Choices may be scarce on Android, but there’s a unique amount of passion behind this platform. Choose a high-quality app and the right device, and you can get low-latency audio and even cool features like USB host mode that let you connect a mouse, keyboard, joystick, or MIDI keyboard. (Well… sort of. See disclaimers below.)

mikrosonic’s polished RD4 groovebox continues to mature. It’s arguably the studio to beat on the Android platform. It sounds great, does the things you need, and could give you hours of fun tinkering with music on the bus and plane or in a coffee shop. You just need a recent tablet or phone to really take advantage of it – and, ideally, a Nexus 4, Nexus 10, or Galaxy Nexus for optimal audio performance that can rival iOS.

The just-released version 2 upgrade brings more features. There’s a “70s-style” (Minimoog-influenced, subtractive) synth. And there’s a four-channel Rack that lets you combine Analog, the Bassline instrument, and the drum machine.

Put together, you have something that recalls the simple fun of tools like Propellerhead’s original ReBirth; acid techno or other dance music is easily under your fingertips. I think what’s especially nice about RD4 is that you don’t get the sense the UI has been overcrowded; this is no desktop app crammed onto a touchscreen. It seems the interface has been designed around your fingertips.

As with any well-engineered Android app, though, device choice is everything. mikrosonic has just published an FAQ that’s must-read material even if you don’t intend to use RD4; it’s one of the more comprehensive guides to the real-world performance of Android music devices I’ve seen:

It repeats my advice about using certain Nexus gadgets for low-latency, reliable audio. But it also has tips for OS versions, storage, connecting to your computer (which turns out to be easier, perhaps, than on iOS), MIDI keyboards and audio interfaces.

Actually, the MIDI keyboard issue is especially maddening:

Yes, we are working on it. Android 3.1 and later does support to connect MIDI devices through USB. But there is no standarised way how to access the specific MIDI device, so each app has to implement its own interface. We are working on a practical solution.

I still can’t even come close to recommending Android as a music platform. I would always choose an iPhone over an Android phone, an iPad over an Android tablet, for all the reasons above, when it comes to music making. At the same time, it’s very likely you might wind up with an Android phone or tablet because it was a better choice for other reasons. Checking out the advice here is absolutely advisable.

I think you’ll also find, reading through the FAQ, many of these issues are generally fixable. So I hope Google and vendors pay attention. If you’re out there, give RD4 a go, and do talk to us music makers. We do care about this strange activity of making music on phones and tablets, and we’d be happy to give you a hand.


And here’s a nice thing about the Google approach: there’s a demo version.

Full version

Demo version

  • Frank Malm

    Do not agree that Android can not be used to make fully realized music with as soon as you use sequencer style applications latency would be equal to what you have for iOS and there is applications to prove that Android in its own right like for example SunVox or Caustic among others are up to the task and even on low end devices you have small miracles like Nanoloop- Plus of course RD4 mentioned above and many others- would recommend to head over to musicalandroid.com if you are curious what Android has to offer and be ready to be surprised!

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I wouldn’t agree with that, either. I never said that.

      I said you’d never choose Android over iOS. And that I’d stand by – there’s just no rational way to do that, not with poorer audio performance, fewer apps, and then things like an inability to address MIDI devices.

      But, there’s some ongoing hope some of these situations will continue to improve. The audio performance issue is tougher to fix, but there are some promising signs we’ll see new devices, as covered here previously. Things like adding a MIDI API actually *wouldn’t* be a terribly difficult fix; just a matter of whether they do it.

      And I agree, there are some great apps. So — bonus points to the developers; they’re the ones making it happen.

  • Frank Malm

    Okay… I do really like CDM. So I am not going to argue… ti hi.
    But if you read a piece like the one above and you do not try both platforms you are going to dismiss Android beforehand and think that is unfair…
    And so please if you are reading this take this into account and investigate a little bit and think what it is that you want to do with your device-
    are you going to connect a midi keyboard and play live I do think that you should go for a iOS device if not there is a lot of advantages to go Android-
    Hey Peter I do not assume that you are a fanboy of apple and know that CDM are fully supportive of open source and understand what you are saying…
    With love and respect+


    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I’ve absolutely tried both platforms. I’ve done a fair amount of development on Android. So, this advice – and the advice of the developers above – is based on those investigations. There are certain minimum requirements for operating system and even hardware that you would want before you can expect an optimal experience.

  • Eric Becker
  • Frank Malm

    Sequencing- SunVox-G-Stomper Beat Studio- Caustic- Nanoloop (and some other apps).

    And like said in my last comment pointed out that I do not assume that Peter is a fanboy…
    Do not want to enter into a fight but just clarify that there is applications for Android that you can use for making fully produced, realized music with.

    Kisses and hugs!

  • Andre Brown

    Thanks for the reminder to download RD4.
    Since we’re thinking Android music and synthesis, I have a few fav’s for my Nexus device.
    Common Analog Synthesizer, Heat Synthesizer, and a midi/OSC controller app called Racktor ST.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Ooh, I like the monochrome interface. :)

    • Andre Brown

      The minimal monochrome interface is my personal favorite.
      I made a short video screwing around with it and ADJ Pro.

    • james kendall

      Common Analog Synthesizer/Common FM Synthesizer are two of my favourite real-time synths for android.

  • Andre Brown

    My favorite and recommended DJ apps are ADJ Pro and MusicMixer

  • Andre Brown

    Recording low latency audio directly through USB, use Audio Evolution Mobile

  • Pro-tools lab admin

    Android audio is a big mess and i wasted 700 dollars on a Xoom, simply because i though Android->linux freedom and then i just was so frustrated [initally with motorola’s broken promises and then clicky crappy Apps that crashed immediately and BTW caustic is like the ONLY app that gets mentioned because it’s the only one that really works. I don;t care if it’s apple or android as long as it works and honestly android is a mess for devel too.

  • swarmboy

    It’s great to see android getting a look in, but really, this app and the others listed in this comment thread are, at best, where iOS was 3 to 4 years ago (seriously, compare that android dj app to traktor and its borderline comical). theres nothing approaching the functionality of auria, cubasis, the korgs, nave, nanostudio, beatmaker2, the ppg apps, turnado, Magellan, audiobus, traktor, and on and on….and nor is there likely to be until google sort out latency, sort out fragmentation and build in equivalents to core audio and core midi. Apple are more than aware of what’s going on in music, which is why things like traktor and Thor get prime positions in the App Store and even in their ads. More choice is almost always a good thing so it would be great to see the gap closed but android has a huge, huge mountain to climb, and honestly, at this point, why would any developer looking at making a music app pick android as the platform?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, I think that’s why most of them aren’t. On the other hand, I understand why these guys did. They’re on a much less-crowded platform (where you don’t have to compete with big players like NI or Korg or Steinberg), and most developers I know are always up for a new challenge.

    • swarmboy

      very true. if a truly killer music app came out for android, they’d clean up.

  • kane bateman

    Me personally – Ive done the iP*.* and Android for music.. yeh iOS has some great stuff… but honestly, I just got a Surface Pro… and nothing gets used now but the Surface…. this thing is amazing – sure its a PC in a slate… but wow. At best I get 7 hours of full blown Ableton and VST’s galore in a charge ( use the CPU down to 80% in the Power settings and you get alot more juice )… its a much more streamlined process. I use My Nexus tablet ( not my iPad as you’d think ) with HEAT as a VST… WOW.

    My 2Cents