It shouldn’t surprise EM readers that the iPhone and iPad are increasingly being used as serious music-production tools. In addition to recent increases in processing power, features such as multitouch and wireless capabilities have allowed developers to create products that rival, and in some cases surpass, software for desktop and laptop computers, especially when you consider price.
After combing through thousands of music and production-related apps, we’ve picked just over 200 of the best; apps that we would unhesitatingly recommend to friends and colleagues. The list represents a broad range of musical styles, interests and skill levels—just as our readers do—and we’ve categorized our selections to make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for—Instruments, Drum Machines, Groove Boxes/Virtual Studios, Effects Processors, DAWs/Audio Recording, MIDI Sequencers/Arpeggiators, DJ Apps, Education/Transcription, and Utilities.
Apple endowed iOS with Core MIDI and Core Audio early on, giving it a leg up on its Android competition. All of the apps here (except for some utilities) leverage one or both or those technologies, as well as later developments such as Audiobus, Ableton Link, Inter-App Audio (IAA), MIDI over Bluetooth and Audio Units extensions (AUv3), which allow connected apps to function as an integrated system (much as a DAW functions as a system with audio and effects plugins). Many of the apps feature in-app purchases (IAPs), as well, allowing you to expand their capabilities or content.
50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION MELLOTRONICS M3000 (OMENIE)
From “Strawberry Fields” to “Dazzle Ships,” the Mel-lotron’s tape-based approach to sampling has earned its place as a milestone in electronic music history. This tribute edition includes samples of many original tapes and a wonderful array of in-app expansions.
ADDICTIVE PRO (VIRSYN)
Combining VirSyn’s straightforward approach with instant touch-screen gratification makes detailed additive design an absolute joy. The inclusion of finger-customized filter curves and arpeg-giation tools is just icing on an already delicious app. Addictive is an understatement.
One of the first apps to make the most of the iPad’s multitouch capabilities, Moog’s wavetable synth has stood the test of time. And with synth legends like Suzanne Ciani using it live, it’s an essential addition to every iOS rig.
ARP ODYSSEI (KORG)
The ARP Odyssey offered much more complex synthesis options than its competition at the time, including highpass filtering, PWM, and a sophisticated sample-and-hold section. This version adds effects and three step sequencers, while keeping the essential sound intact.
AARDVARK SYNTH (SONOMATICS)
A basic and fun performance tool offering mono-phonic x/y control over basic waveforms (sine, saw, pulse, noise). Multitouch adds modulation and envelopes. It’s an oldie but a goodie.
AUDULUS 3 (AUDULUS)
Audulus 3’s visual programming lets you design and assemble virtual modular synths and audio processors. It supplies a library of nodes—graphical building blocks of code—that connect in innumerable ways. Audulus goes deep, and there’s nothing quite like it.
BENT.FM (MAYANK SANGANARIA)
Start with simple FM synth, and then add a massive and cryptic matrix that allows users to apply circuit-bending techniques to its virtual architecture. The end result sounds like a fascinating cross between a broken DX and a numbers station.
CMI PRO (PETER VOGEL)
If you’re over the age of 40, you probably once coveted the $25,000+ Fairlight Series II. And if you’re under 40, you’ve probably seen one in Deadmau5’s studio. Either way, you’ll instantly recognize its sound from hundreds of hits.
CUBE SYNTH (VIRSYN)
Take Addictive Pro’s tactile approach to additive synthesis, combine it with the morphing options of vector synthesis and you get an instrument that’s impressively organic for both percussive and pad-like textures. VirSyn’s arpeggiator and effects are a bonus.
CYCLOP (SUGAR BYTES)
If synth wobbles are a big part of your sound, Cyclop is a genie that will grant your every wish. For everyone else, it’s a sophisticated synth with innovative tone generation and more modulation options than you may ever need.
CZ APP (CASIO)
With 1985’s introduction of the Casio CZ-101, phase distortion synthesis became a staple of the new-wave era, straddling FM and virtual analog. CZ for iPad may seem simple by modern standards, but it recaptures the original’s signature sound.
DRC (IMAGINANDO LDA)
This straightforward virtual-analog polysynth is not much to look at, but all the expected parameters are there, and many presets are loaded with personality. You can replace the onscreen keyboard with chord buttons and a strum pad.
DXI (TAKASHI MIZUHIKI)
While FM4 (below) nails the overall character of Yamaha’s TX81Z, DXi offers graphic envelopes, looping envelopes, additional analog waveforms, and a white noise generator. Effects include a resonant lowpass filter and basic delay.
FM4 (PRIMAL AUDIO)
Although Yamaha’s DX7 was definitely the go-to digital synth for early ‘80s pop and new wave, their TX81Z was a key component in early ’90s house and techno. FM4’s faithful re-creation delivers instant old-school cred.
GEOSHRED (WIZDOM MUSIC)
Want to shred guitar idiomatically, without the blisters, calluses, or decades of practice? GeoShred has you covered, with impeccable physically modeled guitars, tons of stompboxes, and the ability to bend multiple strings polyphonically.
With integrated speech synthesis, dual mono-synths, an awesome analog drum machine, and an interface that works well on an iPhone, the iDS-10 is the fastest route to whipping up Daft Punk doodles while waiting for the bus.
In a way, the original Kaossilator–with its x/y-pad approach to synthesis–was a precursor to the modern world of iOS instruments. The app version carries forward that legacy with up to five simultaneous parts and Ableton Link compatibility.
It’s difficult to make “real” classic house tracks without that piano and that organ bass, not to mention the choirs and rainsticks that dominated the ‘90s rave-pop scene. They’re all here in this iOS version of that legendary synth.
The iMini recaptures the features and interface of a Minimoog, but with added effects and a pair of x-y pads that you can assign to almost any front-panel parameter, making it great fun for manipulating sequenced material.
Impaktor turns any surface into a percussion instrument. Impulses from the mic trigger a physical modeling synth that emulates hand drums, cymbals, mallet instruments, and more. The 6-track audio recorder quantizes your tracks and exports them as WAV files.
A terrific introduction to modular synthesis techniques, thanks to its hybrid approach. The iMS-20 also includes sequencing and does a great job of replicating the nasty flavor of the original’s dual resonant filters.
Released before MIDI, the Polysix didn’t get the respect it deserved, despite sporting the same filter as the PPG, a fat unison mode, and a gorgeous ensemble effect worthy of the best string machines. This virtualization recaptures its sound nicely.
