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The iOS App Store is full of music-making apps.
Which ones should you check out?
Here are 14 of the best beat making apps for turning your iPhone or iPad into a serious production tool.
Free and paid options listed!
14 Best Apple Music Making Apps (iPhone/iPad)
Earlier in 2020, we saw an unexpected rise of people staying indoors for absolutely no discernible reason whatsoever and everything was perfectly fine in the world. If you’re a music producer, maybe you’ve spent some of this time perfecting your craft, finishing off your ideas or trying out new mix techniques.
Luckily, technology nowadays means music-making on the go (or…not on the go) is not only convenient but also has great results! Portable devices are so named for their convenience but are also powerful music tools capable of making any sound you want.
So if you aren’t able to get to your studio or don’t have any recording gear at home, or maybe you’re just looking to pass some of the time quickly, we’ve compiled 14 of the best music-making apps for iPhone and iPad in 2020.
Blocs Wave’s motto is “making music by building ideas”.
It’s beautifully designed and aimed at building musical ideas extremely quickly. Essentially, Blocs Wave is a loop manager/browser that aims to discover similar sounds swiftly and build ideas based on set tempo and key, or you can browse by genre.
Play with touchable waveforms and build loops in real-time with your voice, your instrument of choice, built-in sounds, or Auv3 plugins via Audiobus.
The addition of the loop start marker allows you to offset the start time of a sample and create some cool rhythmic variations. The looping capabilities of Blocs Wave alone are powerful enough to build a set from live looping, in conjunction with launchpad, Groovebox, or Circuit, to cue and control transport functions.
The Pro bundle greatly opens up the possibilities of creation, with bundled effects that include EQ, sample slicer, and audio import to use your own melodies and drum tracks recorded from other apps or sound sources.
Export to Launchpad for remixing or live performance
Supports Audiobus, Audioshare, AudioCopy
Real-time stretching (change tempo while playing)
Key Aware – all loops stay in key with each other
Overall experience is very much based on your own library of samples, the samples you can create, or the samples you purchase in-app.
Pro Features cost extra and without EQ’ing, importing, and slicing your samples, the app is fairly limited.
No effects other than EQ.
Whether in a session with fellow songwriters or in a solo session, Blocs Wave spawns a rapid creative spark and keeps you driven with a sense of curiosity. Recommended for any musician wishing to push their creative limits or looking for an unconventional, versatile alternative to the everyday sampler or loop manager.
2. Model D (Moog)
Some of the finest sound quality from an iOS synth emulator
The Moog Model D’s ubiquity means it’s one of the most commonly emulated synths; many producers probably already own some Model D emulation: Native Instruments’ Monark, u-he’s Diva, Arturia’s Mini-V or any other virtual Model D.
There is a visceral texture when working with analog circuitry. The saturated punch of decibels arriving at the filter is one of the defining characteristics of the 1971 Minimoog Model D hardware synth, which this app emulates quite accurately.
The effects include arp, bender, looper, and delay. The looper is amazingly easy and intuitive in its use, although sounds tend to clip when layered over each other. One workaround around would be to use the share function and export the loop to a third-party app.
Well implemented connectivity options
Superb Sound Quality
Highly usable arsenal of effects
Polyphonic – up to 4 voices
No in-app sequencing
Sizable CPU usage not feasible for multiple simultaneous instances
Stacked sounds clip in the looper
Some of the finest sound quality from an iOS synth emulator. Look no further for that 3 osc through a ladder filter sound. This should be included in any synth lover’s arsenal, or wherever classy filters are needed.
3. Retro Piano (Audio Kit)
iSpark’s magic is revealed when used in conjunction with the iSPARKle controller
The creators of 808 sub-bass, Synth One, and Audio Tune, have released a retro, vintage instrument featuring a sampled piano. Audiokit is an open-source project run by volunteers who give free codes and apps to children. Retro piano runs standalone and as an Auv3 plugin.
Included are 500MB worth of samples compressed in 50MB to save space. There are even presets from the genius, DAFingaz. Controls consist of: a Master Volume, a mixer to set the piano to CS80 ratio, Vinyl Noise level, Tone, Warble depth and speed, Release, Tuning, Tremolo, Bitcrush, and Reverb.
Vinyl noise only heard when keys are struck
All effects and levels are midi mappable
Multiple velocities: Use an external Midi keyboard
No Ads, subscriptions, or in-app purchases
The app is available for free for only a limited time; after it goes to the maximum price tier in the App Store.
Lo-fi keyboard instrument available for a limited time from a collective of volunteers with a track record of innovative and great sounding apps. Recommended for anyone looking to dive into music production.
