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Five iOS music app developers that you NEED to know

OK, so that headline was clearly a shameless attempt at grabbing your attention. But, now that I've got it, I thought it might be a good time to discuss some of my favorite iOS music app developers. For many of you, these names will be familiar. But for some of the new folks to the world of iOS music, I think the following information will be very helpful in choosing which app (or apps) to buy next.

In determining which developers to highlight, I looked at several factors. One was (obviously) the quality of their apps. Other factors include price, file size, and frequency of updates. An additional factor was that, with one exception, all of these developers have multiple apps available.

Without further ado, let's take a look at five of my favorite developers!

Christopher Rice (Holderness Media)

Holderness Media is the name of the development company of Christopher Rice. Christopher is the mastermind responsible for some of the best effects apps available on the iOS platform. When I first bought Audiobus years ago, the first effects apps I bought was Echo Pad.

Echo Pad is a multi-effects processor that contains over 18 effects, plus loopers and scratchers. It's been around forever, and Christopher has brought many updates to this great app. With a tiny file size, and an equally small price, Echo Pad should be living on every musicians device.

Subsequent effects from Holderness include Swoopster (fuzz/flanger/vibrato effect), Stereo Designer (which is capable of "stereoizing" a mono sound source), and the most recent Crystalline, which is an incredible shimmer effect app. All small in size, all small in price. For a very small investment, you could load up on all of his apps, and still have money to burn.

Crystalline - the latest app from Christopher Rice

Echo Pad - Multi Effects Processor (AppStore Link) Echo Pad - Multi Effects Processor
Developer: Holderness Media
Rated: 4+
Price: $6.99 Download
Swoopster - Fuzz Flanger Effects Processor (AppStore Link) Swoopster - Fuzz Flanger Effects Processor
Developer: Holderness Media
Rated: 4+
Price: $6.99 Download
Stereo Designer - Stereo Shaping Processor (AppStore Link) Stereo Designer - Stereo Shaping Processor
Developer: Holderness Media
Rated: 4+5
Price: $6.99 Download
Crystalline - Shimmer Reverb Effects Processor (AppStore Link) Crystalline - Shimmer Reverb Effects Processor
Developer: Holderness Media
Rated: 4+
Price: $6.99 Download

Jonatan Liljedahl (Kymatica)

Jonatan Liljedahl, also known as Kymatica, might possibly be a wizard from another dimension. His apps spread the spectrum from incredibly practical to wildly insane. Much like Christopher Rice, Jonatan has created some of the best effects apps around.

I'll highlight only a few of his apps, starting with essential Audioshare. Audioshare has been described by many as the "Swiss Army knife" of iOS app. It is a brilliant storage app, handy recorder, web browser, and tool to open your samples into many other iOS apps. Seriously, if you don't have this app yet, you really, really need to go buy it. Now.

Jonatan is also the developer behind the AUFX series of effects apps. These include AUFX: Dub (delay), AUFX: Space (reverb), and AUFX: PeakQ (equalizer). In my workflow, it is almost a default to have either Dub or Space in the effects slot of Audiobus.

Additional apps include The Oscillator (an oscillator), and BitWiz Audio Synth, which is an algorithmic "bytebeat" synthesizer.

This brings me to Jonatan's latest app, SECTOR. This app is described as a "stochastic sample slice sequencer". It is truly unique on the App Store. It's probably best that you just watch the demo video below.

 SECTOR - An beautiful display of sound

The Oscillator (AppStore Link) The Oscillator
Developer: jonatan liljedahl
Rated: 4+1
Price: Free Download
AudioShare - audio document manager (AppStore Link) AudioShare - audio document manager
Developer: jonatan liljedahl
Rated: 4+
Price: $6.99 Download
SECTOR (AppStore Link) SECTOR
Developer: jonatan liljedahl
Rated: 4+5
Price: $9.99 Download
AUFX:Space (AppStore Link) AUFX:Space
Developer: jonatan liljedahl
Rated: 4+5
Price: $6.99 Download
AUFX:Dub (AppStore Link) AUFX:Dub
Developer: jonatan liljedahl
Rated: 4+5
Price: $6.99 Download
AUFX:PeakQ (AppStore Link) AUFX:PeakQ
Developer: jonatan liljedahl
Rated: 4+5
Price: $6.99 Download
BitWiz Audio Synth (AppStore Link) BitWiz Audio Synth
Developer: jonatan liljedahl
Rated: 4+
Price: $1.39 Download

