Mobile music creation on Apple's iOS devices

Over the last few months we have seen several major inovations become available for iOS music makers. These advances include Apple’s own Audio Unit Extensions, and the ability for apps to use a direct USB connection to the desktop PC (Mac and Windows)

This allows for streaming audio and midi. From app developers we have Ableton Link which allows multiple apps to stay in sync to the same beat, and AudioBus Remote which provides for remote control of many apps running in an AudioBus session, either from a single iDevice or a separate one acting as a true remote control (via Bluetooth).

The release of Auria Pro has to be included in this discussion as all of these advancements push iOS music making closer in league with the mor powerful and advanced world of desktop usic making.

Many music app developers are scrambling I’m sure, given quite a bit of new tech to consider and incorporate into their existing software. Many have made updates to include Ableton Link and AudioBus Remote, while roll outs for apps using the new Audio Unit format have been slow, which is not surprising.
It’s been a fast pace of change, but apps that contain updates for the new tech do get a lot of attention from the initial buzz. Others may be left behind if the pace of innovation stays at this level.

Audio Units and more
It took a while but the big update to GarageBand for iOS finally hit the App Store last month. The highlight of the update was the inclusion of the new Audio Unit Extensions technology. Apple first announced AUX for iOS in June, 2016, so it’s been a long wait. And just this week, Steinberg released a big update for Cubasis that also includes AUX hosting.
A few new synths came along that are available as AU, and there are a handful of AU effect apps available now. It’s been a slow start but the adoption of Audio Unit Extensions will bring many advantages such as a wide variety of existing plugins that can be ported from desktop, and their use will allow more flexibility in recording.

For the recent app updates, GarageBand has a heck of a lot of goodies including several new instruments (horns, flute, clarinet, etc), and a bunch of extra features that were unexpected. Sure, there are complaints of what the update lacks, but as I’ve stated elsewhere GarageBand provides a lot of bang for the buck. I had so much fun checking out the new features and sounds that I made a new song:


The iOS DAW that I use, Cubasis from Steinberg, released an update that now allows Cubasis to act as host for AU instruments and AU effects. Several instruments were added to their built-in Microsonic multi instrument player (most of them sound quite good).  There are other tweaks and enhancements that all together made this quite an impressive update.
My initial testing of these huge updates for Garageband and Cubasis went pretty well but I hit some snags and for one real problem I contacted Apple and made an official problem report. That was kind of satisfying actually.

As we move forward and things stabilize, I can see where AU instruments (and effects plugins) will be a huge improvement, they will help save many a musician’s sanity (but only when things are stable).

Linking apps in time
AudioBus Remote from the popular AudioBus developer team, has been out for a while but a recent update allows it to be used on a single device. The app was built to control apps running inside an AudioBus session on a second iDevice and it was a big hit. However, user demand for the app to work the same on a single device forced the developers to redo AB Remote and now everyone is happy.

Ableton Link: not an app but a technology, and one that works on and for iOS, desktop, and hardware. Its purpose is to keep multiple apps and/or external devices in synchronous time with each other. This innovation along with AudioBus Remote compatibility is not that difficult for app developers to incorporate and so we’ve seen a good number of apps jump on board. As of the time of this writing there are over twenty apps that include Ableton Link and twice that number feature Remote Triggers (via AB Remote).


Linking apps for recording
Another exciting new app hit the store recently with a big buzz surrounding it, that is AUM from one of the best iOS developers, Kymatica.

AUM is described as a mixer and it handles just about everything that’s available on iOS: from AudioBus, and Audio Units to Inter App Audio, Ableton Link and MIDI. The app is a clear winner and really helps tie all of the disparate pieces together. And I’m sure it will be of even more value as things move ahead.

Linking apps with Desktops

In a major step forward last year, iOS gained the ability to directly connect iOS music apps and Desktop software over direct USB. We could already stream audio and midi via wifi and Bluetooth but a direct USB connection has very low latency and less chance of dropouts while the other methods can be spotty.
Apps that connect via USB include musicIO, Audiomux and Midimux, Midimittr, and also Audreio. The developer of Audiomux also made the popular and very powerful Audio and MIDI sequencer app called Modstep, and brilliantly built Audiomux right into it.

I successfully used the USB connection to send MIDI from iPad to desktop but haven’t delved in deeper as yet. For these connections to work there is some effort required on the desktop side. Each developer offers free desktop software plugins that need to be loaded inside of your D.A.W. of choice.  Actually there is much more for Mac/iOS users but for us Windows users we have the above choices (except for Audreio which is Mac only I believe).

Thanks to Apple opening things up a bit, and to various software developer innovations in recent months we have seen some huge leaps in music making technology. Many of the advances help iOS music making a bit easier and a bit more stable. Each increment pushes us nearer to the desktop world where the blending of the two will make for a powerful, innovative, and creative inducing platform.

Be seeing you

— Bourne 09Mar16



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