Choosing the perfect holiday gift for someone special is never easy. It is even more difficult when that special person is a musician. You’ve seen their studio and have no idea what all the knobs and lights do. You smile and nod as they roll around flicking switches to play you their latest project. What do you get for that creative mind? The holidays are stressful enough. Let us help you out with this one. We’ll discuss some great pro-audio products that any creative would love to add to their arsenal. For beginners, we’ll describe what they do and who they are best suited for. For the budget conscious, we’ll talk about some great stocking stuffers that will fill the most accomplished musician with holiday joy.
The heart of a studio is the analog to digital interface (A/D). The A/D converts the analog sound from instruments or microphones into digital information that can be manipulated within the computer. The unit then converts this digital information back into analog sound to send to the monitors or headphones. This second process is called digital to analog (D/A). Apogee is a leading manufacturer of A/D interfaces; let’s find out which unit is best for you.
The entry-level interface is the Apogee Jam ($99). The Jam has one ¼” input with for an instrument or microphone. It comes with cables to connect to your Mac or you can record directly into your iPad or iPhone. The Jam does not have audio outs (D/A) and will use the built in output of your computer / mobile device.
The Apogee One ($349) is a professional single channel A/D interface. The Apogee One connects to a computer via low latency USB 2.0 and can also connect to iPad and iPhone. The One makes use of Apogee’s legendary mic preamps offering 63 dB of gain for instrument, microphone, or the built in condenser microphone. The One converts D/Aas well as A/D. This allows your monitors / headphones to have higher quality audio than your computer’s built in output.
From here on out, any feature that is mentioned in a cheaper model is included in the higher models.The next product is the Apogee Duet ($649). The Duet has two mic pres that can handle two simultaneous microphones or instruments. The Duet also has dedicated outputs for your monitors as well as a separate output for headphones. Duet also has a midi input for external keyboards.
The Apogee Quartet ($1,495) has, you guessed it, four inputs for simultaneous recording. The quartet retains all the high quality pre amps, low latency connection, and sleek design while offering more studio versatility. The Quartet has 6 analog outputs, which gives the engineer the ability to use multiple monitors for reference or map outputs through outboard effects and processors. The Quartet also offers 8 additional channels of digital input through 2 optical connections. Additionally, the Quartet can provide clocking out for synching an external A/D convertor. Adorama currently has a great bargain package (over $500 in savings) that includes the Quartet, monitors, and headphones at the same retail price of $1,495, find it here.
The newest model, just released in March of 2015, is the Apogee Ensemble ($2,595). The Ensemble is the first interface to make use of the Thunderbolt 2 data port on a Mac. This allows for superior sound quality and the lowest latency performance. The ensemble includes 8 advanced stepped gain preamps as well as digital connectivity for a total of 30 inputs and 34 outputs. The ensemble has special monitor controlled functionality, which allows for onboard talkback mic. Other features include front panel guitar I/O, two headphone outputs, and a custom 32-bit signal path that lightens the load on your computer’s CPU.
The final item in the Apogee line of interfaces is the Apogee Symphony I/O ($1,995 – $5,490). The Symphony I/O is designed as an interface with interchangeable modules to fit any size professional studio. These modules can have digital inputs, analog inputs, or a combination of both. The price changes with each configuration. The smallest model has 2 analog inputs, 6 outputs (2×6)($1,995). The line moves up to 8×8 ($2,995), 16×16 ($3,995),8×8 with 8 mic pre amps ($4,490), and lastly 16×16 with 8 mic pre amps ($5,490).
Let’s look at another integral part of a recording studio: outboard pre amp / compressors. We will focus on a single unit that is a great value for fantastic quality, the Universal Audio 6176 ($2,499). For the price of one pre amp, the UA 6176combines the legendary 610B tube preamplifier and 1176LN FET compressor into a single unit. The 610 and 1176 can be heard on countless hit records from the past 40 years. The 6176 sounds great on everything from bass, drums, guitars, vocals, and more. You can use the preamp connected through the compressor in “join” mode or “split” to run separate signals through each. I don’t think there is a musician in the world that would not be happy with a 6176 this holiday season, even if they already own one.
We’ve discussed several gifts to help capture sounds. Now, let’s look at some tools that create sounds. We’ve all heard the buzz word “synth” or “synthesizer” being thrown around. Usually,“synth” refers to an analog synth. These are different from the Casio keyboard your mom got you in 4th grade. Instead of using digital chips to generate sounds they use analog circuitry to deliver an undeniably warm and customizable sound. Analog synths were the only option decades ago before digital technology was developed. Now, musicians yearn for the vintage synths of yesteryear and are willing to pay astronomical amounts for these decaying relics. Many manufacturers have capitalized on this demand and re-released previously discontinued synths. Korg did this with the release of the Korg MS-20 Mini ($449). The MS-20 delivers patchable, tweakable, analog monophonic warmth at 86% the size and less than ¼ the price of the original. With a very small footprint and modern analog sound the MS-20 is sure to please the musician at your holiday dinner table.
Forget about the guitar amps that have a ton of built in digital effects. They will never come close to the shimmer and sparkle of a real tube amplifier. Tube amps are also great for keyboards, re-amping vocals, or processing sounds and effects. The Fender Hot Rod Deluxe ($729) is aversatile 40-Watt tube amp with a 12” speaker. It is loud enough to play theaters and portable enough to take to rehearsals. The amp has a built in spring reverb tank to add some depth to the legendary Fender tone. Every guitar player / studio nerd should have a workhorse tube amplifier and the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe is a great choice.
While all these products are fantastic creative tools, they are on the higher end of the price spectrum. Here are a few economical stocking stuffers for your favorite professional creative.
The Fender MD20 Mini Deluxe ($54.99) is a shrunken down version of its big brother mentioned above. This 1W digital amplifier can be battery powered to help you practice anywhere. Also, mic this little beast up and create fantastic Lo-Fi guitar tones to give your Hi-Fi recordings some depth, you’ll be surprised with what you can get.
The life of a musician is wrapped in cables. There are cables everywhere. I have a reoccurring nightmare of being tangled in a web of never-ending cables. Sometimes these cables fail. In these times, a cable tester can be used to quickly identify the failure. Put the Behringer CT100 Cable Tester ($29.99) in a stocking and help end the cable nightmare.
All of the gizmos and gadgets in studios require power. It can be rather frustrating when you cannot find the right power for that really cool pedal. Put a Hosa Universal Power Adapter ($17.70) in a stocking to provide a clutch solution to any DC power problem. The output can be controlled from 3 to 12 volts, it includes 6 different tip sizes, and polarity can be switched.
We’ve heard the saying that duct tape can fix anything. Well, musicians don’t like duct tape because of the sticky residue it leaves and its shiny color. Instead, we choose to use a much more expensive kind of tape called Gaffer’s tape ($18.95). Musicians use this fabric based black tape all the time. We always need more and people are always misplacing it because they don’t know how expensive / crucial it is. Toss a roll of Gaffer’s tape in a musician’s stocking and you won’t believe how appreciative they will be.
You can read other content like this (buying guides, tips and tricks and insightful articles) on Adorama’s ALC blog.