It’s not too late. In the spirit of procrastination, I offer my last round-up of products. Mail order these suckers “rush” or stop by your local music store, and you’ve still got time. (Or, if you’re really lucky, you’re giving to someone like me with a January birthday and the “holiday season” just extends onward and onward.)
Here’s the rules: all gifts are about US$200 and under (street). Sound tough? Not at all: there’s lots of good gear that can be had on the cheap — cheap enough to buy yourself. (I definitely want a Rock ‘N Rhodes Christmas; more on the fantastic site this shot is from in a separate story.)
Now, we proudly present some of CDM’s favorite musical tools and toys of 2005, as part of our Gifts You Should Buy Yourself if No One Else Does:
Great Drum Pads
Everyone should have a MIDI drum control surfaces. They make sampling, sound triggering, drum programming, sequencing VJing, and countless other tasks absurdly more fun. And if you’ve got one, you should get another. (Two can be a productivity boon for some tasks, like controlling video or loop scenes and clips.) There are two can’t-lose 16-bad USB/MIDI drum pads available. Akai Professional’s MPD16 is my favorite for the feel of the pads, with the same pads and level switches as the legendary MPC series. M-Audio’s Trigger Finger feels great, too, though, and earns extra points for pre-programmed maps for Live, Reason, and drums, and assignable knobs and faders for real-time control. Street price: About US$200.
Great Drum Software
If you’re serious about sampled drums, one instrument stands above the rest. Native Instruments’ Battery is simply the most versatile, powerful drum instrument I’ve used. If programming percussion isn’t your idea of a good time, it includes 3.5 GB of samples on DVD to get you going. Street price: About US$200.
Shrunken two-octave keyboards too often play like toys and cramp your style, but not the Alesis Photon X25. It’s small enough to throw in a decent-sized bag (I use the generously-sized Crumpler bags to fit both a laptop and the X25), but unlike some of its competitors, it’s actually a keyboard you can love. Everything feels great, from the key action to the high-quality pitch and mod wheels to the continuous knobs — even Alesis’ choice of materials makes this fun to touch. As if that weren’t enough, Alesis throws in an infrared AXYZ dome so you can control your sound by waving your hand in the air above the keyboard, plus a basic audio interface. Everything’s USB-powered, so this is the perfect programming synth on the road, or a fun mono / analog / bassline keyboard for the studio. Circuit bend your boring current controller, and buy this. Street price: About US$200.
One of the Greatest Synths Ever
Software recreations of analog hardware rarely live up to the original. The Way Out Ware TimewARP 2600 (distributed by M-Audio) is one of the rare soft synths that does. From its obsessive attention to detail (thanks to a painstaking collaboration with the ARP 2600’s original creators and players) to the inclusion of all the original factory patches, this synth will satisfy lovers of vintage instruments. But that’s not why it really matters: it’s simply a brilliant design (even decades later) that’s perfect for live performance. Having it in convenient software form you can actually afford is just all the better. It’d look great with a bow around it. Street price: About US$200.
A Great Dynamic Mic
It’s such a cliche, that I don’t have anything to say about the Shure SM58 and its higher-end sibling the Beta 58A (the latter being a personal favorite of mine). Simply put, these are the mics you’ll want to croon into onstage. And like some of the other categories here, the more you have, the merrier. Street price: About US$100 for the SM58, $150 for the Beta.
After-Hours Musical Fun
Okay, I’ll admit it: this list appeals largely to specialists. But I’ll finish up with a series of games that will remind everyone you know why music is fun. Our friends over at Harmonix Music have created some of the best musical games ever, and they’re still at it. Guitar Hero (PlayStation 2 only) is an insanely fun guitar-playing game, complete with hardware controller. It could overtake Dance Dance Revolution and whatnot as the best musical game ever. But what if you don’t have a PS2 — and/or guitars aren’t nearly enough to embarrass your friends? Karaoke lovers like me can be seduced by the equally brilliant Karaoke Revolution Party for PS2, Xbox, and GameCube. Street Price: About US$80 for Guitar Hero (including the controller), $50 for Karaoke Revolution Party.
Have a happy holiday season, everyone. What will I be doing New Years’ Eve? Drinking champagne and playing with the TimewARP, that’s what!