The Best Music Making and Production Software

If you’re looking to produce music electronically you’re going to need a software program to construct your compositions, record audio and hook up any devices or instruments you want to work with. There are several different brands and types of software out there for making music. Maybe you want something good for drums, synths, individual mastering or, if you’re like us – an all in one package that lets you do everything in one place!

In this article, we’re going to look at 10 of the best DAWs which are ideal for music making and production. We’ve put together our favorites based on efficiency, affordability, functionality, and a few other points which are key to being able to create high-quality tracks and compositions.

What is a DAW?

DAW is short for Digital Audio Workstation. It’s a computer program that is specifically designed for composing, recording, editing, mixing and mastering. Most professional electronic producers use a DAW to work with these days, as there’s so much flexibility and options to get creative. Plus, you don’t have to spend a fortune on individual gear.

How Should You Choose?

Choosing a decent DAW doesn’t have to be a complicated affair, but here’s some things you’ll need to think about in advance:

Operating System: Not all DAWs work with all computers. Decide whether you want something specifically for PC or Mac, or something that’s compatible with both.

Budget: There’s some great DAWs out there which are completely free. The only problem is, they are limited to what you can do with them after a while. Obviously the more you’re willing to spend, the better features you’ll get and more proficient it will be.  

Experience: There’s no point in spending 100s of dollars on something like Pro Tools if you don’t even know what 2 thirds of it does. Start small, build confidence and knowledge, then you can safely make the transition to something more complex.

Finally, if you’re going to be doing a lot of live performances, you’ll probably want something which allows you to easily integrate things like DJ controllers, synthesizers, mics and live plugins or VSTs.

Ableton

Ableton Live is a long-standing favorite in the production marketplace and is an ideal DAW for both Mac and PC users. It lets you do everything from multi-track audio recording, sequencing, time stretching and is essentially the only thing you’ll ever need to create, mix and master music. It comes with tons of built-in presets, instruments and samples to play with, and you can even conduct all your own live studio performances within the suite (hence the name “live”).

The long-awaited version 10 was released back in Feb. It now has an improved arrangement view, new synth and echo wavetables and built-in drum and bass pedal effect. The most notable upgrades however, are in the MIDI editing, automation and zooming capabilities. Users will also discover Nested Groups, a Push 2 function and improved tweaks to the power for optimal workflow.

FL Studio

FL Studio aka Fruity Loops was once a free DAW, but as it gained popularity and developed more useful and exciting features, it’s now a paid program. Luckily, it’s well worth the investment and the latest version homes everything you need to compose, edit, record, mix and master tracks. It also allows you to hook up a guitar, a microphone and even a full-blown orchestra!  

What we like most about FL is the fact you can arrange unlimited audio channels, and perform everything from beat slicing, cropping, pitch shifting, time stretching and a myriad of other exciting capabilities with a few clicks of your mouse. Another great feature is the fact it configures to all the inputs on your interface and comes with Lifetime Free Updates.

Cubase

Musicians and producers have been using Cubase for years, albeit it’s come a long way since the early versions and it now comes with a lot more functions than before. The mixing console has a refreshed look and feel, and some of the biggest perks for us are the chord track mapping and chord assistance included.

In addition, Cubase is considered one of the DAWs to have the largest library of sounds: inclusive of synths, 30 unique drum kits, construction kits, LoopMash FX and a haven of plugins to toy with. Then there are the built-in presets and unlimited audio tracks. Though the functions with this one are fantastic, we would say it’s probably not the best if you’re starting out and don’t want to be too overwhelmed by all the different features available.  

Logic Pro

Logic was created especially for Mac users. Even though it’s jam-packed full of different features and gives you a wide scope of production possibilities – beginners might find it takes a while to get used to the platform. Even professionals are constantly figuring out new tricks with this software, and it’s one you’ll get many years of use out of.

You’ll find instrument layering, analogue and synthetic drum kits to play with, arpeggiator, synths plugins, built-in presets, plug-in control mixer plus intuitive “score editor” which allows you to create your own MIDI sounds, and manipulate them with scale, velocity editing, etc. It might take you a few months to even grasp the basics, but once there – you’re going to have hours of fun with this software.   

Propellerhead Reason

Propellerhead’s Reason series is another popular choice among audiophiles and producers. It features a top-of-the-class mixing console designed to give the user more maneuverability when it comes to writing and creating tracks. With the addition of its built-in sequencer, you can build your projects from the ground up using a wide variety of tools like synths, drum machines, samplers, loop players and more.

You’ll also have the means to record any MIDI keyboard, device or live instruments such as guitars, vocals, or an entire band if you want to. The great thing is that the software already comes with multiple instruments and effects you can use to layer your tracks, so there isn’t even a need to use outboard gear. Whether you’re just starting out or looking for something with more advanced features – Reason will easily meet your musical demands.

Studio One

PreSonus are one of the best brands when it comes to audio gear, but their Studio One software is one that continues to leave a mark on producers due to the user-friendly interface. Unlike some DAWs which take a long time to get your head around – each version of the Studio One series is easy to use and provides all the essentials you would ever need to create industry-standard tracks and compositions.

The simple navigation and drag-and-drop functionality makes it ideal for beginners, and you can play around with everything from MIDI, VSTs and FX channels with some great reverb capabilities. It also comes with some useful mastering tools to make your workflow smoother and give your projects definition. Good for both Mac & PC users.

Avid Pro Tools

Studio professionals and sound engineers have been praising Pro Tools to the high heavens for years. It’s expensive but once you have it, it’s highly unlikely you’ll want to switch to any other DAW once you become fully accustomed to how it works. Many just use it for its mixing and mastering features, however, it has 100s of different uses when it comes to post-production ideas and constructing beats from scratch.

It’s got everything you could ever need for composing, recording, editing plus more. And includes its own built-in metering, time-stretching, elastic pitch bending, EQs, compressors, autotune, more than 70 different plug-ins, channel stripping and practically anything else you can think of. It also gives you an ultra fast processor, 64-bit memory capacity and latency buffer input to eliminate delays.  

Garage Band

Another popular option ideal for those just getting into music production is Apple’s Garageband. Not only is it simple and easy-to-use, it’s also incredibly affordable compared to most DAWs, but it doesn’t lack quality by any means. The  interface helps you to understand the basic principles of music theory, while presenting you with a collection of different presets to play around with and put your new found knowledge where it matters.

Garageband maps out the different chord progressions, and lets you record guitars, synths, MIDI-powered devices and microphones. You’ll also find a huge bank of built-in sounds to choose from, where you can add interesting effects and simply drop them into the active channels. Oh, and did we mention that this is one of the rare DAWs that doesn’t have a price tag? If that’s not a good enough reason to grab it, we don’t know what is!

Reaper

Since Logic and Ableton cemented themselves into the top list of music making software, there isn’t a high demand for Reaper like there used to be. However, it’s still one of the best DAWs for us in terms of flexibility and what it comes with. You’ll find all the basics needed to create solid audio tracks, complete with MIDI mapping functions that allow you to split, edit, cut and paste individual tracks and samples effortlessly.

It works with most audio interfaces, plus external VSTS and plug-ins. It’s probably worth mentioning that it comes with a 60-day trial period when you first download it, and this is something worth making use of if you’re not sure whether you want to commit to the full package yet. Although, we’re pretty sure once you’ve explored it in all its glory, this will be a no-brainer.

Conclusion

When it comes to making music, it’s simply not worth going for cracked copies of these software applications if you want to make high quality beats. You don’t need to splash out thousands on a good DAW to achieve that these days, and there are older and cheaper versions of them available to keep costs to a minimum anyway. But, the more you’re willing to spend, the more options and years you can expect to get out of your DAW.

