So, you own an iPad and you want to make some beats, and so you’re looking for a good drum machine app. Well, you’ve certainly come to the right place. Not only do I have an excellent new drum machine app to show you, but I also have a bunch of free synth apps for the iPad, as well as a free online drum machine just for good measure.
Introducing the Arturia iSpark
Put simply, iSpark is is the new iPad version of the Spark 2 drum machine software. You can either use it on its own on the iPad or along with the dedicated hardware SparkLE (more on that later). Take a look below at the many things it has to offer.
Play Drums in Real Time
With iSpark you can play drum patterns in real time using the on-screen drum pads. It’s optimised for live performances, giving you direct access to a wide range of sound parameters, so you can tweak your sound on-the-fly.
The iSpark in Action
- Combination of multi-layered samples along with TAE analog synthesis.
- 640 instruments across 40 different drum kits, covering electronic kits, acoustic kits, and some classic drum machines.
- Humanize your grooves with shift and shuffle modes.
- Mute instruments naturally by choking groups.
- 16-segment song mode.
- A range of performance effects including reverse, repeat, strobe, tape, mix, pan, 8-mode filter, bit crusher and Roller.
- Mixer with 16 tracks, containing high-quality effects such as multiband EQ, delay, reverb, chorus, multiband compressor, destroyer, limiter, space pan, sub generator, and phaser.
- Automate all parameters in real-time.
- Designed to work with the SparkLE controller.
- Works with AudioBus and Inter-App Audio.
- Ableton Link and Korg Wist integrations.
- Can share projects, instruments and kits with Spark 2 software.
The Various Views in iSpark
The advantage of using software rather than just hardware is that you are not restricted to just one view of the controls. Let’s take a look at the different views iSpark has.
Here you can view each of the 40 presets and 640 individual sounds in the browser designed specifically for the iPad. Each of the 40 presets come with 32 different patterns already set up to use and modify. That’s a total of 1,280 patterns, and you can even chain them together in a sequence.
In this view you can customize your kits and all the different sounds that make up those kits. As you can see, you have a range of different parameters you can play with, such as pitch, cutoff, resonance, volume and the envelope parameters.
This is the screen you will probably use most of the time, especially when performing. You can either program steps into the sequencer or play the drum sounds in real time using the virtual pads. However, you also have access to some important sound parameters like pitch, attack and frequency shift.
This is where you get to mix your sounds together for your overall sound. You have faders for individual drum sounds, as well as knobs for pan and other parameters. You can also control the level of your effects, as well as the master volume.
Each of your beats will be individual patterns, which can then be arranged in order to form a full piece of music. All you need to do is drag and drop your various patterns into position on the arrangement grid.
One issue that can really make a difference is connectivity. It’s all very well having great music software on your iPad, but if you can’t connect it up to anything else then it’s a bit restrictive. Thankfully, iSpark works well with Korg’s Wist and Ableton’s Link technology, for synchronising with all other apps and devices. Also, compatibility with AudioBus and Inter-App Audio mean that it can work with other iPad virtual instruments, effects and Digital Audio Workstations.
Want Hardware Too? Consider SparkLE
This is the first time an iPad virtual drum machine has had its own dedicated hardware controller:
Main Features of the SparkLE
1. Transport section
2. FX pad
3. Mode selector
4. 16-step sequencer
5. Mini USB port
6. Master volume and shuffle knobs
7. User-assignable encoders
8. Jog dial for quickly loading kits and instruments
9. Extreme looper for live effects
10. Velocity and pressure-sensitive pads
11. Security lock
Other iPad Music Making Apps
Although the iSpark and SparkLE do look and sound great, they seem to be limited to mainly creating beats. Also, they cost money. So if you want to make music on your iPad without spending any money, take a look at these free music making apps.
Alchemy Synth Mobile Studio
One of the great things about this app is that you have the 8-piece grid at the top which you can slide your finger around on. By doing so, you move between the 8 different patches, and the parameters gradually change at the same time. This enables you to create some interesting sound transitions.
The problem with the free version of this app is that you cannot create your own patterns.
This is a granular synthesizer, which means that it creates sounds by chopping up sounds into tiny particles which you can play around with. This synth is great for creating very noisy, distorted sounds that just scream out at you.
You can also record your sounds into this app and then play around with them. This makes it limitless, really. Any synth that allows you to record your own sounds into it has many possibilities.
From the makers of Reason, we have this fun little music making app. To me, this looks more like a fun toy than a serious musical instrument. It looks like it is all done with pre-created sequences and sounds.
This app is unlike any other I have seen, in that the notes are arranged very differently to a normal keyboard. it means that you can play whole chords with just one finger, but you also get a nice graphical representation of what you are playing as it lights up when you touch the notes. The only problem is it doesn’t look like you can set any sequences going.
This one is good for creating quite spooky, unusual sounds. It looks like you press the virtual pads along the bottom to play notes, then you can move your finger on the larger pad above it to manipulate the sound parameters. This would be great for creating ambient music.
This looks like a fun one. It looks like you can set an arpeggiator going and then change the sound parameters by dragging those colourful spinning bits around on the screen. Great for making some unusual sounding rhythmic sequences.
You can create some lovely synth sounds with the iSynth as you can hear in the video above. It’s all pretty standard stuff really.
Still Want to Create Beats?
Take a look at the HTML 909:
It’s an online replica of the classic Roland drum machine, the TR 909. You can have a go on it at http://html909.com – completely FREE!
So there you have it. You have the option of a paid drum machine for the iPad, a bunch of freeiPad synths, or an online replica of the Roland TR 909 drum machine. Certainly plenty to be going on with for the time being.
Anyway, I hope you found this helpful. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Maybe you have used one of the apps I have demonstrated here, or you have a suggestion for another drum machine app for the iPad. Whatever your reason, I look forward to hearing from you.
All the best,
P.S. You may also be interesting in the Vatanator Drum Machine App.