The launch of the first iPad, in 2010, caused huge excitement in the music production world. Our minds went wild with interesting and exciting ways we would use these new devices and, for the most part, the iPad has delivered. Yet there was always a nagging feeling that, as good as they are, they’d never replace a full-fat laptop or PC for music production.
Now, however, as the device has matured, overall performance across the range has improved to the point where (for certain situations) an iPad can happily take the place of a dedicated computer. Throw in the sleek form factor, vast catalogue of music-making apps and snappy, intuitive workflow and you’ve got the makings of a quality little studio device.
Of course, Apple being Apple, there aren’t always widespread discounts available, but there is money to be saved if you know where to look. In this guide we’ll highlight some of the best deals on iPads right now, with a particular focus on the models best suited to music and audio production.
With Amazon Prime Day on the horizon, it could be worth holding fire to see what the best cheap iPad deals emerge in the lead up to and during the event. Keep your eyes on our Prime Day music deals page for all the latest news and offers in the lead up to the event (which is slated to take place on 13 and 14 October).
Best cheap iPad deals: range overview
The iPad range is now nicely segregated into four main lines. At the entry-level you have the iPad Mini ($399/£399 - $679/£669) which, despite its smaller screen makes for a very capable outlet for virtual instruments. Above that sits the regular iPad ($329/£349 - $559/£579), which is the range’s ‘everyman’ model.
If you need a bit more performance, perhaps for recording, then the iPad Air ($499/£479 - $779/£749) packs some extra performance under the bonnet. And, at the top end, sits the iPad Pro range ($799/£769 - $1,649/£1,619). Admittedly, for this sort of money, you’re looking for laptop performance and the Pro does not disappoint. Let’s look at each in more detail...
Best cheap iPad deals: recommended models
The Apple iPad Air sits in that sweet spot between the higher-powered Pro range and the more general-purpose standard iPad models. And, thankfully, it takes the best bits of both those models and creates almost the perfect balance for music production.
It has enough power to make it a realistic portable studio hub, yet – as the name suggests – is lightweight enough that taking it out never feels like a chore. If your budget doesn’t stretch to a Pro, or you don’t need superhuman performance, then the iPad Air will more than fit the bill.
If money were no object, then the Apple iPad Pro 12.9 would be an obvious choice for music production. Apple has marketed the larger iPad Pro as a genuine laptop replacement, especially when you factor in the Magic Keyboard ($/£349), yet for musicians that might not be a factor. What is important is the clear leap in power and performance the Pro delivers. It sails through tasks which lesser devices would struggle with, and has the best speakers we’ve come across in a tablet to date.
The addition of USB-C means it may even play nicely with your existing audio interface, while the larger screen makes precise parameter tweaks a doddle. Yes, it’s expensive – perhaps too expensive for what it is – but in full flow it’s a sight to behold.
The smaller of the two iPad Pro models is, in many ways, the pick of the bunch for music production. It packs in largely the same power, performance and capabilities of its larger brother, yet does so in a size that will be familiar to users of ‘regular’ iPads.
The edge-to-edge Liquid Retina screen is magnificent, while overall usability is enhanced with features like Face ID. Audio playback is superb, thanks to its four speakers, and we like the way it plays nicely with our existing peripherals.
As the smallest tablet in the overall range, the iPad Mini can be easy to overlook, particularly with smartphone screens getting larger every year. For us, the iPad Mini works in the right context though. Say, for example, you have amp simulation apps, or something that doesn’t require constant on-screen tweaks.
As a hugely portable, set-and-forget type device it’s great. Clearly, managing larger studio sessions or processor-hungry apps isn’t advisable, but there’s enough Apple quality and capability here to mean it shouldn’t be completely disregarded.
If the iPad Mini is too small, or if your budget won’t stretch up to an iPad Air, then the standard iPad is still worth consideration. It won’t offer the speedy workflow of the faster models, based as it is on a four-year-old processor, but there are benefits in the large 10.2” Retina screen and its ability to work with the Apple Pencil.
Where the standard iPad really comes into its own is when it’s in the hands of a younger user, for example, where lightning quick performance plays second fiddle to sheer exploration and enjoyment.
Best cheap iPad deals: the alternatives
Clearly, Apple devices aren’t for everyone. Whether that’s due to their high price or the way you become locked into an ecosystem, there are genuine reasons why you might want to look elsewhere. Luckily, there are some great alternatives to consider. For us, the Microsoft Surface range is an obvious recommendation particularly for users familiar with Windows as an operating system.
The Surface range arguably does a better job of being a true alternative to laptops, and has a host of things in its favour like the ability to run full versions of the standard desktop applications you know and love. Operating a large Ableton Live session using the touch screen to navigate around still feels like the future we were all hoping for. Going against the Surface range, however, is the price. It used to be that you got more bang for your buck using Windows over Apple, yet those lines have become increasingly blurred. That said, if the ability to use your regular digital audio workstations (DAWs) in tablet format appeals, then you should definitely check out the Surface range.
Alternatively, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Plus is an Android-based tablet with one of the best screens we’ve seen on a tablet. We doubt we’ll cause too much controversy by claiming Android lags behind iOS for music production, but if you are an existing user and don’t want to switch over to the dark side then the Galaxy Tab S7 is a superb device.
More cheap iPad deals
More of the best cheap iPad deals (UK)
- Shop all iPad sales at Amazon (UK)
- Shop all iPad sales at John Lewis
- Shop all iPad sales at Currys
- Shop all iPad sales at Argos