12 presents we'd like to find under our tree this year…
It’s that time of the year again. Perhaps you're thinking of boosting your music-making arsenal; perhaps you're simply Christmas shopping for a budding Carl Craig or Charlotte de Witte. Either way, music stores are full of gear that they're just itching to sell you, but how do you know what to buy?
Handily, we've put together a list of the most inspiring, useful and affordable equipment out there right now to make the decision-making process easier. We've picked from a range of different product types you might be after – from synths to mics, controller keyboards and monitors – and we've handily put everything in price order, ranging from the affordable to the "I've been VERY good this year Santa"!
So relax, kick back with some eggnog and a mince pie and consult our Yuletide selection…
1. Korg nanoKEY2
If you make music on the move and have suffered the sheer indignity of trying to play chords on a laptop keyboard, perhaps it’s time to invest in this. Simplicity is king more often than not, and this light, low-profile design gives great feel, portability and expressiveness. The sustain feature is a life-saver when playing pads and piano, too.
2. Teenage Engineering PO 16 Pocket Operator Factory Synthesizer
The Pocket Operator range by Teenage Engineering is not to be underestimated. Despite their diminutive stature and price tag, they are surprisingly powerful and creative synths and sound generators – and for someone just dipping their toe into the wallet-sapping world of music production, they're an inspirational starting point.
3. Arturia BeatStep
Unleash the spirit of Ringo with Arturia’s frankly brilliant portable pad controller. It’s a highly creative multi-functional unit that interfaces seamlessly with your software of choice. Its 16 pressure- and velocity -sensitive pads are ideal for playing in drum patterns or triggering clips, and the step-style sequencer will likely generate many a great idea on the fly. Needless to say it’s all fully configurable, and the rotary encoders can be easily assigned to control FX, filters, envelopes etc. A great buy for anyone who makes electronic music.
4. Tascam DR-05X portable audio recorder
A portable recorder is never going to be a bad present for anyone, never mind anyone involved in music. The DR-05X is easy to use and very well-featured, boasting two internal condenser mics with high SPL tolerance so your recordings won’t distort. It runs on two AA batteries which last around 17.5 hours. It also has an overdub function for laying down ideas easily, and with a 128GB microSDXC card (not included) can record 192 hours at CD quality.
5. Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro studio headphones
There are a bewildering amount of poor quality headphones on the market, so it’s worth spending some time looking into the pros and cons of various models… but it’s Christmas and time is short, so I’ve done it for you! The DT 770's pretty much tick every box: they sound great, are easy to power using phones and laptops, and are comfortable, with good isolation if you’re working in a noisy environment. Ideal for studio and live work, they are pound-for-pound probably the best all-rounders on the market.
6. RODE NT1-A microphone
Even the most resolutely 'in the box' producer will have cause to use a microphone at some point. The RODE NT1-A is an absolute bargain and is capable of delivering professional results on any source, be it drums, vocals or acoustic instruments.
7. Korg Volca Modular
If you like to live at the bleeding edge of sonic experimentation, but don’t have the budget of a prog rock synth lord, then you're in luck. The Modular from Korg’s justifiably popular Volca range is perhaps their most ambitious to date. It’s a battery-powered beast of a machine that sounds absolutely fantastic, producing a vast range of otherworldly sounds and textures from slamming electro percussive sequences to bowel-worrying sub bass tones and everything in-between. The Volca sequencer has always been fantastic and now includes scale quantising and micro tuning.
8. Roli Lightpad Block M
Roli is offering a fresh and intriguing approach to music creation, one that strips away the usual familiar knobs and buttons and favours a laser-accurate LED pad matrix which can be used to sequence drums, play chords and melodies, play arpeggiations, control FX and synths and many others. It connects via Bluetooth and USB and comes with a bundle of free software including the excellent Noise app.
9. Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 audio interface
Scrimping on an audio interface will only bite you on the behind later down the line. Focusrite’s Scarlett range manages to pull off the low price/high performance trick very well, which would explain why they sit on the desks of more audio producers than any other. It sounds clean and clear, works well at low latency, has great preamps and has a very nice sounding Air mode which gives vocals and instruments a bright, open quality when recording. Hooking it up to your computer couldn’t be simpler and once you’ve plugged it in, will serve you faithfully for many a year.
10. Yamaha HS5 studio monitors
Every producer needs a good set of monitors that they can rely on. Yamaha’s distinctive white cones have graced pretty much every pro studio in the world since the late 1970s, so it’s not unreasonable to say that you won’t go wrong with these. The concept is simple: if you get it sounding great on these, there’s every chance it will elsewhere. As small powered monitors go, unless you want to spend considerably more, you aren’t going to get much better than these.
11. Elektron Model:Samples
Elektron’s latest offering is a visible departure from their usual black metal box aesthetic, but don’t be fooled as this white plastic prince is imbued with features and flexibility. What’s also different is that the main sound shaping tools are intuitively laid out as encoders on top of the unit, making it a responsive and tactile machine to jam with. And the Elektron sequencer is a joy to behold, with features such as Parameter Locks, Conditional Trigs and Chance allowing you to shape sequences and build variation easily. Lightweight, portable, easy to use… yes please!
12. Behringer WASP Deluxe
Behringer's had a great year, and bringing the rare and much sought-after EDP Wasp back from near extinction is not a bad way to end it: if massive fat bass, cutting leads, FX and zappy percussion are your thing, then look no further! The tone-shaping abilities of the Wasp are both formidable and unique in timbre, and what’s more the Behringer version, unlike EDP’s 1978 original, has MIDI and good build quality. A truly egalitarian move from Behringer to put this in the hands of those on a tight budget.
Tags: Xmas, studio, gear, kit, hardware, gift guide, buyer's guide, Korg nanoKEY2, Teenage Engineering PO 16, Arturia BeatStep, Tascam DR-05X, Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro, RODE NT1-A, Korg Volca Modular, Roli Lightpad Block M, Focusrite Scarlett 4i4, Yamaha HS5, Elektron Model:Samples, Behringer WASP Deluxe