Chances are, if you’ve dabbled in beat making on the PC at any time in the past ten years you will have stumbled across FL studio – or FruityLoops as it used to be know as before if became too cool for itself. I remember many long nights hunched over my battered Vaio trying to piece together beats and pieces, whilst my poor laptop struggled valiantly with the multiple tracks, FX and plug-ins that I heaped upon it. So when FL Studio was released on the iPad, I was more than a little curious as to how they would capture the magic of creating beats on the fly and more importantly – would it kill my iPad in the process? And how does it compare to GarageBand?
Firing up the app takes a good 10 seconds – much, much faster than it ever took back in my PC days, but a noticeable wait on an instant gratification post-PC device such as the iPad. The familiar step sequencing grid presents itself to you and you can punch in a simple drum beat and get to work. If you’ve not used a step sequence before it’s pretty straight forward – it’s more or less a grid with various drum sounds along the side and you can punch in where and when you want snares, kicks and hats to appear. There are also drum pads where you can tap out a beat -much like an MPC. Obviously a more tactile surface would be better for this sort of thing – sadly Akai’s LPD 8 doesn’t seem to work with iPads – but it’s easy enough to knock out a simple loop -or even a more complex one with a bit of practice. FL studio comes preloaded with a number of kits, all of which sound ok (I was a fan of the foley kit), so you are free to change up your style.
Of course man does not live on beats alone and FL is replete with a number of synth leads, pads and basses. There is a keyboard interface so you can play loops live and a traditional piano roll editor so you can draw in notes – or edit live performances that may have been a little sloppy – perfectly forgivable when you’re playing keys on a touchscreen. The piano roll interface is however, needlessly fiddly and the need to confirm each note drawn seems a little silly.
There are also some built-in FX – nothing crazy but some reverb, filter effects and amp distortion type affairs. You can limit effects to certain tracks or apply them across the board. It would be nice to see a little more control – especially with regards to mixing levels on individual tracks and fx automation – but then again this is running on an iPad so there will be certain limitations. With 130-odd instruments and about 99 tracks the app is no slouch and you can easily piece together little musical sketches then take them back to your PC to finesse them. Occasional crash aside, FL Studio on the iPad is a great way to make beats on the go.
Here is a video demo of the FL Studio Mobile HD app on the iPad
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