Developer: Apple

Price: $4.99
Version: 1.0
App Reviewed on: iPad

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
User Interface Rating: ★★★★½
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Ever since the iPad’s introduction people have wondered why GarageBand (or any of the other iLife software for that matter) wasn’t available. Rumors of its development came and went, and budding musicians across the nation grinded their teeth in anticipation. After a while other app developers began filling the void with various instrument apps, recording apps, and even sequencers, and while some of them were quite impressive, non of them offered the ease and versatility that Apple’s flagship music creation software is known for. There wasn’t anything quite like Apple’s GarageBand available anywhere except on Apple’s own line of computers and laptops, until now. When Apple introduced their latest generation iPad they released a whole set of iLife apps, and now GarageBand is more portable than ever before. The question is, was it worth the wait?

GarageBand is a full featured app with recording options, built in instruments, a multi-track mixer, and a host of audio effects. The sheer amount of versatility offered by this app is impressive because if has a level of features that could have easily been broken down into several smaller apps. I am glad Apple decided to keep it all rolled up into one though. You can do live performances or practice with the built in multi-touch instruments, or you can record full featured songs with the 8-track mixer. There’s a built in amp kit with various pedals and effects for all the guitar players out their too. Don’t worry, if you aren’t an extremely talented musician you can still throw together some good sounding jams with the built in loops and the nifty “smart” instruments (more on this later).

On the surface, the GarageBand app looks like a simple virtual instrument program with a selection screen for guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, and some live recording options. You can select any of these options to reveal a realistic instrument layout. Then you can start toying around with all the effects or just simply begin playing. The guitar and bass both have several variations (acoustic, clean, muted, classical, etc.), and the keyboard affords you a whole range of organs, synths, and mallets. Even the drums go above and beyond expectation with realistic virtual drum sets, a beat sequencer (with an awesome randomizer for creating drum beats on the fly), and a classic looking electronic drum pad. Overall, the instruments sound believable and the interface remained glitch free and intuitive even when I attempted to play at a frantic pace.

As you dig deeper into the app’s feature set you will discover a well crafted mixer. Simply select your instrument of choice, decide on a tempo and number of measures to play, and then hit record. There is a metronome feature to aid in keeping time, and the app allows you to split your song into sections so it is easy to finalize different aspects of a song in progress without destroying it. The mixer allows you to use GarageBand’s built in instruments, record your own live instruments, and even sing on up to 8 tracks. You can even add a selection of built in music loops to spice up your song. The loops included are a nice touch, but there weren’t near enough for my tastes. I hope Apple provides more with future in app purchases. After recording you can add effects to the song as a whole (reverb, echo), and save it to the device. Apple allows you to export your saved songs to iTunes or share them via email.

The one major feature that sets GarageBand apart from the competition is its use of “smart” instruments. If you select a smart instrument you can sound like a pro with little to no musical knowledge. Basically you choose which instrument you want then twist an onscreen nob to decide on a preset pattern. Tap on a note and viola; the iPad will spit out a smooth sequence of sound. You can mash record and jump from note to note and make some pretty snazzy tunes. Some people might consider it cheating, but I found the option pretty useful. If you are a beginner it’s an obvious boon, but even more seasoned musicians can use it to easily add subtle layers to their own songs. I think it was a smart move on Apple’s part to include the “smart” instrument feature because it opens the doors for newcomers, and it makes some of the harder-to-play-on-a-touchscreen instruments (I’m looking at you, Mr. Guitar) sound more convincing.

I didn’t get to fully test the amp features because I don’t have an electric guitar (I know, I’m lame), but I did pop on a pair of headphones and use the iPad’s built in mic to test some of the effects on my concert ukulele. It turns out, heavy distortion on a ukulele is pretty metal. Needless to say, the amp possibilities look well rounded. There are several amps to choose from by simply swiping the screen, and you can use up to three of the ten pedals at a time for seemingly endless combinations of effects (it would take you more than one rainy day to figure them all out).

Performance wasn’t an issue during my GarageBand sessions, and this surprised me because I am still rocking the original iPad. I did notice that the app had to optimize my song before recording when I was in the six to eight track range, but I didn’t experience any crashes or major hang-ups. The app simply shows a loading bar when it needs to optimize and ten seconds later you are ready to jam again. I am sure the iPad 2 doesn’t have to optimize as often with its beastly dual core processor, but rest assured you can still fully enjoy GarageBand with an old school (read, one year old) iPad. I’ve really only scratched the surface of what this musician’s dream of an app can do, so if you have any musical inclination whatsoever, I implore you to give it a try. Apple did a great job making their portable version of GarageBand accessible for beginners, but feature rich enough for real musicians. It isn’t going to replace a real studio set-up, but it’s definitely more than a novelty. Their price point is really competitive too. As I said before there are options within GarageBand that could’ve been separate apps altogether.

Check out Apple’s demo video for an in depth preview of each instrument:

Posted in: iPad Apps and Games, iPad Music, Reviews

Tagged with: , , , , ,