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GarageBand for iOS review: The music creation app that continues to amaze

GarageBand is the best app for music creation on a touch screen. With real-world instruments, true-to-life sounds, and tons of easy-to-use tools, there is simply no other app in its class for iOS.

Jason Parker Senior Editor / Reviews - Software
Jason Parker has been at CNET for nearly 15 years. He is the senior editor in charge of iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.
Jason Parker
4 min read

GarageBand already had a long history on the Mac, letting people use intuitive controls and a huge library of instruments and prerecorded loops to create songs. But with the iOS version, Apple needed to come up with creative ways to record music using only a touch-screen interface, and we think the company did an amazing job. In the latest version, GarageBand now supports Audiobus, letting you use sounds and effects from other music apps and then recording them to GarageBand tracks.


GarageBand for iOS

The Good

Apple's <b>GarageBand</b> makes it easy to create music using smart instruments that even someone with no musical experience can use, while advanced musicians will find plenty to work with as well.

The Bad

The only thing bad about GarageBand at this price is that it's a bit tricky at first, but with some practice, just about anyone can get the hang of it.

The Bottom Line

GarageBand is the best app for music creation on a touch screen. With real-world instruments, true-to-life sounds, and tons of easy-to-use tools, there is simply no other app in its class for iOS.

As a general overview, the GarageBand app offers several Touch Instruments, guitar amps and effects, eight-track recording and mixing, and more than 250 loops to play with. You can export AAC files of your projects through e-mail or add them to iTunes.

Touch-screen music done right (pictures)

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Immediately upon launch, GarageBand makes it easy to get started creating a song. Simply choose an instrument and start playing around with GarageBand's many options. GarageBand offers instruments you can play in real time like their real-world counterparts, but you also have the option to play Smart Instruments that do most of the heavy lifting for you. Every instrument has its own specific theme, giving all of them their own feel as you play. Some instruments even have added controls such as effects boxes you can turn on and off to fine-tune your sound.

Can't play piano? No problem. Use the smart version of instruments to get a clever layout of chords and bass notes. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Using the smart keyboard, for example, lays out all your chords in the chosen key. This means that just about whatever you press will probably go together in a song. You can change the key by touching the wrench in the upper-right corner of the screen. Using a combination of bass notes on the bottom and chords at the top, it's easy to create a nice-sounding song, even if you have very little experience playing the piano.

Similarly, the smart guitar offers a different layout that lets you play chords with a swipe of your finger. You also have the ability to switch to individual notes and actually bend guitar strings for your big rock solos. All of the Smart Instruments come with a few prerecorded segments so you can just tap a key and let the app play for you. Drums can be played manually on touch-screen drum kits or drum-machine-like layouts. But as with the other instruments, you can choose smart drums to make things easier. Simply drag and place drum set pieces onto a grid to experiment, or hit the dice icon in the lower left for a random layout. It's clear that Apple spent a lot of time on how to make music creation easy even for people with no musical experience.

With the track view you can add instruments to your song, create loops, or use one of the many premade loops included with GarageBand. Screeshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Once you've been inspired by some of the instruments, you can record a couple of tracks, then look at the track layout section to add or remove tracks, manage track volume, and play with effects like reverb, track panning, and echo. Tracks are laid out horizontally with controls on the left and a graphical representation of your recorded notes on the right. As you become more advanced, you can touch the settings icon in the upper right and use quantization tools to match up complex tracks and cover up your less-than-perfect rhythm. You also can tap a track to create a loop of your own music.

The track screen is also where you'll find GarageBand's prerecorded loops. Once you find something you like by instrument, genre, and other descriptors, just drag and drop the loop onto your track screen to add it to your song. I was able to put together loops and create a great-sounding song without ever playing a note. The cool thing about GarageBand for iOS is that you decide how involved you want to be with the actual music creation process. You can record your real-time playing of an instrument, use a prerecorded loop, or choose to let GarageBand play the instrument while you select the keys.

In the latest version of GarageBand, you can use other music apps at the App Store and record them in your GarageBand tracks via Audiobus ($4.99). With Audiobus installed, you'll be able to choose an input music app, an effects app, and then use GarageBand as your output where you'll record the track. There are several apps available that support Audiobus (listed at the linked site above), which means you'll have a whole new world of sounds to experiment with that you can record using GarageBand's Audio Recorder (microphone).

There are several different types of instruments to choose from, each with their own unique sounds. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

With tons of uniquely designed and authentic-sounding instruments, a smart touch interface, and tools that make song creation easy, we think it's a miracle this app is only $4.99. And now with Audiobus support, a virtually infinite range of new sounds are at your disposal to make music. Anyone with even a passing interest in creating music should download GarageBand for iOS. Frankly, I wish I could give it more than five stars for the virtually unlimited song possibilities, ease of use, and excellent touch-screen controls. If you have an iOS device and like music, you should definitely buy this app.


GarageBand for iOS

Score Breakdown

Setup 10Features 10Interface 10Performance 10