Back in 1986, the Prophet VS introduced the concept of vector synthesis—real-time blending of up to four different digital waveforms with filtering. iProphet beautifully re-creates the entire experience of the VS.
The iSEM is a good approximation of the Ober-heim SEM. As users of both, we can say it’s a close emulation, but with far more synthesis features, like an additional LFO, a multi-wave suboscillator, and integrated effects.
ISYMPHONIC ORCHESTRA (CRUDEBYTE)
This ambitious app shoehorns an entire orchestra into your iOS device. The instruments sound astonishingly lifelike, comparable to the best symphonic sounds you get with a top-shelf music workstation. In-app purchases supply additional instruments and more versatile performance articulations.
Whether you think of it as the first portable modular or the synth that defined the sound of Pink Floyd’s “On the Run,” the VCS3 is iconic. So is this emulation.
Enlisting Dave Smith’s brilliant wave-sequencing and vector synthesis tools, Korg unleashed the Wavestation in 1990. It quickly became a rave-era mainstay thanks to artists like Orbital. The iOS version nails the sound, with in-app expansion packs based on the original ROM cards.
JASUTO (CHRIS WOLFE)
Don’t just design sounds; design your synths and effects. This modular construction kit lets you build instruments and processors by connecting sound generators, filters, a sequencer, an accelerometer, mathematical functions, and myriad other modules.
JOHN CAGE PREPARED PIANO (JOHN CAGE TRUST)
Excellent samples of a piano prepared with the actual materials used by Cage for Sonatas and Interludes. Randomize button rearranges the sounds on the playing surface, and the app can record your performances for sharing via social media.
JORDANTRON (WIZDOM MUSIC)
Jordan Rudess needs no introduction. His sound is iconic in the arena of progressive rock, and Jord-antron captures a gigabyte’s worth of his signature sounds in Mellotronic format. These stacked patches are a Dream Theater fan’s (ahem) dream come true.
This physical modeling synth simulates plucked and bowed strings, blown pipes, and struck metal to generate new timbres. Modify sounds with a resonator, apply FM and effects, and use the arpeggiator to animate your creations.
LAYR (LIVING MEMORY SOFTWARE)
If you’re a synthesist who likes loads of parameters for shaping sounds, this stunning multitimbral synthesizer deserves your attention. LayR lets you stack any number of complete synths, and it comes with some remarkably fine-sounding presets.
Distinguishing it from other subtractive synthesizers, Lorentz’s resonator emphasizes any frequency, even inharmonic frequencies, to modify the signal’s harmonic complexity, evoking metallic, distorted, and unorthodox timbres. Like other iceWorks synths, it has a programmable arpeggio-tor, chorus, and stereo delay.
Magellan takes a more-is-more approach that includes dual layered three-oscillator synths with 11 filter types, 10 simultaneous effects, intelligent chord functions, an assignable x-y pad, and a pair of arpeggiators. The sound is appropriately massive, and the presets ably demonstrate this.
Mersenne excels at emulating mallets and other tuned percussion instruments. Like Lorentz, part of its characteristic sound comes from its resonator, but it also relies on dual FM synth modules and noise generation.
MINI SYNTHESIZER (ELECTROHARMONIX)
A faithful emulation of an unusual device that debuted in 1980. Like the original, it has one pulse-wave oscillator, a suboscillator, and a sweeping lowpass filter. Unlike the original, it’s polyphonic and has delay, reverb, and terrific presets.
MITOSYNTH (WOOJI JUICE)
Wooji Juice took a few risks with Mitosynth and its unusual approach to additive, vector, sampling and wave sequencing. The result is an extremely powerful synth with a unique sound (and significant learning curve for newcomers).
MODEL 15 (MOOG)
For 0.003 percent of the price of a real one, you can snag the Model 15 app and get 90 percent of the experience of a Moog modular in the comfort of the car you just bought with the money you saved.
For casual gigs and rock, Korg Module covers all the conventional bases, including acoustic and electric piano, organ, clavinet and strings—perfect when paired with a larger controller. It’s also a great companion for Gadget users looking for more traditional sounds.
Mood takes the classic Minimoog architecture and interface and adds a basic FM oscillator and sample player to its mixer, plus a few smart modulation options and vintage effects like ring mod and distortion. It’s a modern approach to a classic.
When it comes to wavetable synthesis on iOS, Nave is shockingly powerful, with a Serum-like 3D display of each wavetable and an integrated speech synthesizer that instantly converts typed phrases. Extensive filtering and modulation tools abound.
This free app is the sound engine for Roli Blocks, and it works great with the Seaboard Rise. On the iPhone 6 and above, it responds to 3D touch and includes 25 sounds created in Equator, with more available.
Oscilab’s fusion of arpeggiation with LFOs is utterly alien by any standard, but its approach is easy to grasp within a few minutes. From there, the fun factor kicks into overdrive. Hypnotic and essential.
Though it’s overdue for an update, Phase84 is such a blast to use that we had to include it. It’s a phase distortion synth (like Casio’s CZ series). Standout features include a formant oscillator, 16-step groove editor, and two x-y pads.
PHASEMAKER (BRAM BOS)
Based on the DX7’s 6-operator approach to FM, Phasemaker’s UI is a triumph of intuitive usability, making the process of tweaking FM sounds much more approachable. Digging deeper, it also offers ratio-based amplitude modulation—an impressive and underutilized synthesis type.
Designing original sounds in Phonem isn’t for the faint of heart, as it allows microscopic control over virtually every nuance of speech synthesis. Fortunately, a sizeable collection of wonderful presets gives you a great set of starting points.
Poseidon takes a visually striking, hands-on approach to wavetable synthesis. Start with WAV files or spectral models and sculpt with unique filters and extreme flanging. Load exotic scales and stunning presets. The step sequencer is designed for performance, too.
RAVENSCROFT 275 (UVI)
How real could a piano in your iPhone sound? Prepare to be amazed. Sampled from a marvelous concert grand, Ravenscroft 275 is a versatile virtual instrument that’s equally at home on a bus or on a stage.
A powerful polysynth that combines virtual analog and FM synthesis, six types of noise, a subos-cillator you can detune, bass boost, and a resonator that serves as a mod destination. In addition, the oscillator waveforms are continuously variable.
