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A Guide to all of the best iPad Music Apps!

I'm sick of completely useless reviews on iTunes, and the clutter in the "Music" section. I seek to eliminate both of these problems by presenting you, the informed reader of sites such as mine, with the apps worthy of your consideration. You won't find 15 different Theremin apps in here. If someone is wrong, you can call them on it. If I'm wrong, you can call me on it! By virtue of finding this you're the most active people in the community. That makes your opinion more valuable than the idiot on iTunes giving Korg's iMS-20 a 1 Star Review saying, "How does I sine wave?"

Everyone's a Critic

For each app I give my paragraph blurb, attempting to explain what it does and how well I feel it achievies that. You are welcome to disagree with me! I just provide this blurb because people seem to like reading what I have to say about apps, but I want to read what you have to say too!

Everything is current!

I try to keep this guide updated. As apps get patched I will reevaluate them and their entries here to reflect the ever changing state of apps. This works better than video reviews; developers can keep updating apps, but I can't keep updating videos. All of what you read here should be indicative of the latest versions of each app. Due to this limitation, only apps I own are represented.

Disclosures all over

Unlike other guides and sites, no one pays to be listed here. This is invite-only, and no money is accepted for ratings. I believe in operating openly, so I disclose in all entries if I received a promo code for the app. This has never had any impact on ratings, because I'm not about to sell you out for a $5 app... not even for a $30 one.

Ratings Explanation

Rather than a 1-5 Star Rating system, I try to rate everything based on who I'd recommend the app for. There is no scale here. An "Essential" app is obviously better than a "Pass" app, but a "Friendly" app might be better than an "Awesome!" for some users. The words don't make one app better than another, this is just a handy label to help organize apps. Here is how I think of the ratings:

Essential: Just about everyone serious about iOS Music Making would benefit from owning this.
Awesome!: The app has Pro uses and features, or is the best among similar competing apps.
Friendly: Not necessarily the most amazing thing ever, but still good for new users. Newbie Friendly!
Experimental: Worthwhile apps that are weird, nerdy, or possibly require advanced knowledge.
Meh: Apps that are just kind of so-so, perhaps boring or lacking in features, but not bad.
Pass: Not recommended for anyone. Either terrible or otherwise not worth the money, nor time.

Navigation

The main page lists everything Alphabetically, but you can sort apps by their ratings with the drop-down menus in the header. This menu is accessible from all entries in the guide.

Addictive Synth

The first thing everyone says about this App is it lives up to the name! Addictive brings Additive Synthesis to the iPad in a very well thought out package. The ability to morph between patches brings so many layers to your sounds. The inclusion of a unique filter and a mind boggling assortment of modulation options insure that you will lose hours upon hours exploring sound in entirely new ways! See a full review here.

Disclosure: I received my copy for review from VirSyn.

Animoog

Animoog is a truly professional synthesizer that makes use of both the iPad's interface and Moog's long history of synthesis science! The Anisotropic Synth Engine (ASE) that powers this baby is a very clever take on wavetable synthesis, allowing for smooth transitions through many different wavetables. You can get some very rich sounds out of relatively simple patches, thanks to the various timbres available. If you explore these you will find iconic sounds that defined generations of electronic music, and then bend and morph them to your will! I really love this synth and as soon as you load it up you'll see why so many other synthesists hold this app in such high regard.

Arctic Keys

The developers of Molten Drum Machine, give us their take on a subtractive synthesizer app. They brought some great innovation to it in the form of a step-sequencer for automation that is controlled by key presses for rhythmic playing. Impressively, this app came out of the gate with Virtual MIDI and a host of MIDI features; like "Learn". There is a lot to like in this app, with a wide variety of sounds from cool to gritty. The effects section is also well thought out and feature rich. See a full review here.

Disclosure: I received my copy for review from One Red Dog.

Bassline

This sexy acid factory is a 303 clone with a solid MIDI implementation under-the-hood for clock input. This inclusion brings a lot of utility. Instead of being confined to the drums found in the all-in-one techno studios, you can pick your own drum App to jam with. Want to take this to some crazy places? WIFI into Ableton or plug it into your hardware machine for any ensemble you can imagine. Besides looking good and playing nice, it also sounds good with some unique waveforms beyond the typical Square and Saw of most 303 clones, though most people agree it does not sound as good as technoBox2. It has two X/Y pads for Filter Cutoff/Resonance and Decay/Env Mod, providing a unique playing experience. Consider pairing this with Molten or MoDrum for your drums.

