What Is Audiobus & How Will It Change Mobile Music Making?

Audiobus has been one of the most talked about new music technologies since it was announced earlier in this year.

One of the key limitations for music apps on iOS has been the challenges of working with audio from multiple music apps ‘in the box’. Audiobus – a new option for routing live audio on iOS – promises to change that.

Since the initial Audiobus announcement, there’s been debate over whether iOS 6 would derail the project, skepticism that it would get approved by Apple and confusion about what it is. Even now that Audiobus has been approved by Apple, there’s still confusion over how it will work and what it means for iOS music making.

To address this, we talked with developer Sebastian Dittmann and beta user Tim Webb.

Audiobus: The Developer’s View

Sebastian Dittmann is one of the founders of Audanika, the creator of SoundPrism Pro. Audiobus is a joint venture between Dittmann and Michael Tyson of A Tasty Pixel, creator of the iOS looping app Loopy.

We asked Dittmann about Audiobus, how it came about and how he sees it fitting into the future of mobile music making.

Synthtopia: To start off, Sebastian, what is Audiobus? What is your vision for Audiobus and how it will be used?

Sebastian Dittmann: Audiobus is a standalone app and an API for other developers to include in their own apps. Audiobus allows live audio streaming between apps, providing for the ability to use apps together like modules in a studio.

It’s the virtual ‘cabling’ that ties everything together.

We envision a whole new way of making music, bringing together the work of many different developers. We also envision a whole new class of music apps that provide audio processing capabilities to other apps.

Synthtopia: You mentioned that Audiobus is both an application and a standard for routing audio. What does each part do?

Sebastian Dittmann: Audiobus consists of a library (the Audiobus SDK) that developers can integrate into their apps – a piece of code we provide, which performs Audiobus communication and audio management – and an app that is used to configure routing between compatible apps.

Synthtopia: How did this project come about?


Sebastian Dittmann: While working on Virtual MIDI support for Loopy, Michael (Tyson) had the idea of using Virtual MIDI to carry not just MIDI data, but actual audio. He thought it would be cool if apps could stream audio into Loopy.

That’s pretty much the beginning of Audiobus – a concrete problem that he solved. He spent a number of weeks prototyping the concept before we met and began conversing about it and eventually joined forces, then began developing the system in earnest.

Synthtopia: Since your initial announcement about Audiobus, there’s been an amazing amount of buzz for this project. It’s been covered at Synthtopia and other music technology sites, but also at general technology sites like Gizmodo. Why do you think there’s so much interest in it?

Sebastian Dittmann: It’s the amount of opportunities that arise from the ability to use multiple music apps in tandem.

There are many use-cases: using an app to manipulate the output of another app, and recording the result in a third app; combining audio output of two apps to be recorded and processed in another; adding microphone input to an app that doesn’t support it by itself.

What it means is that people will be able to use their existing hardware and apps in entirely new ways, instead of using each app in isolation or having to buy multiple iPad/iPhones and join them together with audio cables. Audio Copy/Paste helped lower the boundaries between apps. Audiobus is going to remove those boundaries completely.

It also solves many design problems for developers: they don’t have to think about input, output, file management etc. if they don’t want to. Instead they can just support Audiobus and focus on the core functionality while relying on other apps to provide the rest.

Synthtopia: Your latest milestone was announcing, Sept 13, that Apple has approved Audiobus. In your announcement, though, you also said that there is additional testing to do with the initial round of apps supporting Audiobus. Can you tell us what this Apple approval means in the larger process of taking Audiobus from an idea to technology musicians can use?

Sebastian Dittmann: The approval from Apple represents the largest hurdle we have had to pass. As Audiobus is such a new concept and is more “system component”-like than any other third party iOS product has been (on the App Store, anyway), it was not clear whether it would be something that Apple would back.

Now that Apple has given its approval, the final impediment has been passed.

Synthtopia: Before your announcement this week, there was speculation about whether Apple would approve Audiobus or whether features of iOS 6 might replace the need for Audiobus. How big of a concern have these been to you?

Sebastian Dittmann: Whether or not Apple would approve has indeed been a concern all along; this has represented the biggest risk for the project.

