BEST Portable Music Gear

Ludwig Breakbeats

Our hunt for a keenly priced, great sounding drum kit for travel, small gigs, bedroom playing and street busking stops here. Enter Ludwig’s Breakbeats, a dynamic sounding mini kit developed by Root’s drummer Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson (who has also played on Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight Show’).

 

The Breakbeats shell pack is comprised of a cute 14x16-inch bass drum, a small 7x10-inch rack tom, an equally petite 13x13-inch floor tom and a 5x14-inch wooden snare. It’s available in three sparkle options – black, red and silvery white. As is the case with most professional drums, it doesn’t come with any hardware like stands or cymbals, so bear that in mind when ordering.

 

As the Breakbeats’ bass drum is so small, it comes equipped with a bass drum riser that attaches to the rear hoop, raising the bass drum several inches so the pedal’s beater is able to strike the head in the centre, rather than near the top hoop. This gives the impression that the whole bass drum is floating. However, aside from some overly stiff lugs here and there (expected at this keen price level), the only real issue with the kit is that the supplied bass drum riser’s pedal plate is too short to accommodate some bass drum pedals without their drive chains scraping against the rear hoop. We solved the issue by slipping a 10mm nut between the two connecting plates and now all is well. Incidentally, some users have also solved the problem by fitting Gibraltar’s SC-BDPM bass drum riser, so perhaps also consider that solution if your bass drum pedal doesn’t fit.

 

The above riser issue should in no way put you off buying this kit because it sounds fantastic. You and your fellow musos won’t believe the depth and punch that pours out of this titchy bass drum. Granted, it can’t compete acoustically with a big 22-inch but jab a mic in its direction when performing live and it’ll sound huge. However, you may wish to remove the front head and stuff a small towel gently against the batter head to prevent multiple rebounds when burying the beater. Some users have also cut a small porthole in the front resonant head to let the air out quicker and make it easier to mic.

 

The same level of depth and punch apply to the 10-inch rack tom and 13-inch floor. Both can be tuned down much further than you’d imagine to produce a rich, woody tone that far belies their respective dimensions. To be honest, their ease of tuning and out-of-the box oomph actually set the cat among the pigeons, causing this long-term drummer to revisit his full-sized £2,000 DW kit to see if I could get as good a sound out of them. However, I do wonder whether a 13-inch snare drum would have made it a bit more portable and more in keeping with the size of the rest of the shells but, hey, it eventually sounded great after tightening the snare head to table-top tension (even though the rear lugs were incredibly stiff).

 

If you’re looking for an extremely capable and superbly priced travel-sized kit that truly delivers then go forth and order a set right away. It’s the perfect kit for taxi travel, small venues and bedroom practicing, and an ideal high-quality starter kit for kids. Warmly recommended.

£439, Gear4music

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32

Whether you’re a talented bedroom amateur who creates music for fun or a professional recording artist, every computer-based DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software package needs a piano-style, USB-powered MIDI keyboard to function at its best. The market is littered with suitable MIDI keyboard controllers in various sizes from the likes of Korg, M-Audio and Alesis, but for our money, the new Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32 is a no brainer because a) it’s a fast-track to instant digital recording (all you need is a PC or Mac); b) it’s small, portable and more practical than other models and c) it comes with Ableton recording software and a shedload of fantastic sounds from the highly respected Native Instruments stable. In other words, just £99 buys you everything you need to start making your own music. All you require is a laptop or desktop computer and your imagination.

 

The diminutive and lightweight M32 measures a shade under 19cm in length and just 6.5cm in depth and comes with 32 touch-sensitive keys (two and a half octaves, from F to C) that are of a decent enough size to play without your fingers tripping over each other. Like practically all keyboard controllers, it’s also equipped with oscillation and pitch-bend controllers for musical expression although in this instance they’re in the form of two ribbons rather than the usual thumb wheels. Unlike some competitors, the M32 also comes with a very useful rear sustain pedal input – an essential asset when recording chordal keyboard parts.

