Top 5 Investments to up your studio game NOW
Up your Musicality
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49/61
First on our list is the widely avowed-by Komplete Kontrol keyboard series from Native Instruments. With this we do suggest investing in either the S49 or S61, depending on your budget, as these will serve you the best purpose in the long run of your career.
Where to begin with the features on this wonderful piece of kit? The pro-grade fatar keybed hosts semi weighted keys for that authentic feel, alongside two high-resolution colour screens and a light guide for stress-free visual feedback. This makes is easy to browse and preview sounds, whilst being able to mix and edit your projects from right in the hardware.
Yes, you read that correct; the keyboard is actually fully compatible with some of the top DAW’s (Logic, Ableton, Cubase, GarageBand and of course Maschine). What this allows is for you to be able to capture all your ideas directly from the keyboard and immediately transport, mix and edit the controls within the DAW. With a Midi in/out it’s also incredibly simple to incorporate your outboard gear in the set-up.
Fancy hardware talk to one side, the real draw is the incredible Pro Performance mode, which allows you to stay perfectly on key with a selected scale or mode lit light guide. This allows you to play entire chord progressions by pressing a single key, and map them to whichever scale you like. You can combine this effortlessly with the appregiator to create complex musical expressions and a flawless error-free experience.
In terms of downsides, the navigation can be a bit clunky when choosing sounds and editing in the DAW, and the AC input as opposed to USB seems rather odd, but nevertheless this is a minor issue. Please bear in mind however that to fully utilise Komplete Kontrol. You’ll require Komplete 9 or 10, which may be another expense.
Up your Creativity
Now you’ve got boundless quantities of musical variation at your fingertips, its time to focus on one area that stumps even the best of producers - creative workflow. Not only is it a challenge in itself to continuously come up with fresh ideas, but also getting them down on the page (screen) before they are lost into the ether, and the short burst of dopamine has subsided.
This is where Maschine Studio comes into its’ own. Originally released in 2013, Mashine Studio is still at the top of the game when it comes to hardware controllers, and there’s good reason for it. The first and foremost being it’s incredible bank of built in sounds. The samples are of the highest calibre, and dare I say it, in a lot of cases require very little mixing to slot right in to your creations. The default library is fairly expansive in of itself, with a multitude of additional options to download as purchasable extras.
Smooth, robust controls make up the general interface, with delicately precise drum pads and an intuitive layout. The visual display is a revitalisation of the clunky block designs of old, flaunting its new beats timeline, cramming the extensive capabilities of the modern DAW into compact form. With one press of a button you can bring up the new mixer feature, which allows you to manage singular inputs or groups of sounds as you would expect on a typical desk, which the extra sexy addition of the side chaining functionality, allowing 3rd party plug-ins to utilise the front end and route/bus with flexibility.
As with every great product however, there are some slight disadvantages, which it would be unfair to avoid mentioning. The Maschine DAW was very clunky and difficult to route…especially when you are well adapted to your current DAW. It isn’t as particularly intuitive as you would imagine, and even routing the Maschine through your own DAW was particularly difficult, (at least with Logic) and feels like it costs more time than what it’s worth. There is also a limit of 2 aux sends per bus, and some of the extra features require power adapter to be connected, as they cannot be run off of the main source alone. These however are minor points and shouldn’t do much to detract you from heavily considering this to be one of your next purchases if creativity is what you are looking to spark.
Up your Sound Quality
Who doesn’t want better sound? That’s why we are all here ultimately right? Being fully aware that this list is starting to get particularly expensive, the Focusrite 2i4 secures its spot here for not only its fantastic capabilities but also its great value for money.
With two analog inputs and four analog outputs, the Focusrite 2i4 covers the bases for your typical bedroom producer. It runs two Scarlett mic preamps and can convert at 24bit, 192kHz, all with the convenience of a USB connection, so you can quite literally just plug in and play. Dialling in your gain controls is exactly as you would expect, with smooth clearly defined knobs, and notifications of either green or red lights to let you know whether you are active or overdriven.
If you’ve got a top of the range set of production headphones, one of the highlights of this piece of kit is it’s incredible aptitude to subsidise them with amplification, and maximise the quality you paid for…which conveniently brings us on to the next topic.
Achieve Better Mixdowns
Beyerdynamic DT770/990 Pro
Get better mixdowns by producing on HEADPHONES? Yes correct, forget what you have heard. Unless you are in a purpose built, heavily treated and scientifically formulated studio room, producing on top of the range monitors with extensive knowledge of their specific timbre, then headphones are the best way to improve your mixdown game right now.
With all of the above typically inaccessible to your everyday electronic music producer, the best way to get a fair and accurate assessment of your mixdown is by turning to the cans. There are of course disadvantages to using strictly headphone based mixing, such as the one-ear mono sound consequence, but with the majority of consumers listening to your music on headphones, and the ability for a good set of cans to expose tiny details in your mix that will be lost over loudspeakers (such as sharp high end), they are a fantastic resource to not be underestimated.
With that being said, it’s critical therefore that you choose the right tools for the job, and for that we have settled on the Beyerdynamic DT Series.
Whether you go for the 770 or the 990 version will be dependant on your scenario and individual requirements. For example, the 990 version is much more flat with its open back design, and can more accurately expose necessary EQ fixes in the top end of your tracks as a result. The 770 being closed back give a much deeper bass response and are a fantastic reference to monitor all low end interactions.
Their comfort is second to none, with lovely plush over ear memory foam padding wrapped in velour, meaning you can wear these for significant periods without the need to rest your ears (although we would thoroughly recommend you do!).
Taking the above into account, and the fact that these can be purchased now for less than £110, these are our number one choice for your next headphone investment to help you on your way to better mixdowns.
Use Better Quality Samples
Last but certainly not least on our list is sample quality. You can spend hours on end trying to fine tune a particular sound, distort a single snare, EQ a drum bus or bit-crush a hi-hat, but one of the most important factors in getting your mix right is having the right samples to begin with. Looking for the best quality sounds before you begin will turbo-charge your creative batteries, and remove unnecessary obstacles in your mix down process. The good news is, that with vast world of the Internet at your fingertips, these golden tickets are not too difficult to find…if you know where you are looking that is.
Some of the best we have ever come across are produced by none other than KAN Samples. With a wide variety of packs on display, from dark, rolling drum and bass, to crunchy future garage and blends of deep house, there is a vast abundance of creative spark available to kick-start your next project.
So there we have it, our 5 top purchases to take your productions to the next level in 2019. Let us know your thoughts and if there is anything else you would recommend.
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