RIPPLEMAKER (BRAM BOS)
This iPad variation on West Coast synthesis has graphical patch cords and a 64-step sequencer, and nothing is quicker or more natural than connecting patch points with your fingertip. With wavefolding, a slope generator, and a lowpass gate, Ripplemaker is mucho Buchla.
RUISMAKER (BRAM BOS)
While Ruizmaker is strictly AUv3, once you’ve loaded it into a compatible sequencer, you’ll find it’s a great little analog drum machine that strongly evokes the 808 and 909. Front-panel parameters control essentials like decay, tuning and drive.
RUISMAKER FM (BRAM BOS)
Like its sibling, this is an AUv3-only drum instrument, but focused on FM-based sounds with basic controls for customization. Despite the apparent simplicity, these drums offer a wide sonic range and are impressively crisp and punchy.
SAMPLETANK (IK MULTIMEDIA)
With 1.3GB of sampled content, SampleTank is a virtual rompler that delivers a tremendous variety of instruments, as well as riffs, grooves, and patterns for specific instruments and musical genres. Additional content and a scaled-down free version are also available.
SEABOARD 5D (ROLI)
This app emulates the Seaboard Rise, an MPE-compatible controller that lets you shape sound with your playing technique. Paired with MPE hardware or standalone, the app responds to performance gestures. It comes with 25 idiosyncratic presets, and more are available.
SELINE REDUX PRO (ZCAGE)
With a forward-thinking keyboard layout, Seline is as much a controller as it is a synth, thanks to the MIDI Out and Audiobus 2 spec. The presets are decidedly new age, but the real draw is its non-standard approach to performance.
SHOOM (YURI TUROV)
With a knack for unusual atmospheric timbres, this 3-part multitimbral synth makes outstanding use of multitouch. Control pitch and modulation with the position of your fingertips on your iPad: Shroom responds to all ten fingers, simultaneously.
SOUND CANVAS (ROLAND)
A faithful emulation of Roland’s Sound Canvas modules, which were popular in the ‘90s for playing General MIDI files. Its onboard MIDI file player lets you reorder songs, edit their tempo and key, and repeat sections.
SPRINGSOUND (CHRISTOPHE DUQUESNE)
An unconventional synth app that supports MPE. It uses physical modeling to simulate the action of small spheres controlled by springs responding to various physical stimuli. As a bonus, it’s also a remote controller for the Haken Continuum.
Another oddball noisemaker, this app was inspired by John Chowning, the man who invented FM synthesis. It probably comes closer to re-creating the soundtrack of Forbidden Planet than any synth you’ve heard, but its timbral range extends far beyond that.
Although Sunrizer looks like a standard two-oscillator virtual-analog synth, it has an impressive range of filter options and a smart implementation of envelopes and LFOs. Having it all on a single page is the clincher.
SYLO SYNTHESIZER (WOOJI JUICE)
For a free sampler, Sylo offers a surprising number of granular tools, combined with a lowpass filter and ADSR. Echo, ring mod, and distortion effects add to its usefulness. The inclusion of instant microphone sampling is a blast, too.
SYNTHMASTER PLAYER (KV331 AUDIO)
This free synthesizer supplies 200 presets, and a $10 upgrade buys 600 more. Along with eight knobs, its GUI has two x-y pads to manipulate preprogrammed parameters in real time. It also imports presets from the desktop-based Synth-Master.
SYNTHSCAPER (IMUSIC ALBUM)
With a graphical playing surface that looks like a Haken Continuum, this cutting-edge synth excels at ambient textures and drones. Features like three triple-layered oscillators, each with its own arpeggiator, hint at SynthScaper’s unprecedented architecture, and its sound does not disappoint.
TC-11 (BIT SHAPE)
A visually oriented synth that uses your iOS device’s position in space and the location, number, and movement of your fingertips on a grid to control dozens of parameters simultaneously. This expressive instrument generates unusual timbres and has onboard recording.
TERA SYNTH (VIRSYN)
At first glance, Tera looks like a three-oscillator subtractive synth with innovative front-panel scrolling, but as you continue scrolling, you’ll quickly discover its physical modeling waveguide section, a sophisticated formant filter, and extensive modulation options.
Even after a decade, Thor’s versatility and sound are an integral aspect of Reason’s allure. But until Propellerhead gets around to releasing it as a VST, you’ll have to content yourself with this stellar and affordable iOS implementation.
How much fun would it be to play slide trombone on your iPhone? ThumbJam comes with 45 sampled instruments, a MIDI arpeggiator, and an audio recorder. Onscreen bars make it easy to play, and you shake your device to add vibrato.
TROUBLEMAKER (BRAM BOS)
The world may not need another TB-303 emulation, but Troublemaker includes many smart additions that allow it to transcend clichés and stake out new sonic territory for acid-house fans. Its visual sequencer is an innovative bonus.
UNIQUE (SUGAR BYTES)
Take a straightforward two-oscillator synth, place the focus on vowel formants, then make every parameter big and easy, and you have the essence of Unique. It won’t change the world, but it will make your formant-based designs a lot easier.
VIRTUAL ANS (ALEXANDER ZOLOTOV)
This app simulates the ANS synthesizer, a mid-20th century Russian invention that generated sounds from images and vice versa. It has brushes and gradient tools for drawing images that translate to interstellar sweeps and R2D2-like whistles.
One of the most powerful wavetable synths on any platform, from the man who invented the technology. If you want to deeply explore wavetable design with few compromises, this is your ticket.
Wolfgang Palm’s WaveMapper offers an extraordinary approach to sound design that’s as simple as moving sonic pieces around a chessboard. Once you learn the properties of each element, you can quickly mix and match components to create entirely new sounds.
XYNTHESIZR (YURI TUROV)
This intelligent, versatile, and addictive app centers on a grid-based sequencer that can morph its patterns in ways based on cellular automata algorithms. A lovely onboard synth is available for immediate gratification, and you can route its MIDI to other apps.
This versatile synth is almost identical to the Mac and Windows version. It furnishes plenty of wave-shaping tools and effects, a modulation matrix, and an arpeggiator with more than 200 patterns. It can even swap presets with the computer-based version.
ZMORS MODULAR (ZMORS)
It may not look it, but zMors Modular is one mother of a synth. Forty-six modules deliver at least five flavors of synthesis, DSP math functions, sequencing, effects, and more. With Expert Sleepers hardware, it even interfaces with Eurorack.
