Six of the best: a selection of our favorite mobile music-making apps | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 12.11.2013
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Six of the best: a selection of our favorite mobile music-making apps

There's a wealth of powerful music apps for mobile devices, so we can make music wherever and whenever we want. But which make the most of the technology available? DW takes a look.

Mobile music apps are great for a few reasons - the main one being that you can carry a complete electronic orchestra of sounds in your pocket - or make up new ones - wherever you go. So no matter where inspiration - or boredom - strikes, you can whip out your iPad or Android device and get creative.

This review focuses on just six apps for Apple's mobile platform iOS. There are plenty of other apps for Android, but iOS has become the platform of choice for mobile music makers and DJs.

And most professional level synthesizer and software makers have gotten in on the act, boasting that their product takes advantage of the iPad's large touchscreen and powerful processor.

It's worth noting that some apps may even offer more than the iPad can handle. Especially if you aim to listen to your music via the iPad's headphone socket - you can forget about sounds in the lowest (such as any sub-bass) and upper frequencies.

But if all you want is a bit of fun with relatively inexpensive apps - here are the six of the best.

1. iSEM by Arturia

French developers Arturia started out in software, making desktop emulations of vintage synthesizers such as the ARP2600, CS-80, the Minimoog, and Jupiter-8. They've recently ventured into making their own hardware too. But in my book they're making a real mark with their two iPad apps (themselves smaller versions of desktop software), iMini and iSEM. Both use Arturia's own True Analog Emulation (TAE) technology. There's loads to say about these apps, but I'll limit myself to just one fact: Arturia's iPad synths sound "phat." And a fat sound is everything.

2. DM1 by Fingerlab

Fingerlab, another French outfit, really know their analog drum sounds. DM1 offers 21 vintage analog drum kits, 19 acoustic drum sets, 11 instruments, a host of Fingerlab's own drum sounds, and space to store your own drum kits. You can record rhythms in steps or by hitting pads in real time, manipulate your beats with effects, mix each individual sound to get just the right balance, and place your drum patterns in a song structure. And it's quick and fun: I've programmed rather respectable rhythms using DM1 in minutes. (Available for iPhone and your desktop Mac as well.)

3. Samplr by Marcos Alonso

Samplr is exactly what it says it is: an audio sampler. But it's one with a difference. Marcos Alonso, a Spanish programmer and sometime musician, designed Samplr in his spare time because, as he told DW, he wanted to do something totally new. And he really tries to push the iPad's multi-touch sensibility to its limits. In short, load up sounds or record stuff on the fly. Then, play (using eight play modes) and modulate or stack the different parts of your sounds using your fingers: about the only limitation you'll have is the number of fingers you've got.

4. Thor by Propellerhead

Thor comes in at four on our six of the best mobile music apps - but it's one of my favorites. Perhaps it's because I'm familiar with the desktop version of Thor (a component of the Reason suite) from Swedish software and hardware developers Propellerhead. But the main reason is its old-school sequencer, which allows you to write crazy melodies on the go, note-by-note and step-by-step. As with their iPhone app Figure, Thor for iPad makes the most of the iOS touchscreen. They've led the way with their flat app design, which, arguably, has even influenced Apple in the design of its latest system software, iOS7.

5. Nave by Waldorf

The German hardware and software pioneers have been long in the game. But Nave is Waldorf's first iPad app (with more to come). While other developers have focused on making software versions of legendary pieces of hardware, Waldorf, with its feet in both camps, now says it plans to go the reverse route by making a hardware version of Nave. It's an incredibly powerful app, with lots of options for modeling your sounds and creating your own wave shapes, strange bleeps, a built-in text-to-speech synthesizer and an internal four-track recorder. But it may be a little complex for the beginner.

6. Magellan by Yonac Software Inc.

As with Nave, the Magellan synth may be difficult to control if you've not had a lot of experience with analog synthesis. However, it offers a host of rich preset sounds, which will have you copying all your favorite dance tracks in no time. Don't worry, though: you can transform all the sounds, with banks of effects, or via an easy-to-handle, configurable matrixpad - essentially, you can change sounds in real time on an X/Y axis. In the "phat" stakes, Magellan is a strong challenger to iSEM.

Remember: in some cases these apps and others may be let down by the limitations of your mobile device. So if you're serious about music and want to work on your ideas in a full studio setup, you'd best export your sounds as a WAV file or connect your device using a professional audio interface before hitting play.

All these apps offer export functions, for instance via email, Soundcloud, the Sonoma copy/paste board, or Dropbox…and via Apple's iTunes sync.

So start making music, and let us know how you get on! @dw_scitech

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