25 best music making gadgets
Whether you're a heavy metal machine, a jazz hepcat or a synth wizard, you'll be able to make some noise with these musical gadgets
Line 6 James Tyler Variax JTV-59
The flagship of Line 6’s digital guitar tech range, the Variax uses digital modelling to emulate the sounds of classic axes, from Telecasters to Les Pauls. It can even model different tunings and place a “Virtual Capo” anywhere on the neck.
Ever wanted to stick a P-90 on a Strat? Hook the Variax up to your computer and you can also customise guitar sounds with Line 6’s Workbench software, mixing and matching sounds from different guitar bodies and pickups.
As well as the Les Paul-styled JTV-59 model, there’s also the Strat-alike JTV-69 and the 80s-esque JTV-89, for those hair metal fans among you.
Teenage Engineering OP-1
Despite professing to be made by a hormonal spot farm in his stinking bedroom, Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 has all the hallmarks of being designed by sharp, musically-minded adults.
Its synth, drum sampler, four-track tape sim and mixer let you produce squawky tunage in seconds. And that toy-like design makes your PC (or Mac) look like it’s wearing a suit to a teenager’s birthday.
If your list of musical ambitions places tickling tiny ivories alongside playing Madison Square Garden, Korg’s microPiano has 61 weighted mini keys, the stereo-sampled grand piano from Korg’s (much) more expensive electric pianos and a lid that lifts up. The microPiano comes in sober black, nightclub red or Elton John white.
After being slammed, caressed and generally cranked up to 11 by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Orange amps have now woken from their ‘70s rock haze and gone all 21st century.
The OPC is a lot more than just a cool-looking practice amp: it’s got a Windows 7 PC lurking inside it and also comes pre-loaded with a host of pro software such as AmpliTube 3, PreSonus Studio One and EZ Drummer Lite.
This is the first gadget of its kind – a guitar pedal that plays nice with your iPad. Thanks to the free iPB Nexus app, you’ll get a staggering collection of 87 virtual pedals, 54 amp heads and 27 cabinets which can be customised using the handy drag-and-drop interface, keeping the amount of kit you need down to a minimum.
Korg monotron DELAY
The Korg monotron DELAY’s looks give the game away – like the original monotron, it’s small and Stylophone-like but this time we get to play around with space delays and echoes thanks to the ribbon controller keyboard and new LFO. Hook up your audio of choice via the aux input jack to give it the DELAY treatment and playback using headphones or speakers.
Using eight proximity sensors, this futuristic wood and glass ‘piano’ will play without you touching it – just wave your hands above it and tunes will happen.
If you’re just flailing about, the Airpiano will sound terrible but 40 LEDs provide virtual keys for guidance and when you hook it up to your PC or Mac you can assign keys and faders and save presets.
No doubt Björk’s strapped a load of Airpianos to her walls and is causing a beautiful synth racket as we write.
Gear4 Pocket Loops
If even the most basic of our music-making gadgets scare you, Gear4’s idiot-proof Pocket Loops keyboard and app set-up is a good starting point.
Once you’ve downloaded the free app for iPhone and iPod Touch and docked your device, you’re away – prodding random notes to make a melody takes mere seconds and then the fun starts – record and loop up to four tracks then throw in some effects and beats from the virtual drum kits. Easy.
ION USB Guitar
If you don’t have a room full of Marshall stacks or a dedicated sound engineer stored away in your cupboard then the ION USB guitar is probably the next best thing.
If you’re a Mac user you can record straight into GarageBand via USB, or use the bundled Guitar Rig 4 software if you’re rocking a PC. The supplied video tutorials make it ideal for green-horned shredders too, though it won’t do much to ease your sore fingertips.
Akai SynthStation 25
On its own this two-octave keyboard won’t make a sound, but plug it in to an iPhone or iPod Touch and you’ve got yourself a powerful and versatile synth-cum-drum-machine. You’ll also need to download the Akai SynthStation app for £1.49, which makes sounds and serves as an additional control panel.
Roland SPD-SX Percussion Pad
Drummers have always been a simple, easy to please bunch as long as they’ve gone something to whack away at, and the Roland SPD-SX is built to take quite a beating.
2GB of built-in memory offering 360 minutes of sampling goodness provides a nifty solution for compact beat-making. Its recording and nine velocity sensitive rubber pads along with and two external inputs should mean there’s plenty to keep those drumsticks busy.
Rolf Harris’ staple instrument of choice (bar the delightfully named didgeridoo) returns to our eager music-making hands with a few new tricks up its sleeve.
Three sound modes – drum kit, beatbox and bass stylophone – can be combined with a scratch function to mix up your aural creations before looping and recording over your delightful beats.
You can even connect the Stylophone Beatbox to your MP3 player and play along to your tunes. A Stuff.tv remix of ‘Tie me Kangaroo down sport’ is on the way.
Numark iDJ Live
iPhone DJing was never going to catch on, was it? But with Numark’s iDJ Live, you can spin the same brilliant apps like djay on the iPad’s bigger screen. Hardware comes in the form of two ‘decks’, a central mixer and crossfader bringing a bit of realism to beginners’ mixing and scratching.
DJ live, record your best iTunes mixes or just hit Automix. And you can buy 12 of these for the same price as the more serious – and seriously priced – iPad appcessory the Pioneer DDJ-TT1.