Aside from the possible implications for Apple’s approval, the possibility of a similar feature appearing in iOS 6 wasn’t of enormous concern for us: We knew that it was unlikely that Apple would be in a position to build a product with the feature set of Audiobus, simply due to the specificity of the problems Audiobus sets out to solve, which are beyond Apple’s typical scope.

Audiobus is a product made by iOS music app developers for iOS developers and we’ve been in contact with iOS music app developers and bloggers throughout the process of its creation.

Synthtopia: Some of the features that were originally planned for Audiobus were mixing and recording. What’s behind the decision to drop those features?

Sebastian Dittmann: As development proceeded, it became clearer and clearer that Audiobus’ strength lay in its ability to tie other apps together into a cohesive whole. One of the very things that makes this product so exciting to us is the fact that it allows for users to bring together apps with a small scope, but excellent quality: Apps that do “one thing well”.

It became clear to us that pouring our limited resources into building additional, auxiliary features into the Audiobus app itself, such as mixing and recording, was a less sensible option than devoting all of our efforts into making Audiobus excellent at tying together other apps, many of which already perform those functions excellently.

Synthtopia: There are a lot of mobile musicians anxious to try out Audiobus. Their biggest questions are: When will Audiobus be released?, How much will it cost? and What apps will support it? Can you address any of these questions?

Sebastian Dittmann: We have yet to set a launch date, as we are still working with a number of separate development teams to integrate Audiobus into the initial set of supporting apps.

We have also not yet fixed a price, although it is going to be in the sub-$10 price range.

We have a number of apps whose developers we are working with, many of which are extremely well-known and well-respected, but we are not going to disclose this list quite yet.

Synthtopia: What’s your timetable is for testing and releasing Audiobus, and what types of applications we should expect to see as part of the initial release?

Sebastian Dittmann: We’re not going to disclose the timetable for the release, but implementation and testing is happening right now as I am typing this.

As for other applications to expect: I think it’s impossible to tell what people might come up with, but one example for a new app that can only exist after Audiobus has been launched would be an effects app that only does that: add effects to a live audio stream. It would not need to have additional input or output options, and developers would not have to bother with file management or add all sorts of settings and configuration options as they would have before Audiobus.

To put it in a nutshell: Audiobus will enable developers to create one-purpose apps that allow them to do one thing, and one thing well, without having to focus on all the miscellaneous problems that pre-Audiobus apps have to deal with.

Synthtopia: Mobile music making technology is changing very quickly. What do you see as the future of music making on iOS? And do you think Android or Windows 8 devices will be able to challenge the iPad and iPhone anytime soon?

Sebastian Dittmann: I’m very sure there’s going to be more connectivity and compatibility with iOS devices from major manufacturers of music hardware as iOS becomes more popular with musicians.

Google has made some steps in the right direction with a lower latency audio implementation in Android 4.1, but the only devices supporting that in a decent way have almost no market-share. When we’re talking about iOS and music we’re mainly talking about the iPad – a tablet – and Android tablets make up less than 3% of all Android devices.

Until that changes and Google finds a way to stop fragmentation on Android in a way that gives developers a quasi-standard device specification to develop for, without having to test on 40+ Android devices, the music app market on Android won’t be able to compete with the music app market on iOS.

Windows 8 has a long road ahead before it can prove that it’s a viable market for developers. That’s all I can say about it since I’m not a fan of speculation.

36 thoughts on “What Is Audiobus & How Will It Change Mobile Music Making?

  1. Sounds great. Really glad to hear Apple gave approval. This really opens up some creative possibilities. If there’s one downer I see, it’s that the current generation of iPads can only support a handful of open & running apps simultaneously. But, processing power will continue to improve, and that’ll be less of an issue.

    One other thought… does anyone think this is something Apple may decide to scoop up and make a native system component?

    1. I’m glad I skipped the last iPad update and stuck with my iPad 2. The new one will undoubtedly feature the new connector and hopefully the new CPU. See you in June.

  2. i still dont fully understand if the app hast to support audiobus on its own. in particular ims-20. (which is notorious for lack of updates) seems not.
    that would indeed be a bummer because i have a nagging feeling detune wont be updating it any more.