Know any others worth a mention? Tell us in the comments! 🙂

Top 10 Free VSTs for 2019

It doesn’t matter whether you’re new to the world of music production or not, VSTs are fantastic tools that can seriously enhance your beat making projects.

Though many of the best ones require you to spend a lot, there are some highly professional sounding plugins which you can download to your Mac or PC entirely for free!

So, if you’re looking for some extra ways of injecting life into your compositions, check our list of the best free VSTs in 2019 that will suit a variety of different needs, sounds and ideas.

Camel Crusher

The highly-acclaimed Camel Audio have been providers of some of the best VSTs for a number of years. Some of which include CamelPhat, CamelSpace and Alchemy. We always love it when they chuck out a freebie every once in a while. And despite the non-existent price tag, Crusher is one of the top multi-effect ‘color’ plugins out there.

Assign it to your MIDI controller and you’re ready to add distortion, saturation and beef up anything from drums, guitars, and other bassy instruments. The low-pass filter has a warm, analogue feel with plenty of resonance, while the parallel effects and on-board compressor is a quick and effortless way to fatten up individual sounds.

Rough Rider

Rough Rider by Audio Damage is a compressor plugin designed to give both warmth and transparency to your tracks. Saying that, it’s not a pussy plugin by any means, and sure packs a punch when it comes to making drums and rhythmic synth sounds.

Suitable for both Mac and Windows, Rough Rider let’s you take control and adjust everything from the sensitivity and makeup of your gain knobs to more precise attack and release times. It’s by no means as functional as something like FabFiler Pro or anything from the iZotope collection, but it serves as a decent quality compressor to say the least.

Synth1

Modeled on the popular Nord Lead 2, Synth1 is a free VST which is well up there with the paid varieties. Not only is it suitable for a wide range of electronic music genres, it’s capable of creating some exciting and truly unique sounds.

You’ll discover everything from oscillators (sine, triangle, square), ring and FM modulation envelopes, 2 x LFOs, Tempo Delay plus flanger and chorus, 16 note polyphony with portamento and legato modes, arpeggiator, 4 different filters and more than 100 presets to spice up your tracks. A fantastic bundle which hardly takes up any CPU and a perfect addition to any beginner’s collection.

TAL-Reverb III

A 7-dial plate reverb plugin with high and low-cut dials to simulate realistic environments and easy reverb mixing. We’ve tried many free reverb VSTs in the past, and though TAL’s reverb 2 has an equally compelling quality as this one, we found it to be much more intuitive and smoother than its predecessor.

Reverb-III comes with stereo to mono width control, unique pre delay effects, high and low shelf filters on the EQ section and 10 factory presets to play with. It’s not so much good for replicating sounds, but it sure does enhance percussive and orchestral elements in tracks with full and natural effects.

Drumatic

Drumatic have come up with this little drum kit that’s ideal for making electronic music. Whether you’re a hardcore, DnB, house or techno producer, we’re sure you’ll appreciate the soft hi hats and punchy bassdrums in here. Every individual sound is 100% synthetic and you can save all your drum modules without having to note all the synth parameters, etc.

In addition, you’ll find plenty FX filters, Tone and Noise sections, glitch FX and built-in presets to mess with. The flexibility with the modulation envelopes are fantastic and the GUI allows you to dial in your own samples so you can create the exact sound you want.

Blockfish

A compressor plugin courtesy of DigitalFishphones.com (the guys behind the notorious fish filets bundle). If you’re a vocalist or use vocals a lot in your compositions, you can give them a very smooth and transparent edge using the ‘opto’ mode with Blockfish.

It’s by no means limited to vocals either! The presets cover everything from guitars, bass to drums and other instruments. It’s one of the best dynamic FX ad compressor plugins for us, and has some of the best mastering capabilities we’ve ever seen for a free VST.  

Hysteresis

If you’re into glitches and weird effects, Glitchmachine’s Hysteresis has got some nice editions in here for you to tweak and twist to your desire. You’ll find easy ways to create classic delays with tempo sync, reversible stutters, rate division and modulation capabilities, plus some great low-pass filters inside this all-in-one useful kit.

Experiment with warping echoes, and layer your sounds with some mutated textures that will give your audience the chills and thrills! Good for both PC and Mac users.

AmpliTube Custom Shop

The Amplitube Custom Shop plugin from IK Multimedia is another freebie worthy of any guitarist’s collection. It homes a simple but excellent quality FX rack containing 3 amps, cab, tuner, delay, compressor, overdrive, EQ, tremolo, flanger, wah-wah and multiple others.

If you are prepared to upgrade to AmpliTube 3, you get a far more generous package that’s essentially Guitar Rig. Nevertheless, this one’s incredibly easy to use and sports a lot of cool features considering you’re getting it for nothing.

Dexed

Dexed is a multi system FM synthesizer plugin inspired by Yamaha’s DX7. It’s packed full of retro-style and classic 80s presets that let you compose all kinds of electro-based genres like sythnwave, downtempo, funky house and old school techno. But it really is good for many modern styles too.

 As it’s designed to look and feel exactly like the original DX7, you can conveniently refer to the user manual if you can’t get your head around some functions. Overall, a very straight-forward and nifty bit of software.

TAL-Chorus-LX

TAL are back with their standalone chorus plugin that contains both dry and wet modes, volume control, and 2 other unique modes to spice up your projects. It’s designed on Toga Audio’s TAL-U-NO-LX, but the original inspiration comes from the Juno-60. We ran it with a guitar and it sounded heavenly!

Whatever you apply it to we’re sure you’ll be producing a variety of fat and smooth sounds which are highly pleasing regardless.  

Conclusion

These are some of the best free VSTs circulating plugin cyberspace at the moment. Although some of them are a few years old and not as fresh off the block, we still think each one works a treat considering they don’t cost a dime. We hope they make a difference to your projects and you find them as useful as we did.

The 10 Best Audio Interfaces 2019

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PRODUCT
PRODUCT DETAILS
Our #1 Rated

The mic preamps are some of the best we’ve ever come across and sound amazingly natural with stellar low latency. Even when ran at the highest sample rate!

A pocket-sized interface powerful enough to suit a beginner’s home studio needs, and perfect for any vocalists/musicians looking for a basic solution to record and playback music on the move.

The DP88 and Studio 192 Mobile were an absolute dream to work with and we loved the fact it remembered the gain settings for each input and output.

Not only is it a fantastically built, compact piece of gear which is perfect for mobile use, the sound quality is pretty exceptional considering its simplistic layout and functionality.

Even against its predecessors, the unison-enabled mic preamps emulations allow for ultra low-latency performances which our vocalist said were heavenly.

We’ve tried a few interfaces that claim to be the masters of Thunderbolt in the last few months. This one hands down did it for us in terms of what you get with the overall build quality and features.

The DSP FX come across incredibly smooth and transparent in this device, and we were able to add some nice reverb when recording vocals. Even without phantom power enabled!

Aside from the all-embracing amount of inputs and outputs which make it a great fit for a band or live act, it’s clear Focusrite directed their attention into the preamps on this model.

Slick and compact design which makes portability a breeze. The sheer amount of ports and connectivity options makes it a highly versatile piece of gear to suit a range of different uses and setups.

For musicians, vocalist and producers, an audio interface can prove to be one of your best friends when it comes to accurately monitoring sound. Though many computers have reasonably good soundcards built in these days, they can still be prone to issues like latency and radio interference. That’s why if you’re planning to record any kind of audio; be it a microphone for recording vocals, live instruments, MIDI devices, etc, an audio interface is probably one of the best investments you could ever make.