 

However, what sets this system apart from most others is the inclusion of a physical interface that mirrors some of the most important features of popular DAWs like Logic Pro X, GarageBand and Ableton Live, enabling the user to make a myriad of on-screen adjustments without constantly reaching for the mouse. Being able to adjust the parameters of an individual sound without taking your hands off the keyboard is a major plus, but the M32’s most useful facet is unquestionably the easy access it provides to the DAW’s transport keys (record, playback and stop). Indeed, this writer used the transport keys more than any other function.

 

I tested the M32 using Apple’s excellent ‘Logic Pro X’ recording software and was suitably impressed by how easy it was to use in its basic form. However, like most music-based software, getting your head around the finer intricacies of the product’s software takes a lot of manual swotting and plenty of trial and error. At just £99, this little tyke is superb value for money, especially when you factor in the huge volume of high-end virtual instruments and effects it comes packaged with.

£99, Native Instruments

iZotope Spire Studio

Not that long ago – before the world went digital – musicians would need to spend the equivalent of a month’s wage on a four-track Tascam or Fostex Portstudio that used cassette tape and required lots of fiddly knobs and panning of signals. They were clunky, could only run with a power outlet nearby and they mostly sounded crap. But they were still a Godsend for song writers and bands just starting out and de rigeur for demo making.

 

Of course, it’s an altogether different kettle of fish today. Now you can record remotely with your laptop, a decent mic, an audio interface and a good DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) like Logic Pro, Digital Performer, Pro Tools, Cubase, Reaper or even Apple’s free Garageband. But what if you wanted most of this in a single all-in-one package small enough to fit in shoulder bag? Well it’s here and it’s called the iZotope Spire Studio.

 

This circular lump of weighty splendour will record eight multi-tracks one after another with a few simple button presses and, what’s more it’ll work on both mains and battery power. The Spire comes with its own good quality built-in omnidirectional microphone for acoustic instruments and vocals, two headphone inputs for monitoring and two XLR inputs (with phantom power) on the rear for electric guitars, keyboards, high-quality mics and drum machines.

 

It works best when used in cahoots with the free iPhone or iPad app (Android is also supported but not quite as comprehensively) but it can also be used in basic form without the app. To use, simply launch the app, fire up the Spire, select one of several great effects in the app (several room reverbs, amp models and delays), hit the Spire’s ‘soundcheck’ button and play a few chords near the mic so it can work out the peak level. Now hit the big record button on the Spire’ listen for the count-in and strum away. That’s track one done. For tracks two and onwards simply tap the record button in turn and each track is recorded without any further tweaking. The finished song can then be edited to some degree and mixed using a fabulously easy pictorial interface before it’s shared in full-fat WAV form to your main DAW for further editing and extra instruments or vocals.

 

This is a brilliant time-saving tool for songwriters and bands; in fact anyone who wants to produce very decent multitrack demos on the fly. Simplicity is key with demo recording because the last thing you want when a new song is going round the head is to faff about with complex recording equipment. It only takes one distraction for that possible hit song to evaporate from the mind as quickly as it came.

 

In this respect, the Spire Studio is nothing short of a Holy Grail for songwriters and the most groundbreaking and affordable multi-track recording device currently on planet Earth. Right, must dash, got this stonking riff going round the brain and I have just the thing to bring it to fruition. Instantly.

£309, spire.live

Roli Songmaker Kit

Designed and developed by UK-based music tech company Roli, the Songmaker Kit is a portable, battery-powered modular MIDI interface system designed for creating electronic soundscapes, loops and beats on the move, in the studio or at a desktop. The kit we’re reviewing here is comprised of a two-octave Seaboard Block keyboard, a Lightpad Block M and a Loop Block. Ingeniously, all three snap together using magnetic contacts and, what’s more, you can pretty much join them up in any configuration you want.

 

Let’s take a look at the Lightpad Block M first. Around 9cm square, this palm-sized controller lets you create a range of drum patterns and instrument loops by simply interacting with its fantastically soft and squidgy illuminated surface. Divided into different coloured squares, each representing a different instrument sound or musical note, the Lightpad Block M’s interface is great fun to play with, especially when used with the Noise app. What’s more, because the notes lock to a scale of your choosing, there’s little chance of any major cockups creeping into the composition.