    1. Sebastian

      The big question I have is why developers would want to be dependent on you or any other third party developer.

      If Audiobus doesn’t have a big audience and you lose interest, won’t developers that support Audiobus be screwed?

  3. thanks alot sebastian.

    now you dont have any hints as whether korg is on the developer list supporting the audiobus?
    i am asking for alot i know…

    cheers for an excellent app and looking forward to supporting it.

    1. i hope you are right but korg is the master of dumb moves. the whole microkorg regurgitation when peple are screaming for analog is plain obtuse.

      1. Sounds like you may not be a businessman.

        If Korg or Yamaha saw Dave Smith and Moog eating their lunch, they’d do something different. Remember the Andromeda that nobody bought?

        There are a lot more ‘players’ than ‘synthesists’ and companies gotta make what people will buy!

        1. “There are a lot more ‘players’ than ‘synthesists’ and companies gotta make what people will buy!”

          that is a point. on the other hand – even a small vocal community indicates a far bigger market opportunity.(which in this case is not small at all)

          point: arturia – which apparently cant even meet the demand for minibrute.
          point: people were literaly dying for electribes update. elektron filled the gap but i still prefer sx to my octatrack in many ways.
          point:pulse 2
          not to mention dsi stuff, boomstars, and many other.

          these companies have felt the demand and reacted. korg on the other hand is creating the hype with great success (monotribe, monotrons) but not capitalising on it. instead we get slimmed down kronos and minikorg reskin.

          hence dumb moves. and korg, the king of.

  4. Sub $10 price? Reasonable 🙂
    I just hope the supporting Apps don’t start to offer Audiobus through IAPs…

    Anyway, best of luck 🙂 This will probably revolutionize iOS music making.

  5. So this is basically what Linux has with JACK since ages. It’s funny how everytime iOS finally catches up with desktop OSes in some area, people talk about “revolutionary” and “whole new” this and that.

    1. Actually – you’re the only one that brought up the ‘revolutionary’ and ‘whole new’ angle.

      AudioBus promises to be a useful tool with a great UI and developer support. This is not something that really exists on Linux (Win 95 UI lives!) or on other mobile devices.

      Lets see you do any of what’s demonstrated in the video on a Linux tablet! lol

      1. LOL you’ve never heard of JACK.. Get a copy of Ubuntu Studio, it comes installed with JACK and about 150 LADSPA filters, and Ardour (multitrack recorder), LMMS, ZynAddSubFx, etc..

  6. Chris, that’s exactly what I think when I read these posts. Anyway… this will be really useful for iOS musicians, but they could mention Jack as inspiration or anything, because it’s basically the same.

  7. actually, JACK has existed on OS X for almost as long as it has on Linux. What JACK is missing is not technology, per se, but a small core group of developers who have the time and motivation to focus like a laser on (a) iOS and (b) the right GUI (the audiobus guys seem to have done a fairly nice job in this area). JACK on OS X has received a large amount of brilliant and difficult work from Stephane Letz, and I believe that he has even experimented with an iOS port, but that doesn’t close the gap that separates JACK from The Shiny That Is AudioBus. It would certainly be nice if the AudioBus guys could have mentioned its existence.

    ps. I’m the original author of JACK.

  8. I have to question all the people making negative comments toward Audiobus – have you used it? Do you have use for it? Are you even a musician? I use AURIA on my iPad 3 with a Focusrite 18i6, and the only thing killing Aurias’ creative ability was its lack of VST instrument support – now there is no need for that support as Audiobus is doing EXACTLY WHAT I WANT! (Maybe with the lack of midi sequencer on AURIAs’ end, but I can live with that).

    I grew up plugging anything into everything to make sounds, syncing multiple tape recorders to get multitrack, splicing cables, hacking circuit boards and spending EVERY LAST RED RAZOO on my true passion – MUSIC – so it never ceases to amaze me when a tool comes along that makes life sooooo simple and is soooooo cheap, that every “tech head” as to rip it to pieces for what it won’t do, or criticise it because it has been done before in some other format. Have you ever purchases a brand new hardware sub mixer for $15? I think not, and in iOS terms, that’s exactly what you are getting.

