Back-to-School: Gear for Audio Students

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Regardless of your experience level or focus of expertise, B&H has many fun and inspiring audio tools to help boost your creativity. Space is at a premium in the bedroom or dorm, and most students will want to be mobile, so here’s a list of cool products that are small and easy on the wallet.

Audio Interface

One of the most important pieces of technology you will need is an audio interface, which is a device that records and plays back audio from your computer. Most interfaces will have a microphone preamp, instrument input, and line input and outputs. Check out the Audient Series USB interfaces (Mac/PC), which provide high-quality results in a small desktop format enclosure that also functions as a monitor controller. The iConnectivity iConnectAudio interfaces offer a unique feature for the student with multiple devices. This single interface can connect to a Mac, PC, and iOS device simultaneously. What’s more, audio signals can be freely routed between devices. Other makes and models worth checking out include the Apogee One, Arturia AudioFuse, and Focusrite Clarett.

iConnectivity iConnectAUDIO4+ Audio + MIDI Interface for Mac, PC, and iOS

Studio Monitors

Using a consumer stereo to record and mix is not very effective because your mixes will not translate to different playback systems. A decent set of monitors will save you hours of headache. The best bang for your buck is the PreSonus Eris Kit, which includes two E5 monitors and the T10 active subwoofer. Other makes and models worth checking out include Yamaha’s HS5 Powered Studio Monitor and the Fluid Audio FX8. If you are on a tight budget or looking for something extremely portable, the IK Multimedia iLoud might fill the bill. Not only does it produce excellent results, it’s battery powered and offers Bluetooth connectivity.

PreSonus Eris E5 Two-Way Active Studio Monitor (Pair) and T10 Active Subwoofer Kit

Headphones

Consumer headphones hype the sound and won’t give you an accurate depiction of your mix. For working on the go or recording music in your personal space, a good set of studio headphones is imperative. The Sony MDR-7506 and the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x both feature closed-back, over-ear circumaural designs, well suited for tracking and mixing. If you were going to use headphones in lieu of studio monitors, you might want to go with headphones designed for critical listening for hours at a time, models such as the Focal Listen Professional, Sennheiser HD600 or Ultrasone Performance Series 840.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Monitor Headphones

Microphones

If you are planning to record vocals, instruments, or audio for a sound design project, you’ll want a high-quality large diaphragm condenser microphone. Fortunately, there are a ton of inexpensive options that can capture all the detail and tonality of the source. Check out the Mojave MA-50, which offers a very low-noise transformer-less design with high SPL handling and a fast transient response. The Aston Spirit is a multi-pattern microphone offering omni, cardioid, and figure-8 patterns. The mic is transformer-balanced with a built-in pop filter, and excels on acoustic guitars and vocals. Other notable condenser mics include the Blue Baby Bottle SL, Shure KSM32, and the RØDE NT1-A. You may want to go with a dynamic microphone, which isn’t as sensitive as condenser mics, but can be just effective. For voice-overs and broadcast, the EV RE20 and Heil PR40 are excellent choices and have been proven in the field for years. And don’t forget the ever-popular Shure SM58 vocal mic and SM57 instrument mics, which are used everywhere, from studio to stage.

Mojave Audio MA-50 Large-Diaphragm Transformerless Condenser Microphone

Software

A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is software for your computer that allows you to record, process, mix, master, and export music and sound design projects. All DAWs are designed to do the same thing, so it’s worth exploring the interface and choosing the one with which you are most comfortable. There are several platforms to choose from and all ship with light versions and full versions. Ableton Live is very popular with “the kids” these days, because it offers great sounds and excellent workflows for studio and live use; it’s also beloved by people who want to turn their stereo productions into something that can be performed live. Other good choices include Studio One, Reason 10, FL Studio, Logic Pro X, Bitwig, and Cubase.