Beat Shuffler

This beat juggling app offers a simple approach to the crazy fluid style of MLR on PCs. Loops can be loaded to fill up an 8 or 16 step grid, and then played around with as slices. This allows for some really great grooves that are much more fluid than simple step sequencing, as you can mash things up on a whim. Audio Paste is still not supported at this time, but is planned and should greatly increase the usefulness of this app. See a full review here.

Disclosure: I received my copy for review from Big Robot Studios.

BeatMaker 2

BeatMaker 2 was originally a well regarded iPhone app, but now it is universal and looks great on the iPad. The sampler instruments are packed full of features to get the sound you want. See a full review here. It supports iTunes and PasteBoard importing, but consider using Hokusai with this to get your samples in from AudioCopy sources.

BitWiz

BitWiz brings Lo-Fi sounds with High-Quality. This thing can make some very grizzly-nasty tones, that are not merely messy low-cut-to-death analog wannabes. Advanced patches can even include melodies, sort of like math-driven arpeggios. BitWiz uses Bitwise Operators to shape the sound, an advanced mathematical way of programming, making it daunting for anyone unfamiliar with these concepts. There is a random function for people who don't know what they're doing with it, but that is somewhat limited so you're better off learning to program it.

BitWiz now supports recording and Audio Copy, making it a great source for new original samples. While some app's have gimmicky Twitter stuff, the inclusion of patch sharing via Twitter is quite fun and useful in BitWiz!

Disclosure: I received my copy for review from Kymatica.

bleep!BOX

Similar to Rebirth and technoBox2, as a complete studio with multiple synth and drum parts, this blows both away. It beats Rebirth out in ease of use, and technoBox2 in terms of both the sounds it produces and the control it provides. This is a complete synthesis solution for beat making, without relying on tired old 808 drum samples. If you like step-sequenced synths, but hate stepping through them then you'll really dig the layout. Newly updated with MIDI Sync and Triggering, as well as Virtual MIDI support. This pushes this way ahead of the competition for simple beat making that you can take seriously. The developer has a great tutorial as well.

Disclosure: I received my copy for review from White Noise Audio.

bs-16i

This app is a dedicated SoundFont player. This is kind of awesome for SoundFont hackers, but without an App to make SoundFont files on iOS you are limited to whatever you import from other sources. There are a ton of free SoundFonts out there, so you have plenty options there. If you are not into SoundFonts and Samplers there are better and easier ways of making sounds on your iPad. The version 1.4 update has added Virtual MIDI support, greatly extending the usefulness of this app, as it could be used with apps like Genome or SoundPrism Pro.

CrossDJ

The iPad DJ app market is quite crowded. CrossDJ is one of the best apps in this space, offering great features at a low price.

Among the features are 8 cue points for each of the two decks, 14 effects controlled by X/Y pad, and excellent beat-matching. Beat-matching and pitch-shifting often give other DJ apps a lot of trouble, but CrossDJ is able to handle both nicely.

Aside from the X/Y pads for the effects there is little to distinguish this as a iPad app. It does a very good job of emulating modern DJ software, while maintaining virtual platters for scratching, but it doesn't really do anything new to take advantage of the iPad platform. There is also no option to record your sets.

Disclosure: I received my copy for review from MixVibes.

csGrain

csGrain is an audio processing powerhouse with 10 effects to morph your samples or live audio input. There are a lot of options for getting your samples into the app; AudioPaste, Dropbox and even iTunes songs can be imported. I think the best use is as an effects box for guitars or other instruments, especially if you have an interface for audio input. The sample import can be fun if you want to make ambient drones or scary remixes. The available effects are Pitch Shifting, Ring Mod, Chorus, Flanger, Delay, Reverse, High/Low Pass Filters, and Reverb. Additionally there is a compressor available in live audio mode. Due to the heavy processing involved, an iPad 2 or greater is required. I have a guide for installing csGrain on iPad 1s, but this is unsupported and performance will be slightly limited.

Disclosure: I received my copy for review from Boulanger Labs.

Curtis

This granular synth is designed with a great UI, putting all of your sound design on one screen. This is also a limiting factor, not quite offering the same degree of control found in SampleWiz. Before the release of SampleWiz this was the defacto Granular, but I think SampleWiz edges it out in several important areas like resampling. It is still a lot of fun though, and very well thought out, to bring a great degree of play-ability to the messy business of Granular. The developer has a long history with iOS products and inventing new sound toys, as well as updating their existing catalog to meet user requests.

