The sampling drum machine may have been born as hardware – as the Linn 9000 and MPC – but it’s looking perfectly at home on the iPad. And competition is heating up.

In many ways, MPC/Linn-style workflows fit the touch tablet perfectly. They emphasize quick sampling and manipulation, with simple editing (in a minimum of taps). They keep sounds organized spatially – thank that 4×4 grid – rather than a complicated, mixer-style layout. Speed and immediacy win out, which is perfect for mobile.

Mobile developer Retronyms is documenting progress as they go on the iMPC Pro for iPad, due out this summer. And whether they intended to or not, they make a great case for that app as a central hub for other fun soundmakers. Showing off (Apple) Inter-App Audio functionality, they show how easy it is to select an effect, then add it to a sample. The clarity of both the inter-app effect selection itself and the structure of the tool could make it a go-to hub on mobile. Sure, you could use a DAW, but for “let me muck with this sound” moments, an MPC seems more right, somehow.

It isn’t enough to just put the name MPC on a product any more. We get it: grids of pads and Linn-style working are these days second-nature, available in countless tools. Instead, you have to differentiate on features and design. You have to built a better mouse trap, not just put “mouse trap” on the tin.

We don’t know yet the full feature list of iMPC Pro. But there are some signs this second outing between Retronyms and Akai could be a winner.

The best change is, they’re adding more functionality while making the UI clearer, simpler, and more touch-friendly. Gone are Retronym’s early skeuomorphic interfaces, which I found clumsy and confusing. iOS 7-style flattening isn’t the right solution for every job, but here, done right, it seems to make the app friendlier.

So far, videos have also revealed some other features:

Built-in effects. Reverb, delay, chorus/flanger, more. (Yawn-inducing in text, but the implementation sounds lovely.)

One-button sidechain compression. (Well, I’m sure no one would abuse something like … heh, I’m not sure even I can be trusted with that.) And it has a duck, too. Oh. A duck. It took me way longer than it should have to get the joke.

Program mode powers. Real-time sound shaping – manipulated with touch on the pads, taking advantage of the touch UI. Envelopes and other controls.

“Precision mode” for each knob (so you can fine-tune controls).

Timeline editor, for sequencing. This is a particular one to watch, as this tends to be where iOS drum machines – even desktop drum machines – fall down. Here, there’s some very nice stuff.

Mixer, with sends, built-in EQ and compression, automation.

“Flux Link.” “Glitch and drop the beat.” Um… EwwwwDM. But maybe you’ll find a tasteful way to use it.

I think most impressive is that the sum total of all of this is the promise to really do some serious composition around touch, without ever feeling like you’re using something designed for a desktop screen or hardware that was then re-mapped to a tablet.

The iMPC Pro will face some rivals. The most significant of these is Intua’s Beatmaker 2, which really pioneered the mobile drum machine category on iOS.



In its current version, there’s very little Beatmaker doesn’t do. Time stretching? Got it. (If offline.) MIDI sync? Check. External hardware support – even for control? Yes, ma’am. Dig deeper, and Beatmaker 2 is really a DAW as much as anything. There’s full-blown multitrack functionality there and every workflow and interchange you could imagine.

In fact, if anything, Beatmaker 2 might scare off some for doing too much – if what you want is just a mobile satellite for your desktop. But it remains to be seen whether iMPC Pro will have some of these features, and for some, that’ll be a deciding factor.

Beatmaker 2

There's a new X/Y effects controller - seen elsewhere, of course, but useful here. And the iPad boasts side-by-side editing with that extra space.

Loop points, at last. Side-by-side editing on iPad, too. Photos courtesy NI.

I keep getting flak for liking it, but I’m also a fan of Native Instruments’ iMaschine because it stakes out the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s simple, it scales well to the iPhone, and it’s a great handheld means of grabbing some sounds quickly on the go. And it has file interchange with the desktop Maschine. It’s also only $5, which makes it hard to complain. (Okay, nothing apparently makes it hard for music users to complain, but hard for me to complain!)

That said, the video above demonstrates what readers have been saying: inter-app features are essential to mobile drum machines, because they’re perfect for hosting neat effect apps or sampling from other apps. Doing that on a mobile device these days is almost as important as being able to use the mic. NI ought to be able to add that sort of support without interfering with iMaschine’s simplicity. If they don’t, they face being left behind.

$5 iMaschine App Grows Up, with iPad Support, New Features – And Entertains Amazing Kids

All this competition, though, should be healthy.

And as for whether hardware drum machines need to sweat? Not yet, I think. Mobility is grand, and I can easily imagine using any of these apps to tap out some song sketches or patterns. But when given the choice, I imagine almost everyone will want physical hardware. So, back in the studio, your Maschine, MPC, SparkLE, Elektrons, and the like I suspect are all safe.

Now, sure, you could plug a controller into the iPad. But by the time you’re doing that, you’ll have to consider whether you’d rather plug them into your computer – which, for the moment, still offers more power and storage and flexibility.

