GarageBand for iPad

GarageBand for iPad is a complete iPad music studio with comprehensive set of instruments (including electronic and acoustic drums, bass, guitar, strings, piano and synths) expandable with Inter-App Audio apps and Audiobus-ready apps.

Compatible with: iOS 8.0 or later, iPad 2+ or later, iPhone 5/5/6+, and iPod touch

Main Features: “Smart” Instruments, Sampler, 32 tracks maximum

Pros:

  • Great expandability with hundreds of Inter-App Audio and Audiobus music apps
  • Ability to export to GarageBand for Mac and Logic
  • Wide range of included instruments

Cons:

  • No MIDI output to control external apps
  • Included FX are pretty weak and limited (just delay and reverb)
  • No comprehensive mixer window

For a long time now, Apple’s GarageBand has been the iPad DAW of choice for many electronic music producers. And with good reason. Its uncluttered interface allows users to easily navigate and audition sounds quickly. Hobbyists and novice users will take to it like a fish to water. There are over 250 high quality instruments to choose from and they sound amazing. In addition to that, GarageBand for iPad offers 5 ‘Smart Instruments’: Drums, Strings, Bass, Keyboard and Guitar. This feature will make you sound like a professional player on any instrument. I found the 32-track sequencer to be adequate with basic editing options, but good enough to get ideas out of your head and onto a listening platform. However, I have only scratched the surface of what this powerful app has to offer. Let’s take a closer look.

User Interface

When GarageBand opens, it takes you directly to a browser where you can choose an instrument. The icons are large, represent each instrument category included in the app and makes it a breeze to select an instrument with a touch. Then it opens to that instruments’ interface on which you will find controls specific to that instrument along with the transport at the top center of the UI and other useful options. You could actually hit record at this point and start hammering out ideas. However, I suggest that you take a tour around the app and try different instruments and the options they offer. Just to the left of the transport is a button with little blocks on it that will take you to the timeline where you can edit your recording. Touching the keyboard icon to the left of the timeline button will take you back to your instrument. Aside from the various instrument interfaces, the timeline is the only other window offered in GarageBand for iPad.

Instruments & Sounds

This is definitely where the app shines in my opinion. All of the instruments I tried out sounded great. The acoustic instruments are surprisingly realistic and have a few different articulations relevant to each particular instrument. The synths are warm and full. Each one has a pitch and mod wheel, but unfortunately not even one ADSR envelope and you are basically stuck with just a simple cutoff filter and resonance knob for most of the synths. GarageBand’s ‘Smart Instruments’ offer clever options for playability, giving you the choice of triggering one of the 4 included phrases for each instrument via the apps chord strips and ‘AUTOPLAY’ knob, or by touching the ‘Notes’ button (usually revealing the fret board) and playing in parts yourself. You can also switch between different instruments in the same category without stopping the sequencer while using a ‘Smart Instrument’. Handy features there for sure, but if you decide to switch to an instrument in a different category, the sequencer stops automatically which can be a pain once you get a groove going. Hopefully in a future update, Apple will make it possible to keep the sequencer running until the user wants to stop it.

The Sequencer

At best, the sequencer is decent but easy to navigate as well. It has very basic controls for editing: copy, paste, delete, loop, split, rename and edit. Touching the Edit tab takes you inside of your recorded part and allows you to drag notes around. The sequencer is the only place in the app where you can access all of the included Apple Loops and drag them right into your session. This sequencer is good sketching out your ideas, but it could benefit from more features like automation for example.

End of the day…

GarageBand has great features and is a powerful iPad DAW. Sure, it’s lacking a few helpful features but it’s hard not to try it out at this price point. It’s definitely good enough to sketch out song ideas before you finish them in your desktop/laptop DAW, or even to trigger sounds from in a live setting. I’ll give it a 4 out of 5.

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