How Should You Choose

If you’re a DJ, you’ll want to look at an audio interface with at least 2 inputs. This is so you can cue up a track in your headphones while the main mix plays through speakers or monitors.

A band on the other hand, would need something capable of recording multiple instruments/devices at once.

Then there is the question of things like:

  • Portability – If you want something you can just chuck into your backpack, weight and size will play a big factor.
  • System Compatibility – Not all devices are compatible with every computer. If you’re looking to use your audio interface with an iPad or similar, the connections and ports will need to meet your system requirements.
  • Budget –We’ve included some great audio interfaces for under $200 in this list, but if you’re willing to spend a bit more, you’ll get much better quality, features and functions.

We tried and tested, then hand-picked our top 10 best audio interfaces of 2019 to suit the needs of everyone from Mac and iOS users, bands, best audio interfaces for vocals, best DJ interfaces, those looking for a basic monitoring device, and audiophiles who may be on the hunt for something more professional from the top end of the market.

Our Recommendation:

Smart Choice

Focusrite’s Scarlett 18i8 (2nd Gen) is one of the latest stars in their range to have a shiny, new revamp. You’ll find 4 combi inputs at the front with their own dial, along with phantom power switch and XLR inputs for mics, instruments, or anything line-level sourced like synths, drum machines, etc.

At the back, there is a monitor dial for controlling the stereo line output and 2 headphone outputs with their own dials. There are also line-in inputs with S/PDIF In/Out and Optical input which can hold up to 8 extra channels.

The 18i8 is compatible with both Mac and PC and comes complete with an extensive bundle of software including Pro Tools first focusrite, Ableton Live Lite, a 3-month Splice Sound Subscription and more.

Quality
5/5
Price
5/5
Our Rating
5/5
PROS
  • Top-of-the-range build quality
  • Highly impressive sound
  • Very low latency
  • Quick and easy set up
  • Pro Tools included
CONS
  • One main stereo analogue output

Why we recommend: Focusrite are practically the kings of audio interfaces, and although we can hardly fault any of the scarlett range, the i8i8 is much classier, with a noticeably cleaner sound compared to the 1st generation. In addition, the mic preamps are some of the best we’ve ever come across and sound amazingly natural with stellar low latency. Even when ran at the highest sample rate! 

The fact that there is no DC power could be a minor inconvenience for some, but it does come with the perfect amount of inputs to suit producers, a small band, and all other home studio needs. Overall, we thought this was a beautifully built piece of kit which ticks all the boxes in terms of portability, affordability, sound quality, inputs/outputs and ease of set up.

Budget

Presenting the dinkiest out of Scarlett’s 3rd Gen range the Solo. It features high impedance 24-bit/192kHz sample rate, AD-DA converters, and a DI input for a single guitar bass or synthesizer with levels for monitoring.

The latest upgrade now sees new focusrite solo drivers, and it’s now equipped with a sleek, new preamp complete with a switchable Air mode. There is an independent headphone jack with Direct Monitor switch and gain control dial. An XLR cable is included, plus black Tacam headphones and a unique Scarlett recording package; Pro Tools First Focusrite, Focusrite Creative Pack and Ableton Live Lite, 3-month subscription to Splice Sounds and Focusrite Plug-in collection access.

Quality
4/5
Price
5/5
Our Rating
5/5
PROS
  • Air Mode for brighter, clearer sounds
  • XLR for bass, guitar, synths or mic
  • Mega low-latency
  • Huges software bundle
  • Headphones incl.
CONS
  • None

Why We Recommend: Focusrite themselves claim that this interface has the best-performing preamps in their entire range, and we couldn’t agree more! They now go up to 56dB and sound noticeably more balanced than before. We thought the sound from one of our top-end mics sounded a bit average compared to what other users had praised the built-in preamp for – until we tried the Air mode! BIG difference! 

The mids sounded amazingly pristine. And when we plugged in the guitar with the Air switch engaged, we were even more astounded. All in all, we thought this pocket-sized interface is more than powerful enough to suit a beginner’s home studio needs, and is perfect for any vocalists/musicians looking for a basic solution to record and playback music on the move.

Beginners
Best All-Rounder

The bus-powered Komplete Audio 6 is a 6-channel low-latency interface with 4 analogue inputs and outputs.

It features 2 top-end preamps with 48v phantom power capabilities, a MIDI in/out, headphone output with independent volume control for simultaneous monitoring, along with Cirrus Logic converters. To accompany the Komplete Audio 6 drivers, NI is a software bundle inclusive of Cubase LE 6, Traktor LE 2 and Komplete Elements.

Quality
5/5
Price
4.5/5
Our Rating
5/5
PROS
  • Great DA conversion
  • Strong and rugged build
  • Beautiful mic preamps
  • Separate volume controls for monitoring
  • Excellent low-latency
CONS
  • Initial problem registering the hardware
  • NI’s customer support isn’t the best

Why We Recommend: Regardless of whether you’re looking to record vocals or an instrument, this bad boy makes both sound amazing, and eliminated any need to use an external preamp when hooked up to a M20u from Cascade mics. With phantom power enabled, we found it delivered an even cleaner, low-latency sound which is hard to match in comparison to many high-end audio interfaces above this price range. 

The converters were a great choice for this model, and it comes with just the right amount of inputs. NI have also chucked in Cubase LE 6, Traktor LE 2 and Komplete Elements to make it a highly worthy edition to any DJ or producer setup.

With it’s rackmount design and a myriad of controls, Presonus.com have developed the 192 as a portable, high-definition interface with a range of flexible uses. It features a combination of digital and analogue options for 25 inputs and 32 outputs with a maximum sample rate of 192kH and up to 24-bit resolution.

There are 8 remote-controlled preamps with Fat Channel Processing and Studio One Universal Control which enables you to add effects like compression, reverb, delay and gate while recording in your DAW. The UC Surface control software allows you to use all of the functions with third-party recording software. Computer integration supports Windows, Mac and iOS.

Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
5/5
PROS
  • Super portable
  • Amazing Logic Pro latency
  • Remote-controlled preamps
  • USB 2.0 & USB 3.0 compatible
  • DSP Effects with monitoring
CONS
  • None

Why We Recommend: We were pretty blown away by the 192. We’d used the Presonus rack mount mixer for testing mics in the past, and this interface easily tops that for the price. The Fat Channel Processing ability was a huge step up for us compared to the 1818VSL during playback. And the XMAX preamps were beautifully clean with incredibly low latency.

The DP88 and Studio 192 Mobile were an absolute dream to work with and we loved the fact it remembered the gain settings for each input and output. For recording in particular, this was a massive advantage. We had drums, 3 guitars and 2 condenser mics hooked up simultaneously with no distortion and plenty of natural headroom. The Presonus recording package includes a Studio Magic bundle which contained some very tasty plug-ins. Integration of Studio 3.0 was speedy and effortless.

Audeint’s iD4 is another portable, bus-powered interface with 2 inputs and 2 outputs. Like its larger counterparts, the iD4 features a Class A mic preamp and a DI input for a guitar or bass.

This port also comes complete with iD control for self-assigning a controller of MIDI device to the knobs and faders on your computer screen. In addition, there is a phantom power switch for using a condenser microphone, a dual headphone output for 2-person monitoring as well as a main output for connecting speakers.

Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4/5
PROS
  • Super sonic performance
  • Great build quality
  • AD/DA converters
  • Easy plug-in and play
  • ScrollControl function for easier navigation
CONS
  • Not the best for iOS users

Why We Recommend: We’d heard about how powerful this little guy is for a while, and after months of anticipation, we finally decided it needed our own verdict. Not only is it a fantastically built, compact piece of gear which is perfect for mobile use, the sound quality is pretty exceptional considering its simplistic layout and functionality. 

