The iPad is stronger than ever. It’s got the power of the multi-touch and a wealth of available apps, that can change your beat making workflow for good, lets dive in and find out what the best beat making apps are on the market, and why.
Beat makers and controller freaks have always either enjoyed or hated the iPad: it’s a very capable and customizable multi-touch controller, and at the same time doesn’t have the old school “knobs, buttons and faders” feel and response that many claim necessary. While both opinions are well-founded, there is no denying that a completely customizable touch controller is a powerful thing to have in any studio.
While the initial hype has worn out a little over the years, the iPad has grown into a perfectly capable tool in both professional and hobbyist music studios around the world. With the addition of iPad Pro, Apple has made iPad a very attractive option for more serious studio use and it’s a good option for anyone looking to add tactile multi-touch controls into their workflow. 10.5” and 12.9” screen sizes offer a good amount of screen real-estate to work with and the virtual knobs and faders react to touch with speed and precision that you would expect from any professional controller interface. Many of the iPad controller apps, such as Liine Lemur and touchAble have been popular in expanding the simple key shortcut ability inside a digital audio workstation, and allowing the users to map functions, like faders and knobs inside these apps to control their workstation.
But it’s not just controls. In fact, some benchmarks show that the iPad Pro can even outperform MacBook Pro in some CPU and GPU intensive tasks, making it powerful to run music apps, which require some heavy number crunching, such as synthesis and digital signal processing.
Any app loaded into the iPad will change the look and feel of the controller completely, and there are just too many great ones to choose from: launching a Roland TR-style drum machine will turn it into a drum machine, Akai MPC-style app will change the pad into sampling based beat-production studio, and opening a subtractive drum synthesizer app will turn the iPad into a professional sound-design palette.
Wasn’t it just yesterday, when you needed a bunch of cables to connect your studio tools to talk with each other? The wireless revolution continues with the mighty Ableton Link, while various very capable plugin hosts (like Auria Pro) and signal routing applications (like Audiobus 3) are being developed for iPad. The crazy part is that it’s so easy - connect to studio Wifi and you are ready to connect into your digital audio workstation with a push of a button!
Seamless integration allows using all of the connectable studio tools independently and in perfect sync. Why not pick yourself 2 iPads and make your studio ultra-touchable?
Remember the classic drum machines, like Roland TR-909 or Linn Electronics LinnDrum LM-2? They might still be superior with their user interfaces but the old electronic components will start to require some maintenance. The original TR-909 weighs around 4.5 kg, making it difficult to carry around. Compare this with the iPad, that you can just throw in your backpack.
These are just few reasons, why producers and composers prefer to bring the iPad into their studio, while musicians and DJ’s will integrate it to their performances.
Defiantly on of the best beat making apps on the market today, for so many reasons. The DM2 is a synthesis-based drum machine with a smart graphic editor, for fast and easy-to-use sound creation and manipulation. The app is designed to be a mix between fun playability and sonic capabilities - making it easy for beginners as well as more advanced programmers.
DM2 consists of 6 pages: step sequencer, drum editor, pad editor, mixer fx and song pages. It’s based on 9 instrument tracks: kick, snare, hhclosed, hhopen, clap, rimshot, cowbell, tom and cymbal. Any instrument consists of two synthetic sound sources: an oscillator and a noise generator. Latest version of DM2 also offers a special drone mode, which turns the drum machine into a 9-voice ambient machine.
The drum editor offers deep editing features for the synthesis parameters including OSC waveform and pitch modulation parameters, filter, noise and oscillator envelopes, as well as an additional distortion and a oscillator/noise mixer. The step sequencer can be set to 16 or 32 steps and includes an additional polymetric feature to allow any instrument pattern length to be set freely between 1 and 32 steps. The pad editor is based around a real-time sequencer and consists of 9 programmable pads with auto-quantize and has a beat repeater, which makes DM2 very playable. Typical mixer and effects pages include all the basic functions for mixing and effecting needs. Finally the song page is for arranging, loading and saving songs.
The beat repeater and XY-controlled effects are especially usable for live performances. We love that DM2 has full MIDI implementation, Audiobus support, inter-app audio, and works with Ableton Link. Unfortunately the 4 effects are designed to be used as master effects, and cannot be targeted to any individual instrument track.
