Essential Home Studio Tools: My Weapons of Choice
I get asked often about what studio equipment is the best to buy to make music. I usually avoid the question because I am aware that there are a million ways to make music & what works great for one person, might not be best for another. My goal is only to give you my opinion of what works best for me, as I would never try to speak for you.
That said, I have many tools in my studio that have proved to be really important in creating my sound & workflow in my studio. Now understand that I’m not suggesting you need any of these things to make great music but they certainly couldn’t hurt. If you happen to buy from the links below, I’ll get a little kickback from that, but it won’t reflect at all on the price you pay. It’s just a free way of giving me a tip, and I always appreciate that. Just click the pic!
APC40 – Still considered the king of physical Ableton controllers due to it’s immediacy & easy of use. When I’m in the studio, I don’t want to dick around too much with set up, and this is pretty plug & play easy. I DO make some setup tweaks, but it’s so easy to do that creating a custom template takes me about 10-15 minutes tops. Although no controller is perfect, this gives me plenty of use in both studio & live situations. If you are only looking for 1 physical controller, I’d go for this.
QuNeo – The QuNeo is quite new & I just received mine through Kickstarter. It took a while to get delivered because they are perfectionists & refused to ship until everything was just right. Although it most certainly doesn’t have the immediacy of the APC40, it’s incredibly unique at what it does. Each pad can be an x/y pad & can serve 4 different functions with each of the pad corners. In otherwords, depending on where you hit the pad & how hard the flexibility of sound is unmatched. There are some fantastic templates for Ableton & Traktor giving you more option out of the box with greater precision & dynamics than anything i’ve tried. Highly recommended.
Korg Nano – Although I haven’t purchased these yet, I have used them & they seem amazing for the price. Solid gear for touring as well, as they take up very little space. One is geared towards knobs & faders, another gives you drumpads & an x/y control (Kaoss style) & lastly a keyboard with velocity sensetivity & pitch bend, which can fit perfectly on any studio desk or DJ booth.
Ultrasone DJ1 headphones – I’ve had these for just under 2 years & have become my go to headphones for DJing & Live performance. These give you a greater perception of volume without fatiguing the ears in the way other headphones do. They block outside noise really well & give the most 3 dimensional sound of any headphones I have tried. I use these when mixing at times too, especially for panning settings, however I always finalize with my studio monitors.
Ultrasone DJ1 PRO S-Logic Surround Sound Professional Headphones
Sony MDR-7506 – Although the Ultrasones are my favorite listening headphones, they do color the sound a bit, which can be a bit misleading when mixing. Since I do a lot of my mixing in headphones & then finalizing in the studio monitors, these Sony headphones have been my go to headphones for years & they don’t get any better at their price range. With heavy usage, I typically have to replace them about every 3 years. With anyone who DJ’s a lot, you’ll know that’s a win.
Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphone
Mackie HR824 – I’ve been using these powered monitors since 2000. When I found out Orbital used them to mix their albums, I had to check them out. I was previously using Monitors made by now defunct company Event. At the time, they worked great for me & I was hesitant to switch to monitors I wasn’t familiar with, so I decided to do a quick a/b test. Within 15 minutes, the Event monitors were boxed up to sell & these were my new monitors. They sound fantastic to me still after all these years. If you are looking for some cheap monitors to get you by for now, don’t go with these, but if you want a great pair of powered monitors at a reasonable price, these will make you quite happy.
Mackie HR824 High Resolution Active Studio Monitor
Korg MicroKorg – This little devil has got to be the most overlooked beast of a synth around. At it’s low price point, nothing touches it. The sounds are fantastic to start & you can do some ridiculous tweaking. You’ve also got an excellent built in arpegiator that is editable. Next is a fantastic Vocoder with Mic (not pictured) built right in & lastly you can run any input into it and use all the synth parameters to tweak your input sound to oblivion. You can’t even imagine how useful that is. Also, even though the keys are small, they are fully touch sensitive. works as an excellent controller keyboard as well! You can’t go wrong with this one.
