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The best iPads for musicians and producers 2021: top Apple tablets for music-making

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The best iPads for musicians and producers 2021: top Apple tablets for music-making
(Image credit: Apple)

The iPad has long been a serious contender for music making, but Apple's latest models put the kind of power only previously found in the company's laptop and desktop machines at your mobile music production fingertips. The best iPads for musicians now include the new iPad Pro models, which feature amazing screens and the same M1 chip power and specs you'll find in Apple's iMac and MacBook Pro, while the all new iPad mini offers especially great bang for your Apple buck and delivers the perfect combination of mobility and power.

The iPad is a serious music production tool. There's a mountain of great music software to run on it because ever since it and the iPhone first wowed the music production world, the big guns of the industry – including Korg, Steinberg, Arturia, IK Multimedia, Moog and Fabfillter – plus an almost endless list of smaller developers, have produced a vast number of iOS music apps for it. There are synths, drum machines, grooveboxes, DJ apps, effects and even full-on emulations of desktop DAWs. You can run it all together in an entire mobile studio and get everything you love about your desktop virtual studio, all running within an iOS mobile one. 

While the iPhone will run many music making apps, the screen real-estate offered by the iPad, especially the newer Pro models, makes them a super-tempting choice for the modern musician. Indeed they are so powerful now that not only can you consider an iPad as a cost-effective mobile alternative to your desktop studio, you can consider it as your main studio. 

But with the range in constant flux, finding the best iPad for music-making can be tricky. Fortunately, though, we're here to guide you in your search.

We’ve assessed all the iPads in Apple’s current line-up, discussing the pros and cons of each. So, whatever your budget or requirements, you’ll know which model you should buy.

Looking for a great iPad deal? Check out our Black Friday music deals page for all the latest news and the biggest offers.

Best iPads for musicians and producers: Our top picks

Apple's newest iPads have completely shaken things up when it comes to mobile music making. A year ago we were trumping the iPad Air as the one to get for musicians, but it's all-change now in iPad land. As good as the Air is, it's been pushed down the choice ranking in favour of newer models like both iPad Pros and the all-new iPad mini. However, when all is said and done, it's whatever screen size that you are happy working with – and can afford – that will dictate your decision on which iPad to buy for music making. The power is now there in spades to run music on an iPad, but how deep are your pockets for both carrying an iPad and paying for it?

If power matters to you – and when it comes to crunching the numbers for music making, it so often does – then the iPad Pro 12.9-inch is not only (joint equal) the most powerful iPad you can buy but also boasts the biggest and sharpest screen. The XDR display is stunning and features just about every technology that Apple can throw at a screen, but it's the size of it that makes it stand out from the rest of the iPad range. It’s close to two inches bigger than the next iPad in our buyers guide, the Pro 11-inch.

But if you don't require that extra couple of inches in screen real estate, then the iPad Pro 11-inch will save a chunk of cash ($300/£250) over the bigger Pro and you will still enjoy the power of the M1 chip. However, if Logic Pro is on the way to the iPad, as some are saying could happen now that both iPad and laptop/desktop computers share the same M1 chip, most musicians we know will want to run it on the biggest screen available. That's a big 'if' though…

Finally, we have to recommend the new iPad Mini. This is a powerful little bundle of surprises, announced at the same time as the iPhone 13, and was not necessarily expected but most welcome. It features the most powerful non M1 chip in the iPad range, the A15, and the 256GB version will 'only' set you back $649/£619 – way less than the Pro equivalent. Again you're the one who has to weigh up that 'screen size versus price' conundrum, but in terms of mobility, the Mini is a great mover with a lot of clout. This is one iPad you can make music anywhere with, surely the point of the tech in the first place. And you don't have that iPad Pro 'should I spend the equivalent money on a desktop/laptop?' conundrum – this is way less cash than any Apple computer.