ATTACK DRUMS (WALDORF)
Back in 2001, Attack was the go-to plug-in for creating classic analog drum machine sounds. Its reincarnation for the iPad is a giant leap forward, with real-time pads, sequencing, effects, and a giant mixing console—all without feeling cluttered or overstuffed.
Beathawk is a bit of a dark horse in the iOS drum-machine world, and that’s a shame because it’s fantastic for sample-based groove composition, with per-pad filtering, envelopes, and effects. The arranging tools are equally deep.
This app delivers a studio full of sampled drum machines, from TR-808 to Volca Beats. Choose preset kits or roll your own. Program patterns on a grid or record your pad performance in real time, then create the perfect mix for complete songs.
Taking a slightly different approach, DM2 supplies a versatile percussion synth for sounds that are noticeably less traditional. You get the same programming and recording options as DM1, four x-y pads for effects, and some tempting in-app upgrades.
A wide variety of drums and percussion from around the world, with innovative techniques for playing them. You can customize the drum sounds and record and export loops as WAV files, too.
ELASTIC DRUMS (O-G-SUS)
With a distinctive IDM feel, uncluttered interface, and Mouse On Mars pedigree, Elastic Drums offers more experimental groove options for the beep-click crowd. It’s essential for both experimental and industrial applications, thanks to an exotic array of processes.
IMPC PRO (AKAI PROFESSIONAL)
The original iMPC brought Roger Linn’s legendary approach to drum programming to the iPad. The Pro version gets even closer to the original, with touch-based editing tools and a real-time variation slider that make it virtually irresistible.
A beat-making workstation, iSpark lets you record 64-step patterns from 640 onboard instruments (or ones you import), and then chain patterns into songs and automate them in real time.
PATTERNING (OLYMPIA NOISE)
Instead of a grid, Patterning gives you a circle for programming rhythmic loops. It’s surprisingly intuitive. Mix and match drum kits, create patterns, arrange them into songs, and export everything. Have a blast making beats that you’ll want on your tracks.
By fusing instant access to eight essential slicing parameters with VirSyn’s sophisticated arpeggiator, Re-Slice makes working with chopped and diced audio an immersive experience. The inclusion of on-the-fly recording and Ableton Link adds to the jam factor.
This unique performance instrument lets you create complex rhythmic patterns in real time. It imports audio loops, phrases, and beats and chops them into sectors you can sequence into stuttering, glitchy grooves. Go crazy with warp commands and controlled randomization.
X DRUMMER (POSITIVE GRID)
Programmable drummers have come a long way. X Drummer leverages recent advances in machine learning, listening to your input and helping you practice, compose, record, and perform in styles that automatically match what you play.
GROOVE BOXES/VIRTUAL STUDIOS
AUXY STUDIO (AUXY)
Once you stop marveling at Auxy’s minimalist aesthetic and effortless functionality, you’ll quickly discover that it sounds great too. There’s a reason for its cult-like following and media praise: Auxy is an exquisite way to produce impressive tracks.
BLOCS WAVE (AMPIFY)
Loop-based groove-making tools are plentiful on iOS, but Blocs Wave’s 48 loop pads, time-stretching, and export to Ableton Live give it the edge for modern productions. As a free app with loads of in-app options, it’s risk-free to check out.
CAUSTIC (SINGLE CELL SOFTWARE)
Caustic takes its design cues from Propellerhead Reason. You get a nice variety of instruments, 20 stompboxes, a mixer, master effects, and a piano-roll sequencer. Import and open samples in the wave editor. It plays well with other apps, too.
EGOIST (SUGAR BYTES)
Featuring a sophisticated slicer, a 303-style bass synth (also great for midrange bits), a simplified drum machine and seven effects, Egoist can easily be used for ‘90s era rave tracks, but it excels at hip-hop, disco, house, and IDM.
This is the free app you tell your friends to download so they have a better idea of what you’re actually doing in your studio all the darn time. Effortless bass, drums, and leads with no possibility of mistakes—100-percent fun.
FL STUDIO MOBILE (IMAGE LINE)
With the desktop version dominating the EDM and Trap scenes, it’s no surprise that FL Studio Mobile’s DAW functionality makes it the perfect companion for big-room producers on private jets. Pinch resizing makes heavy track counts manageable, too.
There’s a reason that Gadget is becoming the sequencer for countless iPad producers. It combines great-sounding synths, compatibility with Korg’s other iOS synths, and a beautifully designed sequencing environment, while the new Zurich recorder brings it into DAW territory.
Groovebox makes it easy for newcomers to quickly mix and match preset patterns and instruments to create original grooves. From there, you can tweak basic synth parameters and freely edit the sequences. The in-app expansions are nicely affordable.
The iPad version of Korg’s classic groove box offers exotic effects, tube-style distortion, and friendly automation in a large format that’s a joy to use. The iPhone version is a ringer for the original Electribe-R that dominated the ‘90s dance scene.
IMASCHINE 2 (NATIVE INSTRUMENTS)
For current Maschine fans, iMaschine 2.0 is a no brainer, with 4 sets of 16 sample-based pads, extensive sequencing and arranging tools, and dual x-y pads with assignable effects. For newcomers, it’s a great introduction to Native Instruments’ approach to modern beat-making.
KRFT (STUDIO AMPLIFY)
This app’s innovative approach to music production makes it unlike anything else. You organize and manipulate geometric shapes onscreen that play loops or samples, alter parameters, and more. Be careful, though. Once you pick it up, it’s hard to put down.
Launchpad’s 8 x 6 grid of loops and one-shots—combined with a set of 16 club-friendly effects—is insanely gratifying, regardless of your skill level. The app is free and bundled with enough clips to get you hooked on their in-app expansions.
NODEBEAT HD (AFFINITYBLUE)
Like many generative music apps, it’s easy to mistake NodeBeat for a game. Once you set up an arrangement of nodes, notes play in response to the proximity of generators. Define scales, set tempo, and control internal sounds or MIDI instruments.
Remixlive’s loop grid lets you perform by launching loops and samples. Switch to the drum grid to play drum pads and record custom loops. Edit loops in the sample editor, balance levels in the mixer, and control effects with an x-y pad.