 

However, the Lightpad’s playing surface isn’t really sensitive enough to very light tapping and this makes it difficult to create subtle velocity nuances, especially when creating drum patterns. Furthermore, in order to generate a louder drum sound you need to hammer the fingertip down quite hard and that soon becomes a chore. 

 

It has to be said that, while the experience was mostly enjoyable, this writer never created anything musically meaningful that could ever be used in a professional context, but then that was probably never its aim. No question, the Lightpad Block M is an extremely classy and colourful bit of music-making kit, but it’s not something I would personally recommend to someone with zero musical ability; unless they’re rich enough to splurge on a whim. 

 

The magnetic clip-on Loop Block is one of three available Blocks designed to ‘put studio techniques for recording and editing music at your fingertips’. The Loop Block’s sole purpose is to provide quicker access to the play and record modes, the metronome and that most obligatory facet off modern electronic music, ‘quantize’, whereby the loop’s individual beats are automatically snapped to a grid to make your erratic pad tapping sound perfectly in time, just like a pro. However, this writer didn’t find it especially useful; in fact it was easier using the iPad or desktop screen.

 

The final element of the Songmaker Kit, the Seaboard Block, is far and away the most professional product in the package – and the most expensive (£280 when purchased separately). The Seaboard Block is basically a two-octave keyboard designed for triggering sounds and manipulating their wave forms. It’s especially good for creating cinematic soundscapes and utterly brilliant for playing scorching riffs. The keyboard itself is covered in a smooth, spongy silicone that feels relatively tactile under the finger tips. However, it does come with a pair of caveats. Firstly, there’s the awkwardness of the keys’ layout which makes it all too easy to play bum notes (bizarrely, the spaces between each key are wider than the keys themselves), and secondly, playing a fast string of notes takes a lot of finger effort to make each note sound with the same uniform velocity.

 

On the plus side, the Seaboard Block is equipped with MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression), a clever multidimensional system that takes musical articulation to a whole new level. All other keyboards and stand-alone synthesizers are equipped with modulation and pitch-bend wheels that affect the entire sound. So, for instance, if you play a four-note chord and adjust the modulation wheel, the sound frequencies of all four notes are changed in exactly the same way. By contrast, when you play the same four-note chord on this keyboard, you can slide just one finger up or press it down and only that particular note will modulate. This is a groundbreaking way of producing an extra layer of expression, though whether the untrained ear will appreciate this kind of subtlety is open to debate. The pitch bend system is perhaps an even better innovation because it allows you to play a single note and change its pitch in one fluid motion by sliding your finger up the key and to the left or right along the top-mounted touch-sensitive pad.

 

These two facets alone make the Seaboard Block the perfect keyboard for playing expressive parts, replete with a raft of tantalising modulation effects. However, to make the most of MPE you’ll need to use the Seaboard Block either with the included Equator software, the Noise app or an MPE-capable third party digital audio workstation (DAW) like Logic Pro and Cubase.

 

The whole Roli system works best with the supplied Equator desktop software (PC and Mac), which comes with a diverse selection of great sounds, including orchestral pads, organs, brass and synth leads. But if you want to use the package while on the move, you’ll need to download the not especially user friendly Noise app (iOS only) which features a variety of similar sounds and an interface that mimics the Lightpad Block and Seaboard Block. Complete novices are advised to head straight for the excellent Roli Play tutorial app (iOS) which provides a good introduction to the basics.

 

This writer plays in a recording and touring band so I’d like to think I’m pretty au fait with most electronic musical toys. However, this one had me flummoxed for a while. It really is a very steep learning curve on pretty much all fronts. Just getting your head round the concept and setting up all the modules and plethora of supplied software involves a lot of frustration and constant referral to YouTube tutorials and Roli’s support centre. And when you do eventually start creating, it’s not quite as intuitive as the online video ads make out. Nevertheless, if you’re a seasoned master of EDM, technically well informed and have a healthy bank balance, then this Songmaker Kit is probably right up your niche.