Korg MICROKORG 37 Key Keyboard Synthesizer With 8 Band Vocoder Microphone Bundle
Computer Stuff etc
iMac – I wasn’t even going to include this, but being a guy who has worked on both PC and Mac, I’ve got to say, the Mac feels better for me when making music. I find less lag and less crashes on a Mac. The one below is newer than mine and has a smaller screen (Mine is a discontinued 24″). They also sell the 27 inch, which I would probably go for if I didn’t have the 24″ option. What is also great is that with Bootcamp, I can still run all my PC programs as well. For me I don’t get as good results using dual format programs like Parallels or VMware Fusion when using music programs, but booting into full PC mode feel better to me on a Mac than PC (Not trying to start a flame war, just my personal experience).
Trackpad – I like using a Trackpad much better than a mouse. I got used to it with my MacBook and I don’t miss a mouse at all. For Mac users, the Trackpad is much more intuitive than the Magic Mouse.
Wireless Magic Trackpad
iPad – Not much needs to be said about the iPad. I still have the 1st generation and as a music tools for controllers (like TouchAble) or Synths (like Animoog), it’s still very satisfying. I’m aware that some apps only work with the iPad2 & 3, but for me, it’s great. I do all my other iStuff on my iPhone.
Apogee Duet – Man, This thing is spectacular. The only downside is that it’s Mac only, but if you’re a Mac user, look out! The recording Quality is stellar. It’s as good if not better than anything on the market. It’s only 2 in’s and 2 out’s, but it’ll take mic inputs, 1/4″ inputs and will sort out preamping guitar or bass inputs. Apogee is known for having some of the best a/d and d/a converters available. If you are a home studio producer recording one instrument at a time, look no further. For it’s simplicity of use, stellar sound quality & sleek look, I can’t recommend it more highly.
Apogee Duet 2×2 FireWire audio interface (Standard)
Apogee One – Ok yes, I got one of these too. It’s still got stereo outs, but it only has 1 input, which can be Mic or line input, just like the Duet. What makes this amazing, is that it’s got a built in condenser mic that rivals other professional microphones. I’m not kidding! You can record album quality vocals with this thing (and many have). For me, I got this to take around with my laptop to do field recordings. I’ll still use my iPhone for spur of the moment sounds, but there are train tracks right next to my house and you wouldn’t believe the amazing sounds that come from there. Expect some samples soon. Nothing comes close at it’s price range, which is very reasonable. You’ll be happy with this one. I sure am!
Apogee ONE USB Microphone and Audio Interface
Accessories – These are self pretty explanatory, so I won’t bore you with the details, but these are tools I can’t be without when doing live shows.
Dance Music Manual – Just buy it! It’s the best damn book you can buy if you want to be a dance music producer. It covers everything, sound design, programming, layouts for several genres, and much much more. It’s great because these guys don’t talk down to you. They take your hand from the very start, yet even an experienced producer can get some great stuff out of this. I’ll never sell mine. It’s like a dance music producer’s encyclopedia.
Dance Music Manual, Second Edition: Tools, Toys, and Techniques
Mixing With Your Mind – This is my favorite music book out there. This book with revolutionize the way you think about music and mixing. He doesn’t send you out to buy a crapload of equipment to get his results (and believe me, this guy has been around the block). He shows you how to use that thing between your ears in a much more organized & useful way. Some of his techniques will blow your mind & no one else is sharing these secrets. When I’m in the studio, it’s never more than 10 feet from me. It’s pricey, but it’s worth it.
Mixing with Your Mind
How to DJ Properly – If you want to learn proper DJ skills with Turntables or CD decks, this is your book. I’ve looked at others & they are largely a load of crap. This book is the real deal. It also gets into remixing, producing & promoting your parties. A fun & informative read.
How to DJ (Properly): The Art and Science of Playing Records
Mastering Audio – Don’t Question Bob Katz. He know’s his stuff & this book proves it. He’s Mastered the best of the best & they keep coming back to him. This will teach you what he knows. He uses both analog & digital gear & doesn’t talk down about either format. He gives the pros & cons of both in a very easy to follow way. This book helped me start my mastering career. A book will never replace experience, but the 2 together are a fierce team.
Mastering Audio, Second Edition: The Art and the Science
Well, that’s my list. I hope it has helped you in some way. If you have any comments or questions, make sure to comment below.
Happy Music Making,
P.S. Also make sure to check out AfroDJMac’s App list for iPad & iPhone & show him some love. He made an excellent list and I make no profit in sharing it.