This modular studio starts out with 14 devices, including a step-sequencing matrix, audio recorder, turntable, effects boxes, and sample players. Expand your setup with in-app options, or connect Tabletop-ready third-party apps. Tabletop offers a novel approach to iPad music production.
For zero dollars, Take is a handy 3-track recorder with baked-in drum grooves, voice tuning, and dead-simple effects that sound great. Alihoopa integration makes it more socially aware, but even on its own, it’s an absolute must-have sketchpad.
WR6000’s knob-centric mixer interface may be a tad esoteric for those of us who prefer traditional faders, but its combination of virtual analog with simple sampling makes it quick and easy. Unfortunately, the free version times out after 10 minutes.
AD 480 PRO (THOMAS FIEDLER)
The most versatile of three versions—AD 480 Free, Basic, and Pro—this app emulates the mid-‘80s Lexicon 480L reverb and all its original parameters. It includes 24 I/O channels, an onboard recorder and 108 factory presets.
AMPLITUBE (IK MULTIMEDIA)
When IK Multimedia ported its AmpliTube software to iOS, suddenly entire guitar rigs—amps, cabinets, stompboxes, and all—were more portable than ever. Now you can choose from Orange, Mesa/Boogie, Acoustic, Slash, and Jimi Hendrix editions.
AMP KIT+(AGILE PARTNERS)
Guitarists have lots of choices when replacing their amp and effects rigs with iOS apps. Partnering with Peavey, AmpKit+ models some of your favorite guitar and bass amps, cabinets, microphones, and pedals. It even provides backing tracks to audition presets.
So you think you know filters? apeFilter will challenge that assumption. From Fibonacci combs to precisely tracked harmonic series and everything in between, apeFilter provides clever modulation options, real-time control, and more college math than you can handle.
Combining a stereo delay with touchable real-time FFT resynthesis tools for each channel, ape-Delay is a mad scientist’s dream. That said, the results are anything but mainstream or “pop,” which is why it’s a must for IDM and experimental producers.
AUDIO EFFX (VIRSYN)
Based on the multi-effects chain that all VirSyn instruments share, Audio EffX offers seven processors—EQ, drive/distortion, flanger, reverb, phaser, delay, and chorus—that sound great and can be reordered on the fly. Ableton Link integration allows for tempo-synced delays.
Getting serious about complete productions in iOS means you’re going to need a capable dynamics processor for your tracks. Push is that and then some, with a comprehensive range of parameters, integrated noise gate, limiter/clipper, and a genuinely professional sound.
Most of Space’s reverb parameters are familiar, but the inclusion of dedicated resonant lowpass and highpass filters set it apart from the pack. It’s fantastic for quality ambiences, but the exotic bandwidth-limited ‘verbs make it really special.
BIAS FX (POSITIVE GRID)
With so many amp simulation apps available, how do you find one that’s right for you? It’s all about quality and quantity. Bias FX gives you 25 stomp-boxes, 5 studio processors, and 12 classic amps to assemble your perfect pedalboard.
BORDERLANDS GRANULAR (CHRIS CARLSON)
This app is terrific for exploring granular synthesis. Record or import audio and create grain clouds. Use your fingertips to manipulate sound fragments onscreen, and automate your gestures by recording and saving them.
CSSPECTRAL (BOULANGER LABS)
Richard Boulanger is a true maverick in the digital audio realm. Although csSpectral’s clean interface may imply simplicity, its processing capabilities are absolutely mind-boggling. csSpectral is a voyage around the wild side of sonics and has soundtrack written all over it.
DEDALUS (AMAZING NOISES)
Dedalus is a multi-delay processor that’s unlike all the others. It uses granular synthesis to split sounds into fragments and processes both live input and audio files. Plenty of user parameters let you achieve a broad range of interesting effects.
DUBFILTER (AMAZING NOISES)
This dual resonant lowpass/highpass filter doesn’t just process audio signals, it responds to them. While processing live input or scrubbing or playing audio files, it dynamically modulates frequency bands with an envelope follower, an LFO, and two x-y pads.
EFFECTRIX (SUGAR BYTES)
If the idea of sequencing multiple simultaneous effects on a per step basis gets your creative juices flowing, Effectrix will absolutely blow your mind. Going further, you can also set up an octave of keys for switching patterns via MIDI.
EOS 2 (AUDIO DAMAGE)
Liquid, spacious, Eno-esque reverbs are EOS 2’s specialty, enhanced by integrated modulation options and customizable crossovers. It’s also great for thick, small room ambiences. With its impressionistic sound and straightforward controls, EOS 2 is tailor-made for soundtracks and ambient productions.
FILTATRON (MOOG MUSIC)
Originally designed for the iPhone, Filtatron is one of those apps that’s great for both killing time on a bus and processing audio via Audiobus, thanks to its impressive emulation of the Moog ladder filter, overdrive and LFO-modulated delay.
Designed in cooperation with guitarist Adrian Belew, Flux:FX is a signal-processing powerhouse. Thirty-one effects (including stutter) are literally at your fingertips, with parameters controlled by an x-y pad. Flux:FX records and plays back x-y position snapshots in a 64-step sequencer.
GRAINPROC (MAYANK SANGANARIA)
When you finally figure out GrainProc’s bizarre and slightly incomprehensible UI, you’ll be rewarded with a two-channel granular effect that’s simple to manipulate in a live performance context. It’s not as fancy as the others, but it’s a great introduction.
GRAIN SCIENCE (WOOJI JUICE)
Combining traditional synth parameters with granular synthesis, this app can import a sound, alter it radically, blend it with another granulated sound, process it with effects, and record the results. Think of it as a sound designer’s chemistry set.
GRIND (AUDIO DAMAGE)
Like its VST counterpart, Grind is a special kind of distortion that relies on a set of wavetables for its waveshaping functions, with an integrated multi-mode filter and LFO. If you’re looking for unusually nasty results, Grind is the ticket.
HARMONY EIGHT (VIRSYN)
Easily generate Imogen Heap-style synthesized choirs via eight stereo pitch-shifters, with integrated formant correction. Then, add eight delays, compression, EQ, multi-effects and Ableton Link. The result is an utterly unique processing tool.
If you’re investigating granular synthesis techniques, you owe it to yourself to check out iDensity. With six channels of granulized audio streams, tempo and pitch shifting, and the ability to improvise live, it’s a smart introduction with truly otherworldly results.
