Best music-making apps in 2022: 10 best sound design apps

Historic synth emulations, granular engines and more at your fingertips

Best sound design apps

From emulations of historic modular systems, to original synths and experimental sound generators, there are plenty of avenues you could go down with sound design for mobile. And for how powerful some of these can be, it’s a wonder they come at ‘app price’ too.

Some of our favourites take advantage of your device’s hardware features – its touch screen, microphone or camera – to offer engaging ways to conjure up new sounds. Most are also compatible with external controllers or a DAW for a fuller experience – an intuitive workaround to twisting knobs on an expensive hardware synth or modular system.

If you haven’t checked out sound design apps before, this list will catch you up to speed. And if you’re accustomed to working solely on a computer, don’t be too surprised if some of these become new staples in your process – let’s dive in.

The best sound design apps at a glance:

  • Moog Model 15
  • iVCS3
  • Sunrizer
  • Tardigrain
  • Grainstorm
  • SoundScaper
  • Moebius Lab
  • Factory
  • Vosis
  • Fractal Bits

Moog Model 15

Moog Model 15

Modular systems have always been a cornerstone of sound design – albeit a pricey one. This is where virtual modular systems fit right into play, and the Moog Model 15 is a great example of a ‘real’ synth that sounds just as good in app-form.

This detailed recreation of the Moog of the same name packs classic modules such as the 921 series oscillators and 904A Low-Pass Filter, along with the 907 Fixed Filter Bank. There is a lot of depth here, so if your aim is to get into modular, learning the tools and framework can help you work up to larger systems.

Moog includes several tutorials to get you started, along with 160 presets to work with. It has in-app controllers, but also total MIDI integration to let you use your own external ones.

  • Price: £25.99 / $29.99
  • Platforms: iOS, macOS

iVCS3

iVCS3

This app is modelled after the EMS VCS3 from the late 1960s, a staple at the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop to create sounds for series such as the original Dr. Who.

A licensed virtualization of the original, iVCS3 offers two oscillators and a noise generator for sounds, along with a ring mod, LFO, choice of two vintage low-pass filters, envelope generator, voltage controlled spring reverb and more.

Patching is handled through EMS’ unique pin matrix, which offers a lot of flexibility when it comes to splitting and duplicating signals. If you like your sound design with some historic flavour, consider getting this one.

  • Price: £12.99 / $14.99
  • Platforms: iOS

Sunrizer

Sunrizer

Sunrizer is an original synth that’s immensely popular for iOS. That’s in part thanks to its powerful and flexible tools, which are great for sessions both long and brief.

It packs two warm-sounding analogue modelled oscillators, along with two sub-oscillators and five waveforms to choose from. With two independent filters per voice, a range of different effects and full LFO control, it’s easy to conjure up both vintage-flavoured sounds as well as more experimental ones.

And because it’s been around for some time now, you get to take advantage of a huge library of sounds crafted by developer BeepStreet over the years. That includes more than 380 presets and seven additional banks for free.

  • Price: £8.99 / $9.99
  • Platforms: iOS

Tardigrain

Tardigrain

Granular synthesis has been around a long time, tracing back to tape-splicing methods applied by composer and music theorist Iannis Xenakis long before computers were commonplace in music. In recent years, granular has really risen in popularity and developers have experimented with new ways of approaching it. That’s part of why Tardigrain doesn’t quite sound like your average granular synth, favouring expressive drones in lieu of just the usual particulate pulses.

Tardigrain approaches each ‘grain’ of audio by duplicating it on several engines, which can lead to a smoother sound if you want it to. There’s loads to experiment with, with parameters for grain and step sizes, direction and more. Mesh that together with effects like reverb, a wave shaper and sample crush and you’ll be coming up with some great sounds in no time.

  • Price: £4.49 / $4.99
  • Platforms: iOS (iPhone and iPad)

Grainstorm

Grainstorm

The utilitarian look of Grainstorm can be daunting, but it highlights this granular synth’s emphasis on function. When you do get the hang of it, what you’ll find is that Grainstorm is incredibly flexible and really not that hard to understand.

It has four channels that accept files up to seven minutes long, or audio from your device’s microphone. Scrolling through the different pages lets you see all the parameters in play and there are many. The last page is where effects round off your sound, including chorus, convolution reverb, vocoders and more. The paid version of the app opens up live and offline recording, along with the ability to save presets. There’s also a free version you can check out first.

  • Price: Free (upgrade for $8.99)
  • Platforms: Android

SoundScaper

SoundScaper

SoundScaper offers a suite of tools for creating rich atmospheres, drones and glitches based on circuit bending concepts. It’s all wrapped up in a futuristic interface that’s as fun to look at as it is practical.

The app’s main sound generators are a trio of sample-based oscillators based on the schematics of actual 8-bit chips. This is key in letting you invite bleeps, bloops, crackles and more into your sound.

Meanwhile, the spatial mixer helps you position your sound sources and alter reverb characteristics with controls for space and reflections. Furthermore, a morphing page lets you switch smoothly between different scenes and effects in real-time.

  • Price: £8.99 / $9.99
  • Platforms: iOS

Moebius Lab

Moebius Lab

Repurposing samples and found sounds into glitchy goodness is the name of the game with Moebius Lab. This is a multi-effects processor that packs a synth engine, varispeed stereo sample player, time and spectral effects and about 200 LFOs to automate most parameters you can think of.

Calling itself a sound lab is fitting for this app, as its features encourage learning by playing. It’s easy to transform a drum loop into harsh, sputtering noise, only to morph that into a ‘robotified’ voice recording.

It’s also helpful that you get to save your patches with setting snapshots within them. You can also download ones designed by other users and apply them to your own sounds.

  • Price: $14.99 / £12.99
  • Platforms: iOS

Factory

Factory

Developer Sugar Bytes ported its modular synth plug-in, Factory, to the iPad back in 2019 and the powerhouse modular synth app is still getting updates in 2021.

Factory offers a ton of options for sound design, including 10 different oscillator types covering fractal, wavetable, FM and more. You also get 11 filter models, a noise generator with five colours and four sequencers with 36 different motion curves.

Factory also comes loaded with a polyphonic version of the Transformer tool from the brand’s Cyclop bass synth, which lets you load samples to the oscillators.

  • Price: $24.99 (Free version available)
  • Platforms: iOS

Vosis

Vosis

These two final apps on our list are a bit more experimental in nature and offer quick ways to generate new sounds. They might be more one-track than others but they’re still tons of fun. First up is Vosis, which generates sounds based on images. After loading in an image, you can scan around it to get different sounds and textures, then refine the sound you get with an array of different parameters.

  • Price: Free
  • Platforms: iOS

Fractal Bits

Fractal Bits

Fractal Bits is a drum synth that generates and translates fractal algorithms into sounds. Developer Alexander Zolotov says there are over four billion unique ones, so you shouldn’t have to worry about running out. Simply tap a button to cycle to a new random set and you’ll be greeted with twelve new sounds, each accompanied by a glitchy graphic. You can, of course, save the ones you like and export them in real-time to a DAW for further manipulation.

  • Price: £1.79 / $1.99
  • Platforms: iOS, Android

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