best iOS music

Best Music Apps Of 2013

Each year innovation is pushed to new heights for new iOS music apps. Some years and some apps more than others.
2013 has been a strange year to me, in many ways personally, but also in regards to what I’ve seen in music app development.
Not bad or anything, but it felt incomplete to me. Maybe?
It seemed like this year had been a little weak. Maybe not?
Could be simply that some things just didn’t get finished in time? Well, I am familiar with that having delayed my own work a few times to the point where my album “Chapters” can’t be released until a few weeks into 2014. I get it, stuff happens.

The thing I think was most glaringly missing in the iOS music app world was not one new, innovative iDAW. I sincerely expected to see something new this past year. Nope. Well, yes there were a couple new iDAWs released but sadly none were even close to being half as good as what already exists. Nothing that was breaking any new ground, or offering any new options. Total lack of innovation in this category for 2013.

There is no shortage of excellent iDAWs to choose from, just nothing new worth celebrating.

We did see some huge changes in how we can make music. Inter-App Audio arrived with iOS 7 (and a few bugs) and took the way we record and connect our music apps to a new level. Much remains to be seen, but it’s definitely headed in the right direction. At least we can now record at industry standards with IAA supporting 32 bit floating point, depth. This won’t matter much to a lot of people, and for many reasons. It does matter to me, but the reasons for that go way off topic. Let’s just leave it at that. Cool?

So it hasn’t been a silent year, or a disappointing year. Just a bit odd.
Nevertheless, several innovative, excellent, and exciting new music apps did arrive in 2013.
That all said, the following is my take on the best new music apps released in 2013.

iDAW
I think I covered this topic, there were none to speak of.

Best Drums

“STIX Electronic Drum Synthesizer” by, Alexander Smith.
This category is always thin compared to the rest. For me this was the most interesting and innovative.

Best Sequencer

>”Electrify NXT by Ingolf Koch

This fell into my hands a bit late. The original Electrify was an app I bought a long time ago (relatively speaking) but never bonded to. Electrify NXT is a whole new thing. Despite some reports of continued stability issues, I still choose Electrify NXT as best in the category. This app has a lot of good things going for it. Sequencing, sampling, looping, and a built in FM synthesizer. Loaded with effects, factory loops, and everything you need to mangle it all up. Electrify NXT is loaded with features and functionality. Compared to the other candidates in the “Sequencing” category, Electrify NXT is most useable as is. Not to mention it’s far more intuitive and easily understood.

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Best Audio Tools

Audio Mastering App by, iMusic Album

Auria may have the best mastering plugins and automation to make the job very detailed, but you’d have to spend an arm and leg to get them. This app has an excellent set of tools to master your final mix, including multi frequency stereo imaging. This is a budget mastering option, but it doesn’t sound like it. I find myself using it most of the time. It just needs automation.

Best Sound Effects

“Swoopster” by Holderness Media

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Here we have a fun and trippy flanger/fuzz effects stand alone app. Independent channels, or linked, fuzzy, or flanged, or throw it all on the mix, Swoopster delivers.

Best Synthesizer
It’s a tie! “Nave” by Waldorf Music and “CubeSynth” by VirSyn

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It’s been a great year for iOS Synthesizers. Choosing a single “best” synth was giving me indigestion. So I choose the two I find myself going to constantly and could not live without.
“Nave”
A super strong entry in the growing wave table synthesis category, developed by Waldorf and Tempo Rubato. Create, and tweak your own wave tables from recordings and even a nifty text to talk feature. Hefty routing options and extremely versatile make Nave one massive synth.

AND

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“CubeSynth”
VirSyn took additive synthesis and sound morphing to a new level. Extremely detailed parameter controls, tons of powerful sound designing tools, and oodles of interesting and endless combinations make the Cube one of the greatest iOS synths ever. Very underrated I think because so much of its power is not made obvious, but it’s all in there.

Most Needed App

“AudioReverb” by VirSyn
Why is a reverb app most needed? Well, it is my opinion that reverb has been a weakness in iOS music for too long. Sure Auria has a few excellent choices, even a fantastic Convolution Reverb, but what about non Auria users? Nothing? 2013 was the first year we had a few excellent reverb stand alone apps show up. VirSyn delivered the most impressive sounding of the bunch. It uses a remarkable algorithmic reverb with the high quality impulse response (real reverberations) recordings to combine for a very natural sounding effect. It doesn’t sound like an effect laying on top of something artificially. It sounds like a natural part of the music. That is something iOS music has been missing for a long time. No more suffering with “FreeVerb” or other cheap algorithmic knock offs. A quality option is here.

