Best Music-Making Apps for Android (2020)
Making music on Android? Is that even possible?
Apple does seem to monopolize the attention of musicians, but iOS is not the only platform with the capability of mobile music-making. When it comes to music apps, the Android advantage of supporting all sorts of hardware configurations and specifications tends to work against it. Routing audio into and out of a device, or generating sounds is quite hard. It’s easier to accomplish on iOS because the hardware is always known and the same and so the results are totally predictable. Things on Android are a lot more varied. That’s fine for games and productivity apps but when you are monitoring, recording and making music, stability is a lot more vital. However, Android devices continue to improve and the number of decent music-making apps has increased to give us a range of options to choose from.
So don’t assume your Android device has nothing to offer the tech-savvy musician. Here’s our choice for the best music-making apps currently running on Android.
Here are our choices for the best music-making apps currently running on Android in 2020:
- Roland Zenbeats
- FL Studio Mobile
- N-Track Studio 9.1
- Caustic 3
- Audio Evolution Mobile
- G-Stomper Studio
- Groovepad – Music & Beat Maker
Zenbeats is a superbly versatile DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and loop-building platform. It’s identical to the desktop and iOS version and doesn’t suffer from any of the limitations often associated with mobile versions. Zenbeats is a proper DAW with unlimited audio and virtual instrument tracks and comes complete with a suite of instruments, effects, and loops. You can create freeform on a timeline, or in a LoopBuilder, using a step sequencer and drum machine and then mix it all down to a finished product.
Zenbeats is very at home on a touch device. It looks beautiful; the workflow and layout are well thought out, making it very easy to use with your fingers. The Step Sequencer features an auto-fill function where you can throw in notes or create beats with a single gesture. There’s a bunch of drum kits (including official TR-808, 909 and 707 kits), samples, loops and patterns to get the beats flowing. You can play an onscreen keyboard which can lock to a key and scale so that you never play a wrong note, or wire up an external MIDI controller and start sequencing.
In the basic free version, you get the timeline recording, sequencing, and LoopBuilder along with 9 virtual instruments. These include the fantastic SampleVerse sampler/synth, two analog synths, electric piano, bass, guitar, organ, and a drum machine. On the effects side, you get some EQ, compression, delay, and flange. The $14.99 unlocked version brings in full editing over the virtual instruments, over 180 presets, 14 effects and no limitations on insert and send effects. There’s a further “Ultimate” version but that only really brings in VST and AU plug-in support (but only on Windows and MacOS). So the $14.99 version is definitely the best option.
Zenbeats is a proper DAW, with all the audio recording, loop building, MIDI sequencing, virtual instruments and mixing that you could need. If you’ve ever been jealous of Garage Band running on your mate’s iPad then this will make you feel a whole lot better.
Bandlab mixes up a combination of music-making and social interaction. So you can make your own music and share it and discover other artists all within the same app. But the key bit for us is that the music production part is rather good.
You have a 12-track Mix Editor in which you can record live audio, import tracks, mix and automate your music while building your song. It has a Looper functionality for building up layers of beats, rhythms and melodies. You can quantize, gate, retrigger and add all sorts of effects. In fact, there are over 100 guitar, bass and vocal effect presets for adding the perfect tone your tracks.
Another great feature is the unlimited online project storage so you’re never having to worry about filling up your phone or losing your music. You can also open up your projects on other devices; you can share it with an iPhone or run it in a browser on any computer. Or if you want a new perspective, share it in the community and get some else to mix it.
FL Studio Mobile
FL Studio Mobile comes from the makers of FL Studio, a hugely popular desktop DAW with all the usual trimmings. The Mobile version loses a huge amount of the clever stuff but keeps enough to make this one of the best music-making programs on any mobile platform. There’s no free version, instead for a handful of dollars you get everything you need for making music.
Multi-track Audio and MIDI recording are all ready to go. There are several virtual instruments, including synths and sampled sounds. The mixer inserts offer 16 effects, covering all the usual suspects like modulation, delay, reverb, compression, filter, and distortion. You can sequence in a piano roll or sequence in steps, you can drop in samples, you can drop in patterns. The Drum Sampler is fully integrated with the step sequencer, making it so easy to generate beats.
There are on-screen piano and drum pad controllers, although you can also route in MIDI control from any compatible MIDI keyboard or controller. The interface works well with fingers, opting for a straight-forward approach to the interface which lacks the flare of Stagelight but certainly does the job.
There are some in-app purchases for loops and additional sounds but otherwise, it’s a fully functioning choice for $15.99.
N-Track Studio 9.1
N-Track Studio has seen some welcome evolution over the last couple of versions that brings it in line with other serious DAWs. It has the studio-in-your-pocket vibe offering multi-channel audio, mixing, effects and virtual instruments.
It has virtually unlimited tracks, a step sequencer and inbuilt instrument with 128 sounds. You can play via an external keyboard or use the on-screen piano and edit in the piano-roll editor. For audio recording, you have a lot of cool effects like reverb, delay, modulation, compression, and EQ. There are guitar and bass amp simulation plugins and VocalTube for getting your vocals a bit more musical or for applying those robotic auto-tune effects. There’s even a built-in tuner.
The sound quality of n-Track is high, it supports multichannel external USB audio interfaces, it can handle sample rates up to 192kHz and exports in 16, 24 or 32 bits. This is a serious piece of software.
There’s a free version that gets you 5 audio tracks, 3 instrument tracks, and 2 step-sequencer tracks. You have 2 effects per track. You can save and export your work so it is fully functional. For a standard subscription of $0.99 a month, you unlock all the musical features whereas for $1.99 you can unlock the higher quality audio support and multichannel ability.
