity needs a little boost, you can use 64 preset patterns from various genres of music, including: techno, house, electro, trance, drum 'n' bass, dubstep, hip-hop, and R&B. You can also program your own presets.

You have a number of effects to choose from, including Short Delay, BPM Sync Delay, Grain Shifter, Reverb, Chorus/Flanger, Filter, Talking Modulator, and “Decimator." This makes up the essential backbone of effects that you need to springboard into some really unique sounds.

Let’s not forget about the oscillator, which lets you morph the sound waves and create some really interesting (or annoying) sounds. It's essential for producing electronic music.

Anyone familiar with Korg’s line of products knows that this app is a pretty sweet deal at $20 . If you buy the app before June 30, 2010 you’ll get it an introductory price of $10.

If you’ve always wanted to try a high-powered synthesizer but have always been turned away from price tags or complexity, I think this would be a good place start for its price.

An iPhone Favorite Grows Up

Although you can use iPhone apps on the iPad (in super zoooooom mode), you can’t avoid the fact that the iPhone’s screen size limits what these apps can do. The iPad's bigger screen helps change things.

Groovemaker (free or $10, depending on the edition) is a popular “beatmaking” loop sequencer application that first made its debut on the iPhone. The basic idea behind Groovemaker is that it lets you select from a huge library of loops (drum track, bassline, synth riff, etc.) and layer them together to create music on the fly.

Groovemaker for the iPad is a lot beefier than its iPhone/Touch counterparts--and its interface may seem intimidating compared to its little siblings--. but the concept remains the same (layer loops together to make music)l.

You can control over 8 tracks at a time, and mix tracks in real-time. After you’re done, you can export your newly created song to your PC or Mac.

It comes in House, Hip-Hop and Drum ‘n Bass flavors that cost $10 each. A free version as available too.

Here’s the “House” version in action:

For the Serious Musician

So far, the iPad definitely shows its potential in its virtual instruments department, but what about those of us who already music production software?

AC-7 Pro ($10; iTunes link) is a virtual mixing console that works wirelessly with Logic Pro or Pro Tools.

AC-7 Pro uses multitouch technology to bring back the “feel” of using faders to manage your mixes instead of a mouse and keyboard or a MIDI controller.

Given that you will have already spent at least $400 on the iPad itself, pitching in an extra $10 to get this kind of “control” (no pun intended) really doesn’t seem so bad – especially when you take into consideration the fact that professional hardware mixers can easily reach thousands of dollars.

DJing on iPad

Mixr is a turntable app currently under development. It features two “turntable decks” side-by-side with a crossfader in the middle. Interacting with mixr will be the same like using actual vinyls in that you can spin the records back and forth and move the crossfader to cut and mix between tracks. You’ll also be able to cue tracks to create and record your own mixes.

Mixr will include a few built-in effects as well. You’ll be able to switch between Delay/Echo, Distortion, EQ, and Auto Filter controls.

You’ll also be able to create your own custom “DJ crate” (i.e. song library) for easy access to your tracks. This mimics thee days of sorting through your vinyls in your milk crates (or sorting through your CD wallets for all your CDJ users out there).

Unfortunately, it appears that Mixr is still in development, so no price announcement has been made yet (though you can stay up-to-date by filling out the form on Mixr's site). That’s okay though, just think of it as an opportunity to save up for the price of both an iPad and Mixr while you’re waiting for it to finish.

I use turntables, but even I have to admit that this seems like a pretty cool application. For small house or dorm parties, Mixr could be worth it--if the price is right.

As harsh of an iPad critic I was, now that I see its potential as far as music production is concerned I’ve changed my opinion a bit. Let’s see what happens next. We’ll leave up to you developers and users out there!

Now go forth and make music with your new toys tools! See you at the next level!

What's on your iPad app wish list? Leave a comment below.

Updated to clarify that StudioTrack is sold through Sonoma Wire Works.

GeekTech blogger David Saetang is a slave to the books by day, and a musical journeyman by night. Follow GeekTech on Twitter or Facebook.

Shop Tech Products at Amazon