Ableton Live 10 Suite - Music Production Software

MIDI Controllers

MIDI Controllers come in all shapes and sizes and can really help speed up the process of writing music or designing sound. The most popular are keyboard controllers, but drum pads and mixing interfaces are quite useful, as well. For portability, Roli makes the Seaboard Block, an open-ended interactive control surface with 5D touch technology. The Block Series can be expanded with pad and controls units. Also, the Korg Nano Series is hard to beat, with a full assortment of tiny-sized controllers. Arturia offers the KeyStep Controller / Sequencer, which not only connects to your computer, but also offers CV and Gate outputs to control analog synthesizers. For the studio, the Arturia MiniLab Mk II is a first-rate controller that ships with Analog Lab Lite software, which offers classic keyboard sounds. It also ships with Ableton Live Lite.

Korg nanoKONTROL Studio - Mobile MIDI Controller

Beat Machines

If you are into electronic music and fancy having a small hardware setup that can generate entire song ideas on the go or in the studio, then you’ll want to check out the Novation Circuit. With the ability to run on batteries, the unit boasts a two-part analog modeling synthesizer and a four-part drum machine. You can load your own samples and utilize the 32-step sequencer and eight macro knobs to generate entire songs. Another battery-powered unit that’s making a splash is the MPC Live from Akai. Part of the long lineage of MPC hardware, the MPC Live is a stand-alone sampler and sequencer with 10GB of content pre-installed, six line outputs in stereo pairs, 16GB of onboard storage, 16 velocity-sensitive touchpads with RGB backlighting, 4 Q-link encoders, and much, much more. The Akai Force is the latest offering, which combines the MPC sampling engine with an Ableton-style Push controller with 64 drum pads. The unit is completely self-contained and offers a near infinite amount of effects, 8 audio track, 8 virtual instrument tracks, and over 120 drum, key, MIDI, and CV tracks. What’s more, the Force can save its sessions in an Ableton format, while the Force’s control surface can control Ableton on your computer.

The Korg Electribe Series Music Production Station v2 and Sampler Music Production Station v2 can also run on batteries and offer 16 trigger pads, an X/Y touch pad, 200 preset patterns, 409 oscillator waveforms, and a ton of effects. What’s more, patterns can be exported in Ableton Live format. Other small beat machines worth mentioning include the excellent-sounding and affordable Korg Volca Series.

Novation Circuit Groove Box + Sample Import

Synthesizers

Yes, it’s a niche item, but if you like hardware synthesizers and would like to add some flavor to your electronic setup, the Waldorf Blofeld is worth checking out. This small desktop unit offers 16-part multi-timbral performance with a simple-to-use interface that creates inspired sounds and won’t break the bank. If you are after true analog performance, the Arturia MicroBrute is a monster monosynth with aggressive tone and a small 3.5 mm patchbay that is compatible with Eurorack formats. Speaking of Eurorack, Moog released the Mother 32 synthesizer, which includes MIDI input and an integrated sequencer, but with a full assortment of patch points that interface with any Eurorack synthesizer.

Another recent favorite worth mentioning is the CRAFTsynth 2.0 from Modal Electronics, which offers a huge pallet of sounds and control in a portable and affordable form factor. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the latest offering from Arturia, the MicroFreak, which is a hybrid analog/digital synthesizer with a capacitive touch keyboard.

Moog Mother-32 Semi-Modular Analog Synthesizer

Mixing Console

If you are working with outboard gear or are looking to perform a live set with hardware, you probably need some sort of audio mixer. There are several inexpensive analog mixers with high channel count and premium features, including the Midas DM Series, which offers 12 and 16 channel versions with 3-band EQ and FX sends. Allen & Heath’s ZED series offer a wide selection of choices, with some mixing board shipping with an integrated USB interface for recording and playback to a computer. Another option would be to use a digital mixer, which offers loads of effects like compression, gate, 4-band parametric EQs on every channel, plus a whole assortment of time-based effects like delay, reverb, chorus, flange, and more. Check out offerings from Behringer and Midas. If you have a tablet, it may be worth checking out the Soundcraft Ui Series Digital Mixers as an alternative.

Midas DM16 16-Input Analog Live and Studio Mixer with Microphone Preamplifier

So, that should just about cover you for great pieces of back-to-school audio gear. If there’s anything you feel we’ve left out—or anything you’d love to champion—please let us know in the Comments section!

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