N-Track Studio 9 is a serious contender that’s determined to offer a proper studio recording experience on the Android platform.
From Single Cell Software comes a slightly different approach. Caustic is a jumble of synthesizers and samplers that you can sequence and mix together in any way you choose.
You create a rack of virtual instruments taken from any of the 14 devices on offer. There are subtractive synths, bassline synths, sample-based synths, pad synths, modular synths, 8-bit, FM and physical modeling synths. There are drum machines and organs, vocoders and more. You are spoilt for choice really. There’s a piano-roll style sequencer for creating patterns and then a song mode where you can lay patterns out along a timeline across all your instrument tracks.
Each instrument gets a channel on the mixer which includes 2 inserts per channel for effects on top of some EQ, delay, and reverb. You can import your own samples for use with the PCMSynth, BeatBox, and Vocoder. The PCMSynth also supports Soundfonts and FL Studio Mobile instruments. MIDI control is available with class-compliant USB MIDI controllers.
The range of synths inside Caustic is what gives it an edge, plus the effects to add some movement to your tracks. It may not have the comprehensive sequencing of some other apps and it doesn’t support audio recording, but as a little synthesizer workstation, it’s hard to beat. The demo is free to use but you can’t save, export or import. The unlock key will cost you $9.99.
Audio Evolution Mobile
eXtream Software has gone for the look of a traditional DAW for Audio Evolution Mobile. It gives it quite a professional finish, especially on the Hi-Res tablet screen. You get multi-track audio recording and MIDI sequencing. Lots of non-destructive editing in the timeline with cross-fading. There’s a drum pattern editor, sampling and looping. The mixer supports unlimited channels and unlimited groups and looks very much like a proper DAW mixer console. The effects all have pro-looking plug-in interfaces as does the equalizer. They’ve gone out of their way to give you the Cubase experience on Android.
And it gives it a serious vibe that’s somehow unexpected but very welcome. It’s a little light on the virtual instrument side, preferring to support Soundfont instruments rather than any virtual analog or synthesizers. But there’s some decent automation available directly onto clips in the arrangement.
Audio Evolution Mobile is available for free as a basic audio recorder and mixer. The real stuff happens when you invest $6.99 to unlock the full version. Now you get access to the MIDI sequencing and virtual instrument side. You get a lot more effects, EQ and dynamics processing. You get support for external USB audio interfaces and even some auto-tune for your vocals. By all means, give it a try with the free version but you’ll want to unlock everything to find its full potential.
More like Caustic than a DAW, the G-Stomper Studio has a huge virtual analog synthesizer built-in along with a drum machine, sampler and a whole load of music-making tools.
First of all the VA-Beast is a polyphonic synthesizer drawing on sounds from virtual analog modeling, 4-operator FM synthesis, and multi-sample PCM. There are 2 oscillators (with sync) offering saw, pulse, triangle, sine, noise, dual sine and then PCM waveform options. The FM has 5 algorithms, 3 modulation LFOs and 3 envelopes per voice. It has 2 filter sections with 8 filter types with another 3 ADSR envelopes for filter and amplification. The modulation section goes into differential FM, Filter Frequency and Resonance, Distortion, Ring and all sorts. That’s a whole lot of synthesizer.
You can run 12 tracks of synth plus 24 tracks of sampling using either a grid-based multi-track step sequencer or the sample-based pattern-infused Drum Machine with 24 pads for live playing. This all feeds into a 32-channel mixer with 3 band EQ and 3 inserts per channel. There are 47 effect types covering pretty much every effect you can imagine. The sequencer is a standard piano roll affair but there’s also an arpeggiator for knocking out some quick accompaniments. You can get into the audio editing of samples, setting loop points and envelopes and everything is automatable.
One awesome feature that I haven’t seen on other Android apps is Ableton Link support. This allows G-Stomper Studio to sync up to any other device running Ableton Link on a wi-fi network. That means you could run multiple copies of G-Stomper on different devices all in sync, or sync up to a regular laptop, iPad or desktop. It’s immensely powerful. It also plays nice with MIDI controllers and other devices, making it a great live performance sound source and jamming machine.
$15.99 unlocks the full version and it is definitely worth it so you get all 12 tracks of synth (5 in the free version) and 24 sample tracks (12 in the free version) but you also get a feature which lets you record your performances or export them track by track for use in other DAWs.
G-Stomper Studio looks great, has a fabulous internal sound engine and is looking to play inside your larger setup.
Groovepad - Music & Beat Maker
SunVox is a modular-based synthesizer and sequencing app. It allows you to patch together all sorts of synthesizer building blocks to generate and effect sound.
It’s something a little less serious to round us off. It’s less about playing instruments and recording music and more about enjoying the flow of mixing and matching loops and building beats into your own tracks. Groovepad will bring your ideas to life in the smoothest and grooviest way possible.
It’s all in the library. Groovepad has an extensive library of unique and engaging loops, hits and noises. It includes styles such as Hip-hop, EDM, House, Dubstep, Drum & Bass, Trap, Electronic, and more. All of it is pre-synced and ready to drop into what you’ve got going on. You can add effects such as a filter, flanger, reverb, and delay and mix it all together on the fly.
Groovepad can be a bit advert-heavy when you’re trying it out but once you invest in a few chunks of library you can while away the hours making beats and finding your own riffs. You don’t have to have any musical skills, just the ability to feel the groove. They are constantly updating the library and bringing in new features, so you’ll never run out of things to play with.
Image via BandLab.
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