How to Use iPad as a Spectrum Analyzer (Without Buying an Audio Interface)

Just a quick post today to show you guys a new workflow improvement I’ve started implementing.

I’ve always fantasized (yes) of having an external spectrum analyzer and/or a loudness meter as part of my studio setup when mixing. I recently bought an iPad Air and started wondering if I could use it for that purpose. Sure enough!

There are plenty of dedicated spectrum analyzer apps available for the iPad. But using those would require for me to buy a dedicated audio interface like this one to use with the iPad (in order to get the audio in to the iPad from my main audio interface).

I’m sure this would be a great solution, and having a good audio/MIDI interface for the iPad would also serve other purposes like routing iPad synths back into the computer. But I couldn’t justify spending money for that right now since I only really wanted to run a spectrum analyzer on the iPad. So I started thinking about other ways to do it.

Fortunately, I discovered there are at least a couple of alternative solutions!


Solution 1: Air Display

Air Display 2I bumped into this app by Avatron called Air Display (priced 9,99$). It allows you to use your iPad as an external computer screen. Just like any other screen, you can mirror your computer screen or you can use it as a second display. So in no time at all I had my iPad set up as a second screen and had my Pro Tools session set up to run a spectrum analyzer on it. It was very easy to set up. Banging.


iPad as spectrum analyzer

Here’s how I have it set up. iPad with Air Display can also be set up to work as a touch screen interface which could be cool for some applications.

Air Display 2 works on Mac (10.7 and above) and PC (Windows 7 and 8).


Air Display: Possible Issues

I want to be clear that while Air Display extends my screen space, it’s not the same as having a real computer screen (on my system at least – I am running a MacBook Pro 2010 with i7 & 8GB RAM).

The iPad screen with Air Display 2 is a little slow to update on my system when there’s more stuff running on it. If I am running a spectrum analyzer or a loudness meter alone it’s fine. But when I try to run both on the same screen it starts to freeze.

It’s also possible to run it as a touch interface but I don’t find it very practical – it feel slow and clunky.

I don’t know why this is, but it works well enough for my purpose in any case when running just one spectrum analyzer plugin on the screen. However you might want to do some research and make sure it works for you if you are considering buying it for something more intensive.



Solution 2: V-Control Pro

V-Control ProPlease note: This is something I haven’t bought and tested myself yet. But I’m going to bring it up as someone is probably going to mention it anyway.

Neyrinck V-Control Pro (priced 44,99$) is a full featured DAW control surface application. V-Control Pro has a feature called V-Window which allows you to bring up any open window (like a spectrum analyzer plugin) on the iPad while retaining transport controls at the bottom of the screen.

I don’t really have the need for an iPad DAW control surface for now since I prefer to use the iPad to run as a dedicated spectrum analyzer. And that I can do with Air Display for much cheaper.

If you are looking for a control surface app that can run plugins in their own windows and do a whole lot more though, you should look into V-Control. It seems like a solid solution and works with a range of DAWs on both Mac and PC.



How Do You Use Your iPad When Making Music?

I’m really enjoying this new feature in my setup – the spectrum analyzer is always there in an instant when I need it.

There are loads of cool things you can do with an iPad. Do you have a workflow or an idea you would like to share? Let us know in the comments.

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  • Richard TruetoLife Pring

    Hey Ilpo, Air Display looks good for a 2nd display… Gonna try that out. Hopefully I wont have any issues. I have a new 27inch iMac 3.2ghz.
    As for a control surface app, I use the Logic Remote app for Logic X which works brilliantly.

    • Hey Richard, Air Display was very easy to set up for me, had no problems.

      Do you find yourself using Logic remote a lot? I don’t have it (also I am still on Logic 9), and I am just not sure I would benefit from using a control surface software on the iPad. I’ve had a DAW controller hardware unit before and with that I found out that I just ended up using the mouse and keyboard anyway most of the time. Just more convenient for me I guess.

      • Richard TruetoLife Pring

        Cool…I only really use Logic Remote for mixing, so just use the mixer on it really. Its good you can use it as a midi controller too, although I find it lags a bit. So i stick to my Axiom Pro for that.
        I know what you mean about sticking with the mouse and keyboard, I guess its what you are used to using.

        • Ok – yeah I guess it’s what you’re used to like you said. I’ll probably give V-control a shot at some point (it’s great that it supports all 3 DAWs I use).

  • Cheers for the tips Lasse.

    In my previous experience, the low end is where many “budget” audio interfaces (especially the built-in ones in many computers) become bad. Of course there could be a high pass filter on the mic input like you said.

    I’ve been looking at Lemur but don’t really know what I would do with it yet! It looks like a great piece of software, but pretty complicated. I am not the biggest tweakhead and things like that always seem to put me off a bit by nature. That’s just me! Having said that I’m sure there are some great possibilities with that software. Need to learn more about it.

  • DasLicht

    Which solution offers a fast refresh of the iPad ?

    • I am inclined to think V-Control through the V-Window feature, but I have not tested it myself. If anyone can confirm, please let us know.

      • DasLicht

        Thank you, do you know any way to charge and use a audiointerface and maybe a keyboard at the same time with an iPad Air ?

        • I have read people are using powered USB hubs into camera connection kit to use several USB devices with iPad at once. Whether that will also charge, I don’t know, but I would assume so.

          • DasLicht

            very nice! Do I need to be aware of picking a compatible hub or will it work with any ?

          • Never used one with iPad but my general experience is that some hubs just work when others (usually the cheap ones) give you trouble. I would recommend to pay a little bit more for a quality one and check reviews before you buy to make sure it works.