Best iPads for musicians and producers: Product guide

Best iPads for musicians and producers: Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch

(Image credit: Apple )

1. Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (5th generation)

Biggest does mean best when it comes to music making

Specifications
Starting price: $1,099/£999
Screen size: 12.9-inch
Chip: M1
Connector: USB-C with support for Thunderbolt/USB 4
Storage options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
Display resolution: 2732-by-2048 at 264 ppi
Weight: 682g
Reasons to buy
+The biggest and most powerful iPad +Will easily handle today's music apps and hopefully tomorrow's 'big one' 
Reasons to avoid
-Some spec options take the price into iMac price territory

The latest iPads Pros were announced back in April and with their M1 chips, they certainly are the most 'pro' ever. In fact you can easily equate the power and experience of using the iPad Pro 12.9-inch as that to the 13-inch MackBook Pro, all packed into a ridiculously thin tablet device with a stunning XDR touchscreen. 

And it's the M1 chip that makes this and the slightly smaller 11-inch iPad Pro our top choices for music making. The M1 chip has been causing a stir within Apple's computers, including the aforementioned MacBook Pro, iMac and Mac Mini, with even a base-model 8GB of RAM proving to be very decent for music making. 

With the iPad Pro you get this 8GB as standard and it doubles to 16GB if you choose the 1TB or 2TB options. However, all this power doesn't come cheap. Go for the top dollar 2TB option and you're looking at a couple of thousand all in, the same price as a fully-loaded 1TB 16GB iMac, also with an M1 chip. 

You want a beautiful, static 24-inch screen or a beautiful, mobile 13-inch touchscreen? Apple doesn't make it easy to choose between desktop and iPad, no, but if you are in the market for an iPad for music making, there's nothing bigger and more powerful out there than the 12.9-inch Pro. And if those rumours – mostly started and spread by the likes of us, it must be said – of Logic Pro being on the way to the iPad are true, we can't think of any better way of welcoming and using it than this.

Best iPads for musicians and producers: Apple iPad mini

(Image credit: Apple)

2. Apple iPad mini (6th generation)

Compact and powerful iPad, great for mobile musicians

Specifications
Starting price: $499/£479
Screen size: 8.3-inch
Chip: A15 Bionic
Connector: USB-C
Storage options: 64GB, 256GB
Display resolution: 2266-by-1488 at 326 ppi
Weight: 293g
Reasons to buy
+The iPad that delivers the best combination of mobility and power+And the best priced for what you get 
Reasons to avoid
-Smallest screen size (obviously) 

Even though it was a surprise announcement alongside the iPhone 13, the new iPad Mini's appearance made sense as it utilises the same 6-core A15 bionic chip as found in the new iPhone. It also makes sense that this chip is the main focus of the iPad Mini as it's Apple's new 'phone chip' and of course the Mini is closest in size to an iPhone you can get. (In a similar way the M1 chips are Apple's 'computer' chips so it makes sense they go in the iPad Pros – we love order and logic).

Comparing the two performance wise is, according to some, like comparing chalk and cheese. The M1 definitely wins out in the power stakes, but the new iPad Mini will still be powered up long after a Pro's battery life dwindles away. Either way the A15 will outperform the chips in the rest of the non Pro iPad range so the new Mini is the most powerful non M1 iPad available today, so we can certainly recommend it for music making on that score alone.

It will also suit pockets, both financially and physically, more than the Pro and you'll be tempted, as we were, to upgrade to the new 256GB version for a reasonable extra $150/£150. The USB-C connectivity will also help add music peripherals, so this is a fantastic new entry into the iPad family. 

Best iPads for musicians and producers: Apple iPad Pro 11-inch

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Apple iPad Pro 11-inch (3rd generation)

All the power of the M1 chip for music making at a more reasonable price

Specifications
Starting price: $799/£749
Screen size: 11-inch
Chip: M1
Connector: USB-C with support for Thunderbolt/USB 4
Storage options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
Display resolution: 2388-by-1668 at 264 ppi
Weight: 466g
Reasons to buy
+Gives you that amazing M1 power +Less expensive than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro 
Reasons to avoid
-Screen size only slightly bigger than the iPad Air's 

Here we get an iPad that delivers all the power but perhaps not the glory, and it's really up to you whether that bothers you. Some might say that the close to 13 inches that the full-on iPad Pro offers is too much and if that's you, you'll get all of the best bits of the iPad Pro world here at a much more down to earth price. 

That said, you can easily add another grand to the asking price by spec'ing up the 11-inch iMac Pro to the 2TB option (which also doubles the RAM to 16GB). You'll end up with the most powerful compact iPad there is, albeit for more than you'd pay for a basic 13-inch MacBook Pro. 

