Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Metronome Apps in Review

Every clarinetist needs a metronome for practicing and teaching.  An increasing number of people are using metronome apps rather than traditional metronomes, but the number of metronome applications available for iPod/iPhone is overwhelming.  A metronome is a seemingly simple concept, but these apps vary wildly in tempo ranges, options for subdivisions and meters, and even accuracy.  We compared some of the cheapest and most popular metronome apps to guide you in selecting one that fits your needs.

The most important attribute in a metronome for professional musicians is accuracy, and a surprising number of these apps failed to keep time when we tested them in comparison with a Dr. Beat DB-66.  Extreme low and high metronome settings can also be useful - why stop at 210 bpm when you can go to 800?  We looked at these features and more, and came up with a list that we hope will be helpful to those of you searching for the perfect app.  Here are the metronomes we tested, in order from best to worst:

(Note: We were only able to test metronome apps for iOS platforms, but we've heard that "Mobile Metronome" works great on Android devices.)

Metronome: Tempo by Frozen Ape - $1.99
Verdict: Lives up to the hype

This app was recommended to us by quite a few people, and for good reason: $1.99 is a small price to pay for a good metronome, and this one has lots of adjustable settings for visuals and sounds.  It offers an accurate tap feature, and the "setlist" function lets you save multiple metronome settings and switch between them quickly.

Accuracy: good
Range: 10 - 800
Sound: medium loud, offers choice of 9 different sound sets
Rhythms: Offers all common meters and subdivisions, but no odd meters like 5/4.  Allows muting of any beat within the meter.
Visuals: very small pendulum; can also turn on a flash which makes the whole screen flash red on each beat.

Steinway Metronome by Steinway Musical Instruments - FREE
Verdict: best free app, use with external speakers

Unlike most free metronome apps, this one has a tap function.  It features a circular dial and a visual flash that can be turned on and off.

Accuracy: overall stays on track but slight glitch noticeable at high speeds
Range: 35-224
Sound: quiet, only one choice of sound
Rhythms: choice of many different meters, but no subdivisions
Visuals: can be set to flash on downbeat or all beats

Metronome Plus by Dynamic App Design - $.99
Verdict: Decent app - wait to buy until more features are added

According to the developers, future updates will include a tap function and more features.

Accuracy: good
Range: 30 - 300
Sound: loudest of the apps tested; four different sound choices
Rhythms: good choice of meters; can choose subdivisions but no dotted sixteenth or first-and-third triplet rhythms
Visuals: orange light moves back and forth

EasyBeats LE by Hopefully Useful Software - FREE (Pro version is $4.99)
Verdict: Fun and accurate metronome alternative

A metronome is essentially a simple drum machine, so why not play scales to a rock-n-roll beat, or create a jazz pattern for working on swing rhythms?  This app allows you to create your own beat pattern using sixteen different drum sounds.  The downside is that making beats can take a while, and you have to pay an extra $.99 for the ability to save patterns.

Accuracy: good
Range: 0.0 - 220.0  (allows adjustment to 1/10 of a bpm but slider is difficult to adjust with accuracy)
Sound: loud, offers variety of drumset sounds
Rhythms: many subdivision possibilities, but the basic loop is set up in 4/4
Visuals: can watch beat patterns in two different views - pads (where pads light up as they sound) or patterns (where a line moves across the pattern - see screenshot).

BackBeat Free by Cameron Bytheway (Pro version is $2.99)
Verdict: inaccurate but useful for tone generator

This app has ads, but the pro version is ad-free, and features a tap function and additional sounds.  The preset player doesn't work in free version, and accuracy is poor despite claims of "ultra-accurate timekeeping engine." Good tone generator with 7 octaves, though.

Accuracy: poor
Range: 40 - 220
Sound: quiet, no sound options
Rhythms: has sliders for volume of beat and subdivision - similar to Dr. Beat style metronomes
Visuals: set of lights that flash with each beat.

Metronome - reloaded by Chris & Uwe - FREE
Verdict: avoid this app

A pendulum-style metronome like the one below but with a more modern design and with banner ads.  It allows user to key in the tempo using a keypad.  This metronome has a "timing adjustment" slider to make up for the "metronome timing drift" on different devices.  I tried to match up the speed of this app with my DB-66, and ended up with a 2.1% timing adjustment, a metronome that still wouldn't beat at 120 bpm consistently, and five minutes of my life that I'll never get back. 

Accuracy: poor, even with "timing adjustment" slider. 
Range: 30 - 209
Sound: Quiet, Only one sound
Rhythms: Can choose each number of the time signature from a slider, allowing any combination from 2/2 to 12/12 (useful if you're performing the music of Henry Cowell, perhaps).  No subdivisions available.
Visuals: Pendulum

Metronome by - FREE
Verdict: avoid this app

This simple app attempts to emulate the old-school pendulum metronome.  It is difficult to adjust the slider to an exact tempo.

Accuracy: poor
Range: 1 - 210
Sounds - very quiet and only one choice of sound
Rhythms - only allows 2/4, 3/4, 4/4
Visuals: pendulum


Jared said...

You might want to put in an addendum: the Mobile Metronome app for Android is OK in terms of volume and accuracy, and the options aren't terrible. But, unlike Tempo, it is not a passable substitute for a Dr. Beat. There aren't enough options. You can't have one beat per measure, for example, and many of the subdivisions are missing.

I have yet to find an Android app that does the job well enough to chuck the Dr. Beat (or the iPod).

John Nastos said...

If you have a chance, check out Metronomics -- although some of the features are perhaps more useful to improvisors, it has an approach few others use, letting you choose random or sequenced subdivisions, forcing the player to become more reliant on their internal clock for timekeeping.

Anonymous said...

Tempo actually supports 35 time signatures, including 5/4. You have to hold on a meter button to access the others. But that's the old interface anyway. With the new interface you just tap on the meter button to select.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody know a metronome for iOS which supports variable tempo? Speed Upp ( does it on OS X but not for iOS unfortunately..

Anonymous said...

Jeos Groove Metronome is a nice app for Android:

Visit my site for Lake Clark Alaska Bear Viewing Tours website said...

As a beginning acoustic guitarist, this has everything I need. I am a purist, so I like the look of a traditional pendulum device, but with the convenience of an app. I can put it right on my music stand as a visual, as well as auditory, reference. Love! Paid for the upgrade and the warm fuzzy. :)

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