  • sebastian

    Bit off topic but relating to your picture, and other people may be interested. What’s your opinion on your monitoring position? How far away are you sitting from your monitors and are you happy with the phantom image? What would be an ideal spacing between monitors and listening position if it isn’t what you have setup?

    I’m dead keen on purchasing the a77x after reading all the stellar reviews, just concerned they could be terrible in a 3.40 x 3.17 x 2.40m room, though this is only temporary it pays to be aware of a possible setback.. The back wall is covered in foam with basstraps in those corners, the other end is raw/no absorption or diffusion. Any personal user notes you can add?

    • Great question. My monitoring position is definitely not ideal, especially for those speakers. Since that picture I have moved monitors closer togehter to form even triangle with listening position. I also have absorbing acoustic elements on the front, back and side walls now.

      The A77X arent desinged to be that close to the listener ideally. Having said that, that is the best I can do right now and the monitors still sound great. It works for me and my mixdowns have improved a lot since I got them.

      Also in some weird way I like having that wall of sound right next to me when I work. Something I always do is touch the bass driver to get a better feel of the low frequencies. Lol.

      It is also very much a question of getting used to the room you work in. Because all rooms affect the sound in some way and it takes time to adjust to that whenever there are changes. But yeh, even in less ideal conditions, through critical listening and referencing, you will eventually learn to know how music should sound in your room and with your specific monitoring setup, and will be able steer towards the right direction when mixing. A lot of it is subconscious and happens slowly over time.

      • On stereo image, with speakers that close it definitely suffers and the sweet spot is very small. But I can work with it.

        In smaller rooms I always felt that keeping the volume down (or at least not blasting full on) helps too. I guess modest volume means less soundwave energy bouncing back & forth in the room.

        I definitely don’t think the monitors would sound bad in your room. Less ideal for sure, but still a good choice IMO if you know you will be moving to a larger room later on.

        I definitely wanted to get monitors that will stay with me for a long time so that’s also why I chose those guys. I love them and they will get even better some day when I have the possibility to build a separate studio space again. That’s how I look at it.

        • Guest

          Informative reply, cheers. Devastating about the studio flooding!..

          The lower monitoring volumes and reducing the power of reflections makes sense, hadn’t thought of it in that light.

          Borrowing my mates BM5a mkII at the moment and they sound pretty good in here. You think there would be much of a bass build up pushing the crates/stands slightly further out to the walls for the A77X sit sideways?

          Also looking to make a broadband absorber to hang from the listening position, not that that’ll really do much to the bass but it’ll help with the image somewhat.

          edit: posted a picture but didn’t show up.

          • Guest


          • sebastian

            Oh man not sure what happened with all the pics and the formatting of my reply, sorry. Feel free to delete..

          • No worries!

            Cool man.

            BM5a MK2’s are good, I had those at one point too. Imaging on them was especially nice. I’m not getting the same level of imaging right now, but it’s probably because of different room+less treatment and the way I have the monitors set up.

            Hard to say about bass buildup. Every room is different. It depends on how standing waves line up. Moving the monitors in any direction even a little bit might make things worse or better. If you have a sub then the sub position also of course plays in.

            My experience is for clarity usually it’s better to have the speakers off the walls by at least 50cm (or preferably more) – I just can’t do that right now myself. Because that creates more difference between direct sound and the front wall reflections, so they don’t get mixed.

            But yeah you also have to listen for buildup/gaps in the bass region and adjust monitor/listening position accordingly.

            A77X are designed to sit sideways so I would do that if you have the space for that. My listening position is so close to the speakers it’s not an option for me right now.

            Treating the ceiling on top of listening position helps a lot! It’s a huge reflective surface. Definitely do that if you can.

            It pays off to do some measuring if you can to figure out the frequency response of your room, and find out the best listening/monitor position. I’ve been using a cheap Radio Shack dB meter and this free program:

          • sebastian

            The Dyns feel like they have a more closed/tighter/narrow image than my Adam P22As that my friend is borrowing. Feels like I can get more of an overview of the whole picture a lot better, think it might be the smaller size monitor though.. They’re just slightly missing the low mid definition/separation I’m used to but the treble on tracks mixed on the Dyns are translating back to the P22A surprisingly well.

            It’s pretty mental having monitors the size of P22A right next to my face, they’re just a really big monitor, quite deep so even harder to have set off from the wall right now. I wasn’t having issues of being submerged in the mix in my old studio in Perth, hence my questions about your A77X setup.

            Looking at sacrificing the bed and start sleeping standing up to perfect my studio environment hahaha.. Will make some price enquiries on the A77X this week and also get onto making those panels. What I’ve read about the transparency of the the A77X at lower volumes due to separate tri-amped drivers is a big thing for me, the P22A unfortunately have more of an ideal operating level which is quite loud for my current location, AND I find they’re a bit hyped in the 3k range which I find tiring despite what the critics say..

            Thanks! That software looks good. Radio Shack 33-099? Work ok for the software? Two people on their site had theirs fail after a few uses -_-

          • Yeah the A77X are definitely fine on lower volumes too. Of course there’s always the urge to blast it out lol… In fact recently I have started experimenting working with calibrated monitor levels. I’ll probably do a blog post on that at some point.

            I use the Radio Shack 33-2055. You can find those very cheap on eBay. Has worked great for me for almost 10 years now.

          • sebastian

            Haha I know it. Feel sorry for my neighbours sometimes haha oh god.. :

            Done some shopping around, going to order a pair A77X tomorrow. F*ckn excited man!!..

            Thanks for all the info man. Big respect 🙂

          • Great choice, happy for you, congratz!!

  • Hexwing

    Well theres also Lemur for Ipad which is fricking awesome.

    • daslicht

      Hoe do you do this with Lemur ? please?