Instrument Emulation

“Galileo” by Yonac Inc
I may not be the biggest fan of organs, or even really have a complete understanding of them but I know when something just sounds great. Yonac Inc crafted this organ for iOS to have a sound that is emulated perfectly. They took an old time instrument and added modern extras, FX, and tools to make this the most impressive organ emulation I’ve ever heard. Some friends of mine who are organ aficionados schooled me on the topic, and insisted I not leave this one out. I wouldn’t have, but thanks anyway guys.

iOS Music App Of 2013

AudioMastering App, by iMusic Album

WHAT? Really? Yes! You can have some of the most amazing synths, drum machines or whatever’s, but if you intend to complete, polish, and make your production sound it’s best, you must have a way to master it all. Speaking as an iOS music production purest, it is my opinion and perspective that without a quality set of tools to master all that music from all those amazing apps, you’re just playing around. Not counting those who master on their computers. That doesn’t count.
The Audio Mastering App has a 10 band EQ, Harmonic Saturator, 3 band Stereo Imaging, and a Loudness Maximizer with adjustable ceiling. Up to 24 bit processing, dithering, multiple file conversion options and more. This is an affordable, and quality tool.
It just needs automation so adjustments can be made in real time.

Honorable Mention

WOW Filterbox by SurgarBytes

AUFX:Dub by Kymatica

Thor Polysonic Synthesizer by Propellerhead Software

iSEM by Arturia

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That wraps it up. I’m sure not everyone will agree with my “Best Of 2013” choices, and that’s OK. I considered many factors that are most important to me and that I think relate best to the iOS music production purest.

As always, I am looking forward to the things to come in 2014! My biggest hope is to see a big time iDAW that does a good job of delivering the most complete, under (but not limited to) one roof production environment.

LATE ADDITION

Best Potential

“Stroke Machine” by Wolfram Franke

This colorful new sequencer arrived in the nick of time. There weren’t a lot of new or innovative sequencers in 2013. It’s a surprisingly capable new sequencer. It looks like a toy, but it’s not. This is a very effective sequencer with bright future. There were some early hiccups, bugs and whatnot. Mr. Franke did a great job cleaning things up and released an update with loads of fixes and improvements. That’s encouraging. However, not enough yet as it is still lacking certain things, and suffering from some anti-intuitive procedures. Additionally as I dig in further this app is frustrating me to no end. Notably there are problems with sound selection, samples, and pattern or kit changing.
Look out for my review where I’ll go into detail on the good, bad, and frustrating in the Janurary issue of “Apptronica”.

NOTE: I had spent a lot of time with Stroke Machine prior to writing this and chose it for the “Best Sequencer”, but I was wrong on some crucial points I overlooked. Now that I’m really digging into this app as I write my review for Apptronica, I’m finding that there were big problems with this app , I had completely missed. Completely!
A reader brought to my attention some serious flaws. Initially I dismissed his complaints and thought everything was fine. Nope. I was wrong. So Mark, wherever you are, sorry about that. I also thank you for not just letting it go.

Stroke Machine is still something special and potentially huge. It just isn’t there today, or yesterday as I had originally thought. So I must do the right things. 1- Apologize to everyone for my error. 2- Give credit to Mark (see comments) for hitting me upside the head and waking me up. 3- Correctly apply a functionally superior app in the category of Best Sequencer where it truly belongs. As imperfect as it is. 4-Did I mention I’m sorry about my mistake?

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"My Favorite Must Have iOS Music Apps"

Updated January 20th 2012:

This list has become a bit outdated. It is still well read, so I will make a whole new “Must Have” list updated to both include and or remove music apps based on what I use today, and recommend highest. Check out my new “Must Have iOS Music Apps-2013” post. Ill leave this up in case it remains of some interest. Thank you for reading and all the kind messages.
Cheers.

I seem to have neglected this during the holidays. You know how it is. Anyway, like you I’ve come across some amazing new music apps since this was last updated. So of course there must be new additions to my list. AND a new category. The new Must Have category is for a combination of both Loopers, and DJ type apps. Its a short category to start. Check it out.

I’ve added, Grain Sience, by Wooji. This is one huge synthesizer that shows off some of the more finely detailed programmability options to hit a grain synth, or any synth really.

Also, new to the must have list is Bit Shapes TC-11 Multi Touch Synthesizer. This synth is an amazing work of art itself, taking full advantage of the iOS user interface. It’s a very organic feeling instrument. A 3 dimensional experience allowing a monstrous amount of programming and routing possibilities beyond the traditional synthesizers. TC-11 took the “box” and set it on fire, leaving us the most effective and powerful multi touch synth to date.

The Drum Machine DM-1 has to go on this list. Even with it being slightly off the mark as a truly mobile (waiting for ACP) music app, it really is an amazing drum machine with loads of classic, and modern drum machine styles and sounds. DM-1 is teaching me to be patient. Good development doesn’t happen over night. This is the sole exception to the “must have ACP” rule. Only because it’s so damn good, and it will have ACP sooner or later.

