DM1 The Drum Machine for iPad from Fingerlab on Vimeo.

In a studio, very often it isn’t about endless racks of gear so much as the handful of items you most love. So, amidst a sometimes overwhelming flood of iOS apps – and, frankly, some of them quite disposable – a few stand out.

The DM1 drum machine seems especially deserving of the coveted Apple Design Award it won this month at WWDC. The UI design by Jonas Eriksson is textured and detailed without being overly slavish to hardware. The app itself makes a great argument for turning to the iPad for your drum machine rather than dedicated hardware. Before you start throwing tomatoes: I can think of any number of terrific used drum machines that now will set you back US$100-200. But unless you have a big budget for something like a Tempest, software is a pretty compelling alternative to the newer boxes. The iPad restores some of the appeal of standalone hardware, getting you away from your computer screen with something that you can relax with in an armchair or on a bus, but that still integrates with your studio – including other hardware and that computer.

Feature highlights:

  • Integrated step sequencer, plus a song composer that turns those patterns into full song structures.
  • Drum pad performance with a merciful automatic quantize feature (in case you aren’t Jeremy Ellis).
  • Mixing and loads of effects, complete with extensive automation.
  • Wide range of samples, with 64 kits.
  • Pitch bend ribbon is a nice performance twist, ideal for a touchscreen.
  • X/Y pad effects modulation.
  • Get your files anywhere: export to email, iTunes.
  • Integrate with software: Audio background mode, AudioCopy, Korg WIST sync support (for working with another iPad or iPhone).
  • Integrate with hardware: MIDI in.

A recent upgrade added still more features:

  • 3 new FXs (Reverb, Formant, and Dalek filter)
  • Facebook & SoundCloud exports
  • Retina Display

Those integration features really make the difference between a “toy” and a “tool” for a lot of our readers, based on copious feedback we’re getting.

Congratulations to the developers on the recognition from Apple. For iPhone or iPad, though I find the iPad the most drum machine-like form factor.

By the way, speaking of iOS music making and what it means in practical terms for musicians, we’ll be covering the upcoming CDR Berlin episode, which is dedicated to iOS performance. Performances and talks by Robert Lippok, Henrik Schwarz, and Mike Huckaby should be a real highlight. Stay tuned.