Advanced granular synthesis that’s distinctly different to iDensity’s approach, this synth allows you to process your samples using one of five modes: Wave, Trainlet, Sample, Live (input), and Harmonic. From there, forget everything you know and explore.
JAMUP PRO (POSITIVE GRID)
Get JamUp XT for free, and then move up to the hard stuff. Designed for guitar and bass players, JamUp Pro makes building a killer effects setup drag-and-drop simple. And the sky’s the limits when you want to expand your rig.
LIMITER (AMAZING NOISES)
Taming audio signals is essential when you’re processing audio, and nothing keeps levels under control like a brickwall limiter. Whether it’s processing sound files or signals from audio apps, Limiter will attenuate, squash, saturate, or distort whatever you throw at it.
LOOPY HD (A TASTY PIXEL)
Since launching four years ago, this multitrack stereo looper is one of iOS’s most popular music apps. It records from an input or from other apps through Audiobus, and you can control its functions with MIDI. Merge tracks for endless over-dubbing.
MIC ROOM (IK MULTIMEDIA)
An app that claims to morph your standard iPhone microphone into replicas of classic models like the SM58, RE20, or C414 may sound like fake news, but Mic Room delivers real results, especially when combined with IK Multimedia’s iRig micro-phone.
MOEBIUS LAB (AMAZING NOISES)
Looking for new ways to alter reality? This granular synth gives you a suite of effects you can apply in real time while scrubbing waveforms with your fingertip. A morphing filter and dual-band frequency shifter contribute to the madness.
MOBILE POD (LINE 6)
Line 6 has long been a leader in guitar amp modeling, and Mobile POD carries on that tradition by putting a POD pedal in your iOS device. With so many amps, cabinets, and effects to choose, you can duplicate almost any guitarist’s tones.
OSTINATOR (LIVING MEMORY SOFTWARE)
This terrific app simulates a hardware looper and has every function you’d expect. Loop live input or audio imported from files or other apps. Control most functions with MIDI, and seamlessly cross-fade loop endings with beginnings.
REVERB FEEDBACK DELAY NETWORK (AMAZING NOISES)
The right reverb can make all the difference in a mix. This one goes beyond simulating natural and manmade environments into imaginary spaces. Change the resonant and reflective quality of walls, generate echoes, and control parameters with your device’s accelerometer.
RF-1 (KAI ARAS)
When it comes to reverb, realism isn’t RF-1’s strong suit. This is obvious from just scanning the presets, which range from tremolo ‘verbs to chorused ambiences. Accordingly, RF-1 is handy for dance and pop producers who dig unique spatial-ization effects.
ROUGH RIDER 2 (AUDIO DAMAGE)
If you’re looking for transparent dynamics processing for your iOS mixes, look elsewhere, because this compressor is tailor-made for punchy drums and hard basses. The straightforward controls include a mix knob for parallel fans, too. Best of all, it’s free.
RP-1 (KAI ARAS)
RP-1 is a straightforward stereo delay with an added modulation effect (chorus, flange, phase, etc.) that you can place before or after the main delay. As such, it has a classic sound with a clean interface and large color-coded controls.
SAMPLR (MARCOS ALONSO)
Although it’s years overdue for an update, Samplr is such a blast, we decided to include it. Load some audio, display the waveform, shatter it into fragments, and manipulate playback with multitouch. Loop it, bow it, arpeggiate it, and more.
Want unconventional effects? Check out Shaper. It gives you four processors in series: wave transformation (with clipping, wrapping, and folding), a glitch gate, a waveshaper, and a resonator with a fast delay, suitable for comb filtering. (Try the Burnt Muffin preset.)
Sparkle operates in the intersection between convolution, vocoding, and sophisticated FFT functions. Simply put, you can superimpose the rhythmic or timbral character of a source sample on the spectrum of the target, add synth features, and then play it via MIDI.
Save configurations of guitar amps, cabinets, and effects—nothing unusual there. Fully expanded, though, ToneStack’s effects collection is unbeatable. You can integrate other effects apps into your presets, too. It also has a metronome, tuner and 8-track recorder.
TURNADO (SUGAR BYTES)
Concealed behind an unassuming set of four x-y pads lurks a powerful set of eight processors with an emphasis on rhythmic, stuttering, and pattern effects. Everything is deeply customizable, but hitting the dice/randomizer button often yields configurations that sound shockingly professional.
VOICEJAM PRO (TC-HELICON)
TC-Helicon built a reputation inventing voice-enhancing hardware. The iOS version packs much of that technology into an inexpensive app that has automatic tuning, gender bending, looping, and a range of vocal-friendly effects.
WOW FILTERBOX (SUGAR BYTES)
WOW fuses a flexible distortion algorithm with an exhaustive array of resonant filter types, then loads up on sequencing, modulation, and a three-axis x-y pad for results that would be equally at home on both Daft Punk and NIN tracks.
DAWS AND AUDIO RECORDING
AURIA PRO (WAVEMACHINE LABS)
With a long and impressive feature list, Auria Pro is a genuinely professional DAW that rivals desktop software. It records 24 tracks simultaneously and handles MIDI and audio tracking, mixing, and post-production. Excellent third-party plug-ins are included, with more available.
Capture is a 32-track, 24/96 audio recorder designed for mobile multitrack recording and editing. Use the built-in mic or any MFi (made for iOS) audio interface, and then transfer tracks to PreSonus’s Studio One (a free version is available) via WiFi.
CUBASIS 2 (STEINBERG)
Based on the top-shelf DAW Cubase, there’s nothing lightweight about Cubasis. It supports unlimited tracks, 24/96 recording, detailed audio and MIDI editing, and third-party Audio Units. It comes with an assortment of software instruments, effects processors, audio loops, and more.
Field recordings can be inspirational resources for subsequent mangling with desktop processing, but FieldScraper skips the middleman and lets you get to work within the app itself. With filters, distortion, and modulation oscillators, coffeehouse ambiences may never be the same.
FINALTOUCH (POSITIVE GRID)
If you’re bold enough to work exclusively on an iPad, you’ll need a capable mastering chain. Final Touch is so full-featured that several Grammy Award-winning producers have enthusiastically endorsed it. For less than five bucks, it’s a no-brainer.
Every iOS musician should learn to use Garage-Band. It’s a unique and surprisingly capable DAW that supports Audio Units, and it’s free. It comes with some excellent loops, instruments, and effects processors, and it swaps files with Logic Pro X.