    Now that that has been said, lets see all the wowsers jump away from their forums for five minutes and see you all actually go and MAKE SOME MUSIC with this wonderfull tool and take it for what it is.


  9. ^ ……no disrespect to Paul Davis with my comments, but JACK does not exist for iOS, and as the headline is “What is Audiobus & how will it change MOBILE music making?” that’s what we are talking about, right?

  10. Well not only did Apple approve it, they used the API in their very own Garageband, which makes it an amazing audio recording DAW.

  11. You guys just dissed Paul Davis, I can’t believe you did that..BY THE WAY , it does exist for iOS, now.. And , it works, checkout my videos on youtube, “http://www.youtube.com/kiernanholland”.

    I’ve got about 400 subscribers, many I picked up from when I used to post linux/wine tips..

    Open Source may not dominate the world, but it will make the impossible possible..

  12. BY THE WAY , I own about 900+ licenses to use (know the distinction) iOS apps (that apple can choose to revoke at any day in the future). I have experienced this with Alias/Wavefront, its why I keep one foot in the open source world. About 20 of the apps I have are already supported by AudioBus. I choose to use the iPad because I was made aware that OSX is in open source, though only in theory but not in a generally accessible and compilable way. And that open source has a way of salvaging what gets left behind, and Linux does. Now I’m for the iOS concept of software sales because it forces developers to compete, and to listen to the users needs, and I like that the app store is pushing the idea of vendor accountability, that comes with the package manager concept that Linux already has, and is why I think Linux and iOS are virus free, you can only get your apps from one place, unless you work hard to do otherwise. Such as getting a Apple Developer $100/yr license (and free git enabled IDE with your macintosh called Xcode) and compiling sources quickly and easily and installed on your iPad, which is how I can do with Jack on my iPad. Now I could use Xcode to install viruses on my iPad but nobody else can get them, and its the only way to get viruses on an iPad without a path of accountability, but I’m only hurting myself if I do that. The purpose of Linux is to enable users, not to overcome existing software in the commercial sector, although people could do better with open source, its limited to what open source exists, and the idea is if open source enables you to do something great, you will be compelled to give back in some way, as is human nature, unless you are a sociopath or believe that your karma says you deserve to have free software, which is a attitude that kills open source projects. Open source is developer (disgruntled user) driven, just as commercial software is.. I think Apple has the perfect platform to encourage new developers to make it and get it distributed without being a huge software house. Another example would be Valve’s Steam marketplace. The fallout of all this , in the future developers who can’t get their software sold but can encourage its adoption in future designs can release theirs into the open source. Like it is that you can go to a public library (in America) and pull a book off a shelf and read it without buying. But there are jealous minds, that would want this never to be an option, like the song “taxman” from the beatles, they would want you to be paying $1 for a copy on every new device you buy, and limit those whom you can share it with, because software permits it to occur..

  13. Due to Paul Davis’ free will, and support from users of his software, he is able to maintain ardour in open source, the main advantage being he doesn’t have to deal with the business of software sales such as CEO’s that might kick him off his project. I believe that the product designers should be the developers of the software, and the developers should use their own software. open source is driven by use, it isn’t driven by the idea that “if you build it they will come” or the idea of designing an application to pander to a market like schools that purchase copies of Maya in hopes that their students will find jobs in the commercial sector utilizing that knowledge.. Open source helps to get it through the thick skull of those Ignorant bizheads in suits “what is important” and why you don’t go pandering to the hearts (don’t go breaking my heart?) of those who expect one thing but you can’t provide (knowingly).. open source exists because commercial software fails when he commercial (conflict of interest) overtakes the business plan, and only a few consumers ever really get what they need.. If there is a hand there to hold, you can bet someone is going to find a way to make money on it.. But the informed user will find the solutions, and thank god for truth.. The truth is here, and it is called open source. Closed source is not unlike the devil, who hides his ways from those who are deceived into thinking they can rely on that tool to be there for them.. But who can say what will happen when a companies business plan is amended or compromised by human failure. Open source will be there as long as there are peer2peer services keeping pirated copies of software and media in the ether.. As long as people have interest, but pretending it doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it won’t, you are only deceiving yourself.. Love lives on.. Lies die.

