Well, if you’ve been waiting to dive into the world of the iPad – or you’re stuck with a machine that’s too old and slow to run the latest software – Apple pretty much has your answer.

At US$329 and with 32GB of storage, the new 9.7″ iPad is a nice sweet spot. The A9 processor is more than capable enough for most audio production tasks. It’s got a big-enough Retina display. And that storage will be enough for running synths and other apps. And the pricing is aggressive enough that you might as well go ahead and buy new.

Who would want to upgrade? For sure, anyone with an iPad, iPad 2, or really anything before the iPad Air 2 might want to consider this.

These days, I find the iPad is a fairly indispensable tool around the studio. It’s about the most versatile imaginable controller – I routinely use it to control custom synth and visual creations (with Lemur) and to manipulate Ableton Live and Traktor (with touchAble and LK. It’s also a go-to MIDI controller and sequencer (Modstep), and drum machine (Elastic Drums). And then I use it for a handful of favorite soft synths – though amidst many synths, two instruments I can’t be without are the lovely Samplr and Borderlands Granular.

I call these out because, literally, if I lost my iPad today, I’d go out and buy the $329 model just to be able to run them. So, whatever the discussions of platforms or whether tablets will replace laptops, it turns out to be an affordable device from which to run some essential tools. Now, I guess one of these days, I might even try to use this thing as a DAW or something, but … for now, it’s really about those tools, which you treat almost as dedicated hardware when they’re running. (I even sometimes reach for the iPad instead of something like Push, depending on what I’m doing in Live and the like.)

So, who isn’t the $329 model for?

If you are DJing or VJing, you’ll want more storage. The new $399 iPad mini 4 is the cheapest way to get that, with 128GB. So if I were DJing, for instance, I might opt for that and external hardware – and that’s still easier to fit into a booth than a laptop.

The iPad mini display I think is just slightly too small, though, and the 9.7″ is still light and portable – roughly the same as an iPad Air 2. So for $429, you can get a 128GB model.

Apple has mercifully eliminated the useless 16GB options.

The 9.7″ iPad Pro remains appealing if you absolutely want to max out processing power and you make use of the stylus. Apple Pencil is a gorgeous piece of hardware, and it works with your Mac or PC as an accessory, too. I’m a terrible illustrator, and even I appreciate it.

Plus if you’re really serious about using the iPad onstage, or doing production work on it, the full-size 12.9″ iPad Pro truly does make a difference. I’ve had some chance to compare, as working alongside iOS developers means we always have the apps side by side.

Those models are expensive, though, and represent niche markets. The new 9.7″ iPad equalizes the market.

Whatever complaints musicians may have about Apple’s desktop offerings, the iPad still dominates. Microsoft and partners are coming up with some compelling tablet/PC hybrids, but without the apps, it’s still about the iPad. And at $329, I imagine this machine can complement pretty much any other rig you own, from Eurorack to tower PC.

Apple is so dominant, in fact, that it’s cause for worry – this market could use competition, it makes developers dependent on OS updates, and it’s still tough for developers to make money on the platform given low app costs. But for now, for users, you just can’t argue with the value proposition.

We’ll keep looking at what mobile means for music, and how to make the most of the apps that are there. Now… I suddenly have an itch to go make some groove with Elastic Drums for a while.


  • James

    For $29 more than the equivalent mini, you get that 128gb’s with a bigger screen and a faster chip. That would probably herd the dj’s towards the newer model as well. Also, if we’re talking about using this as a field recorder/tracking then the additional space would come in handy. This gets more interesting as manufacturers create transports and remotes for their mics and transmitters. Still, if you’re only in the game for 32gb, I still think as a dj you could consolidate the tracks that you bring to a gig with the judicious use of playlists

    • That’s right. Some people do like the smaller size, though.

  • Ian Scott

    Speaking of Samplr (which I love!) when is that going to get an update with link support etc I wonder. I really hope it happens one day.

    • Andreas Karperyd

      Samplr ! Absolutly my favorit music tool !, but needs “link”…

    • Armando

      agreed. needs link support! +1

    • TheVimFuego

      I saw a tweet from the developer a while ago that there may be something in the future, we can hope. Sorry, don’t have the source to hand.

