Fruity Loops Studio: Professional Music-Making on the iPad

Having long been a Microsoft-only stalwart, and a compelling reason for Mac users to keep a Windows computer lying around, Fruity Loops Studio has unexpectedly made the jump to iOS.

iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch versions of FL Studio Mobile are now available, perhaps signalling an increased possibility of a future Mac version too. Let’s take a look at how well this much loved software translates onto the iPad…

Fourteen Years in the Making

In Digital Audio Software terms, Fruity Loops has a distinguished and venerable history. First developed by Didier Dambrin for Belgian-based company Image-Line Software, FL’s first iteration was officially launched in 1998 and began life as a set of four MIDI controlled drum machines, at around the same time as Propellerhead Software released the comparable ReBirth RB-338.

Fruity Loops then began its metamorphosis into a fully featured DAW, now on its 10th version. With a strong and loyal fan base, the app was the foundation of countless electronic acts of the late 1990s and into this millennium. No doubt many hardcore Fruity Loops enthusiasts will rejoice with the news that FL Studio has finally made the jump to Apple’s software ecosystem.

Versions

FL Studio Mobile can export to the PC version

FL Studio Mobile can export to the PC version.

FL Studio Mobile HD boasts laudable integration with its desktop PC older sibling, though the lack of a Mac version seems like a missing feature at the moment. Unlike GarageBand, which can offer an almost seamless recording environment between iOS and OS X, a lack of Mac integration slows down my creativity somewhat – of course, Fruity Loops has never billed itself as a Mac product so it is a somewhat unfair criticism, but hopefully the team will be encouraged to develop an OS X version to follow this app.

Throwing in the Kitchen Sink

FL Studio Mobile comes with many effects and features

FL Studio Mobile comes with many effects and features.

Rather than rushing out a port, the team at Image-Line seem to have paid the challenge of translating Fruity Loops to touchscreen much time and thought. FL Studio Mobile boasts an impressive set of features which are worth repeating here, at least in part:

FL Studio Mobile includes 133 instruments, drum kits and sliced-loop beats, pitch bend (manipulated via accelerometer), fully configurable virtual keyboard and drum pads, 99 track sequencer, in-app piano, a host of effects and a supposedly unlimited undo and redo – all this squeezed into a low-latency and intuitive user interface makes FL Studio Mobile a real workhorse.

This seems to be the crux of the approach which Image-Line Software are adopting; rather than going the route of trying to appeal to casual users and the more experienced all at once, the development team have built up an app which lends itself well to musicians who want to get serious audio work done.

This is not to say that Fruity Loops Studio Mobile is overly taxing or demanding, rather that it lacks the same ‘pick up and play’ accessibility to non-musicians as seen by other iPad apps like GarageBand, in favour of a depth which echoes a full desktop workstation.

Getting Started

Step Sequencer

Step Sequencer

Launching FL Studio Mobile brings us at once into the “Step Sequencer” and it’s a simple matter to get a basic 120BPM, one bar beat begun. It is in beat creation that FL Studio Mobile really shines, with a very usable drum pad interface which inspires compelling rhythms and a quantatization method which manages to be effective without becoming too invasive or artificial sounding at any point.

The app’s main interface is split into six main sections; Drum Pads, Instruments, Tracks, Effects, Projects, and Setup, with each section usually containing several more choices of options respectively. So, touching “Tracks” will bring up either the above “Step Sequencer”, or, depending on which view option is selected, a typically DAW-style graphical representation of the currently tracked sound, as seen below, in addition to a piano roll view.

Track View

Track View

Indeed, the entire user interface is so well designed and intuitive that those who are used to the Fruity Loops software in particular or even just DAW’s in general, will likely need little effort to master the learning curve and be up and running, making music. It’s all very slick and usable.

I’m even finding that as the iPad becomes increasingly adept at such tactile DAW software, returning to my Mac’s otherwise excellent touchpad to work on a track is seeming ever more awkward and clunky. Though detractors may state that iOS style DAW software is a ‘dumbing down’ of previously professional music tools, I would contend that it is instead removing obstacles, enabling a song idea to be transported from the artists head and into audio as quickly as possible.

Instruments

Selecting an instrument

Selecting an instrument.

FL Studio Mobile’s instrument selection screen contains a great degree of choice and a handy “Preview” button. The instruments on offer are excellent, and give the user a wider choice than the majority of current iOS music apps. Though FL Studio Mobile is unlikely to fool anyone into thinking that its piano is a real grand, this is very seldom the case with any DAW and the synths, beats, and loops are all superb. The virtual keyboard included is very useable and I particularly enjoyed employing this in tandem with the synth patches.

Composing with Fruity Loops

Composing sketches, ideas and even full songs with FL Studio Mobile is a dream, and though I am by no means an expert with the Fruity Loops platform, I was soon making convincing loops and refrains, even rough song ideas. FL Studio Mobile’s synth and loops are very impressive, but above all I found that it was the app’s beat-making abilities which inspired me to keep returning to it for brief moments each day, thus ensuring that I make a space in my repertoire for this very strong iOS app, one of the most fully-rounded music creation apps currently available to iPad users.

The slight learning curve present in Fruity Loops Studio Mobile HD will encourage increased songwriting, especially on the morning commute, lunch hour or any other such time when a typical music session is impracticable.

Final Thoughts

FL Studio Mobile HD is another step toward iOS devices leaving their status as secondary, or backup music creation platforms and into real instruments in their own right, with many loops and beats to get stuck into and a depth of instrument which will compel repeated use.

Currently on sale at $19.99, this app is not cheap, but the quality of sounds which it offers make it excellent value for money.


Summary

An awesome touchscreen translation of the well loved DAW, FL Studio Mobile HD raises the bar for other similar iOS music apps.

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