Gift Guide for the Beginning Audio Lover
Whether your intended gift recipient is getting into recording, or simply looking for quality sound equipment, the world of audio tech is not affordable. There are a ton of options, and a lot of them are incredibly costly. We’ve assembled a list here of the best of the beginner equipment. That is to say, good places to start. We’re looking at speakers, recording equipment, turntables, and more.
Kanto YUMI speakers
Kanto offers a wide range of speakers, but the YUMI speakers are a great choice. It uses a Class D receiver, instead of a Class A/B like the other Yumi speakers. This draws less power, but puts out a warmer, more vocal-forward sound, making it great for record players. The inputs also include a 3.5 audio jack for phones and mp3 players, as well as Bluetooth connectivity for phones, TVs, computers, and more.
A Good Record Player
There are a lot of things to consider out of a record player. It’s nice to have one you can actually upgrade over time – so steer clear of some of the cheaper models. Something with a replaceable stylus (read: needle) is nice. Having an adjustable weight on the needle arm is nice. There are a lot of questions about belt drives vs. direct drives, but overall, we prefer belt drives for the clarity of sound. If you’re looking for something modern, the AT-LP120 USB from Audio-Technica is great, even though it has a direct drive. If you’d rather do the belt drive and lose the USB compatibility, try their AT-LP3 model, instead.
If you’re going to record, you’ll need an interface. You can use a USB mic, but it’s going to limit the audio fidelity and the amount of control you have over the sound. A good introductory interface is the Scarlett 2i2, which has two inputs for mics, to outputs for monitors, and runs to your computer via USB. If you want some extra gear you can pick up this recording bundle that includes the 2i2 alongside headphones, a pop filter, some cables, a mic stand, and more..
Rode NT1 Microphone
Rode makes great entry-level microphones. They sound a lot better than trying to squeeze good sound out of, say, a sub-$100 mic. Their intersection of price and quality make them a fantastic value for beginners. The Rode NT1A is a popular starting point, but if you’re going to go ahead and drop that much money, go ahead and spend a little bit more on the slightly nicer Rode NT1.
KRK Rokit 5 Monitors
KRK makes solid studio monitors. They’re not the best speakers, but you don’t want the best speakers. They’re honest speakers. Which is important. Because when you’re mixing, you don’t want your speakers to do you any favors. You want honest feedback. Rokits are good for that. You can buy nicer versions than the one we recommend. The Rokit goes up to the Rokit 8 now. But the Rokit 5 monitors are affordable, and a fantastic set of monitors for the money.
If you want to record, you’ll need a digital audio workshop, or DAW. There’s a whole world of them out there – Pro Tools, Logic X, and more. We really like Reaper. Reaper has an affordable, ethical (even generous) price structure. It’s also insanely versatile and customizable. It doesn’t have as much hand holding as some of the other programs out there have. But once you learn what you’re doing, the power is unparalleled.
Songwriters on Songwriting
Of course, being into music isn’t the same thing as being into songs. But there’s a lot of fascinating advice and insight in this book of interviews by Paul Zollo, featuring sixty-two masters of their craft sharing stories about how they create.
The world of sampling and synths is a giant universe unto itself. It’s messy, and weird and expensive to get into. Komplete 11 lives at the very edge of a precipice in that world. It’s basically the best product of its kind for beginners. Below Komplete, there’s a bunch of stuff that isn’t really worth your time. Above Komplete, there’s a bunch of stuff you can’t afford. There’s not really a great midrange for sample instruments, but Komplete is unquestionably the best of the entry-level stuff.
Vizio 2.1 Channel Sound Bar
Of course, caring about audio isn’t limited to your record player. If you have a smart TV, you might be able to throw your audio over to those Kanto YUMI speakers. But if not, you may have noticed that televisions don’t really come with great speakers anymore. One of the best ways around that is with an audio bar. It’s not as complicated as surround sound, but still gives you a massive improvement over your TV speakers. This 2.1 sound bar from Vizio is a great start.
Sony Noise-Cancelling Headphones
giftA good set of headphones is a must-have. (Just don’t rely on them for your mixing!) Noise-cancelling headphones are better for travel than the studio, but boy, are they great for travel. Sony makes some nice, reliable ones at a variety of price points, like this very affordable pair, and this pair that is less affordable, but extremely nice.