  14. By the way loopy hd has a sucky interface, too many gestures between the user and what thy want to do, modal gesture driven software makes sense if you got adequate feedback, and I have yet to understand Loopy.. Ipad permits you freedom to experiment with new interface ideas, but don’t confuse that with success, I’m sure many iPad developers will find failures, like joystick driven games suck on the iPad but car based and board game style and some such as the dragons lair swiping of “infinite blade”, do well. BY THE WAY if you get the poison ring the green one with a spike, infinite blade becomes too easy for four days of play. While Audiobus is easy to use, I think its developers are pretending JACK doesn’t exist because they fear it will overtake Audiobus.. The solution is to incorporate JACK into the design somehow, but I doubt they will learn.. I’ve suggested a feature to the jack developer that will steamroll Audiobus if they don’t get their act together. But I doubt the Audiobus guys listen to voices in the desert. We’ll see if the JACK guys assimilate. BY THE WAY , I was the guy who old Ton blender would be the Atomic bomb in 1998, and motivated the users to understand blender’s inner workings and how it was revolutionary..

    I’m also the guy who placed over 350 videos on youtube demonstrating how to install linux, install games on wine, showed that all the games that I installed on wine could be completed in wine, such as the entire Valve orange box with the exception of HL2 Death match which won’t work, but most mods do. The reason most software fails to run on wine is due to copy protection or just poorly written software. Open source favors “commonly used” hardware and open standards, new hardware hardly ever works unless its compliant with an open standard.. Have you ever noticed how happy people are with the iPad’s? Its because it is a specific design that is compliant with itself, and it isn’t extensible really, so the software can be used to exploit the hardware fully.. That’s partly why I have one.. Android will have no such luck.. But if you are talking about a hardware extensible platform, I go with linux on a PC over a mac. The only reason I have a mac is to program iPad’s.. And it is no wonder that Xcode is apple’s most downloaded program on their app store. IT’S THE NeXT OS coding environment, are you kidding? My professors raved about that computers ease of software development! But, you won’t find a NVidia GTX 570 on a mac any day soon, for $150. Note, in blender’s “cycles” engine you can render (utilizing CUDA) on a GTX 570 10 times faster than a AMD Phenom2x6 (6 core processor, an i7 has 4 cores). Know your tech and why you get it.. JACK is unstable, but I’m hoping the iPad platform will change that..

  15. BY THE WAY to the loopy guy, if you want to improve the interface..
    Add some lights to each track that permit the user to know what mode it is in, offer an alternative to a gesture driven interface, like a linear wave interface with buttons. They can use your gesture driven interface if they want to look mystical onstage.. Musicians want cool interfaces because it makes things exciting, but some of us who buy these apps get them experiment with ideas..if it takes more than one tutorial or you to exploit the characteristics of your software, its either too complex, or you need to change the interface design.

    One thing jack has that Audiobus doesn’t is a complete understanding of how he audio and midi is being routed, since every Audiobus app has its own way of offering these features, there is no clear way how things interact or how things are controlled, there is no standard other than the Audiobus screen and its sidebar widget..it’s like JACK with training wheels. But have you ever had a discussion with a guitarist why a midi cable can’t be used to transfer audio to his computer, I have.. Musicians are great people, but many are artists first , technologists last.. One thing you risk losing when you become a programmer is what you hated about software in the first place, that drove you to want to program.

  16. Note technically you can transfer audio to a computer with midi , but your 56Kbaud modem would be faster, at least on the download, uproute 56k baud modems are limited by the phone company to about 33kb/s. But the discussion I had with him in a radio shack in front of people, and was not laughed at BY THE WAY , was that MIDI cables were only for data and not analog sound. Consider this was not laughed at, and this was in Los Alamos, NM home of the atpmic bomb, at one time highest number of PHD’s per capita.. Physicists hate (most do) computers..

  17. KEEP IN MIND ROBERT MOOG WANTED TO BE A PHYSICIST, NOT A ANLOG SYNTH DESIGNER. just sayin.. I’d side with audiobus on its ease of use, but its authors seem worried the iOS users will realize there is something more off the matrix.

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