A groovebox can be some of the most fun you’ll ever have making music. Made specifically for putting down all kinds of beat-oriented music (such as dance, r&b, jungle, d’n’b, and hip-hop, though not exclusively), the groovebox is both an instrument and production station melded into one completely hands-on unit. The concept was pioneered by the AKAI MPC in the 80s and eventually taken to its fullest potential by products such as NI’s Maschine software + hardware controller combo, and Elektron‘s Octatrack sampling sequencer. It translates surprisingly well into the digital realm and it’s a wonderful alternative to the linear composition and arranging approach of typical DAWs.
iOS musicians enjoy a great selection of groovebox apps that feel right at home on the touchscreens of the iPhone and iPad. This format preserves the tactile physicality of the experience, a very important element for those tired of the tried, true, and somewhat boring mouse/keyboard combination. We have rounded up six of the best apps of this kind available on Apple’s platform. They are all worthy of your attention and great at what they do – though they do feel completely different and the paradigms of one app could suit your way of thinking better than the others.
The only objective cons these have compared to the many pros is that you’ll have to pay for in-app purchases if you want to enjoy these apps to the fullest. Such is the way with mobile apps, it’s the price we pay for the opportunity to have such complex pieces of software so affordably sold to us.
Check out our selection, make informed purchases, and enjoy the rich music making opportunities offered by iOS grooveboxes. You are bound to find one or more that truly gel with your style, even if it takes a few extra dollars spent, or some time invested in sorting out refunds with Apple’s support.
Download ($9.99) | Official website
iMaschine 2 is the little brother of NI’s big ol’ desktop production station – Maschine. Obviously, it doesn’t requre the Maschine controller to function as everything happens right on the iPhone or iPad’s screen. The principles are exactly the same, though – pads, banks, patterns, and scenes thrive in this mobile representation. If you are tired of bashing pads, use the Smart Play keyboard to add melodies and bass lines that automatically stay in key. Add vocal and field recordings you’ve gathered with the integrated microphone, or sample straight from your iTunes library.
From then on, turn loops and scenes into full tracks by creating parts, re-arranging, and editing tracks on the fly. Your work can be uploaded directly to Soundcloud, or exported to Maschine 2 on the desktop so you can keep working on your ideas with your complete studio setup. iMaschine 2 is compatible with both the iPhone and iPad, adapting automatically to each device’s screen size. It’s also an Universal App, which means you will purchase the app and any expansions you like just once, then keep on using them on all iOS devices tied to your iTunes account.
Download ($13) | Official website
iMPC Pro isn’t merely a throwback for old-school producers who cut their teeth on an MPC, but rather, a modern groovebox app styled after Akai’s well-known production stations. It has built-in sampling functionality, a substantial sound library created by Richard Devine, and over 30 performance features, such as loop slicing, time stretching, and built-in effects. iMPC Pro offers up to 64 audio tracks with 3-band EQ, mute, solo, panning, and FX sends on each one.
The InterApp Audio mode lets you record your music directly into apps like GarageBand and Cubasis. Or you can simply export tracks as audio files, on your iPad, computer, or directly to SoundCloud and social networks. Like iMaschine 2, iMPC can sample audio from the iPad microphone, resample your own tracks, record from other apps with InterApp Audio, or lift sounds straight out of your iTunes library. Chopping beats and loops is an iMPC specialty with multi-touch editing, trimming, auditioning, and splicing features.
Download ($9.99) | Official website
Watch out, for BeatMaker 3 is right around the corner, releasing July 15! Until then, BeatMaker 2 is available at half price, and is still one of the raddest iOS grooveboxes around. It has a built-in Drum Machine, Keyboard Sampler, Audio Tracks, and 11 effects – Reverb, Compressor, Filter, Delay, EQ, Flanger, Chorus, AutoPan, BitCrusher, Overdrive, and 6-Band Parametric EQ. There are 3 effect slots for each instrumens, 16 trigger pads over 8 banks, and a loop slicer. Each track has volume, pan, mute, output bus, semitone, fine tune, reverse, and auto-scale controls. The pads can be played live with trigger, mute, reverse, velocity, and tune spreading features for each pad.
BeatMaker 2 can record multiple audio tracks simultaneously and stream from flash memory so it doesn’t consume precious RAM. The multi-track sequencer supports automation and makes it possible to create unlimited instrument, audio and FX tracks. Songs are constructed by recording, drawing, arranging, and resizing patterns along the timeline. A full-fledged wave editor is available for precise editing and manipulating of samples. The mixer, complete with multi-tracks and controls (volume, pan, solo, mute and bus routing) is where everything comes together. Four sends are also available for each instrument or audio track.
Ampify (Novation) Groovebox
Download (Free) | Official website
A basic, entry-level app going a long way with the functionality it supports. This is Groovebox by Ampify, Novation’s apps team – a free music studio that comes with hundreds of patterns and sounds, two Novation-designed synthesizers, and a drum machine. This arsenal can be expanded with other additions from the in-app market. Although this is a simple app for jotting down rough ideas, the synthesizers have enough tweakable parameters to let you create original sounds. Also included are a mixer, a note sequencer, key and scale modes. Your creations can be exported to Ableton or synced to it via Link. The app also supports Audiobus and Inter-App Audio for transporting sound between iOS instruments and effects.
Download ($40) | Official website
KORG Gadget is a collection of over 20 different synthesizers and drum machines, called Gadgets. They are meant for producing electronic music and beats. Even inexperienced musicians can tinker with the gadgets, as each can be played via a Scale function that makes it impossible to hit the wrong notes. The user interface is inviting and optimized for lining up EDM tracks on the go, no matter where you happen to be. That’s the beauty of doing music on the iPad – the world becomes your studio.
Of course, Gadget runs on the iPhone, too, and is also available on desktop computers. Your ideas can be saved as MIDI and audio, allowing for an easy transition to audio editing apps on the iPad or your computer. Songs can be directly exported and shared onto Korg’s GadgetCloud platform, as well as any social networking service such as SoundCloud, Facebook, or Twitter.
The big downside to Gadget is the price. $40 is a metric load of money to pay for an app, and you don’t even get all the available gadgets at this price. Korg is usually reasonable with their prices, but Gadget is an exception.
Download ($9.99) | Official website
Caustic 3 is pretty much a stripped-down Reason in a box. It’s a collection of simulated rackmount music making equipment that’s going to cost several hundred grand if you chose to assemble it in real life. You can take advantage of up to 14 machines, 20 effect types (2 effects per machine), a mixer (with EQ, panning, and global Delay/Reverb effects), a master section (with effects, parametric EQ, limiter), and a song sequencer. It’s a powerful tool with plenty of possibilities, even if it doesn’t look quite as slick and polished as the rest of the bunch.