For those who just can’t get enough drum machining, though, the ever-hotter iOS race is great news. And the could be the killer apps that make inter-app connectivity really come alive, by giving a logical place to grab samples and apply effects. That’s a boon to the whole ecosystem.

With Apple emphasizing just that kind of connectivity between apps and apps, as well as between mobile and desktop, and mobile and mobile, and wirelessly between hardware (including MIDI), the seamless software studio is looking like a nice place to be.

  • Artemiy Pavlov

    I am really liking what they’re doing. Always found BeatMaker 2 too complicated as far as the workflow goes. iMPC Pro seems to be designed way better in that respect. And, well, iMaschine, without the basic audio copy/paste is of little use to me, despite the simplicity and polish.

  • heinrichz

    Yes, iPad beat making is great on the go, but only when you can also open your ideas on a great desktop system (controller+software) and as far as that is concerned the MPC Renaissance is not a good option. For that reason I will not even bother with the iMPC (regardless of its many features) and stick with iMaschine, which is much simpler but also easier to handle on the go.

    • Peter Kirn

      Well, one thing will be to see how it handles file interchange with desktop. But yes, you’re most likely dealing with raw files.

  • Lumbers

    Ive used imaschine a fair bit, more so for programming drums for later use in Maschine or to sample into my sp404sx and other various samplers.
    I also use the impc on the go, the new update looks exciting, many features will allow me to progress as far as ios beatmaking goes…
    the Beatmaker 2 is cool too, although I do get lost in all of the features and find it to be less intuitive than other apps.
    That said, the beat tape im working on atm feature all the above as far as programming goes, as they all have their place in my studio/workflow.

  • kobamoto rin

    imaschine really isn’t even in the running anymore, makes more sense to compare it to something like figure. in this category it’s going to be impc pro vs beatmaker 3 vs beathawk if they ever get it out.

    • Peter Kirn

      It’s not in the running? Apart from it has a 4×4 grid of pads, built-in effects, sampling with loop points, and desktop interchange? 😉 I’d say it’s very much in the running, unless your only application is sampling other apps.

    • Jake

      It is not in the running in terms of what this article is focused on which is fully functional MPC-style sampling drum machine applications. Applications which take advantage of the incredible music production features which have made the IOS platform so powerful. N.I. choose not to severely restrict those features and consequently constrict imaschine users. They don’t get it. It would be like Roger Linn or Akai producing a drum machine and making it so that musicians couldn’t use it with a Triton or Fantom or Motif. Not allowing copy/paste, Inter-App Audio or core midi hampers imaschine to the point that the app. has become little more than a time waster for most users despite its nice design and interface. Such a waste.

    • Jake

      correction: N.I. choose to severely restrict those features and consequently constrict imaschine users.

    • Henry

      Well, NI do limit the functionality on iMaschine in a quite restrictive way, similar to Figure. But as discussed elsewhere already, that is indeed a major factor in iMaschine’s beauty and accessibility. It just supports spontaneity so nicely – and it supports a great workflow by allowing to open iMaschine files in Maschine, just like Logic opens GarageBand songs.

      To me, it is all about workflow. And nothing stops (my) creativity more than having to wonder about how to get certain tracks, samples, MIDI notes etc. from one application into another…

    • Mike George

      Beatmaker 2 is still top dawg! Streaming! Better chop than anything hard or software!

      Impc pro was a huge let down in my opinion…it crashes a lot, the effects are too few, I erased it within two weeks of purchase…no stream not in my team.

      Beathawk…great library, not as deep as I expected…just think 24 bit, heavy, better Imaschine …that needs some more features to play with the top two…to me beathawk was created by Imaschine enthusiasts

    • Mike George

      Ohhhh and let’s not rule out korg gadget…with the addition of Abu dhabi and Bilbao it’s in the running! And running hard!

  • James

    The wireless software studio is the reason I moved to doing most of my work on an iPad mini Retina with a controller keyboard, headphones and a few apps.
    Honestly I like the method but I’d finish a lot more if the processor had a little more headroom, and if copying and pasting audio and midi between apps and Soundcloud consumed less of my time and frustration.

    Right now from out on the “frontier,” (and I can tell you it is not in any way glamorous haha) a bit more DSP and integration would go a very long way.

  • leolodreamland

    impc is ace – i even gifted it to a friend who was keen to try music software on his ipad. i’ve been ripping the absolutely awesome samples out of it to stick in geist 😉
    beatmaker 2 falls down here – samples are weak! maybe i’ll put the impc samples in there!
    i am entering the wonderful world of loop slicing… this is where the deal amy be made, that and whether or not my padkontrol can be used.

    • Mike George

      Padkontrol works fine with bm2. Sample libraries are what they are…ewwww. I’m not crazy about any of the iOS app libraries as far as samplers go…but it’s ever so easy to sample with beatmaker, or drag your own sounds over to it…thus not a problem at all…I never like presets, everyone has them.

