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Back to School: Beat-Making on Campus

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Headed back to school and looking for some portable inspiration to capture and produce your musical musings? Look no further as we explore what B&H has to offer. Whether you are looking to record to your computer and iOS devices, or you need an ultra-portable music production station, synthesizer, or drum machine, check out this list of “must have” gear that won’t break the bank.

Audio interfaces


If you have a computer or iPad and wish to record and mix using software such as Garage Band, you’ll need some way of capturing sounds into your device. Apogee Electronics has made a name for itself by producing some of the best-sounding audio interfaces in the industry. Luckily, the company offers high-quality solutions that are low cost and iOS and Mac compatible. The Apogee Duet USB is a 2-input, 4-output audio interface with two boutique-quality microphone preamps; perfect for recording guitar and vocals simultaneously. The smaller Apogee One  is a 2-in/2-out interface that features an onboard condenser mic, Apple Lightning connector for iOS, and a single boutique-quality mic pre. The iConnectivity iConnectAudio 4 offers an expansive host of audio and MIDI inputs and outputs. Not only that, this is the only interface that offers Mac, PC, and iOS connectivity simultaneously, allowing you to send audio and MIDI data between all platforms. iConnectivity also makes the smaller and lower cost iConnectAudio 2. For the budget conscious, check out the PreSonus Audio Box iOne that offers a single microphone preamp, instrument input, 2 outputs, and compatibility with Windows, Mac, and iOS.

MIDI controllers


You can certainly use your mouse/trackpad to enter notes to trigger and record virtual instruments, but a MIDI controller allows for a more tactile and expressive way to interface with software. The Korg microKEY Series offers several smaller keyboards in various sizes that are cross-platform compatible and can be powered by USB from a computer or iOS device. It’s worth noting that the microKEY Air Series offers wireless Bluetooth technology. If you are looking for a controller with drum pads, check out the IK Multimedia iRig Pads, which offer 16 velocity-sensitive pads, 2 knobs, 1 slider, and 1 push-button rotary encoder. iRig Pads is compatible with iOS, Android, Mac, and PC and incudes Apple Lightning, 30-pin, and USB cables. For an even smaller and portable solution, check out the Livid Instruments Minim, a pocket-sized wireless controller that is equipped with 8 pads, 15 buttons, and a single touch fader. The Minim is about the size of an iPhone and connects wirelessly to any iOS or OS X device. For the hardcore producer looking for a complete production station, the Native Instruments Maschine Mikro MK2 is a hardware controller and software package that includes a fantastic library of sounds. The controller fits easily into your backpack with your laptop for producing entire tracks anywhere.  

Microphones


There are a ton of microphones available and all will work with any microphone preamp or audio interface. However, you might be looking for the smallest and easiest way to simply record directly to your computer or iOS device. Check out USB condenser microphones, such as the Blue Spark USB Mic, which offers different polar patterns, onboard gain, volume and mute controls, a built-in headphone jack, and a handy desktop stand. Apogee also makes the MiC 96k USB, which is compatible with Mac and iOS and features high-quality 24-bit/96 kHz converters. For a dedicated digital stereo microphone for iOS Apple Lightning devices, the Shure MOTIV MV88 provides bidirectional and cardioid cartridges with an adjustable stereo width, mid-side architecture, and high-quality 24-bit/48 kHz-resolution converters. A free app is available for iOS, offering 5 DSP settings and more.

Mixers


If you are looking to mix a number of sources together, there are low-cost analog and digital mixers with built-in audio interfaces that will allow you to record into a computer or iOS device. Check out the Soundcraft Signature Series mixers that feature 16-, 12-, and 10-channel configurations with built-in Lexicon effects and a 2-in/2-out USB audio interface for Mac and PC. High-quality Sapphyre British EQ allows you to fine-tune and balance your instruments before recording. Another brand to check out is the Allen & Heath ZED Series mixers, which also include USB connectivity for audio send and return to a computer, built-in effects, and high-quality equalizers. The Yamaha AG06 and AG03 are very small mixers with high-quality 24-bit/192 kHz converters, built-in DSP, and are compatible with Mac, PC, and iOS devices. The mixers can be powered by the USB bus from the computer or iOS device.

Digital mixers are worth a mention because they cram racks of equalizers, dynamics processors, and effects into a compact and portable form. The Behringer XR-Air Series offers 12-, 16-, and 18-channel models and requires a computer or iPad for full control over the mixer. A built-in Wi-Fi router allows you to control the mixer wirelessly from anywhere in the room. The 12- and 16-channel versions offer onboard stereo recording, while the 18-channel version is equipped with an 18-input / 18-output USB audio interface that not only lets you record 18 tracks simultaneously, but can also route the recorded tracks back through the mixer to take advantage of the well-equipped mix engine. Additionally, the X-18 offers the same capabilities as the XR-18, but in a compact desktop format. Soundcraft also makes the Ui Series mixers with 12- and 16-channel inputs that can be controlled via Wi-Fi from a tablet, phone, or computer. Other digital mixers worth mentioning are the Mackie DL1608 and DL806 that offer Apple Lightning connectors for iPad control and include an integrated iPad dock on the faceplate. Record the stereo output directly to the iPad and upload it to your favorite DAW for finalizing.

Portable beat machines


Perhaps you are looking to make music on the go without using an iPad or computer. Fortunately, there are a number of high-quality drum machines, synthesizers, and complete sampling production workstations available. The Korg Electribe Series offers two models, the Music Production Station and the Sampler Music Production Station. Each offers 16 trigger pads, a touch pad, effects and groove templates, master effects, and a wide assortment of patterns with an abundance of presets, as well as user sets. The Music Production Station offers 409 oscillator waveforms, while the Sampler offers a hybrid sampling and modeling engine with up to 270 seconds of sampling time. Both units can be powered by the included AC adapter or via batteries, making them an excellent choice for a portable workstation. What’s more, you can export patterns in Ableton Live format and each comes with a free version of Ableton Lite. Another super-portable electronic power house is the Novation Circuit, which can also be battery powered and offers a 2-part analog modeled synthesizer and a 4-part drum machine. The Circuit can import samples and sequencing can be done in real time or via the 32-step sequencer. There are 8 macros for tweaking sounds, and all knob movements can be recorded into the sequencer. The unit features a USB port that supports audio and MIDI for integration with a computer. If you prefer a more modular approach, the Korg Volca Series offers a number of small, battery-powered units, including the all-analog Beats Analog Rhythm Machine, Bass Machine, and Keys Analog Loop Synthesizer. Additionally, the Volca Series has added the FM, a digital FM synthesizer, and the Sample, a digital sampler sequencer. Each Volca can be synchronized with the other models and includes a built-in 16-step sequencer with eight memory patches and a motion sequencer for recording knob tweaks.

Have any questions or comments about beat-making gear you can take to school with you? Feel free to share them in the Comments section, below.

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