USB Gadgets seem to be all over the Internet, from desk fans and cup warmers to flying alarm clocks (don’t quote me on that), but as far as I can see there is a distinct lack of music-related gadgetry, so if you’re seriously looking for something and you can afford the price tag, or you just want another toy, there should be something for you!
For the inventive…
Eigenlabs ‘budget’ controller isn’t exactly priced for the student musician, but it certainly is a testament of what technology and music can do when put together. Using synth’s, sample libraries, or anything you can think of, this instrument can literally be put in control of anything; from telling your DAW when to start recording, to playing in all of your instruments.
Until this little gadget (and other Eigenharps like the ‘Alpha’) came along, the goal for most companies was something like “let’s make a digital trumpet, that looks like a trumpet, and plays like a trumpet”, but for most of us, it was just seen as yet another very expensive way to buy something that isn’t really the real deal, so they didn’t achieve much mainstream success, but this is different.
For a start, the Pico looks great. It comes in a range of metallic colours, it’s small and portable, and best of all it’s USB, so you’ll be hard pressed to find a computer that can’t make use of it. The keys are sensitive to regular downward pressure, as well as sidewards. The Pico also has a wind-pipe for wind instruments, and a slide-board for…whatever you can think of, and that’s the point; this isn’t designed to replicate any instrument that currently exists. Instead Eigenlabs provide you with a versatile tool to put you in control of your music software, your instruments, your automation, and whatever else you can think of, but as you may have guessed, it comes at a price.
For the instrumentalist…
Like any other Akai product, there’s a good chance that the EWI4000S can take a beating, but for the price you pay, I doubt you’ll be want to test it any time soon. Where the Pico offers almost limitless versatility, this one aims to be a great wind instrument, letting players pick up an instrument that they’ll be able to play quickly, without learning a whole new instrument. It is also completely portable, with a built-in sound module and battery, so you’ll be able to go completely wireless.
As far as looks are concerned, the Akai is certainly refined and solid, but I think the Pico is ahead by just a nose. It’s also considerably bigger than the Pico, so you’d struggle to get it in your hand luggage at the airport like a couple of people have with the Pico.
This instrument is definitely one with a more defined purpose, which might limit your creativity, but unlike the Pico it offers familiarity and portability that only a battery can give, so it all depends on what you’re looking for.
For the connected…
iTwin Wireless USB Device
Okay, so this one isn’t directly music-related, but I think it solves an issue that musicians and producers come up against all the time; accessing your files remotely. This is how it works; you have two of these iTwin devices connected together, which are then connected by USB to your computer. You drag and drop all the files from your computer that you want to take around with you, and your capacity is limitless so you could take your entire audio drive with you wherever you go. However, there is a catch… you need an internet connection, and the other computer needs to be on, so that you can access your files.
There are some ‘cloud services’ like Dropbox that already offer this service to an extent, but what iTwin offers is unlimited capacity, no waiting for uploads, and top-notch (AES-256) security, so if you thought you might need some of your files with you, but you haven’t got the time to organise it, or wait for the uploads, you can simply plug it in, drag and drop what you need into the folder on your PC or Mac computer, and take half of the device with you. Of course this service comes at a cost, but it’s only a one-time payment without any subscriptions, so if your internet connection is a bit slow, this might solve your problem.
SE Electronics USB2200A
To put it simply, this is the fantastic SE2200a Condenser Microphone which you can read about here, but all you need is a computer with USB connectivity. Needless to say, this bridges a gap for budding podcasters and budget musicians who can’t afford all of the equipment, or simply haven’t got the space in their backpack. It even has a headphone jack for monitoring!
On the downside, it only offers software gain adjustment, so you’ll need to position yourself for optimal signal-to-noise ratio, and USB limits the bit rate to 18 instead of 24-bit recording, but this is unlikely to affect most people, provided you give it a decent signal to work with. This microphone also features a standard analogue XLR input, so if you’ve got it with you, you’ll have trouble finding somewhere you can’t use it! It is considerably more expensive than the standard SE2200a, but in this instance, I think it’s fair to say that you get what you pay for.
For more choice…
Blue Microphones Icicle XLR To USB Converter
While there are plenty of USB microphones to choose from, this little gadget lets you plug any XLR microphone via USB. It’s a tiny audio interface offering phantom power for condenser microphones and an analogue gain control to optimise the microphone signal, and it works on both PC and Mac with no drivers required. Not only does this little device save you from paying premiums for USB microphones in the future, its no more expensive than a couple of XLR cables.