In no particular order the ISpark is our second pick of one of the best beat making apps to get creative and making amazing sounds on the move.
Arturia is well known for their analog modeling software and hardware instruments, as well as performance controllers. Arturia Spark is their creative drum machine, available 3 main flavors: hardware, software plugin and as an iPad app, conveniently named as “iSpark”. iSpark is a modular drum machine, that uses layered samples, analog synthesis and physical modeling as sound source. The iPad version closely resembles the Spark LE hardware by layout and design, and it’s fully compatible with its desktop counterpart.
iSpark consists of 5 pages: main, mixer, studio, sequencer and song. The main page gives access to all the main features of the app like transport, XY macro controls, sound editing controls, 16 step pattern sequencer and 16 drum pads, which can be all edited directly from the main page. The mixer page includes all the typical controls for mixing 16 tracks, including 2 insert effects per instrument, 2 send effects and effect returns.
The studio view allows access for deep editing features for all 16 instruments, including editing layers (up to 6 layers), filter settings and effects. The sequencer page is where all patterns are created in a much more visual fashion compared to the main page view. Finally the song page allows for organising the patterns to create full song arrangements.
The main page of iSpark is really powerful and allows controlling the whole performance from single page. Direct recording to any sample layer makes creating your own sound content fast and fun. Ability to use 2 insert effects per instrument is luxurious, and compatibility with AudioBus and inter-app audio, as well as Ableton Link and Korg Wist integrations make iSpark play well with the others. We’d like to see even deeper instrument layer editing features, such as graphical envelope editing.
iMPC Pro 2 is built for Akai by Retronyms and brings the legendary MPC workflow to iOS devices, together with audio track recording features and a wealth of production tools. iMPC Pro 2 is a full sampling digital audio workstation that combines MIDI and sampling together with a performance functionality familiar from the MPC product range.
iMPC acts as a host to Audio Unit plugins, and includes advanced features, such as a 64-channel mixing console, advanced waveform editor, and real-time time-stretching and pitch-shifting functionality.
The app consists of 6 pages called perform, tweak, timeline, mixer, tracks and song. Performance page features the 16 iconic pads in 4 banks, and includes all the MPC-style pattern performance, recording and editing functions such as note repeat, note correction and time variation. There is also a multi-functional XY-controller that gives various information according to selected function.
The Tweak page is a multi-functional page, and changes according to selected track type. The Tweak page allows editing for any track content, which is defined on the Tracks page. This is also where all pad content tweaking, such as amplitude and filter envelope and effect tweaking occurs. MIDI style deep editing is accessible on the Timeline page, which works as a complete arrangement area. The mixer page holds the mixing and effecting features, and can support up to 64 channels, 4 send effects and master effect.
The effects section can host AU effect plugins as inter-app effects along built-in effects. The Tracks page resembles what you would see in a typical desktop DAW, giving you an overview of all the tracks in your song, including various track types, mute and solo functions. Finally the Song page gives a traditional MPC-style pad arrangement view, where all sequences can be organised to a complete song using pad controls.
iMPC Pro 2 has ability to route and import sounds from various sources and sync/warp all content automatically to project tempo, giving the user an ability to focus on making music rather than processing.
Each separate sequence can have it’s own mixer settings, which makes creating mix variations easy. The chop to pads functionality on sample editor is a really powerful and fast way to create playable content from any audio material. Jumping between Timeline and Song views can be confusing, when using iMPC Pro 2 for arrangement. Anyone jumping from MPC to iPad will be delighted to see a familiar MPC 2.0 software look and feel in the iPad app. The pads in iMPC Pro 2 were not optimised yet for iPad Pro 12.9” screen size in the latest app release.
The iPad has become an impressively powerful controller providing wealth of high quality apps, almost unlimited expandability and versatility - and it happily lives in the studio with your other gear. Now that the iPad Pro has reached a level of sophistication that allows running processor-heavy apps, we bet music makers will begin to see much more advanced and deeper beat making apps being developed to the platform.
Although the playability of a touch-screen can still be argued, there is a good reason to bring the iPad to the studio as a controller and an instrument. It’s really a tool that keeps on giving.