Best music-making apps in 2021: The best mobile synth apps
Create floor-filling sounds with these pocket-sized synths
Not everyone has access to high-end soft synths and prestige hardware synths. But most of us do have access to a smartphone. Thanks to some savvy developers, you can harness the power of vintage synth icons such as the Moog Minimoog in the palm of your hand. New, original synths are available, too, with unique approaches to sound shaping that make effective use of touch control.
While these synth apps do have miniature keyboards that you can play with your thumbs, that might get a little tedious after a while. You can either use an adapter, seek out new controllers that come equipped with Bluetooth MIDI or, if you’re an Apple user, take advantage of Apple’s Audio MIDI Setup to link up your iPhone and DAW. This will let you record the synths in your DAW, too.
Most, if not all, of these apps are only available on iOS. The most significant reason is that Android lacks a standard protocol for MIDI and it’s difficult for developers to create apps that are compatible with the hundreds, possibly thousands of phones that are running Android.
Happily, these apps cost far less than what you’d pay for a soft synth, let alone a hardware synth. Whether you’re a newcomer to synthesis or a veteran, you’ll find these apps a treat.
The Best Mobile Synths at a glance
- Korg ARP Odyssei / iWaveStation / iMono/Poly / iDS-10
- Moog Bundle (Model D, Model 15, Animoog, Filtatron)
- AudioKit Synth One
- KV331 SynthMaster One
- Reason Compact
- VirSyn AddStation
- Bleass Alpha Synth
- Beepstreet Sunrizer XS
- Yonac Magellan 2
- ROLI Seaboard 5D
Korg synth apps
Korg’s range of mobile synths are all fantastic and it would be wrong for us to exclude any one of them from this list. The legendary audio gear manufacturer has a long line of sought-after hardware synths, recently making them available as soft synths on desktop and now as iOS apps. You can get the ARP Odyssey, WaveStation and Mono/Poly emulations, plus the iDS-10 – a reprise of Korg’s synth game for Nintendo DS.
These faithful recreations come with a host of new features, such as preset saving and loading, MIDI mapping with MIDI CC Learn, and AUv3 compatibility, letting you use the synth in iOS DAWs such as Korg’s Gadget. They’re also much cheaper than their hardware counterparts, ranging from £20 to £29.
Price £20 to £29
Check out Korg’s apps here.
Moog synth app bundle
This four-piece pack from Moog will likely give you more than enough to satisfy your synth appetite. Along with a mobile recreation of the coveted Minimoog Model D subtractive synth – as heard on music by Pink Floyd, Parliament-Funkadelic, Tycho, Dr Dre and countless others – you’ll get a pocket-sized modular synth in the Model 15 and the sonically sumptuous Animoog polysynth. It’s genuinely surprising how powerful these synths are considering the platform they’re delivered in.
The Model-15 will have you lost in the world of modular synthesis for aeons, while the Animoog’s unique Anisotropic Synth Engine will let you tinker with an XY pad to explore new timbres. A range of effects and scale modes are available on each of these synths to go further with your sound design. And, if that’s not enough, Moog includes the Filtatron in the bundle, which lets you apply filters with envelopes and LFO modulation, delay and saturation to your sounds. Plus, you can sample your sounds straight into Filtatron and create waveforms with a single oscillator.
Download the Moog Synthesizer Bundle here.
AudioKit Synth One
Don’t let it’s free price tag fool you – this subtractive and FM polysynth has been praised by Apple App Store, by a plethora of tech publications and content creators, and by professional producers. In fact, you’ll get pro-sounding presets right away, with over 300 patches designed by producers for Kanye West, Rihanna, M83, Tycho, Neon Trees and more. The app is a result of over two years of work by over 100 volunteers and requires no in-app-purchases to make use of its full power.
- Read more: Free music-making mobile apps
Five oscillators are onboard: two digitally-controlled oscillators, one FM, one sub and one noise. A 16-step sequencer and polyphonic arpeggiator will let you create classic analogue-sounding synth patterns, with over 100 scale and tuning modes to choose from. A multi-mode filter, two LFOs and two envelopes will give you plenty of modulation power. MIDI Learn is available for all parameters, letting you hook up your controller for more expressive playing. There is absolutely no reason you should not have this synth on your iOS device.
Download AudioKit Synth One here.
KV331 SynthMaster One for iPhone
Not to be confused with Synth One, although equally as powerful, KV331 SynthMaster One is an app-sized rendition of the award-winning SynthMaster One DAW plug-in. The semi-modular wavetable beast boasts two oscillators with two subs, two filters, four ADSR envelopes, three LFOs, a 16-step arpeggiator/sequencer and 16 voices of polyphony. You’ll have access to 650 presets, 11 different onboard effects with distortion, LoFi, ensemble, phaser, 6-band EQ, compressor, vocoder, delay, chorus, tremolo and reverb.
Along with AUv3 plug-in capability, SynthMaster One is compatible with Ableton Link to sync up with your Live projects. 650 presets are included with a team of pro sound designers, and you can import and export presets using the file browser. The app is free for iPhone but you can also get the cross-platform version for £20 which lets you sync data across iOS, macOS and Windows.