Igor Vasiliev

My next developer is Igor Vasiliev. Igor has managed to create some of the deepest apps available, all the while making them incredibly user-friendly. In my mind, his greatest creation is his Audio Mastering app. As I've mentioned in previous reviews, I have almost literally zero training in mastering sounds. But, with the help of Audio Mastering, my finished products sound great. Igor has included some presets from many different genres (ambient, vocal, electronic, etc.) which can be used as a starting point to dial in your sound. Of course, more advanced users can dig in deep, as Audio Mastering provides all of the tools to sculpt precisely what you need.

Audio Mastering - my go-to mastering app

Igor also has two effects apps, Master Record and Master FX. Where Master Record is meant to give your sound a warm, analog sound, Master FX is a full-fledged "all-in-one" effects app. Master FX includes such effects as flanger, reverb, chorus, and delay, among others. These effects are nice, subtle effects, and work well to fill out your sound. The final app from Igor is MIDI Pattern Sequencer, which is a pattern-based sequencer.

Igor's new app, AltiSpace, should be released any day now [UPDATE 07/16/14: AltiSpace is now available!]. AltiSpace will be a convolution reverb app, which is an underserved area in today's iOS apps. Based on Igor's other work, I'm sure it will be solid.

Audio Mastering (AppStore Link) Audio Mastering
Developer: Igor Vasiliev
Rated: 4+5
Price: $17.99 Download
Master Record - Tape simulation recorder & effects (AppStore Link) Master Record - Tape simulation recorder & effects
Developer: Igor Vasiliev
Rated: 4+
Price: $9.99 Download
Master FX - Classic effects (AppStore Link) Master FX - Classic effects
Developer: Igor Vasiliev
Rated: 4+
Price: $9.99 Download
MIDI Pattern Sequencer (AppStore Link) MIDI Pattern Sequencer
Developer: Igor Vasiliev
Rated: 4+3
Price: $3.99 Download
AltiSpace - Convolution Reverb (AppStore Link) AltiSpace - Convolution Reverb
Developer: Igor Vasiliev
Rated: 4+
Price: $9.99 Download

Jesse Chappell (Sonosaurus)

If I had to recommend two apps for any beginning iOS musician, those two apps would be ThumbJam and DrumJam, both from Jesse Chappell (DrumJam in collaboration with renowned percussionist Pete Lockett). Simply put, ThumbJam might be the best instrument app available. Filled with over 40 sampled instruments (with more available free to download), you can instantly start playing with ThumbJam. And these instruments sound great. The cello is hands-down the best sounding cello available (thanks to cellist Zoe Keating). Along with strings, guitars, basses, and wind instruments are some great percussion samples as well.

The user interface allows for a huge range of scales, so you're never playing the wrong note. The use of tilt and shake to create volume swells, vibrato and note bends is instantly intuitive, and adds realism to your notes. Based on the instrument you've selected, the interface will change (linear for pitched instruments, pads for percussion).

It works brilliantly as a MIDI controller of other iOS apps, it works as a guitar-to-MIDI converter, and has a built-in looper as well. Jam packed with scales, you'll find just the right one for your song. You can record your own samples and create an instrument for your own preset.

The tutorial below is from 2010, but still provides a glimpse of its power. ThumbJam has recently been updated to include Audiobus 2 and IAA support. I can't possibly stress enough how amazing ThumbJam is. Absolute Top-3 app in my book.

