Mobile music creation on Apple's iOS devices

Great music apps of 2015

This has been a banner year for music making apps; we have seen the debut of many fantastic apps for synths, instruments, effects, theory/learning, creation, recording and control. Rather than attempt a year end best of app list that would be woefully incomplete, I wanted to look at some of the new music making apps that made an impression in one way or another.

Apps from 2015


Note: a couple of new, very exciting apps just hit the store but are not included here: Modstep and Cream Mobile (Kirnu Cream from desktop).

Genius Opinion

In Apple’s AppStore best apps of 2015 list, and I found three music related apps. One of these is Guitar Hero which is a game and is not included in the discussion here. The other two are Patterning: Drum Machine from Olympia Noise Co, and Yousician from Yousician Ltd.

Patterning was a big hit, and is much loved by iOS music makers, it’s an obvious choice based on all of the accolades placed upon this app. Also it may be the most complete and feature filled drum app available.

Yousician is a personal musical training app that started for guitar learning only, but I see they have added piano and ukulele lessons as well. This thing has over 4,000 five star ratings, so obviously the developers did a great job on this. It is a free app with IAPs, and is now on my list of apps to check out.

Expert Opinion

Based upon my experience, various posts, reviews, and articles that I’ve read from the top iOS music websites, there are some obvious standout favorites from 2015. Again, Patterning seems to be a top choice, as would Fugue Machine by Alexandernaut, and a top choice for many is Auria Pro by WaveMachine Labs.

Although Auria Pro is a new app, it also allows for an upgrade path for existing Auria owners. Auria Pro is the real deal, it is getting very near to desktop DAW in quality features.

SynthMaster Player from KV331 Audio was a hotly anticipated release that did not disappoint. Probably my favorite app from 2015 (was that kind of an obvious choice?), this is a port from the desktop player version of their SynthMaster app. This was looked at as a bit of a replacement for Alchemy synth as a source of high quality preset synth sounds.

BeatHawk from UVI is another top personal favorite. This is an all-in-one app that features a unique 16 track environment with a lot of great sounds available as in app purchases to expand upon the pretty decent sound set that comes with the app.

KORG iM1– an excellent release from Korg that is a recreation of their amazing M1 keyboard workstation. The best part is that this works within Korg’s Gadget app adding thousands of new sounds there and since Gadget allows for multiple instances of iM1, that made this a huge expansion for Gadget.

Diode-108 Drum Machine from Vibrant Digital Engineering. Many great drum apps were released in 2015 besides Patterning. I really like Diode-108 for its multiple voices, sample sounds and its detailed control over every hit. This is a real winner.

Steel Guitar from Yonac is a re-release of a very old (from 2010) app that I had on my iPod touch. This version has all of the goodies (AudioBus, and IAA) and sounds incredibly good. I’m still learning how to play it, but even without knowing, it is fun to play around in this app.

DFX Multi effects by Fingerlab is a fantastic effects app with too many features to list but it even includes a built-in sound source that allows for some incredible sonic explorations.

AudioBus Remote by AudioBus is another winner from the most important development team for iOS music. With this app and via Bluetooth, one can trigger and control apps running in AudioBus on a second iOS device. This was a huge advance for live performers.

Catcus Chorus from Timothy Barraclough. This is one of the effect apps in the series of “Floral Project” apps. The series of apps are really good but really cheap in price.

Korvpressor by Klevgränd Produktion AB. Another series of fantastic and easy to use sound effects apps includes this compressor.

Not just apps

We’ve seen several technical innovations come to iOS this year, some are just beginning and others are coming into their own, as follows:

Music I/O: Audio and MIDI over USB by Power Trio. Apple basically opened up iOS for wider use of USB including direct audio and midi in and out. Starting with Macs and then coming to Windows this team of developers has made a lot of strides in these utility apps helping to get music data to and from iOS and desktops.

Audio Units by Apple. Apple introduced this music technology with iOS9 which is basically the same tech used on Macs. Audio Units allow apps to work with each other in a different way than what we’ve used with IAA and AudioBus. Like in the desktop environment, a DAW application (Logic on desktop, Multitrack Studio on iOS), can act as a host for sound and effect apps referred to as plugins. We’re early in the stages of this tech so not that many apps have incorporated it but it’s another step forward in the advancement of iOS music making technology.

Ableton Link by Ableton. Another new technology that developers can incorporate within their own apps. This allows for apps to sync together nicely including starting and stopping parts on the beat, and tempo changes.

There are many apps from 2015 (and even late in 2014) not listed here either because I don’t own them or they didn’t make a great impression. The above above represents what I found to be most significant in 2015. Looking forward to 2016, I hope to make good use of the many wonderful apps that I already own and possibly explore some of the newer apps as well.

I delayed releasing my next album and associated videos due to the SynthMaster Love project but I’ll be completing everything for a release right around the new year. Following that, in 2016, I’m hoping to work on some larger orchestral pieces using iSymphonic Orchestra, iCathederal, Korg Module, ThumbJam, and others.

Happy Holidays
— Bourne 23Dec15

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