The new M1-powered iPad Pros are now on sale, but more than a decade after Apple’s tablet was first introduced, we’re still debating what it’s good for and what it’s not good for. While some producers might find the new iPad Pro to be less than ideal for professional audio production, the latest models are capable of it — with the right accessories and a few apps.
Everyone’s needs and respective setups are going to be different, of course, but the recommendations below should be enough to get you moving in the right direction, whether you’re self-recording your debut album or looking to do some podcast production from a mobile office that can go anywhere.
The Audio-Editing Hardware You Need
Thanks to USB-C support on the iPad Pro, there are a variety of gadgets and gizmos you can plug in, and that includes a USB-C hub, which can instantly expand your peripheral options when it comes to microphones, headphones, and any other bits of kit that you need to hook up to create a studio. While most hubs should work fine, it always pays to double-check for specific iPad Pro compatibility.
You can use the iPad Pro’s built-in microphones to record audio if you want, but you’re going to get better results from a dedicated device. Keep in mind that the USB-C port on the iPad Pro can be picky about the sorts of connections and devices that it will work with, so for for best results, use something specifically certified for the device.
Whether your live recordings are of a music performance or a podcast conversation, you’re going to get significantly better quality with some dedicated kit. If you need a mic upgrade, then the $320 RØDE VideoMic NTG and the $20 RØDE SC16 USB-C to USB-C cable would do the job, for example. The mic offers a high-pass filter, a high frequency boost, and even a -20dB safety channel in case there’s clipping on the main recording.
We can’t cover every possible audio recording and editing scenario here, but a device like the $369 iRig Pro Duo I/O gives you an idea of what’s possible using the iPad Pro as a portable audio-editing studio. The peripheral gives you two analogue inputs to record microphones or instruments, Class-A preamps, and then two outputs (one of which can be leading to your tablet).
Another iPad Pro-ready audio interface that works with USB-C is the $329 Scarlett 2i2 from Focusrite. It comes with two mic/instrument inputs and 24-bit/192kHz converters, meaning the audio coming into your mobile device is instantly upgraded to something close to studio quality with just a single device. Most importantly for this guide, the device is certified to work with the iPad Pro.
Those of you who are recording music might want to plug a MIDI instrument or controller straight into your tablet. That’s possible with something like the $199 Arturia Keystep, giving you more tactile control and more flexibility compared with software solutions on the iPad Pro. It’s compact, it’s programmable, and it can connect directly to the iPad Pro. Many other devices like it are also available.
If you’re going to be doing some serious audio-editing work, then you need a serious pair of headphones to match the task. You’ve got a choice of connections here, from the built-in USB-C port to Bluetooth to a hub or audio interface of your choice. We’re not going to make any specific hardware recommendations in this department, but we’ve written extensively on the topic before.
Lastly, don’t neglect the Apple Pencil: The stylus can be a really useful tool for manipulating audio-editing interfaces, whether you’re looking to trim a track very precisely or adjust volume levels in real time. A good audio-editing app will have customisable shortcuts that you can adapt to work with the Apple Pencil as well as your fingers (and any attached keyboard), speeding up the production workflow process.
The Audio-Editing Software You Need
GarageBand (free) is the obvious starting point for audio-recording software on the iPad. It’s accessible enough for beginners to figure out, but it also scales well for more advanced users, with support for 32 separate tracks, multi-take recording, professional mixing effects, a decent variety of instruments, and loop packs. For a lot of people, GarageBand is enough.
For those of you ready to take the next step up from GarageBand, AUM Audio Mixer ($25 is expensive but still definitely worth a look. From built-in virtual instruments to support for a whole host of connected sound devices, the app can combine and process audio in whatever ways you need it to. It’s a complete toolkit for capturing and manipulating audio as it comes in, and it works nicely with a bunch of other iPadOS apps too.
Another comprehensive and very slick audio-editing app can be found is Cubasis 3 ($65), though it’s even more of an investment than AUM Audio Mixer. In terms of pro-level DAW (digital audio workstation) software, this is hard to beat on the iPad Pro, with multitrack editing and processing, built-in instruments, a library of loops and effects, and more. Perhaps more than any other audio app, it makes full use of the iPad Pro’s power and screen real estate.
Like Cubasis 3, FL Studio Mobile ($18) gives you everything you need to record, edit, sequence, mix, and produce complete audio projects. There’s a good selection of effects and samples here, as well as built-in instruments and support for MIDI control and sequencing. The app makes intelligent use of the screen space available on the iPad Pro, which to us is always a bonus.
For voice-recording work, Ferrite Recording Studio (freemium) is a popular choice among professionals, with a clean and clear interface and plenty of customizability. Adding multiple audio tracks, making cuts and edits, and overlaying effects is all intuitive and easy to pick up. Support for features like bookmarks, silence removal, crossfade, level monitoring, and more means it’s got just about everything you need, and it’s an ideal option for podcasts.
Another very elegant voice-recording solution is Hokusai Audio Editor (freemium), which offers a suite of filters and special effects to make sure your clips are sounding exactly like you want them to. Whether you want to quickly combine tracks together and do some editing, or need more detailed control over volume normalization and fades, this app has you covered.
When it comes to sending audio between apps — covering input, processing, composing, or whatever advanced task you’re looking to do — Audiobus Mixer ($13) could become an essential part of your toolkit. It enables you to set up specific pipelines between apps, with or without processing from Audiobus Mixer itself, and the amount of control you get over all of your inputs and outputs is impressive.
A mention too for AudioShare ($5), which can make all the difference when it comes to managing sound files on an iPad Pro. It enables you to move clips between apps and platforms, perform basic edits — trim, convert, normalize, and more — and record audio directly to the app as well. As you would expect from a pro-level tool, you’ve got a choice of sample rates and bit depths throughout.