In our last article, we took a look at mobile music making. It's become an increasingly valid and viable option in the past decade or so, as the ever-increasing processing power in mobile phones and tablets has allowed for more and more capable music making apps than producers 20 years ago could have dreamed of.
We covered the basics in that guide, so if you haven't checked that out, I'd advise you to do so.
If you're a music maker who wants to take things on the go, or if you don't have the resources of a desktop production suite and want to look into how you can begin making music, then this series of guides is for you.
In this article, we are going to focus on some of the best apps available for mobile music making.
A round up of the best.
So, bear in mind this is not a comprehensive list, and there's a whole world of mobile music making apps out there.
Not all of us have access to high-end software synths or some flashy vintage hardware, but luckily, there are some really good developers out there who have brought some fantastic sounding apps to your smartphone or tablet.
There are some great emulations of big name synths out there, and some really cool new names in the mobile synth market, making great use of touch screen features for their synths.
Now, it's worth reminding you that all of these apps are going to be on smartphones or tablets. Obviously this means you're going to be using an on-screen keyboard in most cases, which can occasionally feel quite limiting in terms of your ability to get the most out of the synth.
As we mentioned in our previous guide, it's possible to use certain adapters to plug MIDI keyboards into your mobile devices. Apple users (which we're going to focus on, because of the difficult developers have for working on Android apps) can also take advantage of Apple's Aidio MIDI Setup to link your iPhone and DAW.
Now, one of the advantages of mobile apps is they're often a lot cheaper than their desktop counterparts. Many are even free!
So, let's dive right in and check out some of the best apps out there for making music on the go.
I remember using the original Animoog app, way back in 2012 or so. It was a really fun app to use, but far from being a novelty, it actually created some really beautiful sounds.
Moog is a household name among music producers, and for good reason. They've been making iconic synths for decades. The original Moog synthesisers were used by the likes of Kraftwerk through to Dr. Dre, and now the sonic range of Moog synthesis has been paired with the modern mobile technology so you can make music right from your pocket!
There original Animoog has now been relaunched as Animoog Z, a step up indeed. It's a multidimensional 16-voice polyphonic synth.
What makes it unique is the 3D visualisation of your waveform, so you can see the sound you're making being shaped before your eyes.
The best part about AniMoog Z is that even though it's on iOS, it is also available for macOS too. And the sounds are really fantastic.
With a tonne of features onboard, like polyphonic modulation and pitch shifting, ENV/LFO editor, a really deep modulation section, and more, the AniMoog Z is a really great mobile synth experience.
Plus it's free! Though there are some in-app purchases.
Even more Moog!
AniMoog Z is far from Moog's only option when it comes to app-based synths. They have released a wide range of really good synth apps, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, they even released many of them for free.
While their apps are no longer free, they are still very reasonably priced. Moog's options for app based synthesis are super powerful. We have a mobile recreation of the Minimoog Model D (pictured above), which is a subtractive synth used by the likes of Pink Floyd, Tycho, Dr Dre and more.
The Minimoog Model D is a mobile transmutation of the world’s first portable synthesizer, the Minimoog Model D. Optimized for use on all 64-bit iOS devices, anyone can jump in and play with over 160 included presets or lay fingers to the controls and begin exploring vast magical realms of creative potential.
- Ships with over 160 presets (Hundreds more available in the Minimoog Model D Synthesizer App Store)
- Up to 4-notes of polyphony
- Easily share presets and audio recordings with friends
- Arpeggiator module with note-hold capability
- Stereo ping-pong delay effect
- Bender time modulation effect
- Real-time looping recorder with overdub and immediate sharing
- Selectable envelope shapes and triggering behavior
- Effortless MIDI CC mapping
- Seamlessly backup presets to iCloud
- Play mode for easier panel and keyboard interaction
- A new take on the classic feedback/overload path
There's also the Model 15, a pocket-sized modular synth.
Each facet of the Moog Model 15 modular synthesizer has been meticulously recreated in this iOS app to ensure the power and transcendent sound quality of each module remains intact. The character, harmonic complexity and mystique of the Moog Model 15's modules, from the legendary Moog 921–series oscillators and 904A Low Pass Filter, to the coveted 907 Fixed Filter Bank have been painstakingly preserved.