We recorded a drum machine and had several vocal sessions with this interface, and were amazed at the pristine quality of the vocals. The DI was also a big benefit for us and made playback in our DAW so much easier with zero-latency. If you’re a vocalist or one-man band looking for something simple, built to last with easy-to-use features and great sound quality during playback, this will more than suffice.

A smaller, more compact version of its ancestors the Universal Audio Apollo 8 and 16; the Twin MKII keeps the same 2-in/6-out with Unison preamps.

There is a large dial for monitoring the levels complete with a contextualized LED strip. Emulation plugins are included which allows the user to reconfigure the impedance of the preamps as well as the gain staging. On the rear panel, you’ll discover Mic/Line inputs, a Hi-Z 1/4 “ guitar input, plus 4 ¼” jacks, a stereo S/PDIF output, headphone output and 8 ADAT analogue inputs.

Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
5/5
PROS
  • Exceptional sound quality
  • Beautiful design
  • Superb dynamic range
  • Easy to setup and use
  • Real Time monitoring
  • Great UAD-2 plugins incl.
CONS
  • Only works with Thunderbolt
  • No thunderbolt cable incl.

Why We Recommend: The Apollo audio interface Twin MKII will prove a worthy asset to anyone serious about the craft. As it’s Thunderbolt, we thought Apollo would at least include a cable. This was the only major quarm we really had with this interface, but it is easily solved and doesn’t take any points away from the overall verdict (cheap Thunderbolt cable here).

In terms of sound, the quality from the apollo twin outputs is incomparable. Even against its predecessors, the unison-enabled mic preamps emulations allow for ultra low-latency performances which our vocalist said were “heavenly.” The talkback mic option was an extremely nice touch, as is the fact you can cascade up to 4 other Apollo interfaces at once. This is especially useful for those who might need to expand their setup from time to time, or those wanting to hook up multiple audio sources at once.

Apogee’s Element series of Thunderbolt interfaces have been specifically designed for Mac and iOS users. The 46 edition comes with 4 analogue combi inputs with mic preamps each with 48V phantom power.

There are 2 outputs for L/R XLR plus stereo headphone output for monitoring. Also included are 24-bit/192kHz AD/DA converters for recordings, Element Control Software for the gain levels on the ins/outs and low-latency monitoring, plus the ability to control the interface wirelessly via iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.

Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Beautiful sounding preamps
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Easy to set up
  • Connect with other Apogee devices
  • Control mic gain directly through Logic
CONS
  • Volume control can’t be assigned simultaneously

Why We Recommend: We have always been fans of Apogee, but this was the first time we’d tested any of the Element series. When we first plugged it in, we were absolutely amazed by the sound quality. We used a couple of Beyer dynamic mics to test the preamps, and boy did they sound exceptionally clean and well balanced. In addition, the line input for instruments produced some nice, punchy tones with hardly any low-noise. 

The fact you can control the entire unit from your tablet was a feature that proved to be exceptionally handy when we were at a distance from the computer. We’ve tried a few interfaces that claim to be the masters of Thunderbolt in the last few months. This one hands down did it for us in terms of what you get with the overall build quality and features. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any iOS users looking for a top solution to add to a mobile-based recording studio or Thunderbolt powered gear.

The Steinberg UR242 is a bus-powered interface with 4 analogue inputs that feature Yamaha’s signature D-PRE preamps for guitars, dynamic/condenser microphones and dedicated TRS line inputs for keyboards, MIDI devices, decks and other audio equipment.

There are 2 outputs, built-in DSP-powered FX, as well as the ability to connect the unit directly to a PC, Mac, iPad and other iOS devices. Ports are available for speaker monitors and headphones. In addition, the UR242 has 48V phantom power and includes a big plug-in bundle; Cubase AI, REV-X reverb, Sweet Spot Morphing Channel Strip and Guitar Amps Classics amp simulator.

Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Outstanding mic preamps
  • Latency-free monitoring
  • Cubase AI, Basic FX Suite incl.
  • Strong and rugged build
  • Can be used as a mixer
CONS
  • Driver installation a bit finicky
  • No S/PDIF

Why We Recommend: Steinburg interfaces are rarely under the 200 mark, and we were incredibly impressed with the low latency in this little unit. Almost non-existent! The DSP FX come across incredibly smooth and transparent in this device, and we were able to add some nice reverb when recording vocals. Even without phantom power enabled! The mic preamps gave off some nice, clean tones with minimal distortion. We also found them to be a lot better quality compared to many high-end soundcards were the gain needs to be whacked up.

Admittedly, we found the software a bit tedious to boot up in the beginning, but once installed and configured correctly it worked flawlessly with all our applications. We also appreciated the fact that there’s no extra apps required.

The Clarett 8Pre is an 18-in/20-out channel audio interface with 8 high-impedance preamps (one of which is ISA mic pres with low-noise and distortion performance), a 6-segment LED meter strip and dedicated ‘Air’ mode.

There are ports for XLR/1/4” combo, MID inputs, ADAT and S/PDIF for setup expansion, 2 x stereo monitor outputs with individual gain control, 24-bit/192kHz AD/DA converters, plus Focusrite Control with plugin suite to configure with PC, Mac and iOS. Software bundle includes XLN Addictive Keys virtual instrument software, Softube & Tone effects bundle, Ableton Live Lite and 2GB Loopmasters sample pack.

Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Plenty of ports
  • Ultra low latency
  • Beautiful, clear preamps
  • Switchable ‘Air Mode’ for next level vocals
  • Thunderbolt connection
CONS
  • Bulky but worth it

Why We Recommend: Focusrite are back on the list again, only this time with Scarlett’s bigger and bulkier brother! The Clarett 8Pre is one for the serious beat makers and instrumentalists out there, with analogue controls which provide a huge deal of headroom and clarity in all aspects. 

Aside from the all-embracing amount of inputs and outputs which make it a great fit for a band or live act, it’s clear Focus rite directed their attention into the preamps on this model. And we can vouch that they certainly didn’t disappoint. We were using a Shure 55SH to play around with the Air mode. Even without it turned on we found it gave an immense quality to the highs in our vocals, but when we did actually activate this mode, the quality was in another league.

Compatible with PC, Mac and iOS, the AudioFuse is a 14-channel USB-2 interface with 2 custom-built preamps with 48v phantom power and 4 combi inputs for line-in and instruments. There are SPDIF/ADAT in/out, 2 stereo monitoring outputs, 2 TRS and a MIDI breakout complete with mini-jack connectors.

The AudioFuse is a plug-and-play unit which doesn’t require any extra drivers, and the software gives full user control over the device’s inputs/outputs, clock rates, sample rates and can configure Cue points for recording. The Control Centre software lets you manipulate the sound directly into your DAW. Also included is a built-in talkback mic with twin panel input strips to add onboard effects like pads and phase.

Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Professional sound quality
  • Great amount of ports
  • Easy setup and configuration
  • Sleek and rugged design
  • On-screen software for easier control
CONS
  • Expensive
  • Got a bit warm after many hours of use

Why We Recommend: We had to praise Arturia for their great attention to detail on this interface. Not only does it come in a slick and compact design which makes portability a breeze, the sheer amount of ports and connectivity options makes it a highly versatile piece of gear to suit a range of different uses and setups. 

In comparison to some of Arturia’s earlier models, we found this soundcard to give off much less distortion. The overall sound quality comes across a lot more full-bodied and clean compared to it’s older counterparts. The software was easy to configure and allows you to direct the sound more accurately to where you want it. We admit it’s a bit on the pricey side, but for a travelling DJ or mobile producer, this is an interface that provides a lot of convenient recording, mixing and mastering possibilities.

