Pros: Comprehensive range of sounds; Up to 32-track support; Easy-to-use interface; Speedy performance; Free
Cons: Inter-app compatibility limited for now; Can be overwhelming for beginners
Verdict: GarageBand lets you and your friends create richly textured music, regardless of your skill level, all for free.
Whether you're a burgeoning music enthusiast or a full-fledged tune mixer, you'll love Apple's music maker, which is now free. Redesigned for iOS 7, GarageBand version 2.0 features many upgrades, including support for up to 32 tracks, AirDrop and Inter-App Audio . But just how good a deal are you getting?
Interface and Setup
The 582MB app downloaded and installed over Wi-Fi in about 3 minutes. GarageBand opens in landscape mode and, on first launch, displays a one-page welcome note. The start screen features a carousel of instruments: Keyboard, Drums, Guitar Amp, Audio Recorder, Sampler (requires purchase), Smart Drums, Smart Strings, Smart Bass, Smart Keyboard and Smart Guitar.
Tapping one of these brings up a rendering of the actual instrument. For example, we selected Keyboard, and a piano with two octaves of keys appeared with a toolbar above it. You can change the range of the keyboard, sustain notes, lock the keyboard in position, play scales, run an arpeggio or choose a different keyboard layout.
At the top of the screen are options such as My Songs, Instruments, View Toggle, Controls (Rewind, Play and Record), Volume Slider, Track Options, Settings and Help. Hit the View toggle, and you are presented with a track-by-track view of all the sounds you have recorded. In this view, two buttons are added to the top bar: Undo and Loops. The latter displays a selection of 270 short tunes that you can preview before dragging and dropping them onto your project. You can also pull in music from your iTunes library.
Recording and Mixing
GarageBand for iOS 7 now supports up to 16 tracks (32 on 64-bit devices like the iPhone 5s, iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display), up from just 8 before. We recorded 10 tracks of different instruments and sounds, and they were laid on each other on a score, with beats marked out by vertical lines. This lets users fully work with the vast library of sounds available in such categories as Keyboards, Classics, Bass, Leads, Pads and FX.
Of the 48 keyboards offered, four are free (Grand Piano, Electric Piano, Classic Rock Organ and Vintage Lead), while the rest require a $4.99 in-app purchase of all instruments.
We picked Classic Rock Organ, and the top half of the page was filled with additional sliders for different keys and ranges. While it can be overwhelming for beginners, musicians who know their way around a soundboard will appreciate the advanced options.
Another new feature is Inter-App audio, which lets you record sounds from other instrument apps into your GarageBand project. Some of the compatible apps include Arturia iSEM, Arturia iMini, and Waldorf Nave. Music makers who already have synthesizer apps they love can easily import that music into GarageBand. No free compatible apps are available for now, making this feature a little limited for budget-conscious users.
Your entire multitrack project can be shared via AirDrop, so bandmates can go off into their separate corners of the studio and work on their individual sections, provided they have GarageBand, too.
iLife for iOS 7 is a full-featured suite of tools for beginners who want to further their media-editing skills. GarageBand, which is now free, supports up to 32 tracks and offers a large range of sounds for maestros. Bands just starting out will also enjoy the app's Jam Session feature for collaborative music making. While the more advanced features may intimidate beginners, the app's generally simple interface offers plenty of fun for music enthusiasts.