Back to School: Five Pieces of Gear that got Me through Audio School


That’s a great idea!” exclaimed my manager as he went over the pitch-sheet for this article. “But—and don’t hate me for this—you’re way too old to write it.”

Running a hand through my thinning brown hair, I replied, “whatever do you mean?”

"In the time since you've graduated," he said, "you could've gone to college again. Twice." Here he suspended two fingers in the air. “Twice.

He was right. Moreover, my prospective list of collegial gear hadn't aged very well; at the top was a Boss BR1180 Recorder, which, these days, makes for an absolutely incredible doorstop.

Luckily I know someone fresh out of audio school: Joe Kimple, the Production Manager for Subrosa (a prominent Latin club in Manhattan) and a freelance sound engineer (he’s worked with ESPN, among others). Now, full disclosure, I've used Joe many times over the years, mostly in his capacity as a recording engineer. Even fuller disclosure, he's about to become my brother-in-law. So when my boss told me to find someone young, I thought, who better than Joe?

Joe obliged, but he was quick to qualify that he "went to a school with top-notch studio facilities,” and therefore, “did have other gear and studios to work with."

So, here are the five pieces of gear that got Joe through audio school.


Joe’s pick: MXL 990/991 Condenser Mic Package


Sitting down for an interview that was in no way a series of back-and-forth emails, Joe said, “I bought these when I was first applying to school. I had to record a demo, and these came bundled with an eight-channel Alesis USB mixer and a copy of Cubase. With practically no experience with recording technology, I chose this package, as it had all of the basic things I needed to limp my way through recording and mixing the demo.”

This is a great place to start. Unfortunately, you won’t find this package at B&H these days, but there’re plenty of comparable items. The Focusrite Scarlett Studio Bundle, for instance, gives you a condenser microphone, an audio interface, Cubase, and a bunch of other goodies to which Joe didn’t have access.

Joe’s pick: DIGIdesign MBox Pro 2


“At one point,” Joe told me over a home-cooked meal of sweet, sweet gumbo, “I had gotten a copy of Pro Tools 8 on my computer, and was using a roommate’s 002 interface to run it. Shortly thereafter, he sold the interface, and I was left with a copy of Pro Tools that I couldn’t open (since you could only run PT with DIGIdesign hardware).” In no short order, Joe bought an Mbox Pro 2, securing himself “the ability to do true multi-track recording for my home recordings.”

Here Joe is showing his years a bit: Once upon a time Pro Tools used to require proprietary hardware to operate. This isn’t the case nowadays, but Joe still made a good call on buying a dual I/O interface; it’s an excellent choice for a mobile rig. And you can make a good call too—provided you read my colleague’s excellent primer on great interfaces for less than $500.00 a pop.

MIDI Controller

Joe’s Pick: Akai MPK49


Crashing on my couch for a month after he first moved to New York, Joe confided that, “in school, I was required to take several semesters of keyboard classes. I bought the MPK for a few reasons; it came highly recommended from a friend who produces electronic music, it featured a bank of drum pads, assignable faders and rotary knobs, and it came with a copy of Ableton Lite. This allowed me to start working within a new DAW to experiment with producing my own electronic tracks, and let me start working more with the stock virtual instruments in PT.”

As a conservatory student myself, I can testify to the copious numbers of keyboard classes they’ll put you through. Also, let’s be honest, if you want to produce music—not just make it, but help others make it—you should have a basic knowledge of the piano, as it will further your ability to create arrangements, understand music theory, and program necessary parts for a piece of music.

Joe’s choice here is an excellent one. Unfortunately, this model isn't available anymore, but only because Akai improved upon it, delivering the MPK 249—which is far more colorful.


Joe’s pick: AKG K240 Studio Professional Semi-Open Stereo Headphones


It might seem strange to buy headphones before monitors, but many people follow this path. I know I did; a good pair of headphones is cheaper than a good pair of monitors, so I went with Audio Technica ATH-M50’s before I ever could afford studio-quality speakers. The same goes for Joe, who “ended up looking at the AKGs at the suggestion of a salesperson, and was sold by the lightweight, over-ear fit.”


Joe’s pick: Alesis M1 Active (Pair)


After I told Joe that I wanted to marry his sister, he said, “I was mixing on headphones since I only had a pair of Logitech computer speakers with a ‘sub.’ Since these were completely unfit for mixing, I was stuck mixing on headphones. That worked for a while, but I reached the point where I knew I had to upgrade if I wanted to continue advancing my mixes.” At a big-box store, he found these puppies. But he was circumspect about his purchase, listening “to a few of my own mixes on them before pulling the trigger.”

Here Joe showed great wisdom—you should definitely judge prospective listening gear with your own music and mixes as a reference point. True, the specific iteration Joe mentioned are a bit dated. But Alesis offers a new take on this line, one that doubles as a USB 1-in/1-out audio interface. And if you're willing to go the extra pecuniary mile, I definitely recommend something like the Focal Alpha 50s.


Earlier in this interview, Joe brought up a good point: he went to a school where he had access to top-notch audio gear. If you, like him, are heading off to a place like SAE or Full Sail or the Blackbird Academy, so will you.

Why, then, would you need any of these items at all?

When I put the question to Joe at the banana farm last year, he told me that having his own gear bestowed “a substantial amount of freedom to practice and experiment on my own terms.” At school, “studio time was definitely a commodity, and it was often difficult to get time booked, especially around midterm/final season.” Limited to four-hour sessions, he didn’t have “too much time to experiment with mic placement and mixing techniques. By having these pieces of gear in my own home, I essentially had a fully functioning (albeit extremely bare bones) studio that I could access 24/7. I could write and record original tunes and use those to practice mixing strategies. So when I was able to get into a legit studio session, I had already learned what works and what doesn't and was able to work much more efficiently when the pressure was on.”

Wise words from a wise, young man.


Wich computer would you recomend for audio editing and design.... or wich features should i look for

Hi Nico -

Minimum requirements:

- Intel i5 processor


-  512GB SSD or 1 TB HDD

     I like Apple for audio work since most of the best software and plug-ins tend to favor the Mac OS.  Here's a couple to consider:

     The 13.3" MacBook Pro Laptop Computer with Retina Display (Early 2015) from Apple is a powerful notebook computer with an innovative, ultrathin, ultraportable aluminum unibody design. It is loaded with advanced power management features and an integrated lithium polymer battery, which work together to provide up to 9 hours of wireless web browsing.

     The late 2015 Apple 21.5" iMac measures at just 5 mm at its edges, which is 40% less volume than the 2011 iMac. The 21.5" widescreen display features LED backlighting for vibrant, accurate color. With in-plane switching (IPS) technology, the iMac has a wide 178° viewing angle. The screen has a 16:9 aspect ratio and Full HD 1920 x 1080 native resolution, supported by integrated Intel Iris Pro Graphics 6200.

The iMac houses a 5th-Gen Broadwell 2.8 GHz Intel Core i5 Quad-Core processor with 8GB of 1867 MHz LPDDR3 onboard RAM. For storage, the iMac has a 1TB 5400 rpm HDD.