£600, Roli

Shure WH20 Dynamic Headset Microphone

The Shure SM58 has been the live microphone of choice for a myriad bands since time immemorial. It’s built like a brick outhouse and delivers impeccable tone for the money. But sometimes a mic on a stand can be a hindrance and that’s where a good-quality headset mic can make all the difference. One like Shure’s excellent WH20.

 

This dynamic microphone is absolutely perfect for singing drummers because it does away with having a mic stand to the side of the kit which can often get in the way of the kit’s hi-hat, snare and cymbal stands. Moreover, it means the drummer can move his or her head around while singing and moving round the kit. The WH20 is also great for buskers since they can do their performance thing without having to stand in one spot. And, of course, a mic like this is also de rigour for hands-free voice presentations and conferences where the protagonist is walking the stage.

 

This model is available with three different connections – XLR, QTR or TQG. We opted for the XLR version simply because it’s the most common connector. The lead from the headset is plenty long enough to clip to a pair of trousers and at no time did it snag on anything.

 

The WH20 fits very comfortably around the back of the head though you should be mindful that a) it makes you feel like a telemarketing assistant and b) the mic will pick up rustles if you handle it. You should also avoid coughing or making grunting noises while playing because it’s all picked up. From a drumming point of view, the mic is highly directional so there’s very little evidence of ambient noise from the drums seeping into the front-of-house PA – and that’s a brilliant thing.

 

The mic’s sound reproduction is first class, with crisp highs and rich lows – and all with zero feedback. In fact, it sounded better than the SM58s our band’s main singers use. So, if you’re on a tight budget and require a great-quality microphone headset system that cuts the mustard, then you could do a lot worse than give this brilliant model a whirl. And if you’re looking for a top-flight website to buy it from, look no further that the excellent Gear4Music, a favourite online haunt of ours.

£102, shure.co.uk

Nuraphone
review,best,reviews,headphones,studio,AUDIO, technica, audio technica, ath,m50x, closed,headphones, cans, studio,travel, garageband,music,recording,professional

I have to admit that, along with so many other reviewers, I was sceptical about these new adaptive headphones right up to the moment I finished the 60-second app setup and started listening to some of my favourite songs, including the mixes of our band Red Box's latest album. To say I’m gobsmacked is an understatement. Where out of the box the sound quality was hollow and muffled, as soon as I’d set my own ‘unique hearing profile’ – the system runs through a series of tones, measuring the extremely subtle soundwaves that bounce back out of one’s eardrums – the quality improved remarkably. In fact, it was a bit like having an audiophile system strapped to your head. Could this really be the result of a simple set of sci-fi tones bombarding the eardrums? To prove a point, I asked a friend to set his own hearing profile and the two couldn’t have been more different. His profile to me sounded awful, and vice versa.

 

The Bluetooth-equipped Nuraphones are of the over-ear variety, only they also feature a small, centrally-located in-ear bud that is easier to align with the eardrum than you might think. That said, it does take a while to adjust to the sensation of having rubber earbuds stuck in your ears while wearing what is ostensibly a common-or-garden set of headphone cups. Nuraphone uses Haptic-Sense technology to create a very ‘live’ sound with deep bass and crisp treble. According to the company, it works by ‘splitting the melodic sounds to an in-ear speaker and the bass sounds to an over-ear tactile driver that delivers the sound through your skin’. Whatever the science is behind it, I vouch that the system works wonders.

 

Another bonus here is that the cans come with Parrot Zik-like ear-pad controls; simply tap on the right or left cup to skip a track, pause etc. Packaging, too, is exquisite and very Apple-esque – the phones come in a swish faux leather case with magnetic clasp. I’m really looking forward to trying these on my next flight. Granted, they don’t have built-in noise cancelling – a NC model is apparently in the pipeline – but given that they’re of the over-ear variety, they should still perform brilliantly.

 

We’d say to give these cans some serious consideration because they’re not just some gimmicky Kickstarter project; they genuinely do measure an individual’s hearing patterns and the result is astonishing to say the least. True, they’re not that cheap to buy but, given that Nuraphone offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee, that makes them well worth a punt.

