2012 Gear Guide: Four pieces of music gear priced under $300

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Time for our year-end round up of music equipment for your wish list that’ll offer outstanding value without breaking the piggy bank. We’ll take a look at music gear that includes an innovative router to help you make maximum use of your guitar pedals, a great USB microphone, an eight-track recorder, and a dock to help convert your iPad into a recording hub. To help me select this year’s picks, I consulted one of my own music tech gear gurus, Bob Furlong, Sales Engineer at Fort Wayne, IN-based Sweetwater Sound.

Samson Go Microphone
The first piece of music equipment on our list is the Samson Go Microphone, which I purchased from Bob a few months ago. I needed a small, rugged, good sounding USB microphone for a series of podcasts I was developing for a class I was teaching on popular music history this past semester. Bob recommended the Go Mic due to its outstanding performance and very competitive $59 price point.

The mic arrived about a week later and before I even plugged it in to my laptop to test it out, I was pleasantly surprised by its quality and feel. Using Garage Band, the mic was recognized instantly and the program asked if I wanted to use it for my new audio input and output, which made set up a snap. With the built-in 1/8" stereo headphone jack, the Go Mic proved to be ideal for recording my podcast narration tracks. The sound quality was comparable to a condenser mic costing many times its price.

It features both cardioid and omni patterns and a handy -10dB pad for louder sound sources. Another nice feature is that the mic has a built-in clip allowing you to attach it to your laptop screen if you choose. I also tried it out doing a live acoustic recording of two friends, simply setting the mic equidistant between them as they performed. I have to say I was wowed by the clarity and headroom that this mini-mic offered. I normally would have set up 2-3 mics and dragged a mixer to the rehearsal, but I thought I’d just try the Go Mic to see how it would sound. The performers were also impressed with the overall sound quality and even tonal balance. Bottom line: the Go Mic is an outstanding value and takes on-the-go recording with a laptop to a new level.

Alesis iO Dock
If you or someone you know has added an iPad to their electronic kit, then the Alesis iO Dock may be just the right gift for your holiday shopping list. With a $199 street price, the iO Dock "allows you to interface all of your existing audio equipment with the iPad and take advantage of its processing power and portability," says Bob.

The iO Dock has dual mic/line inputs, phantom power, MIDI in and out, composite video out (so you can drive a video monitor in the studio or at the gig), a USB port, and headphone and ¼" balanced outputs to drive a pair of powered studio monitors. The iO Dock lets you take advantage of any available app for MIDI sequencing or guitar/amp modeling — or you can simply record with GarageBand (or your program of choice).

Did I mention you can plug your guitar or bass directly into it and start recording using GarageBand right away? It’s a nice feature. Bottom line: If you or someone you know already has an iPad and they’re into making music, this is a gift they’ll love.

For those that haven’t jumped onto the iBandwagon and would prefer to just plug into a pocket-sized 24-bit digital recording studio, the BOSS BR-80 may be just the ticket. Roland (the company behind the legendary BOSS brand) has been a leader in high performance, affordable, all-in-one digital recording systems for more than a decade. As with most devices in the technology world, each successive iteration of the BR-series has nearly doubled in power while dropping in price.

Enter the BR-80. It’s designed to function in three main modes: 1) a stand-alone eight-channel multitrack recorder, 2) a play-along music training device, 3) a high-resolution live recording system.

According to Bob, "It’s got eight digital tracks, but features up to 64 virtual tracks. It’s also got 40 built-in amp modelers, including a number of Roland’s signature systems, and there are a great many feature sets included. I particularly like the eBand mode, which allows you to play along with any of your favorite songs copied into the BR-80 and then use it as a learning tool. You can change tempo on a selection while maintaining pitch, so it works well as a phrase trainer to loop a particular part you may be trying to learn, slow it down, get the notes and phrasing just right, then speed it up as you get more proficient at the part. It also comes with lots of different loops and rhythmic backing tracks so you can quickly create your own songs using the provided building blocks."

The BR-80 features a built-in pair of high quality stereo condenser mics, as well as line and instrument level inputs. Recordings are stored on a SD card (up to 100 hours recording time with a 32GB SD card) and with its USB connectivity, you can easily dump your tracks into any computer based recording or editing software program. All in all, the BR-80 is a powerful addition to any musician’s bag of tools. At $299, this system provides solid bang for the buck.

Pigtronix Keymaster
The fourth and final piece of gear for this year’s Holiday shopping list is a specialty item, the Pigtronix Keymaster. Pigtronix is the brainchild of (president) Dave Koltai and (co-founder and CEO) Brian Bethke, who felt there was room for a line of well-designed, high-quality analog pedals among the many digital guitar pedals on the market. The Keymaster is not an effects pedal; it’s a dual-channel, universal, impedance-matching router that will allow you to use all of the pedals and devices you already own in new and creative ways.

Simply put, you can use it to route any signal you have into your pedal chain, modify the sound of it, and then send it back out to any other device, amplifier, PA system or recording system. For starters, you may have recorded the perfect guitar part but now would like to just add a little grit to the sound of your recorded guitar. Rather than replaying the part, you can take a line level output from your DAW, run it into the Keymaster, then interface any number of guitar pedals or effects to dirty up your sound until you are happy, then route it back into your DAW. Maybe you want to experiment with some chorus or old-time analog bucket-brigade (noisy) delay on some backing vocals for that classic Small Faces "Itchycoo Park" sound. Run the vocal tracks into the Keymaster, mash them into your old school phase pedal, and then dump them back into your DAW.

It also allows you to use a standard expression pedal and cross fade between two effects, or fade an effect in and out as you feel it. Not just a studio device, instrumentalists and vocalists put the Keymaster through its paces onstage, using it to control various effects or fade in and out of an entire pedal board of effects. One of its best features is that it can accommodate balanced and unbalanced signals and also allows you to route the two channels together, in series or parallel, which is a handy option, depending on the sound you are going for. Bob added, "All of the Pigtronix pedals are hi-fi, they are incredibly quiet and very well built, so that you can use them in your recording chain with no signal loss."

Enjoy your holidays!

2 thoughts on “2012 Gear Guide: Four pieces of music gear priced under $300

  1. I love Pigtronix stuff, and the Keymaster is cool, but people should be aware that you can get the first half of its funtionality from a reamper. If you’re just looking to run a pristine recorded part through effects pedals, then the Keymaster is overkill. And a reamper is less than half the price.

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