- Ships with over 160 unique presets
- Recreates the sound of a hardware Moog Model 15 modular synthesizer
- Easily share presets and recordings with anyone
- Tutorial patches to assist all experience levels
- Intuitive patching and cable coloring
- Support for landscape and portrait modes
- Voltage-controlled stereo ping-pong delay
- Expressive sequencing arpeggiator
- Moog 1150 Ribbon controller
- Real-time looping recorder with overdub and immediate sharing
- Up to two controllers on-screen (iPad only)
- Optional left-handed UI operation
Now, the previous apps we mentioned are just synths, but Cubasis 3 from Steinberg is a fully-fledged DAW for your mobile devices.
Cubasis is, for those unaware, a mobile version of Steinberg's Cubase, an award winning DAW and one very close to my heart. I learned my first music production college course on Cubase, and I remember it having some really good features.
If you're looking for a mobile friendly DAW that isn't Garageband, this is a really good contender. That's because it's been designed to be simple and easy to use. You can quickly record and sequence sounds, but also perform them too.
Cubasis 3 is one of the fastest and most intuitive mobile DAWs out there. It's available for iPhone and iPad, and features an unlimited amount of audio & MIDI tracks, 24 assignable physical inputs & outputs, Real-time time-stretching and pitchshifting, 18 effects plug-ins and 3 instruments plug-ins and many more amazing features.
For $49.99, it's a great deal. You're getting a fully featured DAW in the palm of your hand.
Check it out on the app store to see if it's for you!
Another household name when it comes to synths. Korg have a great range of mobile software synths available, which are really solid recreations of some of their renowned hardware units.
There are several mobile synths available from Korg, and they're all really great. Originally just available as software recreations of the ARP Odyssey, WaveStation and Mono/Poly, these have now been developed as iOS apps too.
You can see the iOS smaller siblings of the ARP Odyssey above. But it's far from Korg's only iOS app.
There's a whole host of sounds you can get into with Korg's iOS synths, and they have a tonne of new features to make the most out of mobile music making. Check out the image below, or head over to Korg's iOS section here to see the full range.
FL Studio Mobile
This one is another fully fledged DAW, as I want to make sure I'm giving you a comprehensive overview of the different options available for music making on mobile; both the programs you'll use to make tracks, and the synths you'll use to make your sounds.
So, users of FL Studio will be glad to know that there's a mobile version of the app (available for iOS, Android & ChromeOS) which can do pretty much everything the full version can do, while on the go.
FL Studio mobile is great if you're already a user of FL Studio, especially because the projects are cross compatible. You can sketch out ideas while you're out and about, and then move them into your full DAW on your computer to continue them.
It's got a lot of cool built in plugins, and is super easy to use.
AudioKit Synth One
This one is a really awesome free synth. In fact, it's the largest Free & Open-Source iOS Music App in History.
I've been trying it out and really enjoying the sounds you can create, staright off the bat.
It's been praised by Apple's App Store, a load of online publications and professional producers. It's also had a host of patches designed by engineers who've work with the likes of Kanye West, Rihanna, M83, Tycho and more.
What's really cool about this particular synth is that it's been made by over two years of work by volunteers, over a 100 individuals worked on it, in fact. And there's no in-app purchases required to make the most of it.
It's amazing that this has been created by volunteers, the app includes MIDI support (play it with a MIDI keyboard or controller), sequencer, vintage-inspired analog filters, expressive arpeggiators, warm analog delays, and, over 300+ presets to get you started!
I've talked about BandLab before, it's a really great music creation platform, which is focused around collaboration and sharing ideas. You can jump into other users' projects (with their permission, of course) and add your ideas, and the same is true in reverse. Considering this, the prospect of collaborating with other producers becomes just another music creation tool that's right in your pocket.
BandLab has an extensive library of its own built-in instruments, free loops and samples, which include packs created by big artists. There are some limitations though, because you can only create compositions up to six minutes long, with 12 instrument channels.
The limitations are, in my opinion, outweighed by the positive possibilities for collaboration with BandLab. There are over 16 million users, and they regularly run worldwide competitions and there is a roster of contributing artists which is always gronwing.