So as we've hinted at in the buying advice below, it's all about the screen size. If you don't need it, go for the new Mini or this smaller iPad Pro. You will get all the power you need for music making, without showing off about it with 12.9 inches.

Best iPads for musicians and producers: Apple iPad Air 4th gen

(Image credit: Apple)

4. Apple iPad Air (4th generation)

Still a great contender for music makers

Specifications
Starting price: $599/£579
Screen size: 10.9-inch
Chip: A14 Bionic
Connector: USB-C
Storage options: 64GB, 256GB
Display resolution: 2360-by-1640 at 264 ppi
Weight: 458g
Reasons to buy
+Very good screen real estate for the money +Still more powerful than the 'standard' iPad 
Reasons to avoid
-Three more powerful iPads are available 

What a difference a year makes in the world of Apple. Around this time last year the iPad Air was sitting pretty at the top of the Apple tree as our number one choice iPad for musicians, beating even the Pro in terms of power. With the all-new M1 Pro and A15 Mini, though, the situation's a little more complex. 

The iPad Air comes with a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display with True Tone and offers compatibility with both the Magic Keyboard and Smart Folio keyboard, while connectivity is via USB-C. The A14 Bionic chip that put it ahead in the race for your cash last year though, is lagging behind the M1 chip as now found in Apple's newer computers and its latest iPad Pros. The A14 also drops behind the A15 chips as found in the all-new iPad Mini (6th gen). 

What is clear though is that its bigger screen and (still) more powerful A14 Bionic chip put it up there if not beyond the standard iPad (ninth gen), although it does cost considerably more.

Best iPads for musicians and producers: Apple iPad (9th generation)

(Image credit: Apple iPad)

5. Apple iPad (9th generation)

The best budget iPad for music producers

Specifications
Starting price: $329/£319
Screen size: 10.2-inch
Chip: A13 Bionic
Connector: Lightning connector
Storage options: 64GB, 256GB
Display resolution: 2160-by-1620 at 264 ppi
Weight: 487g
Reasons to buy
+The cheapest iPad+Now starts with 64GB storage option 
Reasons to avoid
-The least powerful iPad 

To say that the standard iPad is languishing in last place for music producers is not true as it still represents a great buy – it's just the others have had their power souped up or other specs tweaked the right way. Here, cost is undeniably a key target for Apple to keep down, so it's the best value iPad – by some way – but also the least powerful iPad.

Nevertheless there are good points. It comes with 64GB capacity as a base level – the 32GB on the previous generation had been looking too weedy for too long – which should be enough for most musicians to own a decent suite of apps. The 10.2-inch screen is neither the biggest or smallest either. And the price? Well next to the Pro this is obviously a steal but in the world of Apple and music making, you want the biggest and best and even though this is a third of the price of the Pro, we know which we're saving for. 

Best iPad for musicians and producers: Buying advice

Best iPads for musicians and producers: iPad air close up images in different colours

(Image credit: Apple)

How to buy the best iPad for musicians 

To the casual observer, all of Apple’s iPads might look pretty similar, but there are some crucial differences. The most obvious physical one is size: the new iPad Mini is the smallest, with an 8.3-inch display, while the 12.9-inch iPad Pro gives you the largest display. The other models in the range all fall somewhere between these two extremes.

Then there’s the issue of power: it probably won’t surprise you to learn that each iPad has a different chipset. The standard ninth-generation iPad and iPad Air (4th generation) have the least powerful processors (the A13 and A14 respectively), the new iPad Mini has the latest A15 (as found in the new iPhone 13), while both iPad Pros boast the same M1 chips found in Apple's latest desktop and laptop machines.

Music-making apps can be pretty demanding, particularly if you’re running two or more at the same time, and a faster processor will give you better performance.

You also need to think about onboard storage. iPads don’t accept memory cards, so what you buy is what you’re stuck with. Some of the best music-making apps - like Moog Model D for iOS, Korg Gadget 2 and Nanostudio 2 - take up multiple gigabytes of space, so don’t scrimp in this area.

The final and possibly most important consideration, though, is price. Buying the biggest, most powerful, most capacious iPad will cost you serious money, so for most of us, it’s about finding the best balance between features and affordability.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Group Content Manager for MusicRadar, specialising in all things tech. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 20 of which I’ve also spent writing about music technology.