Conclusion

We tried and tested several of the latest and most talked about audio interfaces to make their way onto the audio gear landscape this year, and the above are what we concluded to be the best audio interface 2019.

All of our recommendations are based on quality, affordability, functionality, reliability and suitability, so you’ll be able to find something basic and suitable to playback your mixes, or invest in a larger unit capable of handling a lot of inputs and outputs as needed.

In terms of which one takes the championship title, it’s clear that Focusrite remain at the top of their league for audio interfaces. As they have for several years! Although we’re huge fans of their entire collection, we really cannot fault the Scarlett range. There is a reason why the 18i8 (in all of it’s generations) is one of the best sellers, and not only due to the precision-controlled preamps either. These interfaces can be put to a number of uses despite not homing a huge assortment of features. The best part is that the 18i8 is capable of producing an industry-level sound quality that the majority of expensive soundcards can’t even cut. They can also take a hell of a beating in terms of durability and ruggedness, and are easy to repair if one of the ports becomes dislodged or faulty. This means you’re going to get a good few years of use out of it as a result, even if something goes wrong.  

Hopefully that’s given you a useful overview of some of the best interfaces circulating the market this year. Let us know what you’re using to fuel your home studio needs in the comments!

The Best Laptops for Production

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PRODUCT
PRODUCT DETAILS
Our #1 Rated

Macbook Pro is a done-deal when it comes to a multi-purpose machine capable of keeping up with demanding workloads. It’s light, portable with a high-definition display, and the keys are highly responsive. The OLED touch bar offers quicker navigation within many applications and DAWs.

We were highly impressed with the processor on the Surface Pro. We tested it with 18 audio tracks overlaid with a compressor plug-in on each. It only used about 10-20% CPU and did not glitch out at any point.

Even with several GB of games and projects saved to the SSD card, it hardly made a dent in the memory space, and everything always loaded up lightning fast.

The graphics are typical of Apple and looked stunning when watching movies and playing games. The speakers were notably louder compared to the older Macbook Air too!

If you’re a frequent gamer who wants a machine capable of running multiple tasks in the background during your sessions, the Razor Blade stealth will easily meet your requirements.

If you’re looking for a powerful laptop with basic features, this laptop will certainly cover all your needs. We found the CPU to be highly-responsive and booting up took all but a matter of seconds.

If you’re looking for a powerful laptop with basic features, this laptop will certainly cover all your needs. We found the CPU to be highly-responsive and booting up took all but a matter of seconds.

We found this to be one of the best laptops for Ableton Live as it worked flawlessly during a grueling 3-hour mixdown. Many others we tested experienced one or two hiccups in comparison.

We fell in love with the build of this product. Not only is it lightweight and portable, it just looks a lot sleeker and better quality than most laptops in this price range.

Comfortable, robust padded headband with 2 small circular cups for reversible listening and monitoring on either side.

If you’re serious about music production or DJing, and don’t have the funds to splash out on thousands of analogue gear or hardware – investing in a powerful computer or quality laptop is the next best purchase you can make.

Some producers like to lock themselves away in their caves all day making beats, while others prefer to find their inspiration outside of the bedroom.

In which case, if you’re more inclined to the mobile/on-the-go lifestyle, you’ll need a powerful laptop capable of storing a lot of data and handling a good few years of abuse.

So, we thought we’d lay out some long-lasting, affordable options of the best laptops for music producers for you to consider.

What to Look For

A good laptop should have:

CPU – If you’re going to be working in a DAW with several plug-ins open, you’re going to need a system with a good processor that can handle multiple tasks. Rendering tracks with several channels and effects will also require a strong CPU. Laptops with Core i3, i5, or i7 processors are the best bet.

RAM – Producers and gamers should opt for 16GB and up for the best experience. Again, if you’re going to be running multiple applications at once, plenty of RAM is a must.

Operating System – Think Windows, Mac, iOS, Linux etc.

Disk Space – With all those sample packs, VSTs and other files, you should look for a laptop with plenty of storage space, or at least invest in an external hard drive.

Now… let’s take a look at our picks for the top 10 production laptops to start with!

 

Our Recommendation

Smart Choice

One of Apple’s most seamless laptop models is the Macbook Pro Retina.

It features a high-definition LED retina display with a powerful AMD Radeon Pro 55X GPU. Making the graphics look pristine.

It runs off a speedy 4th-Gen 6-core Intel i7 processor with turbo boost up to 4.5GHz, complete with 16GB of RAM and 12MB cache. There is an option to upgrade the SSD from the standard 256GB it comes with to 512GB or 1TB.

Quality
5/5
Price
5/5
Our Rating
5/5

Like the hardware found in the newer Macbooks and Apple Watches, this model incorporates Force Touch for pressure sensitivity and a more fluid response. It also boasts up to 10 hours battery life and 4 ThunderBolt USB Type-C ports.

PROS
  • Exceptional performance and design
  • Touch bar for quick and easy navigation
  • Strong battery life
  • Garageband Included
  • Not too expensive to upgrade specs i.e. SSD and CPU
CONS
  • Expensive
  • Not as many ports as other laptops

Why we recommend: We understand if you’re anti-Mac. It’s not for everyone at the end of the day. In terms of music production capabilities though, the Pro Retina is one of the best choices due to its solid performance and ability to run multiple applications at once.

Unlike the 13” model, this one comes with 16GB RAM installed with a highly powerful i7 processor. This means plenty of storage space and the efficiency to create and mix music without lag or delay.

The Retina also has an impressive battery life of 10-hours, and a ‘Touch Bar’ for quicker and easier maneuverability. It comes with Garageband, but the fact that it’s an Apple product means it works with one of the most masterful DAWs on the market: Logic Pro X.

The Pro Retina is also incredibly light, thin, and durable which makes it fantastic for mobile use. We know it’s expensive, but it will last you well over a decade without compromising its design or performance, making it well worth the investment.

Budget

The Surface Pro 4 is a versatile slim-line tablet which can be used as a laptop. It features a 2.4GHz Intel Core m3 processor with 3MB cache and up to 3GHz with Turbo Boost.

The screen measures in at 12.3” with an Intel HD graphics card and 8GB of storage space. However, there is the option of upgrading to a 128GB SD card for an extra cost should you need it.

Quality
4/5
Price
5/5
Our Rating
5/5

Due to the fact it is a hybrid model, it works with popular DAWs such as FL Studio and Reason and runs off Windows 10. There are 2 x USB 3.0 ports plus a headphone/mic jack.

PROS
  • 16GHz quad-core 8th-gen processor
  • Sleek and lightweight design
  • Impeccable build quality
  • 8.5 hours of battery life
  • Built-in speakers have excellent clarity
CONS
  • Keyboard sold separately
  • Can’t balance it on your lap

Why We Recommend: Although Microsoft are up to the 6th generation for the Surface Pro, the newer models don’t give much extra to boot compared to this one. It also costs significantly less, yet still packs a decent amount of memory and long-lasting battery life.

We were highly impressed with the processor on the Surface Pro. We tested it with 18 audio tracks overlaid with a compressor plug-in on each. It only used about 10-20% CPU and did not glitch out at any point. It’s admittedly bulky for a tablet, but it is lightweight and portable enough to be chucked in your backpack and forgotten about.

We also found the audio quality to be crisp and clear when it came to tunes with bass-heavy elements. There was little distortion even with the volume turned up max!

Beginners
High End

Dell’s small and slim XPS 15 has one of the most impressive processors in this range of Windows laptops. It comes with the latest 8th Gen Intel Core i7 processor and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card.