4. iSpark (Arturia)
Suitable for fans of Volcas, Electribes, RHYTHMS, SR-18S, Drumbrutes
Coined “A mobile beat artillery”, Arturia’s mobile version of their desktop drum-machine program. Spark boasts over 640 instruments and 40 kits that are all tweakable, an array of effects, a sequencer, an arrangement tab, an X-Y controller, transport controls, and various instrument macros and parameters.
iSpark’s user interface is designed to emulate Arturia’s iSPARKle compact rhythm controller. In fact, iSpark’s magic is revealed when used in conjunction with the iSPARKle controller which mirrors all the functionality on the iPad screen. Although another free app during these trying times is not going to be scoffed at, an iOS port of one of Arturia’s synths would have been widely more appreciated.
Export to iTunes
Comprehensive Mixing section with aux sends, channel fx and master fx
Sample import to create custom kits
ISPARKle and in-all purchased needed to fully experience expansive capabilities.
Midi Clock using keystep or other controllers beside iSPARKle seem to be glitchy at the moment.
The number of features that come loaded with this drum engine is astonishing, but at its core that is really all it is, a drum machine/sampler with many features and menus that is conducive to a specific style of workflow. This app is suitable for fans of Volcas, Electribes, RHYTHMS, SR-18S, Drumbrutes, or any other drum machine-driven sound engine.
5. Zenbeats (Roland)
9 basic modules including its driving force, the Sampleverse, Roland’s famous TR707, TR808, TR909 and more
Formerly known as Stagelight, they have since been acquired from Open Labs by Roland and its team. Roland’s CEO, Jun-Ichi Miki, states “[we strive] to inspire the enjoyment of creativity for everyone. With Zenbeats, anyone can enjoy casual music making.”
Zenbeats runs cross-platform and is free to access on iOS, Android, ChromeOS, Windows, and Mac OS devices. This DAW is designed for making beats and pieces of tracks quickly on-the-fly.
The free version features 9 basic modules including its driving force, the Sampleverse, Roland’s famous TR707, TR808, TR909 kit, and some excellent sounding instruments that are great starting points to complete stripped down productions.
Slimline, modern DAW
Customizable color schemes
Unlocking Zenbeats Ultimate costs a premium fee
Garnered for relatively only certain types of production styles (but it’s the user, not the tool, right?)
Not enough mixing/mastering tools
A quick and powerful tool to sketch, continue, or finish ideas while away from your studio. Cross-platform functionality transcends new levels of collaboration.
GarageBand is the world’s arguably most famous free DAW, and rightfully so.
It offers an innate and flexible user interface that is easy to produce tracks in multiple genres, record demos, master tracks, score films, sound design, compile sample packs, or simply just make beats. The biggest appeal of GarageBand is its minimal, barebones approach to production. The interface is relatively effortless to navigate and menus aren’t technical or cumbersome. The point of GarageBand is not a gallery of technical features, but rather jump starting musical ideas quickly and easily with professional sounding options. The user is allowed to record audio or Midi with several software instruments covering every instrument type. The use of Auv3 plugins opens up an even more vast world of instruments and effects, considerably so.
Export/upload to YouTube, SoundCloud, etc.
Great introduction to workflow in Logic
Surprisingly Deep functionality
32 Tracks max
Limited mastering plugins
No Ableton Link
No real mixer
Sluggish performance when multiple instruments or auv3 plugins are played back
While it may not be for everyone, the applications and instruments offered are broad, and the learning curve is a breeze. Whether loading templates with drum kits and software instruments or recording an acoustic song with vocals, it’s a very matter-of-fact application that streamlines its users to its end goal with minimal fuss.
7. Figure (Propellerhead)
A performative mobile interpretation of Reason
Intuitive in its use, the app is stripped down to three sound sources based on presets from Reason’s Kong and Thor synthesizer. Rhythmic integration is automatically enabled but can be disabled for all you no-quantize heads. It is very difficult if not impossible to finish a full song in Figure alone; it is by no means a DAW. Mass appeal for the app has spawned a Facebook called “FigureAddicted” in which users promote hacks to use figure sounds and finalize in other apps such as Loopy HD, AUM, Cubasis, GarageBand, etc.
Real-time pattern automation
Compatible with AudioCopy and Audiobus
Export to Soundcloud
Limited to 3 sound sources
Only playable in Portrait Mode
No facility to share your creations in any format
Inability to use midi keyboard with Camera connection kit
No EQ function
Garnered for only certain types of electronic music production
While many hours can be spent jamming or exporting usable stems for remixing or production in other apps, the user experience feels clunky and commonly requires the use of third party apps and hacks with too many steps. Often limitations spark inspiration, but 3 elements seems overly limited, creating the need for further workarounds and hacks. This app is suitable for someone with no music theory knowledge but still wants to get tactile and learn ‘what this button does’.
8. iKaosillator (Korg)
Visual effects move according to your playing and add to the performative excitement
In keeping within the theme of helping aid stop the global spread of Covid-19, Korg announced on social media it has now released its iOS emulation of the popular dynamic phrase synthesizer, the Kaossilattor. Play touch-pad using touch gestures, utilize over 150 presets (or sections of presets rather) that cover an array of genres, or loop sequence for easy track making and live performance. iKaosillator uses the unique X-Y touchpad interface.