The one thing you will need with this is a reliable internet connection. But it should definitely be something you're aware of a music producer!
This is a really cool app, and I'm actually surprised and a little disappointed I'd never heard of it before!
If you're someone who's constantly tapping their desks or chairs, and being told off by your friends or partners to 'STOP DRUMMING WITH YOUR FINGERS!" then this app is for you.
Impaktor turns any surface into a playable percussion instrument.
You read that right. An app on your phone turns any real life surface into an instrument. Check out the video below to see how it works.
Slap your desk like you would hit a real drum, and the acoustic impulses from the built-in microphone are used as an excitation source for advanced sound modules that then creates the sounds.
It's a really versatile synth in terms of the sounds available, and you can do anything from acoustic drums to more out there sounds.
- Synthesis: physical modeling, frequency modulation, noise shaping
- Semi-modular architecture; 2 modules with configurable routing
- 2 modulation sources: velocity and lfo-envelope. Almost every parameter can be modulated
- Multimode filter, harmonic exciter and several types of amplifiers
- Over 90 presets available, more coming soon
- No samples used
- Ultra low latency
- 6 tracks audio recorder
- True 3d panning
- Auto-quantization with configurable time-signature
- Reverb and Delay effects
- Audio-copy and wave export
KV331 SynthMaster One iOS
This is the mobile version of KV331 Audio's SynthMaster One software synth. Which, in 2017, was voted the 'Best New synth of 2017' by MusicRadar readers.
Featurewise, it's identical to the desktop version of SynthMaster One, except on the following points.
The polyphony is 16 voice, compared to 32 for the desktop version.
There are (only) 650 presets, compared to the 1250 for the desktop version.
So, if only having 650 presets is acceptable to you, read on.
It was KV331's first full blown synth app for the iPad, and is a powerful wavetable synth with an intuitive workflow. The layout is simple, and the wavetable / waveform content and really good preset library make this a really great synth for you iOS devices.
SynthMasterOne iOS supports AudioUnits V3, which means you can have multiple instances of it running within your other mobile DAWs, such as Garageband or Cubasis.
I really like the UI of this one, and it's got some really nice features.
ROLI Seaboard 5D
Now, I remember when ROLI first came out with their novel approach to a MIDI keyboard; with an approach to playing music which is focused on expression, their devices won many awards.
ROLI's focus on organic and expressive gestures has been emulated nicely on their app, ROLI Seaboard 5D.
There are a number of unique ways you can control the various presets. You can glide and slide over the keyboard to bend the pitch, modulate filters and other types of expression.
You can use ROLI's '5D Touch' to make some really nice sounds with this, and can adjust the levels of glide and slide to dictate how expressive or rigid your performance is.
It's free, with some in app purchases, and pairs really well through bluetooth with the Seaboard MPE hardware controller.
...and finally. Garageband.
If you have an iPad or an iPhone, then you also have access to Garageband.
I've left this one til last because we've already briefly covered it in the last guide, but it's worth a mention here.
Garageband iOS, is a really powerful DAW. Believe it or not, there are a number of hit tracks that have been made with Garageband.
What makes it really great is that not only does it stand on its own as a solid contender, but it also integreates seamlessly into Logic Pro. So any projects created here can be opened in Logic.
You can use the Live Loops feature to create ideas quickly, and the touch controls work intuitvely to make your music making seamless. The touch features also work really well on the library instruments, and it's all designed to allow you to make music as quickly as possible.
On iOS, you can't really go wrong with Garageband.
You've got the ability to make beats quickly, play responsive and realistic sounding touch instruments, and create fully fleshed out tracks all from the power of your iPhone or iPad.
Mobile music making has come a long way since the little apps on Sony Ericsson phones. It's gone from being a novelty to a serious contender in the music production world.
And as you can see from the apps listed above, there are a plethora of apps out there designed to help you on your mobile music making journey. Whether you're after a DAW, or just a cool synth or drum machine to play around with, the world of mobile music apps is one that is constantly growing.
So, hopefully this list (which is far from comprehensive; there are many more amazing apps out there) gave you some inspiration to explore the world of mobile music making.
If you've used any of these, or if there are any we left out, let us know down in the comments.
Otherwise, keep making great music!