App Review: Garage Band

For ages, Apple’s Garage Band has been a huge hit for many artists who just wanted to mess around. Apple aims to bring the convenient interface, along with the decent amount of depth, of Garage Band from OS X to the mobile iOS platform. In short, Apple has done a good job with this. Although imperfections still exist, Garage Band for iOS has a plethora features, an attractive interface, ample audio quality, sufficient reuse value, and a excellent bang for the buck.  Read on for the full review:

Features

Apple has always kept features from its users with their mobile platforms, like iOS. They then innovate these missing features and add them into iOS. This tactic may work well with an operating system, but it won’t cut it for an app. Garage Band is chalk-full of features that will allow the user to do just about anything they wish to do with an audio product.

Let’s start off with the Smart Instruments. These are instruments that the user can actually use on the iPod, creating custom guitar solos that are unique to the person. Although it may not be Beethoven, you can play the piano like he does as well. There are also drums for all the drummers out there. Each instrument has its own unique interface and is really easy to use.

Apple’s Garage Band includes a plethora of instruments for you to choose from. Choose the one that best fits your work of art.

All of the instruments have specific settings that allow you to choose how advanced you want to be. More advanced allows for a more custom sound, but proves more difficult to do. On the other hand, more basic things are much easier to deal with, but doesn’t allow the advanced features that one may need. Some of these include chords adjustments, tuning, along with pressure sensitivity.

There are different modes of play for people of all musical talent; whether it be none, or some.

Just about all the instruments support multitouch… That is except for the guitars. Now as much as I like playing one note at a time, multitouch is a necessity for any guitar; it really baffles me why Apple didn’t allow this. Hopefully it will find its way into an update down the road. Guitars, depending on the one you’re using, will also include pedals you can turn on and off.

Guitars do get pedals to choose from as well, which is a nice touch. Pedals can bring out the best in an instrument, or totally ruin it.

Now, if the virtual instruments that compose of pianos, guitars, and drums aren’t enough for the composer in you, then Apple also has three other ways for you to get some nice musical talent into your masterpiece. The first one is called the guitar amp. This tool allows you to connect an actual live guitar to your iPod and record it. This is a solution to the multitouch dilemma since guitars don’t require touchscreens to function, but it is still not a complete solution. Another tool allows you to record a noise into your song. This noise can be a vocal, or something as simple as a door shutting.

The Guitar Amp tool allows users to plug in a live guitar into their song.

Now if virtual and live instruments aren’t enough for you, Apple does include a number of loops for you to use. These loops include instrumental music, along with some nice beats. I found these less than ample to create a song though as there was really no flavor in the loops. Apple would give you two or three loops that would work well together, but there would be no beginning or end. They do help add filler to a song though.

The loops can be useful at times, but don’t always count on them.

Although Apple does have a huge amount of features in Garage Band, making it really close to its OS X counterpart, they can still spruce a few things up. The selection of loops are boring in general, and the lack of multitouch guitars is just disappointing. Nonetheless, you are still given more than enough instruments, and customization, at your disposal to create some really well rounded songs.

Features: ★★★★½

Graphics

This is a section that will never disappoint, just because it’s Apple. We know Apple, and we know them well enough where we know that they wouldn’t release anything without a good interface for the technically disabled to be able to use as well.

The interface is really, and like all Apple interfaces, simple. This simplicity will bring you a very long way. The menus are straight forward, but there are a lot of icons everywhere that you do have to learn. The help menu is dug all the way into the back of the menus, to a point I can’t even remember how to get there. This is a really bad move on their part, how can you use something if you can’t find the help menus.

The main interface for adjusting your instruments is straightforward and takes from many other real music creating apps that take the multi-instrument, real-time approach Garage Band does. You can move around your slices or sound, adjust loops; loop other sounds as well. All your editing tools are there for you to really have full control of your newly made song. One thing I that I did find difficult to do was adjusting the length of the song. Making it shorter was no problem, but extending it was difficult to do.

This editor gives you all the editing tools you’ll need to make your song the best.

The instrument interfaces are also simple, and in many cases customizable. The piano looks like an actual piano keyboard which is scrollable if you’d like, the drums don’t have many options, but the whole set is there at the touch of a fingertip, the guitars have two modes to play from as well. The interface for using the instruments is as natural you can get on a flat touch screen. Again though, the lack of multitouch on the guitar can bring things down.

Each instrument looks and acts like they should… Except for the guitar that doesn’t entirely act like it should.

The graphics in Garage Band are Apple-istic graphics, which isn’t entirely a bad thing. The simplistic setup of the menus is really impressive knowing how advanced the app can actually be at times. Overall though, the graphics and controls are right on, allowing both advanced and beginner users to enjoy the music producing process at the tip of a finger.

Graphics: ★★★★½

Audio

Audio is normally not entirely a deal breaker in many apps, however, this is a music-making-styled application, and so audio quality is everything in Garage Band. To begin, I should mention that all sounds in the app will be pre-recorded. This can be good or bad, the instruments do sound fine, but the intricacies and the accuracies of how an instrument should sound when doing certain things just isn’t there. Sliding your finger down a guitar string creates a nice smooth transition between notes. In Garage Band, it sounds as if each time you slide down one fret, it plays as if you just strung that fret.

These effects are important if you want a 100% accurate sound. The only way to get this form of accuracy is to either use the built in loops, or plug in an instrument or record one. Now, the loops, as stated before, don’t have the best selection. They tend to be more boring and static, rather than upbeat and dynamic. As for plugging in instruments, you can only plug in a guitar. Still not a bad thing, but it’s useless if you’ve never played a guitar in your life. The other option is to record the sound you want. Well, this can also be a down side if you are missing the proper equipment to record it. The built in microphone will not be good enough to do this.

Overall, the audio is ample, and there is a sound for many of the notes that each instrument can reproduce. They are huge in number, but the riffs and the other intricate details just aren’t reproducible, which hopefully can be fixed in a future update.

Audio: ★★★★

Replay

Now, I can definitely see this app being used time and time again. It’s just a fun app to use when you’re bored. Even if you aren’t, I can see musicians using it to test a set of sounds and how they would work together. The mass amount of instruments and just plain getting to play around with the sound the way you want it to play out is fantastic. Is it a replacement for a full-fledged music-production-type app? No, but it’s enough to pass for one with a simplistic interface for both advanced users and the I-never-played-an-instrument-in-my-life sort of guy.

Replay: ★★★★★

Value

Now this is actually a place where Garage Band does shine decently. It will cost you less than a Starbucks coffee coming in around 5 dollars. The price is well justified though. They offer a plethora of features, of which I’ve only scratched the surface of. The interface is fantastic and easy to adjust to, and use. Although it isn’t a full-fledge music production studio, it has enough features to definitely make a mark as a mobile one for the go. Really, for 5 dollars, I don’t think you could really ask for much more.

Value: ★★★★★

Final Thoughts

It was a hit on the OS X platform, ever since I could remember. It was fun, quirky, and pushed the creative side of people. It made a great time killer; it was Garage Band. Apple does a wonderful job bringing that same exact atmosphere of fun, quirky, and creativeness to iOS. While iOS is a mobile platform, Apple was still able to fit almost, if not all, the features of the OS X counterpart. For those who aren’t on a Mac, or those with PCs, that still want the Garage Band experience, download this now and bring out the musician in you.

Overall Score

† All prices are in US currency.
This review was written by the iFans.com Review Team. Cumulative scores are rounded to the nearest half or full star.
All accessories, applications, themes, tweaks, or other products were purchased by iFans at their respective prices unless stated otherwise.
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