A couple of years ago I purchased a little Akai LPK25 keyboard. I was exploring MIDI sequencing and notation input on mobile devices such like my netbook, and was looking for a quick input device. I was sorely disappointed in what was available inexpensively, and I never seemed to be able to get the keyboard to work with either my netbook or my laptop. The keyboard sat on the edge of my desk for months, unused.
When I got the iPad one of the first apps I found was Garage Band. It was cool, but the virtual keyboard on the device just didn’t seem natural for playing. I missed raised black notes.
I had purchased the camera connection kit for the iPad, and found out from several online forums that the USB connector in the camera kit would work connect the LPK to the IPad. This started my first serious delvings into using the iPad as a digital audio workstation, or DAW. I’ve now had a chance to work with several DAW apps. Here’s a quick rundown with my impressions.
As I mentioned, this was my first venture into this field on the iPad. Garage Band is no stranger to Mac users. However, the iPad version is quite different. The desktop version tends to be geared more toward loop-based compositions. Actual note input relies more on external controllers such as MIDI keyboards.
The iPad version’s goal is to have a completely self-contained platform, so it provides many more performance interfaces. The first screen one sees lets the user select the instrument of choice.
There is the virtual keyboard mentioned above…
…from which users can also select piano, organ, clavinet, and synthesizer sounds.
There is also the guitar interface…
Playing this reminds me of an autoharp. You can strum or pluck notes on predefined chords. There are “smart” versions of both the guitar and piano, where pressing the a chord will play a predefined pattern for that chord.
There are similar selections for drums and bass guitar. You can also sample sounds and play those back through the keyboard interface (which is loads of fun to do with sounds such as a spoken or sung word.) You can also record audio directly into a track.
Speaking of tracks, the iPad version of Garage Band only allows eight tracks. There are work-arounds, such as remixing and importing previous tracks. The track interface looks very similar to the desktop version of the software.
Garage Band also works on the iPhone, but the interface is a bit more compressed. However, all of the same sounds are available.
The one drawback with using Garage Band on an iPhone is that it’s almost impossible to play the tiny keys. Unfortunately, the camera adapter doesn’t work with the iPhone, so you can’t use the LPK25 keyboard. There are however, two MIDI interfaces that will allow you to connect either the iPad or the iPhone to ANY MIDI keyboard. There is the Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer, and the iRig MIDI Interface from IK Multimedia.
I bought the iRig interface. Here it is connected to an old Peavey keyboard…
The results from such a tiny portable studio are impressive. Below is a short segment from a piece I put together over the Christmas holidays. I hammered this out in about 15 minutes using some of the pre-programmed patterns for guitar, bass, and drums. I added some drum fills manually, and I used the LKP keyboard to do the lead electric guitar part as well as the keyboard accents. This was recorded on the iPad.
You can mix the tracks down to import into iTunes, or you can save them as Garage Band files to import into the desktop version.
I’ve had Garage Band for the longest, and I’ve got the desktop version on my Mac, so it tends to be my go to app for music creation. However, there are several other DAWs out there that can give Garage Band a run for its money.
NanoStudio from the UK company Blip Interactive has many of the same features as Garage Band.
Sounds are generated from the Eden Synthesizer module, which has all of the controls of standard synths.
There is also a drum pad for creating patterns and loops…
…and a track editor similar to Garage Band. The track editor gives you a little more control over editing than does Garage Band. You can edit individual notes a sections. The base app comes with six tracks – four instrumental and two drums. You can purchase a 16-track expansion as an in-app purchase.
Nano studio will work with external keyboard connections such as the LPK25 and other MIDI interfaces. There is much, much more to the program, and I haven’t had a chance to work with all of it. To me it is not as intuitive as Garage Band, and has a steeper learning curve.
Tracks created in NanoStudio can be saved as WAV or OGG files, or directly uploaded to SoundCloud. Unfortunately, I don’t see a way to save these as an MP3 file. Here’s one of the demo tracks that came with the app that I uploaded to SoundCloud just so you can get a taste. You should be able to tell right away that the sounds are more synthesis based, rather than sounding like traditional instruments.
Jazz Lounge by RandomConnections
As with Garage Band, NanoStudio works on both the iPhone and iPad.
Electribe and Kaossilator
Korg has come out with two virtual versions of hardware components. Both of these are geared more toward loop-based editing, and are great for creating dance tracks, or even live DJing. Korg’s Electribe device has been realized as the iElectribe app. It features pattern-based sequencing and looping, as well as MIDI controls for all of these. I haven’t purchased this app, but I may have to pick up a copy. It looks interesting.
Korg’s KAOSS pad was an interesting alternative to a keyboard interface. It uses an X-Y grid to control different aspects of a tone, from pitch to modulation to rhythmic complexity. Korg took a popular version of the pad, the Kaossilator, and created the iKaossilator app.
The iKaossilator has five instrument positions, which are usually assigned to drums, bass, then three other instruments or effects. You can play and record loops into the app by moving fingers over the X-Y grid. It does have sampling capabilities
The iKaossilator is strictly for creating loops. However, these can be be exported as WAV files and imported into Garage Band or other DAWs.
As with the other apps listed above, iKaossilator also works on the iPhone. Even though it can produce some great music, I find it a nice, distracting little toy on my iPhone that I’d rather play than Angry Birds any day.
There are many other iPad apps that probably qualify as DAWs, but I don’t have time or money to explore them all. Some, such as Xewton’s Music Studio 2, have features similar to Garage Band or NanStudio, but don’t have the quality of sounds that I would expect. Others look like they have clunky interfaces that would take too long to learn. As for me? I think I would prefer to pick something up where I can start making music immediately. So far, Garage Band seems to be the best from that standpoint.