DM1

As of version 2.0 this app is starting to be as sexy as its interface. With a great collection of kits and effects this is a fun and easy way to get some grooves pumping out of your iPad. The quality of the kits and effects cannot be understated. Each of the 64 kits is unique and interesting. The 7 effects are global with up to two of them active at once, each with its own X/Y pad and Dry/Wet fader. The combination makes for some crazy dynamic fun; like having a classic drum machine and two Korg Kaosspads.

Unlike all of the other drum machine apps, however, it does not include Virtual MIDI sync, though it does provide support for WIST sync. It now supports AudioCopy to export your songs, but it does not allow any sample importing to make your own kits. Background audio is also now available, so at the very least you could use this to jam with a synth app.

DXi

DXi FM Synthesizer started off life as a faithful recreation of the Yamaha DX7, and was infinitely easier to program than the original hardware. After constant development and updates, DXi far exceeds slavish emulation, and has become a very modern instrument. First with the inclusion of a delay and a low-pass filter (uncommon in FM Synths). Now it even sports multiple waveforms instead of the typical sine-only FM synths or yore. If you've ever thought about getting a DX7, spend all of that money on a solid MIDI controller instead and then spend $2 on this. FM Synthesis is a complicated and chaotic subject though, so it is not for everyone.

Electronic Piano Synthesizer

As the name suggests, everything going on in here is pure synthesis. Specifically Frequency Modulation (FM) synthesis, in a striped-down form. You still have some modulation options, but not as much as you would have in a more traditional FM Synth like DXi. EPS is offering only two modulators and two LFOs for added Tremelo and Vibrato. A delay effect, as well as a Tube Overdrive, help to thicken out the sound.

The limited controls allow it to cram everything on to one screen. This is nice when you're playing, but at the heavy cost of articulation in envelopes. Modulators are limited to just a Decay envelope, and the voiced carrier only offers Decay/Release. All of this adds up to a very simplified version of FM that should be more approachable for new users. Other features greatly extend the usefulness of this app; including Virtual/Core MIDI, Recording and Audio Pasteboard.

Disclosure: I received my copy for review from Bacaj Apps.

Epic Synth

A simple polyphonic virtual analog synthesizer with some nice big sliders to grab onto for playing with during performances. It isn't merely "analog" in the sense of any old subtractive engine, but modeled to sound very warm like old analog hardware. You can see me living out my keytar fantasies in this review.

Disclosure: I received my copy for review from JP Martineau.

FunkBox

I can see why people are so excited about this. In addition to providing a lot of great drum machine samples, it presents it all in a kitschy package that stays just shy of tacky. This has the all important CoreMIDI clock input to play nice with other apps, and is definitely worthy of praise from the pros for its utility in this regard. I really want to like this one and will occasionally launch it to give it another go, but I'm just not feeling it. I think Molten is the best App in this space.

Genome

Genome MIDI Sequencer offers the capabilities missing in other apps, and let's them all play together at the same tempo. The primary function, as a sequencer, is well designed, with gesture navigation to move around fluidly. The MIDI output is feature rich, able to communicate not only with MIDI hardware (through CoreMIDI/Camera Connection Kit, Line6 Mobilizer Mk I & II) but also with other apps that support Virtual MIDI. There is even the ability to record MIDI from other Apps for custom sequencing later! See it in action and get an idea for how to set up your virtual MIDI routing in this tutorial.

Disclosure: I received my copy for review from White Noise Audio.

GlitchBreaks

Combining the styles of Breakbeat-controllerism with Glitch effects galore, GlitchBreaks a is powerful little app for quickly making some mean beats. You have 4 Sample Pads that can be loaded with loops; either from the factory library or anything you import via Audio Paste. Triggering them is simple and responsive. You could just use it for jamming out some lively rhythm, but the real magic happens when you bring in the Loop Modulation and Glitch effects. A Cut function adds the ability to retrigger your loops in new patterns.

The large X/Y Loop Mod controller allows you to move the playhead and dynamically change loop lengths. This allows for fluid changes to your sound. The Glitch effect offers 4 quadrants of varying playback, causing the playhead to flutter around and warp. No matter what you do though, the app will keep track of the playhead's position. As soon as you stop screwing around, the playhead will snap back to where it should be!

Disclosure: I received my copy for review from Alex Matheu.