For anyone who is constantly on the go, you will know how hard it is to find time for your hobbies. This is especially true when your hobby is music production as it isn’t exactly something you can pick up for five minutes at a time. However, with the wonders of modern technology, all this disappointment can be released by grabbing yourself an iOS DAW. Ok, so you’re not going to get the same level of control and manipulation that you would have sat in front of Pro Tools, but these apps are not something to pass over so easily. If you’re looking for a great way to make music on the go, or you simply don’t have the budget for expensive audio equipment, this article might just make your day.
A quick word on pricing. These things tend to vary quite drastically dependant on who has made them. However, you shouldn’t ever need to spend any more than around $70. Just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean it’ll be worthless and everything in this article is worth the spend.
Kicking this list off with a free app, Tabletop has quite a unique approach to the iOS DAW market. The thing that really makes this app great is that it allows you customise it to what works for you. Many DAWs, iOS or not, come with large amounts of built-in modules that many of us find little use for. Tabletop comes with a few great bits built-in but then allows you to customise and choose the extras (at a cost) that work for the type of music you want to do. This helps to make the app a really unique experience with the ability to tailor your workflow and make it work to your advantage.
Many of Tabletops additional modules come from other industry giants such as Akai and Arturia who they have partnered. This has allowed them to create the best possible quality iOS builds of famous technology such as the MPC and the Prophet. With 64 bit audio support and up to 43 modules to choose from (an ever-growing list), you’ll be hard pushed to find this much music from a free app.
However, Tabletop does have one major flaw in that it wasn’t built for recording. For those of you who are looking to do more than making electronic music, you will need to go elsewhere. You could still use Tabletop as a way to work on existing recordings. You’d just need other means to achieve those in the first place.
FL Studio Mobile
For many years, FL Studio (also known as Fruityloops) has been the brunt of many jokes within the professional audio world. However, in recent years it has continued to gain high praise in yearly DAW rankings and now it’s taken a step into the iOS DAW world. As a long time user of FL, I have to say that for an app, this thing really delivers!
If you’re familiar with FL Studio then this iOS DAW won’t take you very long to get to grips with. It offers almost everything the standard desktop version does and retains a similar design structure. FL Studio has always had it’s high points held in its ease of workflow. They certainly didn’t let that slip with this design. The well structured and linear sequencer systems are all in place, allowing you to create your music in a variety of ways that suit your style. There is a virtual piano roll as well as a drum pad sequencer (think MPC) as well as MIDI support and a whole host of FLs standard built-in effects units.
But, best of all is that this iOS DAW offers WAV quality audio recording with monitoring options. To think that you can do this on an iOS device. Not that long ago, we couldn’t even record onto a computer. In my experience, recording in FL Studio isn’t the easiest or simplest of things to do. In fact, sometimes it can be incredibly frustrating. However, this app handles it really well. For something that you can keep in your pocket, you can’t go wrong. At $13.99, this is the cheapest iOS DAW (excluding the Tabletop) I recommend and if you’re a beginner looking for something to mess around with, this is a great first choice.
Steinberg Cubasis 2
Now we enter the world of the real top-end iOS DAWs. Steinberg has been around for a long time and their desktop software is used in studios all over the world. World-class audio engineers favour Cubase and it has been used to make countless hit records. There initial venture into the iOS DAW world was a fantastic showing but felt clunky and inherently un-Steinberg to some. With version 2 now out, you’re in for a real treat.
This DAW features many of the great elements that make Cubase so powerful including three virtual instruments. These are similarly modelled on Retrologue and HALion Sonic which are both beloved features in the desktop version of Cubase. Equally, you have the ability to utilise the Zplane elastique technology that Cubase uses for its real-time time-stretching functionality. The fact that an iOS device has the power to deliver what some PCs (albeit dated ones) can’t handle is just incredible.
One of my favourite things about Cubasis 2 is the integrated channel strip design. Once you get used to an iOS DAW, it becomes as easy to use as a desktop DAW. However, when you first start out it can be a little fiddly working on one screen. This is what makes the channel strip so great. Having these four basic but essential tools lumped into one place saves time, hassle, and just looks great. Witha filter section, a noise gate, a compressor, and a saturator, you can do a whole lot of mixing with just one simple tool.
With all of the production, recording, and mixing abilities that the standard Cubase has to offer, this iOS DAW is truly fantastic. There is really very little that it has left to offer. At around only $60 on the app store, it’s a seriously great deal. I would recommend that this would be the place to start for those of you who have experience with DAWs. However, it’s certainly a viable option even when you’re just starting out.
The most expensive but possibly the best iOS DAW on this list, Auria Pro is in my eyes, a near perfect workstation. Coming in at only around $70, this stunning application could easily retail at two or three times. It’d still be an absolute steal.
…comprehensive MIDI capabilities, real-time audio warping, powerful internal bus routing, audio quantizing, audio transient-to-MIDI conversion, groove templates, transient slicing, unlimited tracks, killer synths…
The GUI in this app is stunning and really reminds me of navigating Logic Pro. It’s intuitive and gives you everything in the same way that a desktop DAW would. This is a really key element for me. Just because it’s iOS, why should it be something other than a professional DAW capable of every normal task? Similarly to Cubasis, Auria Pro offers you a channel strip mix feature with an expander, multiband EQ, compressor and then routing for additional effects and processing.
At an additional cost, even plugins such as Fabfilters coveted Pro-Q2 can be added to the app. With direct association through connections to other audio companies, Wavemachine Labs are helping to port more and more third-party plugins to their DAW which continues to make it an even stronger contender. This thing can seriously compete with well-established desktop DAWs. It even has a mastering strip with an SSL style bus compressor. What more could you want!
iOS DAW Honourable Mentions
Today’s article was designed to provide a strong list of different iOS DAWs. Each provide a slightly different option depending on what you want to do. There are of course plenty of other options out there that are certainly worth checking out. iMaschine is a great app to check out for you beatmakers, as is BeatMaker 3 (surprise, surprise). For those of you who are leaning more towards the multi-track environment, you can check out Garagebands app as well as Meteor Multitrack Recorder.
Technology these days is just insanely powerful. Having a DAW on the go that you can get some incredible results from is completely viable these days. They don’t cost the world and come bundled in with an insane amount of useful modules and features. I think that simply for its channel strip, I would personally go with Auria Pro. However, all of the iOS DAWs listed here today are totally viable options. If you’re looking to make beats on the go, or need a way to record your musical ideas when they come to you, then this article has you covered.
Cubase Keyboard image under Creative Commons license from Pete Brown.