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

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

An iPad might not be an essential purchase for a musician, but it’s certainly a pretty desirable one - even if you do already own an iPhone.

With the right music-making apps, you can use Apple’s tablet as a portable recording studio - there are plenty of mobile DAWs and you can even use plugins these days - synth, groovebox, effects unit, DJing platform and more. Yes, many of these apps are available on iPhone as well, the extra screen real estate you get on an iPad makes all the difference.

What's more, an iPad can make a great place to display setlists, lyrics or sheet music during a gig, and many people are now finding that having one in their home studio can help to kickstart creativity when their standard setup is failing to inspire.

With the range in constant flux, though, 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.

What is the best iPad for musicians?

iPad Air 2020

(Image credit: Apple)

Right now, this is a pretty easy question to answer: the 2020 iPad Air is, hands-down, the best iPad for musicians.

Confusingly, it's currently more powerful than the iPad Pro, the flagship of the iPad fleet, as it contains the new A14 processor (the most powerful chip that Apple has ever created, in case you're interested).

When you consider that it's also cheaper than the iPad Pro - $599/£579 for the entry-level 64GB WiFi model - and comes with a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display, we can't see any reason to look beyond the Air if you want the current 'best iPad for music-making'. Yes, the Pro might have a few extra bells and whistles around the edges, but performance is what matters to music producers, and on that score, the Air beats all comers.

How to buy the best iPad for you

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 iPad Mini is the smallest, rocking a 7.9-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 eighth-generation iPad and iPad mini (5th generation) have the least powerful processors (the A12) chip while the iPad Aid - and not the iPad Pro - currently has the most powerful (the A14).

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.

The best iPads for producers and musicians today

iPad eighth-gen 2020

(Image credit: Apple )

1. Apple iPad (eighth-generation)

The cheapest ‘full-size’ iPad you can buy

Starting price: $329/£329 | Screen size: 10.2-inch | Chip: A12 Bionic | Connector: Lightning | Storage options: 32GB, 128GB | Display resolution: 2160-by-1620 at 264 ppi | Weight: 490g

Now has a decent processor
Only 32GB storage in the entry-level model
Screen not as good as on other models

The eighth-generation, 2020 version of Apple's entry-level iPad is a big step up from its predecessor in terms of power. Gone is the ageing A10 Fusion chip, and in comes the A12 Bionic, which promises 40 percent better CPU performance.

Up front there's a 10.2-inch Retina display - not quite as good as the Liquid Retina screen on the more expensive iPads - while connectivity comes via a Lightning port, which might be important to you if you've already invested in compatible peripherals.

It's also worth noting that this is the only full-size iPad in Apple's current range to have a headphone socket - another potential bonus for musicians.

The downside here is that the entry-level model still only has 32GB of storage, and there's no 64GB option. So, you're going to have to up your spend by $100/£100 if you want a more capacious model: the 128GB version costs $429/£429.

We'd still recommend buying at that price, though: you'll have a very capable tablet with plenty of space for your apps and projects.

Buy the Apple iPad from Apple

The best iPads for musicians and producers 2019: Apple iPad Mini

(Image credit: Apple)

2. Apple iPad Mini

The best iPad if portability is your main concern

Starting price: $399/£399 | Screen size: 7.9-inch | Chip: A12 Bionic | Connector: Lightning | Storage options: 64GB, 256GB | Display resolution: 2048‑by‑1536 at 326 ppi | Weight: 300.5g

Very compact
Decent specs
Small display

The clue’s in the name with this one. The iPad Mini is Apple’s smallest tablet and, as such, the model to go for if a compact form factor is important to you. It’s no slouch, either, toting an A12 processor (the same as you’ll find in the standard iPad).

It’s worth asking, though, if a 7.9-inch display is really the best option for music makers. If you’re dealing with a lot of onscreen controls, as you are with most music-making apps, then it’s good to have as much space for them as possible. 

On the plus side, even the entry-level model comes with 64GB of storage (twice that of the cheapest eighth-generation iPad) - just make sure you try before you buy so you can make a judgement on that smaller screen.

Buy the Apple iPad Mini from Amazon

iPad Air 2020

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Apple iPad Air

The best iPad for music makers

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

The most powerful iPad you can buy
Cheaper than the iPad Pro
More expensive than its predecessor

Sitting, theoretically, in the middle of the iPad range, you'd expect the Air to have middling specs, but it's not quite that simple. Perhaps because of its place in Apple's release schedule, this is currently the iPad with the most powerful processor: the A14 Bionic.

It also 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 iPad Pro does beat it in a few respects - it has four-speaker audio and a better front camera, for example - but for music makers who are more concerned with power and price, the Air is most definitely where it's currently at.

Buy the Apple iPad Air from Apple (Available in October 2020)

iPad Pro 11-inch

(Image credit: Apple)

4. Apple iPad Pro 11-inch

Solid performance in a compact frame

Starting price: $799/£769 | Screen size: 11-inch | Chip: A12Z Bionic | Connector: USB-C | Storage options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB | Display resolution: 2388‑by‑1668 at 264 ppi | Weight: 471g

Excellent performance
Looks beautiful

The smaller of the two iPad Pros contains an eight-core A12Z Bionic chip; there’s also an edge-to-edge Liquid Retina display, while the built-in LiDAR scanner is designed to enhance the AR experience.

On the audio side, we’re told that the iPad Pro now has five “studio-quality” mics built into it and comes with four-speaker audio. With storage options of up to 1TB, meanwhile, you're unlikely to run out of space. 

All very nice, but with the iPad Air coming in a similar form factor and offering higher performance for less money, the 11-inch iPad Pro is currently hard to recommend.

Buy the Apple iPad Pro 11-inch from Amazon

Apple iPad Pro 2020

(Image credit: Apple)

5. Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch

A potential laptop replacement

Starting price: $999/£969 | Screen size: 12.9-inch | Chip: A12Z Bionic | Connector: USB-C | Storage options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB | Display resolution: 2732‑by‑2048 at 264 ppi | Weight: 641g

Massive screen
Computer-level power
Less portable than other iPads

The big daddy of the iPad range now faces the same problem as its smaller Pro sibling: the chip inside it isn't as powerful as the one in the cheaper iPad Air.

As such, despite the fact that it has a lovely large display that marks it out as a potential laptop replacement, it feels like the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is due an upgrade very soon.

Rumours persist that Apple is about to bring its flagship Logic Pro DAW to the iPad Pro, so maybe a new version could coincide with that.

Buy the Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch from Amazon

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.