£349, nuraphone.com

teenage,engineering,op-1,op1,portable,synthesizer,synth,review,sequencer
Teenage Engineering OP-1

We were first introduced to this amazing portable synthesizer after having watched an interview with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, who cited the OP1 as one of the key ingredients in his new album ‘22, A million’. And anything Justin Vernon praises is good enough for us. So we called one in.

 

In images, the Teenage Engineering OP1 looks like a toy or even a glorified Casio VL Tone. In reality it still looks like a toy but it’s only when you lift it out of the box and feel the weight and quality of the build that you immediately realise that it most certainly isn’t a toy.

 

The OP1 is essentially a travelling, battery- or mains-powered lap synth designed for the creation of loops, samples and much frequency manipulation. Therefore, it’s predominantly aimed at the ‘modern’ musician into techno, chill, rap and all those other subcategories of EDM. However, used sparingly, it’s also a brilliant tool for alternative styles of music like, er, Bon Iver.

 

Switch it on and the first thing you notice is the quality of its colourful OLED screen. While we’re on that subject, a tilting screen mechanism would be a handy feature since you do get a stiff neck from peering over the keyboard. And speaking of keyboards, this one is a key under two octaves (from F to E) and is comprised of 24 rubber pads that provide superb feedback when pressed or tapped. To make things easier to grasp – and there’s a big learning curve with this synth – everything is colour coded.

 

You may well wander what all the fuss is about when you first turn this thing on. After all, it’s garnered nothing but praise from pretty much everyone who’s bought one. The five main areas you’ll work in are the drum generator, the synth, the arpeggiator, the sampler and the old-style tape recording function. Both the synth and drum functions are infinitely tweakable, enabling the user to create some truly unique sounds out of what is essentially a pretty bogstandard set of default sounds.

 

However, it’s the four track ‘tape recorder’ that most users are so in love with. And it behaves just like a tape recorder, too, since everything is recorded without any quantisation – just like some of you would have done during the Fostex and Tascam four-track cassette tape years. You can easily overdub sounds – including your own samples – onto a single track before moving onto the next. However, it can be mighty confusing when trying to delete a duff take because it’s all too easy to re-paste the deleted clip into another part of the recorded sequence. We had quite a few head scratching moments during the first few days of use.

 

Luckily, there’s a very comprehensive PDF manual online which is essential because, while everyone says this synth is easy to get a handle on, we struggled quite a lot to get anything musically meaningful out of it. We can only assume its current crop of worshipers are all past masters at dealing with hi-tech electronic instruments. Indeed, it was only after a week of use that things suddenly started to click and we began to really enjoy using it.

 

The upshot is, if you’re already au fait with synths and other like-minded products and enjoy modern tech music above all else then this is an absolute must-have, albeit expensive, travelling music maker. But if you’re more of a traditionalist then perhaps give it a miss. We will go on persevering because, if anything, we’d love to get a few of its wild and wacky sounds onto our next Red Box album.

£777, teenageengineering.com​

AUDIO, technica, ath,m50x, headphones, cans, studio,travel, garageband

These closed studio-spec cans provide the sort of sound quality you’d expect from a pair of headphones at least twice the price. The M50x’s produce a crisp, uncoloured soundstage with oodles of bottom end. Their accuracy and balance is remarkable and they’re comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time. And what’s more they come with not just one removable cable, but two. And the cables are nice and long, too, so it’s unlikely you’ll need an extension if playing several feet from your recording kit. If you’re after extremely accurate studio monitoring – and we really do mean accurate – then give them a whirl. Best buy by far.

£125, audio-technica.com

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
fishman, loudbox, mini, amplifier, amp, acoustic, guitar, 60w, portable, travel

We’re amazed at the volume and presence this little 60W acoustic amplifier produces. We tried it using a Taylor GS Mini fitted with a K&K Sound Pure Mini pickup and it produced the same sound as the guitar did acoustically. Fishman’s techno bods have clearly done their homework because right now we can’t think of a more practical and effective way to amplify an acoustic guitar. It really is the bee's knees. At nearly 20lbs, this mains-only amp is no lightweight but it’s perfect for gigging at moderate volumes. It comes with a ¼” input for active or passive pickups, an XLR input for dynamic mics, a brilliant three-band equaliser and controls for both reverb and chorus effects. If you’re in the market for a top-quality amp for your acoustic that isn’t too heavy and performs the task with aplomb then look no further than this chunky thumper.