 Demo of the great sounds and interface of ThumbJam

DrumJam has many of the same great qualities of ThumbJam. It is has an immediately usable interface, stacked with quality percussion sounds. DrumJam focuses mostly on ethnic percussion instruments (think congas, djembe, tablas), but does have some drum kits as well. Playing DrumJam is very easy, as it includes both loops, which can be customized based on selected instruments, and also quantized pads. There are also some effects, such as low-pass filter, distortion, and delay among others.

If you're looking for some quick percussion loops, with some customization options (as well as a great "randomize" option), you really should check out DrumJam. Note: both ThumbJam and DrumJam are universal apps, so you can enjoy these on both your iPhone and iPad.

ThumbJam (AppStore Link) ThumbJam
Developer: Sonosaurus LLC
Rated: 4+4
Price: $11.99 Download
DrumJam (AppStore Link) DrumJam
Developer: Sonosaurus LLC
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: $10.99 Download

Rej Poirier

Up to this point, all of the developers I've mentioned have created multiple apps for iOS devices, and this was even one of my initial criterion for determining who would make this list. But, I simply had to make an exception for Rej Poirier, the developer of Caustic 3.

Caustic (as I'll refer to it going forward) is an all-in-one workstation, loaded with synths, effects, sequencer, drum machines, and mixer. On many different forums Caustic has been compared to Propellerhead's Reason software. It is a beast, and I've only begun to scratch the surface.

Overview tutorial of Caustic - one of 29 (!) tutorial videos available

Just take a look at some of the synths included in Caustic: a modular synth, an 8-bit synth, a vocoder, an FM synth, a wave sampler, a Hammond-like organ, and a virtual analog subtractive synth. Those are just a few of the 14 modules included. You can use two effects per machine, and has some very good parameter automation options.

I can talk all day along about Caustic, but what brought my attention to the app, and absolutely sold me, are the YouTube videos that Rejean has created. When the app launched for iOS (a previous version was available for Android), Rej had already filmed 28 separate YouTube tutorials, highlighting each synth module and the effects. The video above is an overview of the entire app, and is required viewing. Never have I seen such an effort to properly document the features of an app. Just amazing.

Caustic was released for iOS in December 2013, and was a big hit. But then came Korg Gadget, which was very similar in nature to Caustic and looked to make a big splash in the "all-in-one" workstation genre. Many wondered out loud if this seemingly "David vs. Goliath" match might affect Caustic's future. At that time, Rej shared his future plans for updates to Caustic, never backing down.

And he delivered. The next update brought Audiobus compatibility to Caustic, along with Virtual MIDI, a new synth, new modules for the modular synth, and even some options to change the look of Caustic. Simply put, Rej had been actively listening to the feature requests from the musicians using his app, and made a great app even better. It is this kind of spirit, attitude, and determination that puts Rej Poirier on my list of top developers.

Caustic (AppStore Link) Caustic
Developer: Rejean Poirier
Rated: 4+5
Price: $13.99 Download

Honorable Mentions

As with any type of internet list, there will always be an issue with leaving someone or something off of the list. I purposely decided to keep this list limited to five developers.  Unfortunately this means that I will not be highlighting some incredibly talented developers. But, I'll make a brief mention of them here, with App Store links to their apps. I strongly suggest you take a look at the apps and websites linked below, as these developers have created some amazing apps as well.

It is not an accident that all of the developers I've listed here are "indie" developers. I've had the great fortune of interacting with nearly all of these developers, and have found them to be responsive to questions, open to suggested features, and quick to make updates to reported bugs. Most of these developers actively participate in the online iOS music forums and groups. They're involved in the scene. They care about their product.

I've joked before about wishing that the App Store had an "auto-buy" feature (similar to the "auto-update" feature). If this were available, I would set that feature to automatically buy any new app that these developers release. If you are unfamiliar with any of these developers or their apps, I highly recommend taking some time to look at their websites, and check out YouTube demos of their apps. You simply cannot go wrong with these developers.

If you are thinking about buying any of the apps listed in this post, please consider clicking through the App Store links provided. Thanks!

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