Create melodies and phrases by simply tapping, stroking, or rubbing the touch screen. Move your finger horizontally to control pitch and move it vertically to manipulate the tone. Musical theory or a background in sound design is absolutely not required. Jam out bass lines or synth leads within the context of a DJ set, employ flex play to control loop length and tempo dynamically, or upload your loop data and share it with other users to collaborate electronically. A big focus of the app is it’s graphic design; the bright, colorful visuals cascade beautifully on the iPhone’s high-quality display. The visual effects move according to your playing and add to the performative excitement.
Mix-play lets you live remix and mashup
Audio Loop import also allows effect play
Audio export to AudioCopy or SoundCloud
Flex-play function generates fills, breaks, and dynamic changes
Bound to only certain electronic music genres
5 tracks max per pattern/song
Standalone, it feels like a toy
This app is for someone looking to get tactile, perhaps new to production, and looking for a loop-based introduction to the world of electronic music production. Although seemingly stacked with features, the workflow seems stuck ‘in the box’ and limited to specific tones and kits, unless of course, you spend the time to import all your own samples (with something like Audio Copy), which would make that easy introduction a little more obtrusive.
Suited for guitarists who want an easy way to jam and record at home without investing in a DAW.
Finding a great amp simulator can be hit and miss even when you’re using a full recording setup with your favorite DAW.
AmpKit however is a great app for guitarists out there who might not have access to a DAW or just want to jam at home on their headphones. With 30 guitar amps and 30 pedals (based on real models) AmpKit packs a lot into one app.
You will of course need an adapter to hook your guitar up to your device, but for a small investment you’ll be able to record on the go and upload your sessions to Dropbox. This is great for sending your riff and song ideas to your band ahead of rehearsals.
Best suited for MPC enthusiasts or anyone wanting to try their hand at MPCs on a budget!
The legendary Akai MPC series of samplers were revolutionary in the 90s and continues to attract praise today. Those not wanting to commit financially to the real thing are in luck thanks to the Akai iMPC app!
This software version is the second incarnation of the iMPC series and comes with its own sample packs to use, although more can be downloaded for free. You can also record with the device’s mic and line-in.
Akai have really embraced the iPhone crossover here as well with a unique 3D Perform control which allows the user to control the MPC’s parameters via the phone’s motion controls.
The iMPC 2 is really one of the best music-making apps for iPhone and iPad. It’s currently available on the iOS App Store for just $4.99.
Suited for those who want to write their own sheet music or tabs, as well as songwriters wanting to collaborate or share their songs with band members.
Flat is a unique music scoring app that allows you to create, listen, edit, share and print your tabs or sheet music.
As a cloud-based app, Flat allows you to collaborate with others who can also access your music and add edits and changes themselves. Included are several instruments, such as piano, guitar and bass, and you can even begin writing with touch pad drums.
Flat is currently available free of charge on the App Store.
12. iMaschine 2
Perfect for beatmakers who want access to pro sounds, and anyone who wants to collaborate with others easily.
iMaschine 2 from Native Instruments is an intuitive and easy to use beat and song making app. With 16 pads, a keyboard, and hundreds of sounds, iMaschine 2 is a great option for music makers who want access to pro sounds but need portability.
The app is priced at $9.99 but you’ll also be able to purchase drum sounds, samples and more from renowned sound designers. To get you going, iMaschine 2 comes with 38 drums kits and 750 samples.
Suited for music makers leaning towards Hip Hop, Trap, RnB and Pop who want to share their music with the world.
JAM is global music-making community that want to make it easy to create, share, and make music.
Their music maker app allows you to create loops, edit samples and add effects in real-time. You can choose your style from hundreds of genres and even remix other (as JAM put it) “hot artist’s” tracks.
You need to subscribe for some content, which seems fair enough, but a trial version is available for you to check out before buying.
Music Maker JAM is currently free of charge on the iOS App Store.
14. Auria Pro
For those who want a traditional DAW experience but on mobile.
We’ve talked a lot about portability and music-making on the go, but there are producers out there who will want the closest thing they can get to a traditional desktop DAW in their phone.
Auria Pro looks very similar to a traditional piece of recording software and comes with a built-in sampler, synthesizer, MIDI support and is even compatible with certain plug-ins such as Drumagog.
Auria Pro is currently only available on iPad and is a little on the pricey side at $49.99, but to quote Grammy award-winning producer David Kahne:
“This is the first mobile mixing (AND recording AND post production) app that I’ve ever used that is truly professional. Just wow!”
There are always new and exciting apps coming out for music production. Some of these have only been made in the last couple of years! As usual, when it comes to music, there’s no need to choose just one thing.
You can arm yourself with all the tools in this article and make really powerful productions on your iPhone and iPad at home or on the go.