I’ve already reviewed a few of the best image editing and video editing apps for Chrome, but what about those of you wanting to make music with your Chromebook? You’re not alone — Audio Tool has made it possible with a complete music production studio in a web app. As it turns out, not only is making music in the cloud possible… it just may be better.
Audio Tool is an extremely powerful (and extremely free) music production app for Chrome. Those of you who are used to similarly advanced studio/music programs on Windows and Mac OS X won’t be disappointed (to give you some idea of how complex this program is, take a look at some of the screenshots below). Yet, if you’re like me and have little to no musical ability, it’s user-friendly enough to just play around with. To be honest, I find Audio Tool much more user-friendly than GarageBand, which I have had on my Mac for three years and have yet to make anything that sounds remotely decent in. By contrast, it took me a mere 10-15 minutes to set up a catchy sequence with this app.
Audio Tool’s main interface allows you to drag both new-tech and vintage analog devices (drums, synths, effects modules, mini-mixers, and other tools) from the side panel into the desktop area. Depending on how you place these devices in relation to eachother, the audio cables will automatically and instantly re-configure themselves. It’s not just a cool visual — you can affect the order of these devices in the chain this way, completely changing the final sound.
You can zoom in or out of the desktop area with a flick of the scroll wheel, allowing you to get a better view of your device chain or to make up-close adjustments. You can also drag the separator between the desktop and the sequencer to match your personal preference (for example, if you want either one to fill the screen).
Yes, all the controls on the synthesizers and effect modules actually function — with breathtaking precision. At first, I assumed some of the controls were just there for accuracy and vintage aesthetics, but you can twist every knob, drag every slider, flip every switch. Basically, you can fine-tune every modulation so much it’s scary.
If you want, of course, you can always just go crazy with the arsenal of modern and vintage-inspired synthesizer tools like the Pulverisateur, Kobolt, Machiniste, Beatbox 9, and the tool that became my favorite, the Tonematrix. Though I got some pretty-sounding melodies out of them just playing around, these tools will take some learning to really master. Fortunately, I found that Audio Tool has extensive documentation and helpful video tutorials for using individual instruments and tools, as well as basic concepts like side-chaining and working with audio tracks.
To go along with the numerous synthesizers and drumcomputers, there’s a sizable library of quality samples and loops organized into different categories.
Importing from Mic/MIDI
Audio Tool can accept input from external MIDI controllers and keyboards, something I was unfortunately unable to try out myself. There’s an “Autolearn” feature to help you assign the controls on your MIDI device to various device parameters.
You can import a wide variety of file formats (WAV, AIFF, MP3, and more), or you can record sound into Audio Tool directly from a mic; however, samples imported into the app are limited to a length of 30 seconds per clip. I have the feeling this limit will be changed soon after Chromebooks are released and users begin to demand it. However, it does help you get into the good practice of organizing separate vocal clips.
Importing files into Audio Tool takes just seconds. The playback controls are instant — I was expecting some kind of wait before I could preview my music sequence, but there isn’t any whatsoever — a great feeling. Saving and downloading your tracks also don’t take long at all. This is yet another one of those apps that you forget is a web app. Instant responsiveness, power/complexity, and rich detail are not things that most people are used to associating with “apps” (yet), but you’ll find all those elements in this top-notch app for your Chromebook.
Audio Tool is a powerful music production studio that gives you total freedom and control, with inspired design. The interface can be both streamlined and complex, depending on your needs and skill level. Even if you’re not experienced with music production, it’s undeniably fun to just experiment with the tools it gives you — and it’s completely free in the Chrome web store. I highly recommend it for both musicians and anyone who’s ever dreamed of being up to their knee-socks in synthesizers.
Note: For a multi-track audio recording/editing app with a more traditional interface, you should definitely take a look at Myna Audio Editor for Chrome.