Updated October 31st: I’m adding iSequence HD. I really wish I had this app a lot sooner. It is a fantastic sequencer, great sounds, easy to use. A real delight!

Also, on a related side note. I want to note that I am going to integrate some apps from this list into what will be a small series of blog posts about my iOS creative process. It will help flesh out more about why the apps are “must haves” and how I use them as they relate to my process. I know, I said I’d write about my process for a while, and still shown you nothing. I apologize for that delay. It was harder to explain than I expected. Harder than the process actually is to practice. Then I thought since I get so many questions and requests to write about that process, and also about the apps on this list, why not work that out all together? I will start with step one this week. I’ll give you both the process and talk about specific must have apps.

Updated October 17th:
I have to include a couple more synths recently released. Alchemy Synth because of its huge sounds. Also adding Animoog! Its just to cool for school.

Updated: October 7th. I am adding Xewtons Music Studio to the list. It’s always been an excellent music app of exceptional quality, but it lacked certain fundamental functions that prevented it from making my personal choice list of “Must have music apps”. Now it has been updated to include(among many other great additions)my number 1 required function, audio copy paste. ACP is an absolute requirement for me, and I’m happy to add it to my list.

“How did you do that? What music app did you use? What do you consider must have music apps?”
Those are questions I hear the most from other iOS musicians, especially those just starting out. I am always more than happy to answer and engage in a dialog to learn more about the person asking to better advise them. If I can, of a few apps they might get the most out of.
After several of these friendly email conversations ending consistently with, “You should write about your must have apps on your blog!”
Hmmm? OK.
After a lot of careful thought and not so careful note taking I did come up with a list of my most used, and needed music apps.
The first thing that I want to explain right off the bat is that it should be very clear to you, my friendly reader, that this is only my opinion based on personal experiences, needs and style. Additionally, I use only my iPad and sometimes iPod for every aspect of making music with a very serious approach. Besides obviously needing quality, I also need complete freedom from wires. For me, that freedom defines what I consider a “must have music app”, and it also means they must have (ACP)  copy/paste, pasteboard support. My entire music studio is in my lap, and on my iPad. Not even iTunes file share will cut it when I take my studio to the park, woods, or mountains. I won’t… scratch that…. I cant use anything that needs a cable to move files around through a computer.
So now that I’ve explained where I’m coming from here is my list of what I consider my favorite, must have music apps for iOS. I’ll try to make this simple and clear by app type, but not really in any particular order.Also, how anyone mixes and matches is up to them. You can expect this list to be updated regularly as more new amazing iOS music apps hit the app store.

Must Have synthesizers. NLog Synth Pro, Addictive Synth, Sunrizer Synth, Crystal XT, Grain Bender, Synthtronica,  BassLine, Alchemy Synth, Animoog, Grain Science, and TC-11 Multi Touch Synth.

Must Have samplers / sequencers. SampleWiz, Electrify, SampleLab, iSequence HD.

Must Have beat makers / drum machines. MoDrum, Funk Box, Molten, The Drum Machine DM-1, and iElectribe.

Must Have Audio Editors and FX. Reforge, Hokusai HD with pro tools package, Moog Filtatron and Mixtikl

Must Have Studio, mixer, or DAW style. Nano Studio, Multitrack DAW,*Music Studio, Studio HD, BeatMaker2

Must Have iOS instruments and (or) Virtual Core MIDI controllers. iShred, Thumb Jam, Sound Prism Pro,

Must Have Loopers, or DJ apps. Looptastic HD, Loopy, and Meta DJ HD.

These are all apps I use on a regular basis, and honestly just can’t live without. I realize that it’s not ideal for everyone, and really selecting one or a couple from each category would build a pretty nice iOS studio for most people into electronic music.
But what if you really only want to get started? You’re not sure how serious you want or need to be just yet? Maybe you want to get the best possible set up under $20 that won’t be too complicated?

That’s easy. Get Nano Studio and the 16 track upgrade. It has everything an electronic musician needs covered. Honestly even if you think you have out grown it down the road, you’ll still come back to it for the amazing Eden Synths. It’s not iPad Native yet, but my experience with it on my iPad has been solid and trouble free. It’s a superb, complete music studio type app. My second choice would be Music Studio.

Remember this isn’t a set of rules, or an edict. This is just MY opinion of Must Have iOS music apps. How anyone chooses to make their purchases and in what order is entirely up to them. I do believe you can’t go wrong with any that I named here. I hope this answers some of the questions I hear most and might help someone. Thank you and have fun! Surely we will all see more Must Have iOS Music Apps as iOS music evolves and improves.