There is also 512GB of SSD storage space and 16GB of memory included by default, but every model is upgradable to 32GB of RAM if desired. In addition, the XPS sports a stunning 15.6″ HD InfinityEdge display with the option of upgrading to a 4k touchscreen.

There are multiple USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and Thunderbolt-USB Type-C.

Quality
5/5
Price
4.5/5
Our Rating
5/5
PROS
  • Lightning fast 8th Gen i7 Core processor
  • 512GB SSD drive
  • Exceptional HD display
  • Portable and compact
  • Amazing build quality
  • Great for gaming
CONS
  • Fan is known to be a bit noisy
  • No Ethernet port

Why We Recommend: Dell has always been a favorite of ours, and the XPS 15 still hits the benchmark when it comes to a quality, fast-performing laptop for music production and DJing. Compared to its predecessors, we found the 8th Gen Intel Core i7 processor responded very well when carrying out multiple tasks (we managed to render a 1.5 hour movie in Premier with Kontakt running! Hoorah!), and the GTX graphics card made the whole editing process extremely smooth.

The main highlight for us was the amount of storage included. Even with several GB of games and projects saved to the SSD card, it hardly made a dent in the memory space, and everything always loaded up lightning fast. The extensive number of ports also mean you can connect all your audio gear and other devices effortlessly.

All in all, a highly affordable, multi-purpose laptop acting as the ideal solution for everyday tasks as well as complex music production.

Apple delivers another go-getter for our list, the 13″ Macbook Air.

It features an LED-back lit Retina display with an Intel UHD 617 graphics card. For CPU, it contains a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo boost up to 3.6GHz and 4MB cache.

By default there is a 128GB SSD with the optional upgrade to 256GB. The Macbook Air is compatible with all major DAWs and production software. It will provide you up to 10 hours battery life, even while working on the most detailed of tasks.

Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
5/5
PROS
  • Slim, lightweight and highly portable
  • Powerful CPU w/ 3.6GHz Turbo boost
  • 128GB of storage
  • 7-10 hours of battery life (moderate use)
  • Beautiful Retina HD display
CONS
  • USB-C only, requires external adaptors

Why We Recommend: We’ve owned a few Macs in our time, including the former 12” model of the Air, which was equally as pleasing in many ways as this one.

The most notable difference we found with this one is in the weight. At just 2.7Ibs and 0.6 inches, it is incredibly light and easy to carry around for gigs and performances.

The graphics are typical of Apple and looked stunning when watching movies and playing games.

The speakers were notably louder compared to the older Macbook Air too! Although this model comes with a healthy amount of storage, it is easily upgradable if you have a couple of extra hundred dollars to spare.

The 128GB it comes with should suit the needs of most producers just fine though.

When it comes to gaming laptops, Razor are one of the most favored manufacturers with a hard-to-match reputation.

The Blade 15 follows in the footsteps of its earlier counterpart, with improved features that include a more sleek design, better graphics card and faster overall performance.

It boasts an 8th gen Core i7 processor with NVIDIA GeForce GTX graphics, 16GB of DD4 RAM and 128GB SSD. There are multiple USB ports which support USB 3.1, Thunderbolt Type-C, Ethernet and HDMI.

Weighing in at 4.4Ibs, the Razor Blade 15 has been built to last with a heavy focus on portability. Moderate use will easily provide up to 8 hours of battery life.

Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4/5
PROS
  • Amazing slim-line build quality
  • Ultra-fast 8th Gen i7 Core processor
  • Multiple USB ports Inc. Thunderbolt Type-C
  • Touchscreen enabled
  • Plenty of RAM and memory
CONS
  • Keys feel great but a bit fragile
  • Battery life could be better

Why We Recommend: If you’re a frequent gamer who wants a machine capable of running multiple tasks in the background during your sessions, the Razor Blade stealth will easily meet your requirements.

It sports a powerful i7 Core processor which makes it a fantastic choice for producers and DJs alike.

The 128GB SSD means you’ll have plenty of space to store even the largest of project files, without any compromise on performance.

You can also upgrade the memory to a 1TB HDD for an extra cost if needed.

Although many vouch for the Alienware 17 as being one of the best laptops for both gaming and production, the R4 15 edition certainly deserves a mention for its lighter design and easier portability.

The cheapest model comes with a 3.5GHz Intel i5 processor with 8GB RAM, but for a couple of hundred dollars extra, this can be upgraded to accommodate 16GB and a 4.4GHz quad-core processor.

There are several ports with an option to include Dell’s own Graphics Amplifier.

Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
5/5
PROS
  • Exceptional and fast performance
  • Beautiful futuristic design
  • Bright and vivid Max-Q 1920 x 1080 graphics
  • Multiple ports and connections
  • Powerful built-in speakers
CONS
  • Heavy
  • Can get a bit hot through overuse

Why We Recommend: When we tested this model after the Razor Blade, it made the latter looks like a monster in comparison.

This laptop is twice the weight and much thicker than most of the ones we’ve reviewed here.

We soon established that the sheer power behind this model is why it’s needed. We had 20 chrome tabs open, alongside a full-system Windows Defender scan and 32 heavily congested channels in Cubase.

To be frank, we’ve seen machines twice as expensive that are incapable of handling such a demanding workload.

The only downside is the battery life… However, if you aren’t going to be as hands-on with it as us, you could easily squeeze 6-7 hours out of it.

A 2-in-1 laptop equipped with a powerful Intel Core i7 processor and 8GB of RAM, the Spectre x360 is the latest model circulating HP’s line of top-quality laptops.

It comes with a 13.3” 1080p screen which can be flipped backwards into a tablet and relies on a sophisticated Intel UHD 520 GPU graphics card.

In terms of storage, it starts from 256GB but you can easily opt for 1TB if it’s needed.

Depending on workload, it can provide up to 12 hours of uninterrupted battery life.

Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Sleek and lightweight design
  • Great battery life (10 hours on average)
  • Lightning fast Intel Core i7 processor
  • 256GB SSD
  • Intel HD Graphics 520
CONS
  • Memory upgrade not possible
  • Average sound quality

Why We Recommend: If you’re looking for a powerful laptop with basic features, this laptop will certainly cover all your needs.

We found the CPU to be highly-responsive and booting up took all but a matter of seconds. Though we put the speaker quality at a disadvantage, it sounds absolutely fine when fed through a soundcard and monitors.

The bass wasn’t distorted at all, and it produced a particularly smooth midrange. It was also very easy to carry round and didn’t take up much room in our backpack.

There are cheaper 2-in-1 devices out there of course, but if you’re looking for a multi-purpose machine with a solid build and long battery life, this will more than suffice.  

ASUS present one of their second instalment of the ROG Strix gaming laptop.

Measuring in at 17.3”, the SCAR II homes an Intel Core i7 processing unit, with 16GB of RAM and up to 1TB on the hard drive.

Graphics card sports a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 with 1920 x 1080px resolution. USB ports support both Type-A and Type-C.

There is also a sophisticated Hypercool Pro thermal cooling system with 12v fans inside and anti-dust tunnels.

Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Slim and durable design
  • Multiple USB ports Inc. Type-A & Type-C
  • 16GB of RAM + Intel Core i7 CPU
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card
  • Customizable RGB gaming keyboard
CONS
  • Strange keyboard layout
  • Backlight bleed on screen corners
  • Quite a few updates required when first switched on

Why We Recommend: Gaming laptops really do make some of the best operating machines for music production, and this one more than met our expectations.

The amount of RAM is good, but opting for 32GB isn’t going to blow a major hole in the bank. The sound quality is powerful and feels even more immersive when wearing headphones.

It comes with more than enough ports to connect all of your external devices and audio gear directly to your DAW.

