GarageBand: Best free iOS music-making studio
It was already hugely ambitious when first released, but GarageBand has since grown to become a hugely capable app. Newcomers can tap out tunes on a loops grid, experiment with a drum machine, and always play in tune with smart piano strips. Within an hour or two, it’s genuinely possible to end up with something approximating a chart hit.
For pros, there’s a ton of added depth awaiting discovery: multi-track and multi-take recording, a slew of effects, and the mightily impressive Alchemy synth. GarageBand can also act as a hub for a range of other iOS music apps, given that it supports Audiobus, Inter-App Audio and Audio Units. For 20 quid, GarageBand would be a bargain. For free, it’s unmissable, unless you absolutely hate the idea of making music on your iPhone or iPad.
Novation Launchpad: Best free iOS loops player
Launchpad is absurdly fun and manages that tricky proposition of appealing to music newbs and pros alike. It’s essentially a board of pads, which you prod to trigger pre-set loops. These are organised into genre-based sets, such as House and Dubstep, and it’s almost impossible to play something that doesn’t make you want to get up and dance about like a loon.
For anyone who’s hankering for a little more depth, IAPs exist for new sounds and the means to import your own audio; additionally, you can record sessions and edit the sounds triggered by each pad.
djay: best free iOS DJ app
If you fancy yourself a top deck-spinner, but lack any actual decks to spin, djay is the next best thing. For free, you get a classic two-deck set-up, with vinyl controls, a mixer slider, scrolling waveforms, and live effects to faff about with.
Even on iPhone, it can be a lot of fun smashing together tracks from your Spotify or iTunes collections. On iPad, the app’s something else, the large display giving you plenty of creative potential as you UNCH UNCH UNCH into the wee small hours.
And when you decide you’re the next David Guetta, subscription IAP unlocks a slew of pro features, including a four-deck view, video mixing, MIDI, and 1GB of samples.
MusicHarbor: Best free iOS music tracker
The problem with Apple Music when it comes to new releases is that the service shows you whatever it feels like, based on the whims of editors and algorithms you have no control over. By contrast, MusicHarbor acts like a stripped-back discovery engine for bands and record labels you care about.
Choose your favourites and you can then peruse latest and upcoming releases, in case a single’s sneaked out without you noticing. Pop-up menus let you play any item on Apple Music or add it to your library for later. Beyond that, you can gawp at music videos and throw the developer six quid to unlock filtering, appearance settings, and any future paid features.
AudioKit Synth One Synthesizer: best free iOS synth
Our iPad’s littered with superb synths, and so newcomers have to do something pretty special to make us take notice. Synth One’s cunning plan is to hurl amazing sounds at your ears, and place a huge range of features at your fingertips – but not have you pay a penny.
For free, this app is borderline ludicrous. It feels like an embarrassment of riches as you rifle through the hundreds of presets, twiddle knobs, play with the excellent built-in sequencer, and hook everything up to Audiobus and Inter-App Audio. Just about all it can’t do is point your fingers at the right keys for crafting that perfect pop hit.