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.
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 have made a name for themselves by producing some of the best sounding audio interfaces in the industry. Luckily, they offer a high-quality solution that is low-cost and both 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. Other options include the iConnectivity iConnectAudio 4, which 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. Tascam also offers a low-cost interface, the iXR USB Audio/MIDI Interface, which is compatible with Mac/PC and is MFi-certified for all iOS devices.
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 interface with software. The Korg microKEY Series offer 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 offer 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 pushbutton rotary encoder. iRig Pads is compatible with iOS, Android, Mac, and PC and incudes Apple Lightning, 30-pin, and USB cables. For the hardcore producer looking for a complete production station, the Native Instruments Maschine Mikro MK3 is a hardware controller and software package that includes a fantastic library of sounds. The controller easily fits into your backpack with your laptop for producing entire tracks anywhere. Native Instruments has also released the Maschine MK3, which offers an updated controller interface with high-resolution screens, facilitating a faster and more intuitive production workflow.
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 Yeti Pro, 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 Plus 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.
If you are looking to mix several sources together, there are a number of 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 allow 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 as they cram racks of equalizers, dynamics processors, and effects into a compact and portable form. The Behringer XR-Air Series offer 12, 16, and 18 channel models and require either 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 make 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, which offers Apple Lightning connectors for iPad control and include an integrated iPad dock on the faceplate, as well as the latest DL16S and DL32S, which feature a stagebox format with a built-in Wi-Fi antenna for a quick and easy deployment in any environment.
Portable Beat Machines
Perhaps you are looking to make music on-the-go without using an iPad or computer. Fortunately, there are several high-quality drum machines, synthesizers, and complete sampling production workstations available. The Korg Electribe Series offer two models, the Music Production Station and the Sampler Music Production Station. Each offer 16 trigger pads, a touch pad, effects & 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 battery, 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 powered by battery and offers a 2-part analog modeled synthesizer and a 4-pard 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 several small, battery powered units including the all analog Beats Analog Rhythm Machine, Bass Machine, and Keys Analog Loop Synthesizer. Additionally, the Volca Series offers digital offerings including FM, a digital FM synthesizer, and the Sample, a digital sampler sequencer. Korg’s latest Volca offerings include the Nubass, a vacuum tube synthesizer; the Drum, which offers digital percussion modeling; and the Modular, which offers West Coast style of synthesis, complete with micro-patch cords. 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. Akai has re-introduced the stand-alone music production centers (MPC) again with the flagship MPC X and the portable MPC Live. Both offer touch-screen interfaces and can connect to a computer for expanded production features. The MPC Live is battery powered, making it well suited for producers on the go. Akai’s latest offering, the Force, is a complete stand-alone machine that offers a powerful sampler, virtual instruments, near-infinite effects, and a 64-pad matrix not unlike the Ableton’s Push. What’s more, the Force exports songs as Ableton Live session and offers control over Ableton Live wirelessly.
This wraps up our “Back to School: Beat Making on Campus” for the on-the-go producer. There’s a ton of options for any budget, so do your research and find out what tech works best for you. Whether it’s a hybrid computer/controller setup or a full, stand-alone production station, B&H has what you need. I hope you find the information useful and it helps get you up and running right away. If you have questions or suggestions, please add to the comments, below!