Z.Vex Fuzz Probe
Zachary Vex has created hand-made – and bizarre – effects pedals for the likes of The Smashing Pumpkins, Muse and Nine Inch Nails.
The Fuzz Probe’s one of Z.Vex’s more outlandish creations – a fuzztone pedal controlled by a voltage-sensitive copper plate that you can manipulate like a Theremin.
Z.Vex also produces Wah Probes and Tremelo Probes using the same control setup. If the price looks a bit steep, a cheaper Vexter Series version (minus the hand-painted finish) can be had for £210.
Gibson Firebird X
Although it’s based on the venerable Firebird shape (dating back to 1963) Gibson’s packed the Firebird X with the latest guitar tech.
That means a Robot tuning system, onboard effects, “Pure-Analog” processing engine, tog-pot controls to smoothly blend processed and unprocessed sounds and a pair of Bluetooth pedals to control the Firebird X’s battery of features. It’ll even run third-party apps.
Better snap one up if you spot one, though – Gibson’s only made 1,800 of these revolutionary guitars.
AmpliTube iRig Stomp
Interacting with a touchscreen in the middle of a gig is tricky – but there’s a ton of interesting guitar effects apps available on iDevices. What to do?
The iRig Stomp is the first stompbox interface for iOS devices, letting tech-savvy axemen integrate their signal processing apps into a live pedalboard setup. Clever stuff – just be careful what you’re stomping on: you wouldn’t want to tread on your iPhone.
A truly awesome piece of musical magic from Korg for the acid house and techno tweaking wannabe DJ. Simply twist a few knobs on the Monotribe and you sound like you’re controlling the writhing sweaty bodies of a packed Ibiza club.
It works both as an analogue drum machine and a musical filter, meaning you can sit around warping beats using the 8-step sequencer for hours, or start getting into the more complicated matter of reworking your favourite house hits.
Line 6 Mobile In
Turn your iPhone or iPad into a multi-effects amp with the Line 6 Mobile In. Not only can you chose a selection of amps, guitar cabinets, tones, stomp boxes and rack effects, you can even plug in your own guitar using the 30-pin connector instead of the 3.5mm jack for better audio quality.
The 24/48kHz sound works with GarageBand, meaning you can jam with other instruments like you’re in a band – only you don’t have to be bored by the bassist’s nattering. Not bad for £55.
Alesis IO Dock
This one’s aimed at the pros who want to use their iPad with pretty much any audio gear. Alesis IO Dock works with MIDI controllers, video projectors, speakers, PA systems and tonnes more, alongside any app you chose to use.
Handy XLR and 1/4in inputs mean any mic you might have kicking around should do the trick for your vocals. Record guitar – and whatever else lying around – direct to the iPad thanks to this professional grade kit worth £140.
Behringer XENYX iX3242USB, iX2442USB and iX1642USB
A 32 channel premium mixer with a dock for an iPad means serious business. The great thing about the Behringer XENYX iX Series – which comprises three models – is that you can also connect it to your PC or Mac via USB to record any signal source you can hurl at it.
The 32 studio-grade presets like reverb, flange and delay mean you can get a decent sounding result even if you have the musical sensibilities of a cabbage.
Moog Guitar Model E1
Moog may be best-known for creating synthesisers, but with the E1 the company’s synth-wizards have used their know-how to pack a guitar with tech.
Most notably, it’s capable of the most Spınal Tap thing ever – infinite sustain, on one string or several. It comes with a pedal to control Harmonic Blending and ladder filter effects for prog-tastic noises, plus optional MIDI compatibility. Tasty.
You could stare at this thing for hours and still not be able to work out what it is. It’s the Eigenharp Pico – a funky, multi-talented musical instrument that’s also fun to yell about in a German accent.
Not an instrument for the bargain buyer, this quirky device combines the dynamic physicality of a guitar or sax with the versatility of a digital synthesizer and sequencer. Its range of pre-loaded or downloadable sounds pipe up when using its 18 touch-sensitive keys, four mode keys, strip controller and breath pipe.
Ion Piano Apprentice
Learning to play the piano is too much like hard work. Who has time for proper lessons, anyway? Let your iPad (and Emmy award-winning piano instructor Scott Houston) show you the ropes with the Ion Piano Apprentice.
Bag yourself this plastic piano accessory and the dedicated app – then all you need to do is follow the onscreen instructions and tutorials to become the skilled ivory tickler you’ve always dreamed of being. The keys even light up for extra assistance. You’ll be at Grade 8 in no time.
The Kitara is no traditional guitar replacement. Instead, it combines the versatility of a polyphonic synthesizer with the look and feel of a guitar.
The result? A futuristic-looking electronic axe with an 8in multi-touch screen, gesture recognition, a full fretboard and a library of over 100 different sounds to rock out with.
Blue Spark Digital
Why restrict your musical/podcasting/voiceover talents to the confines of a studio? You should be able to record quality audio wherever you please. Look no further than Blue’s studio-grade Spark Digital condenser microphone.
It plays nice with the iPad and compatible music-making apps like Garageband. Alternatively, it hooks up to PCs and Macs, if you’re not a proud owner of Apple’s pretty rectangle.
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