Price Free/£20 for universal app
Download KV331 SynthMaster One here.
Reason Studios is pretty proficient in its mobile app development. The 2012 app, Figure, is still an awesome beat-making tool and Compact is a more in-depth app, featuring Reason’s Europa, Rytmik and Monotone. Although these are scaled-down versions of the DAW variants, each synth boasts immense power. Rytmik is a punchy drum machine, while Europa will be your go-to for keys, pads and leads, and Monotone takes care of low-end duties.
To make the most of Europa and Monotone, you’ll have to purchase the full versions at £10 each, along with a range of optional sound packs that cost £1 each. You can instantly demo each section of the synth for free, though, to see what the full versions unlock. Otherwise, a pleasing range of adjustable presets are available for each synth, and for Rytmik, to keep you creative for a while. Once you’ve made a pattern, you can export it to Reason or as an audio file, to progress with that creative spark.
Price Free/£10 for each synth unlock plus £1 for each sound pack.
Download Reason Compact here.
AddStation is a versatile additive synthesizer, creating sounds by adding together multiple sine waves. This type of synthesis can create some unique timbres, and VirSyn’s Addstation has enough bells and whistles to go a few steps further. By combining fractal additive synthesis and sound morphing with ring modulators and four independent arpeggiators, you can take a real deep dive into sound design.
The app comes loaded with 170 sound presets for instant inspiration. Each voice has 512 partials with independent AD envelopes which run through a filter and noise spectra. Effects include chorus, phaser, flanger, overdrive, EQ, delay and reverb. There’s also support for Ableton Link and CoreMIDI, along with AUv3 support.
Download AddStation here.
Bleass Alpha Synthesizer
Bleass have a range of music-making apps on the App Store, most notably including the Alpha Synth. The virtual analogue polyphonic synth takes inspiration from classic hardware synths, adding a pinch of Bleass’ modern flavour. Built with two stereo oscillators and one mono oscillator, you can dial in various waveshapes and pulse widths, with controls for phase, unison and cross-modulation for thick leads, gritty bass sounds and textural pads.
There’s plenty of modulation potential here with three ADSR envelopes, two LFOs per voice and tons of modulation destinations. A useful, contemporary feature in Alpha Synth is its MPE compatibility. This lets you hook up an MPE device, such as Sensel Morph, to use pressure as another dimension in your performance for more expression. Over 200 presets come included from pro sound designers, too.
Download Bleass Alpha Synth here.
Beepstreet Sunrizer XS
BeepStreet takes inspiration from the Roland JP-8000 synth focusing on its SuperSaw sound, which layered multiple detuned sawtooth waves for rich chords. Two analogue-modelled oscillators are available per voice, with two sub-oscillators with oscillator mix control and ring modulation. An FM mode and PM mode is available for Oscillator 2. A noise oscillator is also onboard for additional textures.
Two multi-mode filters can be routed in series or parallel, with an ADSR envelope, keyboard tracking and LFO for filter modulation. Sunrizer has two LFOs per voice and has a Morph Group function to continuously morph up to 30 different parameters at once with the modulation wheel, for simple yet chaotic sound manipulation. Effects and an arpeggiator are included, as well, along with over 200 presets and the ability to create and share custom banks. This synth sports a reasonable price tag of just £3, too, making it all the more appealing.
Download BeepStreet Sunrizer XS here.
Yonac Magellan 2
Following on from its predecessor from the early 2010s, Magellan 2 comprises three virtual-analogue oscillators feeding into a Timbre module for many additional waveforms. The polysynth can play up to 24 oscillators per voice, with Unison for thick, stacked synth sounds. With the Maximizer module, you can go even further and activate 120 simultaneous oscillators per voice. The more the merrier, right?
Magellan’s FM module makes it a powerful hybrid synth, which can function as its own sound source and can be combined with other oscillators for multiple layers of synthesis. Two filter banks with 11 different filters can be routed in series or parallel, plus twin LFOs and an envelope for modulation. Spawn2 uses AI to automatically create myriad original presets, with configurable autonomy to produce subtle variations of a patch to a totally new sound. This one is certainly worth a go.
Download Yonac Mallegan 2 here.
ROLI Seaboard 5D
Although ROLI’s app doesn’t quite boast as much of the deep synthesis features as the others in this guide, it does offer unique control over a range of presets. Adopting the same principles as its Seaboard MPE hardware controller, you can Glide and Slide across the keyboard to pitch bend, modulate filters and more. ROLI calls it 5D Touch, and it helps you make some seriously bizarre noises.
You can attenuate the amount of Glide and Slide to go from a rigid performance to a loose one. The app has a Connect Bluetooth button to link up ROLI controllers, along with MIDI Set-up to map parameters to your controller. This app gives you a glimpse of what can be achieved with MPE and will prove extremely creative with an MPE-equipped controller.
Download ROLI Seaboard 5D here.
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