£359, jhs.co.uk

Fishman Loudbox Mini

For music-making on the go, few recording combos work better than an Apogee One music interface, a Mac laptop, a pair of headphones and a copy of Apple’s Garageband. However, recording parts using a computer keyboard is clunky and far from inspiring. Well, that’s where Korg’s line of USB-controlled mini keyboards comes into the equation. The Mini range is available in four sizes: 25, 37 and 61 keys respectively. We’d suggest the 37-key version as it offers three octaves and slightly larger keys yet measures no more than 56cm end to end so it easily fits inside a large suitcase. The keyboard itself is velocity sensitive and features octave shift and key transpose along with pitch and modulation wheels. It syncs seamlessly to any music software program and even connects directly to an iPad. The Microkey is an invaluable tool for any musician looking for a simple recording solution that is both transportable and inspirational.

From £50, korg.com/uk

 

Korg Microkey
korg, microkey, usb, keyboard, travel, garageband
zoom, iphone, microphone, music, portable, live, band, travel
Zoom IQ5

Zoom cornered the personal digital recorder market many years ago when it launched the superb palm-sized H4. Any band member will tell you that, up until that time, band rehearsal recordings would sound so bright and tinny it was as if the band had been playing in a steel shipping container. The H4, and every Zoom model since, changed all that. Well now there’s a new model to add to the company’s expansive catalogue. It’s called the IQ5 and it’s a little pocket-sized mic that plugs into an iPhone or iPad, turning it into a high quality recorder.

 

Forget those harsh, piddly little 64kbps files the iPhone’s built-in recorder produces. This thing uses its own free app and records in 16bit WAV so you can be sure the sound quality will be top notch. The IQ5 features two microphone elements: a directional mid mic that captures audio coming from the front and a bidirectional side mic that covers ambient signals. Stereo width can be set to 90˚or 120˚ according to the recording situation. If you’re a songwriter or play in a band, then give this little ball of tricks a whirl. You won’t be disappointed.

£79, zoom-uk.com

APOGEE 2.png
APOGEE 1.png
Apogee One for Mac

If you want to record vocals, guitars and other instruments on a Mac, you’re going to need a decent audio interface. The Apogee One is one of the best digital interfaces out there. It works seamlessly with any music software, including Apple’s Garageband and Logic Pro, and comes with a guitar input, XLR input and a top-quality built-in microphone that cleverly mimics the sound of a studio-spec Neumann. Well sort of. The Apogee One is not much larger than an iPhone so it’s the perfect match for your laptop. A brilliant, must-have product for any travelling recording artist.

£229, gear4music.com

You’ve got to hand it to all those busking guitar loopers on YouTube. It’s not an easy discipline to master. Timing your loops isn’t an issue but it does take some forethought before you start your first take or it’ll just sound dreadful. We’d also recommend using an electro acoustic guitar with it, especially if you’re thinking of bashing out any rhythmic drum sounds on the guitar’s body. There are numerous loopers out there but we haven’t found a smaller or more portable model than the little Wally – and by little we mean almost matchbox size. This titchy yellow pedal delivers in spades; it’s easy to use, solidly built and records at 44.1KHz for up to 15 minutes with limitless overdubs in the process. It also includes a speed and pitch controller for turning a gentle Pink Floydian whirl into a fast-paced pop tune. In short, the perfect accompaniment for travelling musos and street buskers.

£80, musicpsych.com

Hotone Wally Looper
hotone, wally, looper, effects, pedal
korg, monotron, delay, review, reviews, portable, travel
 korg, monotron, duo, review, reviews, portable, travel

Create a raft of Moog-like analogue sounds with these two terrific portable ribbon synths from Korg. It’s impossible to tell how big they are just looking at a picture so trust us, these two units are very small – about the size of an iPhone 6 Plus, only deeper. There’s an art to fiddling with rate, cut-off and feedback but fiddle enough and you’ll produce some wonderfully rich and thick analogue sounds and sequences to lay over your existing tracks. If electronic music is your thing, look no further.

