Maintaining a disciplined routine and striving for output-based goals can be key pursuits for promoting creativity and success as a musician.
One of the most obvious yet inevitable ways in which these goals are confronted would be in times away from home. Whether it’s due to daily commutes or international touring, our home setups (or the studio spaces in the cities we’re based in) won’t always be available to us when inspiration hits, or when we find ourselves with the time to explore an idea. In these moments, a few pieces of hardware that can endure the road—and ideally leave some bag space for our necessities—are crucial.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “My music gear is a necessity,” then you’re in the right place, but please, don’t forego a toothbrush or a phone charger!
How we chose the hardware on our list
The variables considered when building this list were a combination of dimensions, weight, shape, and user sentiment, primarily around durability. These pieces of hardware should be suitable for a backpack as well as a purse, a sling, or whatever shrinking image of a bag is currently allowed by basic economy airline tickets. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, though we’ve intended to provide you options suiting a range of budgets.
For many producers, purchasing a travel-ready piece of music hardware is likely not about building a separate gear locker to only be utilized in times of travel. Rather, financial and spatial limitations would lead us to identify tools that compliment existing gear and also serve a purpose at home. This includes, as one Splice team member shared, a piece of gear whose proper place in the home is right on the living room couch!
1. Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator (~$49.00, 0.2 lb, 2.4” x 4.9” x 1.2″)
With a wide range of options to choose from, and the ability to chain them together for an expanded sonic playground, the Pocket Operator series is a no-brainer for jamming on the go. Each model touts 16 patterns, 16 core sounds, 16 effects, three BPM settings, and the ability to loop custom chord progressions.
The user experience can be absolutely hypnotic, though as an exposed circuit board, it’s best to plan for some level of protection rather than throwing it loosely in a bag. The Teenage Engineering website and countless Etsy designers provide a range of cases for pocket operators. That said, repurposing a microphone pouch can also be enough to keep it secure, prevent its solder points from catching on clothing, and keep it safe when it’s not in use.
It would be silly to not recommend the OP-1 as well, a well-known staple by the same manufacturer (but a far more significant investment). To each their own!
2. KORG Volca Series (~$129.99, 0.79 lb, 7.60” x 4.53” x 1.57”)
This pocket synth is an absolute staple for many producers around the world, and for good reason. With ten models and counting, the Volca series is one of the best ways to experience a taste of KORG’s brilliance without investing in their higher-end products.
If you’re not sure which one to try, take stock of two things: your existing gear (and what sonic gaps you might be able to bridge), and what type of sounds you’re interested in exploring when moving about the world.
Our picks for portable audio interfaces
1. Behringer UM-2 (~$59.00, 0.57 lb, 6.3” x 8.3” x 3.5”)
No frills here, though this audio interface is unique in its accessibility to beginners and functionality for experts. At this price point, and with reliable performance, this piece is ideal to pick up knowing it’ll be wedged in a tight corner of a bag someday.
2. Arturia MiniFuse 2 (~$149.00, 1.1 lb, 7.9” x 3.9” x 1.7”
While the price jump is notable here, many would argue it’s worth it for the difference in sound quality for this bus-powered interface from Arturia. This purchase also comes with 500 of Arturia’s legendary presets, a Splice Creator Plan, three months of Autotune unlimited, and access to Ableton Live Lite, among other benefits. If you’re in need of more or less inputs, there’s a single input model for $50 less or a four-input model for $70 more.
3. Apogee One Interface (~$179.00, 0.5 lb, 6.3″ × 2.2″ x 1.2″)
We’ve decided to highlight the original model, though there’s also an alternative designed to specifically cater to Mac and iOS users. That model even charges Mac products, should you need that in a pinch! This little guy provides two ins / outs, as well as an omnidirectional microphone for additional on-the-go flexibility.
Portable control surfaces
1. Numark DJ2GO2 Touch (~$89.00, 0.8 lb, 12.4” x 3.4” x 0.6″)
If this isn’t the tiniest commercially-available DJ controller on the market, please write in to correct us. This is an excellent toy to get started with, or just to travel with lower anxiety with if something happens to it. Owners enjoy the included access to Serato DJ Lite.
2. Reloop Mixtour (~$319.00, 1.77 lb, 5.08” x 12.2” x 1.02”)
A special mention here for those who have more prescriptive needs for their DJ sets, such as spontaneous sets in non-traditional venues, and also have a bit more to spend than the Numark requires. If you’re running sets through an iPad or other mobile device, this piece is for you.