We found this to be one of the best laptops for Ableton Live as it worked flawlessly during a grueling 3-hour mixdown. Many others we tested experienced one or two hiccups in comparison.

Another promising 2-in-1 option for the traveling producer is the Yoga 910.

This lightweight, 13.9’ touch screen laptop comes with an Intel i7 processor, reaching speeds up to 2.7GHz. In terms of memory, it gives the option of 8GB, 16GB or 32GB on higher-up models, while storage capacity can go up to 1TB for the SSD.

There are multiple ports that support regular USB and 2 x USB-C ports. The built-in JBL speakers offer an immersive audio experience and the battery life lasts approximately 10 hours through moderate activity.

Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Light and slim-line design
  • Strong battery life up to 10.5 hours
  • 8GB of RAM (upgradable to 32GB)
  • Multiple ports incl. Type-C
  • Fluid keyboard response
CONS
  • Fan can be a bit noisy
  • Doesn’t support Thunderbolt

Why We Recommend: We fell in love with the build of this product. Not only is it lightweight and portable, it just looks a lot sleeker and better quality than most laptops in this price range.

The same goes for the feel of the keypad too. We opted for the 8GB RAM, and it still felt that this was more than enough to carry out everyday tasks.

Although it got a bit hot by the time we needed to put it on charge, this didn’t cripple its performance in any way.

We also found it worked effortlessly with all music production software, even when each one was overloaded with plugins.

The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 packs a powerful CPU unit up to 3.6GHz complete with 8GB of RAM and 1TB HDD up to 5400 rpm.

Weighing in at 5.78Ibs, the 7000 series is a slim and compact laptop armed with a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 graphics card and 15.6” anti-glare display.

It also features multiple ports for both 2.0 and 3.0 USB. Sound wise, there are front-firing MaxxAudio Pro speakers with subwoofer.

The battery life lasts approximately 6 hours.

Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Great value for money
  • Strong and sturdy build
  • Clean and crisp speaker sound
  • Powerful Intel Core i7 CPU + 8GB RAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX graphics card
CONS
  • Weak battery life
  • Display brightness is a bit weak
  • Fans a bit noisy

Why We Recommend: As one of the most affordable, entry-level laptops on our list – the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 is a great all-around option for gamers, producers and DJs.

The vivid 4K display makes gaming and movies with lots of CGI look almost real. We also found the speakers to give off a clear, treble-heavy sound which can easily fill a medium-sized room.

The i7 processor meant we could run operations and apps in the background without a single drawback- even while rendering long videos.

The only downside is the battery life. It lasted approximately 6 hours, so it may not be the best option for people planning to use it on long commutes.

The Champion

We think the Macbook Pro is a done-deal when it comes to a multi-purpose machine capable of keeping up with demanding workloads.

It’s light, portable with a high-definition display, and the keys are highly responsive.

The OLED touch bar offers quicker navigation within many applications and DAWs. If using Logic or Garageband, users will find this laptop particularly beneficial.

You’ll marvel at its fast performance, and ability to store large sums of data and project files. The only downfall is it may require an external adaptor or docking station when hooking up USBs…

That being said, you can purchase a top-quality USB hub for as little as $70. It will probably last you as long as the laptop itself too!

If you want to keep your spending bracket to a minimum in the process, you can always opt for an older model of the Macbook for under $1,000.

It will still offer more than enough functions for you to create awesome, top-quality music.

 

Final Note

With modern technology being as advanced as it is, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to own a good quality laptop these days. When it comes to music production however, spending that little bit extra will make a big difference to your productivity and will eliminate much of the stress when carrying out multiple tasks.

Best MIDI Keyboards

Looking for a MIDI keyboard to enhance your music production? Then check out our recommended list of the Top 10 MIDI keyboards on the market right now.

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PRODUCT
PRODUCT DETAILS
Our #1 Rated

An affordable, beginner-friendly keyboard packed with a vast variety of performance controls and a huge bank of built-in presets.

The Keystation 49 MK3 is packed with an amazing bank of assignable features with a natural and authentic-sounding piano bed.

The M32 is solid, compact and durable enough for a good few years of use and will take up very little room in your setup.

Semi-weighted keys and octave-control enables you to monitor every parameter in your DAW and create some epic soundscapes.

A solid performance keyboard boasting a huge range of features and controls with 4GB of samples included.

Plug and play from the get-go and store up to 4 different user preferences!

The V49 oozes quality when it comes to its rugged build and design, outperforming many MIDI keyboards even with its minimal features.

Nektar’s most powerful compact keyboard provides a truly authentic sound, coupled with a wide scope of features that any musician will highly appreciate.

A sleek, durable and cost effective controller that can be transported and performed on anywhere.

Built with both live performers and producers in mind, the MiniLab MKII boasts an array of features and controls that has truly raised the bar for most MIDI keyboards. 

MIDI keyboards are a valuable asset when it comes to music production. These devices provide a wide scope of features and controls which can simulate piano keys, strings, guitars and other classic orchestral instruments. On top of this, you can create complex drum loops, synth patterns, and make some highly-interesting sound design elements to implement into your tracks. All by twisting and tweaking a few knobs and buttons! Each MIDI keyboard is different. This is why we’re going to run through an affordable selection of options to help you pick a model which is right for you.

Note: This list is specific to MIDI keyboard controllers. If you are looking for a keyboard synthesizer only, some of these products may not suit you needs. If you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for check out: the difference between MIDI keyboards and keyboard synthesizers first.

Why Should I Purchase a MIDI Keyboard?

We guess you’re probably at a stage in your productions where you may feel the need to add some extra flavor to your projects. That’s exactly where MIDI keyboards come in. They allow you to explore the wonderful world of live-sounding instruments and synths without having to go out and purchase these items and hardware individually. This not only speeds up your workflow, but gives you full creativity when it comes to the building blocks of your tracks and the endless possibilities when it comes to enhancing your live performances.

MIDI keyboards give you a solid, compact workstation which you can drop samples into, and mimic these instruments and sounds to an exceptional degree! These sounds can then be hooked up to your DAW to manipulate further: drop them into a sequencer or sampler, edit and remix loops, build melodies, drum patterns, add oscillators, mess with envelopes – you really can do so much more using this powerful all-in-one tool! Which is why MIDI keyboards are an absolute must for any producer serious about making beats.

 

How We Chose:

What we look for in a top-quality MIDI keyboard comprises of the below factors:

  • Price
  • Quality and durability
  • Portability
  • Feel of the keys
  • Responsiveness of the controls
  • DAW compatibility
  • Software included
  • Ease of setup

Our Recommendation:

Smart Choice

The Akai MPK Mini is a 25-key, velocity-sensitive synthesizer with VIP 3.0 and MPC Essentials software built in. It features 8 back-lit rubber pads and 8 Q-Link knobs which can be mapped to control various elements in your DAW, such as envelopes, filters, and oscillators. It also features dedicated up and down octave buttons, as well as a 4-way joystick allowing for easy control of the pitch and modulation. Like many Akai models, its lightweight and compact design allows for easy portability. The MKII also features a built-in apreggiator with adjustable resolution modes and 4 unique presets. 

Quality
5/5
Price
5/5
Our Rating
5/5
PROS
  • 25 velocity-sensitive keys
  • Compact and solid build
  • Built-in apreggiator
  • 8 assignable knobs and pads
  • Plug-and-play
  • Great value
CONS
  • No pitch-bend or modulation wheels
  • Knobs aren’t as fluid as other Akai models

Why We Recommend: If you’re a producer looking for a sturdy, compact keyboard with not too many overwhelming features – this is definitely the best choice for its portability and easy-to-use controls.

