Do I Need a Laptop? How to Record Audio to your iOS Device


In 2007, Apple released the first iPhone, which not only changed the way we communicate, but promised a new technology with which musicians and audio engineers could record and create music. In 2010, the iPad was released, but iOS was still in its infancy in regard to music production. It’s now 2016 and it appears, with iOS 9, we find ourselves asking if it might be possible to ditch our desktop or laptop computers in lieu of an iPad.

"......but we are now starting to see product development shift away from the older hardware."

Most current applications for iOS will work with iPad 2 or greater, but we are now starting to see product development shift away from the older hardware. Many of the new features found in iOS 9 cannot be implemented on the older iPads, including the new Audio Units Extension, which not only adds Audio Unit plug-in compatibility, but provides in-app hosting. This means you no longer have to switch between a host app and a third-party instrument or plug-in.

With the latest offering of iOS devices, such as the iPhone 6, iPad Pro, iPad Air 2, and iPad mini 4, it is now entirely possible to create full-featured musical productions complete with recorded audio tracks processed by plug-ins, side by side with MIDI-controlled software synthesizers. There are a number of software applications available to help you capture and record your ideas and turn them into masterpieces. Whether you are looking to record and mix into a DAW or you are looking for an all-in-one self-contained virtual studio environment, there is a number of applications designed for your purpose.


MultiTrackStudio enables you to record audio and MIDI on up to 16 tracks (expandable to 32 tracks with an in-app purchase). The software offers built-in virtual instruments and effects and supports Audiobus and Inter-App Audio. Editors include Audio, Pianoroll, Drum, Score, MIDI Controllers, Timesig/Tempo, and Song. There are a ton of built-in audio effects to help finesse your tracks. This is also one of the first applications to support Audio Units effects and instruments (iOS 9 only).



Wavelab Machines Auria Pro has been optimized for iPad Pro and is probably one of the best DAW applications available. It has won numerous technical and innovation awards. The software was written from the ground up for iPad and offers professional-level features, including  unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, comprehensive MIDI support, Lyra—a multi-format sampler with a 4GB sound library, two FabFilter virtual analog synthesizers, real-time audio warping, AAF import/Export, and third-party support from companies like PSP, FabFilter, Overloud, and Drumagog.

Garage Band supports up to 32 tracks and includes several software instruments and sample-based instruments. Additionally, the software offers a number of new advancements with version 2.1, which now supports Live Loops (Ableton Live style clip triggering) and an automatic, yet controllable Drummer, which was introduced in the Desktop version of the DAW.  There are many new Apple loops, plus Audio Units Extension support. GarageBand for iOS is compatible with GarageBand and Logic Pro on the Mac OS, which allows you to start tracks on your iPad and finish them on your computer.

Cubasis from Steinberg is compatible with the desktop version of Cubase, which also allows for starting tracks on your mobile iOS, and finishing them on your computer. Cubasis boasts an unlimited number of audio and MIDI tracks, 15 effects, and 70 HALion Sonic instruments.



Retronyms Tabletop employs a modular approach with a number of mixers, synthesizers, drum machine, and effect processors that are wired up with virtual cables. Anyone familiar with Reason, Reaktor, or a physical hardware studio will appreciate the process of virtual cabling. It doesn’t allow you to record directly to tracks, but you can sample into the onboard sampling drum machine. Retronyms is also the creator of the iMPC, iMPC Pro, and iMini, which are fantastic recreations of the original hardware and are Tabletop-ready.

iMPC Pro offers a powerful music production platform based on the Akai MPC. The software is an excellent recreation of the hardware version and features 64 tracks with effects, mixing, editing, and re-sampling capabilities.


iMPC Pro

iMaschine 2 offers some significant updates over the original. The software offers four tracks with effects. Each track can be expanded upon and fully fleshed out, making it the ultimate sketch pad for Maschine owners. Even if you don’t own Maschine, this is very simple yet powerful software that is quite capable in its own right.


