Audio Gear Buying Guide

The right audio gear can help you get started without spending much till you get more experienced and serious about upgrading for live performance.

Mac Only Music Software

Apple makes two superb music programs that are Mac only, so if you have a Mac use them!

Garage Band (Free)

This is probably bundled with your Mac already. It has Piano and Guitar lessons that you can start taking right away. It will download the lessons as you need them and get you a fair ways into how to do fingerings and play some classic songs.


Logic Audio $299 (App Store)

Logic Audio is a supercharged version of Garage Band that will import songs you began in the simpler program and it adds so many incredible instruments and presets that you can compose music without the need to buy and install any VST software instrument packages. The Alchemy synthesizer’s six preset XY axis crossfading is particularly amazing.

Cross-Platform Music Software

If you don’t have a Mac, try these.


Ableton Live $99+ Ableton Shop

There’s a free 30 day trial and you can buy Live Intro for just $99 till you master it enough to warrant a full Standard or Suite upgrade price. You can also find Ableton Lite bundled with many keyboards and audio interfaces.

Ableton’s synth and preset selection is more limited than Logic and you’ll want to acquire other VST software instruments such as Serum, Native Instruments’ Massive and others to broaden your sound palette.

If you go the Ableton route, you’ll want to consider getting an Ableton illuminated button controller to toggle samples and scenes visually.

MIDI Piano

Your first piano should be as compact as possible. There are many larger pianos with more pads and knobs but you may never actually use those and they may prevent you from having the piano keys you always need with you.


M-Audio Keystation 32 key keyboard $79 Amazon

No nonsense, fits in your backpack. Your first piano doesn’t need to be a full sizer that will collect dust at home, it needs to be a portable that you can take with you and practice everywhere. There are some other portable keyboard options in this category.

Electric Guitar

Davison Starter Guitar $55 Amazon

Cheapest guitar online. No need for an amp if you plan to play into your software in the computer and learn with the Rocksmith game.


Crescent Guitar Starter Kit $99 Amazon

Bundle with amp, shoulder strap, case, picks, strings and tuner.

USB Guitar Interface

Rocksmith Real Tone Cable $48 Amazon

Guitar Learning Game Software

Rocksmith 2014 Remastered for Mac/Windows $30 Steam

The Rocksmith game will absolutely teach you how to play guitar in 60 days. If you have a friend/bandmate with a bass or guitar and a second cable, you can play multiplayer!

Rocksmith doesn’t have karaoke singing built in but you can use your imagination and other gear to do it. Combine this with using a USB microphone to actually practice singing and you have a full real-instrument replacement for Rock Band. You can even hook up the MIDI keyboard and some V-drums to your music software at the same time to get the full band practice into it.



Guitar Strings Neon Multicolor $6.17 Amazon

The string colors match the note lane colors in Rocksmith and they make playing in low light easier.

USB Microphone


Blue Snowball iCE Condenser Microphone, Cardioid – Black $49 Amazon

Plus right into your computer for beautiful vocals, instrumentals, podcasts and sound effect recordings.


You’ll probably spend 90% of your music making time using headphones, so make sure you get a good pair of fairly neutral headphones, not bass-heavy DJ headphones.

The InnerFidelity Headphone Wall Of Fame is a highly respected review site for headphones. There are 3 headphones recommended under $100:

Creative Aurvana Live! ($60)
WoF_photo_Creative_AurvanaLiveEvery time I put these cans on I’m surprised at how good they sound! Overall the sound quality is very well balanced with a slight warm tilt. Low bass is slightly rolled-off and a bit loose, but the treble is very nicely proportioned and not harsh in the least.

This is a great general purpose headphone for around the home or office, but somewhat poor isolation prevents them from being very useful for listening in loud environments.

While the build quality is good, I would not consider these a durable headphone. If you’re looking for headphones for kids and college students where time in a backpack is likely, I’d suggest the less expensive Monoprice 8323 ($21) or more expensive Sony MDR-ZX700.

Full InnerFidelity review here.

Sennheiser HD 202 ($25-34) Amazon
WoF_photo_Creative_AurvanaLiveBudget conscious? Wondering if $20 can get you a worthwhile headphone? The good news is that the Sennheiser HD 202 is not a cheap plastic toy…but rather an inexpensive but well-built plastic tool. It’s stylish, fairly comfortable, and, well, ridiculously inexpensive. It’s also got a very long cable, which is good if you’re using the headphone in a working environment…but not so good if you’re using on-the-go—though the included cable take-up winding gizmo makes it a little more tenable.

Sound quality is warm and somewhat disjointed with strong bass, slightly forward mids, and a relaxed but reasonably articulate treble. Though far from perfect, the HD 202’s laid-back sound is easily accommodated and never strident or obnoxious. A much better sounding headphone can be had for a bit more than twice the price in the Creative Aurvana Live—well worth it if you’re looking for sound quality. But if you’re in a working environment, the longer cable and beefier build quality of the HD 202 might be better in the long run.

Full InnerFidelity review here.

Monoprice 8323 ($21.59)

WoF_photo_Monoprice_8323I can’t imagine how anyone can produce a full-size headphone for $21, much less how they could do so and make one that sounds good as well. But by golly they sure did! If you’re looking for a cheap beater headphone that will see duty in a backpack, playroom, or be bashed around in the back of the mini-van, these are your go-to choice.

The one downfall of these headphones is a somewhat uncomfortable fit due to poor padding on the headband. The cable is very long at 10′, and is removable from the left earpiece and is terminated at both ends with identical straight 1/8″ mini-plugs.



For a beginning recording engineer, a small set of near-field monitors designed for desktop use are a good option, as they fit take up little space while delivering an accurate representation of your recording. M-Audio’s AV 40 Monitors and JBL’s LSR305 Monitors are both strong options in this category.

M-Audio AV 40 monitors

The M-Audio AV 40 monitors aren’t much larger than standard computer speakers, but they are built for studio-quality sound.

Upgrade Gear

When you master your instruments and want to record better and handle live performance, get upgrade gear.

Microphone Interface

Scarlet Audio Interface

To use dedicated non-USB microphones, you’ll need an audio interface. Scarlet has portable USB power for one XLR or 1/4″ jack.

Rode NT1A XLR Condenser Mic

For recording vocals and microphone recorded instruments.

Dynamic mic

For use picking up live vocals and ignoring ambient sounds

Ableton Controllers


Push 2 $799 Ableton

Ableton’s premiere controller is called Push and it adds screens above the touch pads to display sample waveforms. It also has a range of control buttons around the edges. The cheap portable controllers can do the same basic colorized control, but Push is the best if you’re serious about Ableton. It adds modes to enable playing instruments like drums and synths directly using pads instead of MIDI piano.

V Drums

“You and your laptop are not a band” is a funny T shirt, but it is all too true. Nothing puts an audience to sleep like music that plays itself from a computer sequencer. Incorporating a live drummer makes the show way more exciting and it can lend itself to much more experimental drum recording in your composing phase as well.


Alesis DM6 V Drums $350 Amazon

This is the most affordable V Drum set. Best of all, you can practice with headphones all night without upsetting everyone on your block.



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