1. Novation Launchkey (~$109.99, 1.5 lb for the smallest size, 13.0” x 6.8” x 1.6″)
Here’s yet another product that allows you to pick the size that’s best for you. For the purpose of an article like this, we’re looking at the smallest of four sizes with 25 keys. Novation brings us this line of controllers touting built-in Ableton Live integration, a solid collection of plugins and samples, and standalone functionality if your computer has to take a nap in the overhead compartment.
If you fall in love with this piece of hardware, you can always add the largest 61-key model to your home studio. That’d certainly make for a seamless transition between home and on-the-go production!
Sequencers and samplers:
1. KORG SQ-64 Poly Sequencer (~$329.00, 2.2 lb, 14.49” x 5.67” x 2.91”)
We’ve crossed two pounds for the first time—this is getting dangerous, but we couldn’t resist. The only polyphonic step sequencer included today, the SQ-64 is a sleek piece of hardware with a versatile set of 64 buttons to play with. If it can make the cut on the road, there may be no better piece of hardware to pass hours of time with than this one, no matter your skill level.
Depending on the time you’re reading this, Reverb has a number of these available at a $200 price drop via the KORG USA Warehouse Outlet. Be sure to check that out and use this as a reminder to search your trusted new and used marketplaces for the other products you’re interested in from this list.
2. Roland SP-404MKII Sampler (~$559.99, 1 lb, 5.1” x 9.1” x 17.1”)
Certainly one of the larger products impacting bag space and wallet space, the Roland SP-404MKII Sampler boasts “Guerilla beat making” capabilities through 17 velocity-sensitive pads (including one sub pad), six effects buttons surrounding the display screen, thousands of samples and patterns, and customizable face plates to top it off. Many consider this to be a “buy it and you’ll never need to level up again” type of purchase.
1. Shure MV88 (~$249.00, video kit)
With the original MV88—optimized for iPhone and an absolute game changer for this writer in a past life of podcast production—discontinued, enter the MV88+ optimized for video. One downside is that the microphone isn’t available as a standalone product. Still, the cost of the accessories haven’t pushed the price too high for what this powerful little stereo condenser provides. The Shure MOTIV app allows for a surprising amount of control and flexibility for both audio and video, making this a must-have for any traveling creators in need of capturing vlog footage or other types of social media content.
2. LOM Audio Geofón (~€160, 190 g / 0.42 lb including the cable and magnet, 52.5 mm in height, 36.5 mm in diameter)
We know that recommending a sold-out item is a brutal move. But, hear us out—Bratislava-based LOM Audio produces some of the finest field microphones in the world, though their stock tends to sell out quicker than festival tickets.
Many of the recommendations on this list help us look inward, to find the flow of creativity and conjure something special no matter where we are. This product (or a future release by the brand in general) is for those who are eager to look outward, to capture the sounds of the exact place in the world that you find yourself in. If interested, also check out their label on Bandcamp.
3. Sennheiser MKE 400 (~$199.95, 0.2 lb, 2.6” x 1.5 x 5″)
Our sole shotgun microphone recommendation for today, this piece mounts easily to DSLR cameras to distinguish itself from the functionality of the Shure recommendation. This supercardioid features a low-cut filter, three sensitivity settings, and the ability for sound checking via an independent headphone jack.
You may be all heads-down as a producer on the road, but if you’re looking to promote, educate, or capture multimedia content, this could be for you. If you’re tempted but find the cost too high, consider the MKE 200 for half the price.
This piece only scratches the surface of gear that could be labeled as travel-ready. With new products constantly in the pipeline, what’s important is that you surround yourself with the tools that you feel comfortable with, connected to, and challenged by. Musicians don’t exactly have the best reputation in terms of using all of their gear, and there’s nothing worse than lugging unnecessary weight while traveling.
This is all to say that we hope this piece helps you begin your journey of realizing your ideal travel rig. As you discover new products, or if we missed a staple of yours here, please let us know by starting a conversation on the Splice Discord or emailing me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One final word—be sure to not forget the accessories. Products like a mobile battery, laptop cooling stand, durable headphones, and an external hard drive for constant backups should also be in consideration. So get scheming, creators!
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February 15, 2023