For recording into an iOS device, you’ll need to invest in a compatible hardware interface. Luckily, there are a number of options for a variety of budgets. I’ve decided to focus on the more “Pro” level of quality since we are seeking to replace our Desktop studio or utilize the iOS as a professional sketchpad. I think it’s important to capture our recordings with the best possible fidelity.

iConnectivity iConnectAUDIO4+ is a new hybrid interface that not only bridges the gap between iOS and Mac, but also PC. You can hook a Mac, PC, and iOS device up to this interface simultaneously, which really opens up the possibilities with routing tracks to and from each and any platform. The platform boasts a ton of connectivity, including 464 MIDI channels, four microphone preamps, two line inputs, four balanced outputs, and a stereo headphone output. Recordings can be made at 24-bit/96 kHz resolution, making this an excellent choice for music production.


iConnectivity iConnectAUDIO4+ Audio + MIDI Interface for Mac, PC, and iOS

Focusrite iTrack Dock is a docking interface for iPad 4th generation, iPad Air, and iPad Mini. It records at 24-bit/96 kHz with two balanced XLR and line inputs, an instrument input, and a pair of ¼" monitor outputs. It utilizes two Scarlet preamps with 48V phantom power. The onboard USB port allows for a USB MIDI controller to interface directly through the interface.


Focusrite iTrack Dock Professional Recording for iPad

Like the iTrack Dock from Focusrite, the Behringer iStudio iS202 is a versatile interface, but with compatibility with older iOS devices, such as iPad and iPad 2. The interface supports powering and charging and features a Mic/Line input, a Mic/Line/Guitar input, as well as a Line/Aux/Phono preamp with ground for use with a turntable. There are two ¼" outputs to feed external speakers and dedicated jacks for a hardware switch and an expression pedal. Dedicated 5-Pin DIN MIDI ports allow for connections to and from your iPad, while the onboard USB port connects any USB controllers in your setup. This interface also offers a dedicated Video output for connecting to a monitor or for anyone looking to incorporate video into a live performance from their iPad.


Behringer iStudio iS202 Professional iPad Docking Station with Audio, Video, and MIDI Connectivity

Apogee Electronics offer some of the highest quality interfaces available for iOS devices. The Apogee One includes a built-in condenser microphone, which allows you to record without any other peripherals. There is an onboard microphone preamp with phantom power should you wish to use an outboard condenser mic. Additionally, there is a ¼" instrument input that would be great for recording a guitar. The stereo 1/8" output works with headphones or supplies an unbalanced output to a pair of monitors. This is an excellent low-cost interface for the singer/songwriter or anyone looking to record a guitar and vocal simultaneously with professional results. The Apogee Duet provides two combo inputs for microphones, line level, and instruments. The system offers 24-bit/192 kHz resolution for recordings. The Apogee Quartet is a 4-input/8-output interface with MIDI input and output. The unit provides four microphone preamps with 24-bit/192 kHz resolution. This unit replaces the need for an outboard speaker controller because it offers controls for up to three sets of monitors, as well as a 1/4" stereo headphone output.


Apogee Electronics ONE USB Audio Interface for iPad & Mac

The CEntrance Inc. MixerFace D2 is 24-bit/192 kHz audio interface designed specifically for iOS connectivity. The D2 boasts a high-quality DAC and amplifier with studio-grade preamps and a rechargeable battery, making it an excellent interface for location recordings.


CEntrance Inc. MixerFace 24/192 Mobile iPhone Audio Interface

Ready for prime time?

There are numerous options for getting audio into and out of your iOS device, and the growing list of compatible software titles is ever growing. Some people have embraced this new technology and have already jumped ship to an “all iOS” studio. Many people are utilizing their Mac/PC computers and iOS devices for a hybrid studio, with stunning results. Whether iOS is ready for prime time is a personal choice, but one that is becoming easier with each new technological innovation.