  • mckenic

    Is there anywhere that has a comparison – processor/storage/cost?
    Whats folks opinion on best bang for buck please?

    I stopped at iOS 7 on my 4th Gen iPad and could be in the market, $329 is more attractive than when I last looked at the mini pro (?) at $599.

    Always wanted to try Patterning & Electric drums along with fluxpad!

  • mckenic

    Of course I meant Elastic Drums! πŸ™‚

  • Jimbob Atzke

    329 USD – 399 Euros? WTF!?!

    • Ignore your gut, and just do the math, and it makes sense:

      Even with 19% VAT, that’s not far off. $329 * 1.19 = 391.51. (And some countries have higher VAT.)

      That doesn’t even include import duty and other taxes and costs of doing business in Europe.

      Then remember, most business even in China takes place in USD, and you have to handle currency conversion, banking costs, and fluctuating value of the Euro. Plus you need separate distribution, local-language service, support, and documentation, and so on.

      I think Apple’s numbers look like a pretty reasonable rule of thumb for pricing.

      Software can afford a 1:1 conversion, because there are no material costs.

      I’ve done some of these calculations on a small scale, having sold both software and hardware in Europe and North America. The funny thing is, they don’t look all that different on a large scale.

      Now, in exchange, having lived in both places, I have more consumer protections in Europe, more environmental protections, better transportation, and a whole host of things that can contribute to better quality of life and refund some of this additional overhead – even before I get a literal refund of VAT. πŸ˜‰

      • if that still seems strange, remember… right now, 1 EUR = 1.08087 USD

  • Max

    “and it’s still tough for developers to make money on the platform given low app costs.”

    C’mon you know it’s trallala.

    There is nothing stopping you from selling an app for vst prices,
    but you are not selling to the same crowd of ppl.

    So the calculation is sell 2000 VSTs for 200
    or sell 20000 apps for 20.

    • Um… well, but that’s the point. It’s turning out to be exactly the same size market for a lot of these apps.

      And you’ve got your quantities reversed. A moderately popular app is often in the 1000, 2000 user range. A really successful plug-in is more like 20.000 users.

      And often these apps get pushed down to more like $5, $1 even, or free if they want to get more users. You see the problem.

      So you’ve got the right equation, but you’re bunching in the wrong numbers. πŸ˜‰

      • Max

        I don’t think so. The iOS market is much larger than the vst market. For some this strategy works, for some it doesn’t.
        I have insights into popular stuff on both ends from various developers.

        • Which sorts of developers? πŸ™‚

          So, I’d say if you’re an independent developer making a soft synth or a really pro-specific tool, four digit sales are pretty much the norm (or worse). And it’s very hard to price those apps as high as $20.

          There are apps from bigger developers that put up better numbers, but a lot of those are free or cheap and then add in-app purchases.

          Now, I’m leaving out more mainstream music apps, I’m talking the sort of pro-ish tools etc…

          • Max

            Serious independent Audio developers. I’m sure you understand I can’t tell names.

          • Max

            But I guess you know the apps.

          • Well, look, if they’re putting up those numbers – good for them.

            Is it the norm? Not necessarily.

            And frankly, if they’re getting $20 for the apps, then they *are* going to more of the serious market, I’ll bet.

          • max

            The target is of course you and me, but because of the cheap prices of hard and software the audience is much bigger. they all have a big selling hit and other stuff that doesn’t sell 40.000 copies, but to me it looks like stuff sells if you have a reputation and don’t sell shit do regular updates, blah blah. Ppl seam to recognize quality no matter what platform.

          • well, that’s a very good point … and actually, really there aren’t any hard, fast rules or norms in VST, either … and now VST makers are also making Eurorack. I’d say the whole thing is wide open. πŸ™‚

  • Alexander E. Wahl

    I am surprised to read that DJs play with iPads already, I didn’t know that. What apps and controllers do they use? Does Traktor run on iPads?

    • Dubby Labby

      Djplayer, djay pro, edijing… some of them doing dvs since iPad 1, yes the first iPad…

  • R__W

    With the $329 model, Apple finally is catering to the real market for iPads: children.