My first exposure to audio tech was as a guitar player. My band had a Shure VA-302-C Vocal Master, and I played my Gibson 335 through a gigantic Acoustic amp with two 15-inch speakers and a blue horn for HF. For me that was the tops. When I moved into recording, I started with a Tascam Portastudio, then onto a 1/2-inch reel-to-reel 8-track recorder with an M-216 mixer. I got pretty good at bouncing to take full advantage of the real estate. Fast forward to now, and I have a portable Pro Tools rig on a laptop that provides me plenty of UAD-2 powered plug-ins, to go with stellar I/O via Benchmark. I can fit it all in a backpack. Tons of power and capability.
All of this comes to mind because NAMM is in a couple of weeks. I’ve been going to these shows since the 1980s, and I always get the same buzz from seeing new gear, especially gear that brings quality and ease of use to musicians. So this month I’ve been thinking about portable rigs for musicians—affordable packages to keep their ideas flowing without emptying the wallet.
It’s always been a great idea to keep a recorder around to capture lyrical and musical ideas. If simple, handheld recording is your aim, the Zoom H1 and Tascam DR-05 are great choices. Both are under $100, have built-in stereo mics, record up to 24-bit/96kHz or MP3 straight to a micro SD card. They are robust, have no moving parts and are road-friendly with long battery life. If you want to kick it up for capturing rehearsals, for location recording or making sure your YouTube feeds have the best possible audio representation, the Zoom H6 is your best choice under $400. It records six channels simultaneously, has four preamps (XLR/TRS) and a wide range of swappable options including a shotgun mic, M/S mic, X/Y mic, and XLR/TRS capsule.
So you’ve captured the audio, what about breaking it out to a portable DAW so you can do rough mixes anywhere? Auria from WaveMachine Labs for the iPad is a great option. Not only is it full-featured with plug-ins and processing from PSP, it looks and works great. There are just under 40 interfaces that can port pro-quality audio to the iPad-based DAW, but you can also load the content from your handheld. Within Auria, you have all the control you would expect from a proper audio channel—EQ, compression and expansion, plus Convolution Reverb, delay and chorus—and it starts at $49.99.
PC jockey and not an iPad fan? How about a Windows-based laptop running Cakewalk SONAR X3 Producer or Steinberg’s Cubase 7.5 (both are $499). Both DAWs offer tools for advanced music making and carry a wide range of features for 64-bit platforms. SONAR has Melodyne fully integrated, features the latest VST plug-in tech, has unlimited audio/MIDI tracks and sends, and new features like the QuadCurve EQ/Analyzer, virtual instruments like Lounge Lizard piano, XLN Audio Addictive Drums, AAS Strum Acoustic guitar, and more. Cubase 7.5, featured in this month’s New Products section, offers unlimited audio/MIDI tracks and sends like SONAR, plus offers the new MixConsole with integrated EQ and Dynamics channel-strip modules, 66 plug-ins, eight VIs and more.
But what if Santa left you with a bundle and you want the best no matter the cost? For starters let’s guarantee a top listening experience with the Focal Spirit headphones ($349). Their wafer-thin mylar and titanium membranes promise studio monitor sound. Next, let’s go with the top-of-the-line 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro laptop with 2.6GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz, 1TB PCIe-based Flash Storage, 16 GB RAM, and a USB Super-Drive ($3,378).
For recording pristine tracks on the bus, stage or hotel room, we’ll use Pro Tools HD through the Lynx Hilo with the LT-TB Thunderbolt option ($2,595). Hilo provides excellent listening via the high-quality headphone amp and back-packable input for Millennia HV-3C preamps powering DPA’s ST4011C Stereo Pair with 4011C Compact Cardioids. These mics offer excellent recording from stage to studio, and the whole rig could be put in an oversize backpack or duffel.
So when it’s time to create and capture music, whether you’re well-heeled or not, you can grab a quality performance, bring it home and develop it for online distribution, finishing that EP or other content creation. That’s what it’s all about in the new age of audio where everyone is everything, or needs to be!