      If you need a killer sound library UVI BEATHAWK is the drum sampler for you on ios

  • Michael Walsh

    Does it swing like an MPC? If it does, this could provide a much needed tool for my iOS music workflow..

  • Tablet Attempts

    Some day, if Image-Line ever gets to it, their FL Studio Groove will be an amazing music software. Right now it lacks the main important feature: Ability to load your own samples. If they get around to adding that, and making resolution in piano roll better, it could definitely be a contender with the FPC and many live FX options and automation. For now, these kinds of apps for other OS make me jealous, but luckily I am happy with my chosen methods of making music and don’t need to buy in into G.A.S.

  • Peter Kirns Ghostly Anus

    Wheres the velocity on the pads? Completely and utterly missing the point. Beats are not just ON OR OFF. Fine for your EDM cheeseball TrapTarncewank as shown in all these demos. But anyone whose been using an MPC for decades is gonna think this is what it is a very sad joke. Multi Touch bollocks does not replace thePERFORMANCE ability of decently responsive pads. Typical emperors new iPad.

    • Jurgen

      I strongly share this opinion (without the language) – the quality of drum machines _always_ was defined by the quality of the pads. I do not imagine anytime soon ‘impact’ sensitive touch screens. In addition to velocity, drum pads are also sensitive to pressure.
      To me the entire music making thing on pad computers is a strange demonstration of what made the VHS video tape format (which was the worst at it’s time) the most popular – a mass-craze to what is ‘cool’.
      Music controlling certainly is amazing with pads, like the Glitch Mob… But music creating lives on larger monitors where the music maker has control over his work in several windows etc etc and with a suitable input device.
      In a nutshell: “If your only tool is a hammer you will treat everything like a nail.” If your only tool is an iPad you will treat all your music like clickable entities.

    • Peter Kirn

      I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Like I said in the story, I see no real threat to existing hardware machines. But there are times when people program beats without necessarily playing them on pads. So I’m not sure this is fundamentally different from using computer software for programming, which many do. Now, then you live with the tradeoffs of doing that.

      Thanks for pointing out pressure… yes. Odd that no one has mapped that on the pad surface, actually, there would be some way of doing that…

    • Peter Kirn

      Interesting that you’re this hostile when I make *exactly the same point in the article*. Ahem.

      Now, it’s not accurate to say that it doesn’t support velocity, however. It just isn’t real-time velocity.

      There are ways to do this on a touch surface like this. You can map X/Y to velocity, or some have tried tricks like using the mic. They just aren’t as satisfying.

      But this is a reason people are keen for external MIDI controllers (even if at that point, I’d rather use a dedicated hardware machine or a computer with controller). With an external device, you can add velocity sensitivity.

      None of this has anything to do with EDM.

      TrapTrancewank sounds amazing, whatever that is.

    • Mike George

      Seems if this is a huge issue, use a hardware controller!

  • Brent

    Meanwhile, where is the iPad version of Reason’s Kong drum machine? I thought this would have been a natural next step after they released Thor for iPad. Maybe they are working on it, but it sure is a sorely missed app for Reason users.

    • Henry

      That sounds like a Reason on iPad path that would be about making users addicted to one small tool (Figure), then another one (Thor) and a third one (e.g. Kong), before pulling it all out of their software labs… But the point is right there: Workflow. I’d love a (n even restricted) version of Reason for iPad just for the sake of what Figure does: Layout ideas and transfer it to the main software later to do all the finetuning.

  • squaretooth

    @peterkirn:disqus “In its current version, there’s very little Beatmaker doesn’t do. Time stretching? Got it. (Heck, that’s missing in some sense even in Maschine on desktop.)”

    I thought Beatmaker’s timestretch was offline only? Maschine on the desktop already has offline timestretch.

    • Peter Kirn

      Sorry, that’s correct. Fixed.

  • Ricardo Matias

    I just wish they would give Audioshare support. It’s way better in so many ways, than its free counterpart, Audiocopy. Or Audiocopy should improve to a decent standard.

    • Mike George

      Retronyms will exclude every technology they don’t create…that’s all they have done so far

  • Chris

    Beatmaker sucks !!!! Not handy, not stable… iMPC is very stable but very limited. iMPC Pro seems to cover every lack iMPC has been reproached… Can’t wait to try this beast…

    • Mike George

      Impc pro is stable since when? Hahahaha impc pro doesn’t utilize streaming from disk so bm2 is entirely more stable…but don’t get your britches in a wad…beatmaker3 will be out and will rule over the Retronyms impc pro soon enough…just like beatmaker2 already does. Retronyms haven’t made any apps that I have considered stable to date.

  • ThisGuI

    Thats not Beatmaker 2. Thats iMaschine. I should know, i own it.

  • kamsta

    i have installed iMachine, but loading samples from pc or mike is anoing,
    anything to cut the samples from audio output like spotyfy or youtube?