We love a gadget here at MusicTech: something to take you away from your DAW, but still make some noise with; something you can express all those ideas with while on the bus, train or tube; something you can transport around in the comfort and safety of your own pocket, which allows you to program beats, play melodies, or record your vocals whenever, wherever and however. Recent years of progress in the world of music technology have meant that these gadgets are many, varied, cool and, in the main, pretty darn cheap. So here, just for your pocket, are some of the best ways to make complete tunes from the innards of your trousers.
We’ll start with the obvious, and why not? Smartphones can tell you where you are on the planet, can look up to other planets, can play a gazillion games or reveal the contents of your bank account. And of course they can make sweet, sweet music. Full DAWs including GarageBand, Cubasis, BandLab, FL Studio and Korg Gadget can now be used and all alongside what are effectively plug-in instruments from the big guns including Arturia, Native Instruments, Roland, Propellerhead and so many more.
And the results are simply incredible. Music-making on the go is limited only by your imagination and complete pocket albums are within touching distance.
It’s not the only company to get its own section in this round up of trouser tune makers, but Teenage Engineering is the coolest. Its Pocket Operator series (from around £52) – themed around bleeps and beats from Arcade to Robots – isn’t even finished, it’s that cool! Better still the OP-Z (£499) has the most incredible app to partner it and not only can you make great tunes with it, it even supplies the visuals.
Long live and make music
They said analogue was dead, but Korg was one of the first mainstream companies to attach the electrodes and get the valves going again. It brought both analogue and mobility together with the volca range back in 2013, then focusing on beats, bass and keys. Now the range has many very different instruments – from dedicated kick and sub bass makers, to analogue lead and FM synths – and they can all fit together around a mobile Volca mixer for the ultimate portable studio.
Rock ‘n’ ROLI
ROLI was responsible for inventing a completely new instrument in the form of its Seaboard Grand, a ‘keyboard’ of sorts that utilises five extra playing dimensions to access completely new sonic possibilities. Fortunately, the company managed to keep much of the tech but remove most of the price and size and released its BLOCKS technology, a suite of, well, blocks (from around £65) that fit into your pocket to produce beats, sequences, pretty lights and a whole lot more.
Accessorise and mobilise
Sexy noise-makers are the focus here, but there’s also a vast number of accessories that can make your mobile music more professional. IK Multimedia is the master of the interface (with the iRig range from £40), while Focusrite chips in with the not-quite-pocket-sized iTrack One Pre (£85) and iZotope has a complete studio with Spire (for bigger physical and financial pockets at £336).
For monitoring, it doesn’t get much more portable than a pair of in-ear headphones, of which the Audio-Technica IEM series (from £65) will do the job. One keyboard solution is the Keith McMillen Instruments K-Board (£85). For microphones, there is a growing list of mics specifically designed with phones in mind, or other portable USB devices and, of these, we can recommend models from RØDE (the smartLav+ at £44 and i-XY at £135); Shure (the MV88 at £194) and Apogee (the MiC range from £137).
The new breed: Sphero, Genki and Soundbrenner
What we’ve looked at so far are more traditional – albeit very cool looking – gadgets that fit in your pocket. But actually, there’s a new breed of controllers and mobile devices set to revolutionise playing, recording and performance, from a range of unfamiliar companies. Genki Instruments is now producing the Wave ($199 each) ‘a ring that lets you control sound with motions’ and connects via Bluetooth to both hardware and soft-synth racks.
Plus, we recently looked at Sphero, the drumbeat equivalent as they are rings that connect to your iOS or Android mobile device wirelessly and trigger different sounds depending on the colour of the surface you hit. Finally, Soundbrenner will soon be releasing the Core ($199), a metronome, tuner, dB meter and watch you wear. With that on your wrist and any of the above in your pockets, you’ll be the most mobile of music-makers in no time.
For more tips and tricks, check out our essential guides.