£32 each, korg.com/uk

Korg Monotron Duo & Delay
sennheiser, momentum, headphones, travel, portable, review, reviews

If you want to get the most out of your mid-flight mix, slap on a pair of these gorgeous ivory-coloured cans from Sennheiser. The Momentums are nice and light and have very soft ear cups so they’re comfy as the comfiest thing. More importantly, the uncluttered sound they reproduce is perfect for music making on the go. Add a removable cable, a sleek in-line volume and track-skip control pot and you have just the thing for a long flight mix using just a Mac and a copy of Logic Pro. Superb.

£200, en-uk.sennheiser.com

Sennheiser Momentum Over-Ear

When it comes to high-quality, pocket-sized recording gizmos, Zoom rules the roost. The little H1 is easily the best sounding recording device on this page – and one of the cheapest on the market. It packs amazing sonic punch, making even the loudest, harshest band rehearsals sound rich, crisp, deep and distortion free. Really, if you’re looking for a competent recorder to make your tin-shed rehearsal room actually sound quite good, then step right this way. The H1 records in both WAV (16-bit and 24-bit) and MP3 formats and has a built-in X/Y configuration mic for excellent stereo. It runs for hours on a single AA battery. Top choice.

£77, zoom-uk.com

Zoom H1 Handy Recorder
zoo, h1, audio,recorder,best,pocket,sized,travel,recording,wav,mp3
sennheiser, momentum, in-ear, headphones, travel, portable, review, reviews

If you can’t stretch the budget to a pair of Momentum over ears (reviewed above), how about this keenly-priced in-ear version? Again, sound quality is exceptional and perfect for mix monitoring whether on a plane, a train or over a latte at the local coffee joint. Only two little annoyances to report… The buds stick out of your ears too much and look a bit silly and there’s no clear enough distinction between the left and right channels. But these small foibles are more than compensated for by the Momentum’s exceptional sound quality. Yeah, baby.

£90, en-uk.sennheiser.com

Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear
traps, a400, drums, drumkit, portable, folding, fold, car, boot, gig, live
Traps A400 Drums

Okay, we’re pushing it a bit here. This shell-less drum kit isn’t exactly flight friendly but if you’re a gigging drummer looking for a kit that folds down for easy transport or storage, this could just be the product you’re looking for. Against all odds, the Traps A400 sounds surprisingly good. Yes, the bass drum could do with a bit more depth, but there are no issues regarding the toms and snare which really do sound like those on a proper kit, albeit a cheaper one. The Traps 400 is easily collapsed even with all the toms still attached to the frame. Just don’t buy the version with added cymbals – they’re horrible.

£300, trapsdrums.co.uk

line 6, micro, spider, practice, amp, portable, travel

Looking for a travel amp that kicks a little more ass than a Pignose or Mini Marshall? Perhaps this punchy little battery and mains-powered titan will do the trick. It’s bigger than the average travel amp (9.5” x 10”) and weighs quite a bit more (7lbs) but it’ll still fit into an average sized suitcase and isn’t too heavy for public transport. The Spider dishes out six watts of power – more than enough oomph for busking, low volume rehearsing or jamming by the poolside – and comes with five preset sound styles (clean, crunch, metal, insane and acoustic) and six Smart Control effects (chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo, echo and reverb). All in all, a neat little road package that’s just the right side of portable.

£84, uk.line6.com

Line 6 Micro Spider
hohner, marine, band, deluxe, harmonica, harp, blues, music, gig, play
Hohner Marine Band Deluxe

Is there a smaller musical instrument than the humble harp? Hohner’s Marine Band is the first port of call for any self-respecting blues player. The Deluxe version might cost a wee bit more than the standard model but because its lip plate is rounded off, it’s a much more comfortable harp to play. Marine Bands are ideally suited to playing blues or country. They sound big, fat and loud, and are supplied with top quality reeds that very rarely clog up or go out of tune. The Marine Band Deluxe is available in 14 different keys but we suggest starting with the most popular blues keys of C, A, D and G.

£43, theharmonicacompany.com