JUST PRESS RECORD (OPEN PLANET)
Positioned as a one-click voice memo recorder that instantly uploads to iCloud, Just Press Record has the distinction of being the only mobile recording app that includes an Apple Watch companion for quickly grabbing audio (or playing James Bond).
Quite a few looping apps are available for iOS, but Retronyms’ 16-track Looperverse emphasizes real-time performance control enhanced by their premium pedal controller. Time-stretching, pitch shifting, and stem export just add to its professionalism.
MUSIC STUDIO (ALEXANDER GROSS)
This inexpensive DAW records as many as 127 MIDI tracks and 24 audio tracks. It furnishes dual keyboards, 16 drum pads, a sampler, an audio editor, and more than enough sampled instruments, drum loops, and effects to produce demos anywhere.
TWISTEDWAVE AUDIO EDITOR (TWISTEDWAVE)
Every musician needs a stereo audio editor, and TwistedWave imports many formats via many means. All the commands you’d expect are available, and it can integrate processing from third-party effects apps. TwistedWave can also record from any source, including Bluetooth.
MASTER RECORD (IMUSICALBUM)
Impressive tape saturation and simulated wow-and-flutter effects, as well as extensive sample rate and bit-depth conversion tools for a variety of audio formats, including MP3, M4A, CAF, and FLAC.
MUSIC MEMOS (APPLE)
A free app for capturing uncompressed audio for later use in GarageBand (or any DAW) is a wonderful thing, to be sure. But Music Memos’ ability to intelligently add drums and bass to piano or guitar recordings verges on magical.
ARPEGGIONOME PRO (ALEXANDERNAUT)
The mother of all arpeggiators. Edit presets or create new patterns using onscreen controls. Control pitch and tempo with the 16x16 matrix, and control other parameters with your accelerometer. Easily play complex arpeggios at any tempo.
B-STEP SEQUENCER 2 PRO (THOMAS ARNDT)
Though it’s more than adequate for MIDI sequencing, one of B-Step’s specialties is sequencing chord progressions. Another useful trick is ratcheting—retriggering a single step a predetermined number of times—a technique you’ve heard if you listen to Berlin School.
FUGUE MACHINE (ALEXANDERNAUT)
With four independent playheads that can simultaneously scan a single piano-roll sequence in any direction at multiple tempos, Fugue Machine could change the way you approach music. Whether glittering, ambient or grooving, the results are hypnotic and absolutely compelling.
GENOME MIDI SEQUENCER (WHITE NOISE AUDIO SOFTWARE)
This 16-track sequencer emphasizes creating patterns and then selecting their playback order in real time during a performance. It’s loaded with useful features and does almost anything you’d want a step sequencer to do. It even has undo and redo.
KOUSHION (IAN WAGNER)
If step sequencing is in your repertoire, definitely check out Koushion. Its capabilities are comprehensive and inspiring, whether it’s controlling other iOS apps, playing external instruments via MIDI cable, or connecting wirelessly with software instruments on your computer.
MIDISEQUENCER (ANTHONY SAUNDERS)
Every iOS sequencer takes a different approach, but this one is straightforward and easy to understand, because it emulates a tabletop analog step sequencer with 16 steps and MIDI message filtering. Chord sequencing and MIDI effects are optional.
If Modstep has limits, they’re not obvious. It controls external instruments and iOS apps (with templates for both), and it has its own synth and a sampler with drum pads. Sequences can contain as many tracks as your iPad can handle.
THESYS (SUGAR BYTES)
Whether you’re using it with the onboard analog-style synth or integrating it with a hardware MIDI rig, Thesys is a powerful step sequencer offering detailed parameter automation and performance control with real-time keyboard selection of patterns and macro actions.
The Tenori-on is a rare and futuristic MIDI performance instrument combining sample playback and step sequencing on a 256-button grid. TNR-i reproduces it in every way, with practically all the same controls and capabilities, at a tiny fraction of the cost.
DJAY PRO (ALGORIDDIM)
With four turntables and vinyl-centric interface, DJay Pro is the award-winning app for turntablists who want to keep things as real as possible in the virtual world. Auto-syncing your Spotify favorites is a life-changing experience. This is Mercedes-class turntablism.
PACEMAKER (PACEMAKER MUSIC)
Gorgeous minimalist design, Spotify integration, and superb auto-sync would make Pacemaker a star performer even if it weren’t free, with effects available as in-app purchases. A companion Apple Watch app that actually works just adds to the magic. Get it!
TRAKTOR DJ (NATIVE INSTRUMENTS)
In the pro DJ world, Traktor has become one of the most popular options for laptop-based performance. The iPad version is quickly becoming a contender, too, thanks to its robust auto-sync and compatibility with NI’s Z1, S2, and S4 controllers.
A full-featured transcription suite that supports audio and video files. You can alter the pitch or speed of a file, as well as loop, scrub and freeze the audio. A keyboard and spectrum analysis are also included in this intuitive app.
BETTER EARS (APPSOLUTE)
Music theory and ear training never hurt anyone, and iOS is an ideal platform. You get 13 exercises for recognizing intervals, chords, and scales; melodic and tempo dictation; brushing up your music reading skills and more, with six instrument sounds.
CAPO TOUCH (SUPERMEGAULTRAGROOVY)
Every fretted string player needs this one. It analyzes recorded songs and then displays their chord changes with chord diagrams for guitar and other instruments. A slider instantly transposes the key, and another slider changes playback tempo.
FORSCORE (FORSCORE LLC)
forScore’s aim is simple but lofty: To replace all your printed sheet music with transcriptions in digital form. Collect scores into libraries, scan music from hardcopy, import PDFs, create set lists, and edit and share transcriptions, lead sheets, guitar tabs, etc.
HEAREQ EAR TRAINING (TEN KETTLES)
Most ear-training programs teach musicians to recognize intervals and chords, but this one is optimized to enhance your sound-mixing skills—specifically, your ability to distinguish frequency bands and understand how equalization affects sound. If you record music, you need this.
Once you’ve downloaded hundreds of free songs, this next-generation fake book will display their chord charts and play a multitrack arrangement while you play along. Change musical style, tempo, key, or instrumentation. Create, edit and share charts, and much more.
MACPROVIDEO (NONLINEAR EDUCATING)
From Ableton to Ultrabeat, this extensive selection of training videos, encompassing tons of hardware and software, brings music technology education to your iOS device. Watch all the step-by-step lessons at your own pace. Some older titles are completely free.
NOTION FOR IOS (PRESONUS)
A music notation app that lets you hear your scores played by samples of the London Symphony Orchestra and other fine musicians. For almost any instrument you can imagine, it turns your iPad into a portable transcription workhorse.
OnSong manages chord charts and lyric sheets imported from various formats, or you can create your own. Easily transpose keys and edit your charts’ appearance, play and sync imported backing tracks, and share wirelessly with other band members.
STEVE REICH’S CLAPPING MUSIC (AMPHIO LIMITED)
If you make electronic music, you should know Steve Reich’s name. If you don’t know him, you should know his piece, Clapping Music. If you don’t know Clapping Music, you should just get this app. It’s absolutely mesmerizing and totally free.
For years, EM’s favorite software for learning to program synths. Now Syntorial is an iOS app, and the first 22 lessons are free. If you’re serious about programming, upgrading to the full version is absolutely worth the price.
Learn to identify notes, chords, intervals, and keys, and brush up on your ear training. Tenuto provides five music calculators and 20 exercises you can customize to suit your skill level.
UNREALBOOK (ARON NELSON)
For performing musicians who rely on charts, your iPad is ideal for storing, organizing, and displaying your sheet music, chord charts, lyric sheets, and set lists. unRealBook imports PDF files, records your songs, and links your PDFs and recordings.
WAAY (TEN KETTLES)
Understanding scales and harmony makes songwriting easier, and it makes it easier to communicate with other musicians. Waay takes a practical approach to learning music theory, with interactive exercises and video lessons that help you build speed and accuracy.
AUDIOBUS 3 (AUDIOBUS)
This one is essential. It’s the glue that holds your device’s music production system together, a MIDI and audio routing system for connecting iOS music apps. Connect multiple sound sources, processors, and destinations, and save entire configurations for recall.
With Audiocopy, you can copy audio and its metadata from dozens of compatible apps to a clipboard and paste it to others. Catalog and browse all your sounds, record new ones, and perform basic edits such as trimming and normalizing.
This utility manages audio, MIDI, and text files and moves them between apps and your computer. Store files in a library, edit them, compress them, and shuttle them between folders. AudioShare also records audio from other apps or external sources.
AUDIOTOOLS (ANDREW SMITH)
If you take audio seriously, you need this app. Start with essentials like a dual-channel oscilloscope, SPL meter, and real-time analyzer, and add acoustic analysis options as your needs grow. AudioTools makes expensive test gear obsolete.
AUM is a versatile audio mixer, audio recorder, and Audio Units host. It routes audio from other apps or external inputs, processes it with other effects apps, and sends it to any physical or inter-app destination. It’s fantastic for live performance.
DUET DISPLAY (DUET DISPLAY)
Although Duet is not a music app, it can be indispensable to musicians, especially when working with plug-ins in your DAW. It lets you use your iPad as a second display that functions as a touch screen for your computer.
E-SCOPE 3-IN-1 (E-SKETT)
If you don’t need or can’t afford sophisticated audio analysis tools, e-Scope is for you. You get a signal generator with four types of signals, an FFT analyzer for measuring spectrum, and a three-mode oscilloscope you adjust by pinching the screen.
HOKUSAI 2 (WOOJI JUICE)
The free version is an uncluttered audio editor that handles basic tasks for multiple simultaneous tracks and offers wave and MP4 export. The in-app upgrade adds a wide array of processing options, making this a handy little tool.
IANALYZER PRO (PHYAR STUDIO)
This comprehensive audio analysis toolkit gives you all the FFT-based tools you’ll need to test and optimize any kind of audio gear or environment. It isn’t cheap, but if the price is too steep, the non-Pro version is excellent, too.
IMIDIPATCHBAY (JOHANNES DOERR)
Make any MIDI keyboard a master controller. Quickly switch between configurations that create different splits and layering setups. Transpose any zone and filter controller data. Instantly send Program Changes to your entire rig. iMIDIPatch-bay makes iOS essential onstage.
Remember the Jazz Mutant Lemur, that touchscreen control surface for MIDI and OSC that cost $2,495? The iPad came along and made it obsolete, so now all the same functionality (and more) costs one percent of the original price.
MIDI DESIGNER PRO 2 (CONFUSION STUDIOS)
Want to design your own control panels for apps and patch editors for MIDI gear? MIDI Designer lets you create custom GUIs by assigning controls you select to specific parameters, actions, and properties. Download layouts created by other users, too.
MIDIFLOW (JOHANNES DOERR)
Although Midiflow provides yet another way to route MIDI between apps and external sources, it offers more flexibility and functionality than most other apps. Presets can recall multiple routings, filtering, remapping, master clock synchronization, key zones, transpositions, and more.
MIDIFLOW FOR AUDIOBUS 3 (JOHANNES DOERR)
This six-app bundle multiplies Audiobus 3’s capabilities. Control numerous instruments and effects simultaneously, split and layer keyboards, remap scales and velocities, transpose and harmonize notes, monitor MIDI messages, humanize sequences with randomization, and use movement to control other apps.
MIDIMITTR (MATTHIAS FRICK)
Offering both low-latency MIDI over Bluetooth and USB (using a macOS companion app), this handy utility would be worth a small fee. Instead, Matthias Frick gives it away for free. The interface is strictly text, but the latency spec is impressive.
With Studiomux running, MIDI and audio flow seamlessly between your iOS device and your computer via the Lightning cable. Play iOS apps with your controller or computer plug-ins with your iPhone, and record everything to a DAW on either device.
Originally designed for the monotribe—and compatible with the volcas and many other hardware synths—SyncKontrol not only syncs analog hardware to your iOS sequencers, but also uses Ableton Link for wireless applications. Let that sync in.
TONALENERGY TUNER (SONOSAURUS)
This comprehensive chromatic tuner and metronome is loaded with thoughtful features, like modes for voice, strings, and brass and winds. It plays musical tones to match by ear, and it tracks and displays your pitch deviation in a choice of visual forms.
iOS tuners are plentiful, but few match the extensive feature set of Tunable. It displays a graphic history of pitch variations and includes a chromatic tone and chord generator, a metronome, basic recording, and AirPlay screen sharing for Apple TV users.