Though its performance is more limited than some of Akai’s other models, for the price it’s pretty incomparable. It doesn’t come with pitch-bend or modulation wheels, instead you have a joystick for controlling these elements, and you can still create some highly interesting presets through the different drum pads available.

The built-in apreggiator is extremely handy for syncing applications to your DAW, and there is no need to install any additional drivers – just plug in and play! Although it may not be the best keyboard for live performances, it’s an affordable, beginner-friendly keyboard perfect for basic composition of melodies, chords and layering grooves into your tracks.

Budget

The HDJ-X5s are a closed-back model with a wide frequency range between 5 kHz-30 kHz. They allow you to hear the deepest of bass noises without sounding too distorted – a huge benefit when working with powerful PA systems.

They also come with swiveling ear cups and a highly comfortable headband which can be easily adjusted.

Quality
4/5
Price
5/5
Our Rating
5/5

Despite the cheap price tag, they also look and feel much more professional than some of the other Pioneer HDJ models, and have been built to withstand a good few years of abuse. 

  • Frequency Response – 5 kHz
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 102 dB
  • Impedance – 32 Ohms
PROS
  • Pitch-bend, mod, and octave controls
  • Portable and lightweight
  • Apple IPad Camera Connection input
  • Plug and Play
  • Comprehensive software bundle
CONS
  • Keys feel a bit firm
  • Octave buttons don’t always light up on Mac

Why We Recommend: For the price range, it comes as no surprise that the MK3 surpasses many of the high-end brands when it comes to MIDI controllers. The Keystation 49 MK3 is packed with an amazing bank of assignable features with a natural and authentic-sounding piano bed.

Acting as the perfect solution for any musician looking to take their live performances to new levels. The built-in virtual instruments and recording software also allows the user to map sounds quickly and toggle some really cool effects that can be easily integrated into tracks. 

Beginners
High End

Presenting NI’s smallest keyboard in their entire range. The Komplete Kontrol M32 is a 32-key MIDI controller, engineered to include a wide scope of features that can be pre-mapped to most DAWs.

It’s comes with a TRS sustain pedal input for a more authentic sound, and also includes a variety of performance-enhancing features; 2 touch strips, 4-way encoder and 8 touch sensitive knobs. Above the keys is another set of buttons for track selection and VST control. To the left are several transport buttons including scale, octave, arp, undo and others. Live lite is also included along with 1.6GB of free samples.

Quality
5/5
Price
4.5/5
Our Rating
5/5
PROS
  • Huge software bundle included
  • 2 touch strips
  • 8 touch sensitive control knobs
  • 4 directional push encoder
  • Awesome for VST control and FX
CONS
  • No pads
  • Quite big

Why We Recommend: As one of the least expensive keyboards, the M32 is a compact and durable enough for a good few years of use and won’t take up much room in your setup (we were still able to fit 2 soundcards either side).

Though it doesn’t come with any pads, it does feature a set of high-end performance controls which can seriously spice up your tunes. It allows you to loop, quantize, record and manipulate sounds to your liking, while the touch sensitive knobs and encoders allow you to easily load up presets and plug-ins within your DAW. Unlike other mini keyboards, the M32 comes with additional NI software. It’s pre-loaded with more than 2,000 sounds, and includes a 2-month free subscription to Sounds.com.

Another one from M-Audio’s mighty Keystation series is the 88 II. It’s the largest and longest in this range, with semi-weighted keys and octave-control that enables you to control every parameter for creating some highly interesting soundscapes.

The software package includes Ableton Live Lite and SONiVOX Eighty-Eight virtual piano Ensemble, as well as AIR Music Tech Xpand!2 which can all be used to perform live mixing, compositions and recording all directly to your DAW. The Keystation 88 II is compatible with all devices with USB-MIDI connectivity, plus iOS and Apple IPad camera connectivity.

Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
5/5
PROS
  • Incredibly lightweight
  • Plug and Play + smart device compatibility
  • 88 full-sized semi-weighted keys
  • Pitch/mod wheels and octave buttons
  • Transport controls
CONS
  • USB cable included is short
  • No pads or buttons

Why We Recommend: It’s almost unheard of to come across a full-sized, beginner-friendly keyboard these days. Especially one that’s priced so reasonably. The keys felt genuinely life-like on this product, something which many others boast but do not always deliver. Though there aren’t a huge bank of features to play with, it will definitely suit the needs of those looking for a solid, portable MIDI keyboard that replicates the feel and authenticity of a real acoustic piano. We also loved the sleek design and the fact that you can hook it up to any smart device as soon as it’s out the box.

Next up is the Launchkey 49. A solid, performance keyboard with 16 RGB velocity-sensitive back-lit drum pads, 9 sliders, 6 dedicated transport controls, as well as both pitch-bend and modulation wheels. Like most standard MIDI controllers, this one features a sustain pedal input and is powered by USB with an additional DC socket. Two octave/transpose buttons are also included, and 8 knobs for mapping presets directly to your DAW. The Launchkey 49 also comes with Ableton Live Lite 8, Novation Bass Station & V-Station, 4GB of free Loopmasters samples, Additive Keys + free product registration key. Oh, and a free step-by-step lesson on harmonics!  

Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4/5
PROS
  • One of the best software bundles included
  • Durable and compact
  • 16 RGB back-lit drum pads
  • Pitch and modulation wheels
  • 6 dedicated transport controls
CONS
  • No after touch on the keys
  • No 5-pin MIDI socket

Why We Recommend: One of the biggest pros for us when reviewing this controller was the fact it comes available in 3 different sizes; 25, 49, or 61 keys. Though the smaller you go, the less features you will get. But even with the 25 keys, you still have a large degree of performance enhancing controls to play with such as the launch pads and sliders. However, the 49, which we truly fell in love with, is a fantastic choice for those looking for the best of both in terms of weight, size, and the vast scope of features included. There’s also a very sexy software bundle included (Addictive Keys is an expensive but awesome plug-in, so this in is a huge bonus), as well as an in-depth tutorial from Melodics.

Constructed with both digital producers and bona fide pianists in mind, the iRig Keys Pro delivers a bus-powered, lightweight and portable MIDI keyboard with 37 full-sized keys, 3-octave control, pitch and mod wheels, data/volume assignable knob and sustain/expression pedal input. Powered and compatible with iOS and Android, as well as standard USB compliance for Mac/PC, the IRig Pro can be plugged in and played from the get-go and also includes SampleTank, IGrand Piano, a virtual instruments collection, plus cables for Lightening, OTG to Micro-USB, and standard USB with optional 30-pin for connecting to older iOS devices

Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
5/5
PROS
  • 4 SET and RECALL storage setups
  • Velocity-sensitive keybed
  • 3-octaves for easier control
  • Pitch and modulation wheels
  • Device bus-powered + various cables included
CONS
  • Keys are a bit springy
  • Build quality feels a bit cheap

Why We Recommend: One of the most appealing things we noticed when testing out the IRig Keys Pro, was its impressive UX storage capabilities. It can remember up to 4 different customizable setups where you can quickly switch between its fully-adjustable parameters. It also features 3 back-lit up/down octave controls alongside pitch-bend and mod wheels for a vast variety of mixing possibilities. Its portability and weight make it fantastic for mobile use, and is supported by all devices including IOS, OSX, Mac, PC and Android for instantly capturing your composition ideas, even while on the move.

When it comes to home studio gear, Alesis are a force to be reckoned with and the same can be said for their MIDI controller range. As one of the few affordable MIDI keyboards on the market to replicate the look and feel of a traditional piano, the V49 comes in a slim and compact design, with USB connectivity for both Mac and PC. It boasts 8 velocity-sensitive pads, 8 assignable knobs and buttons for mapping to various DAWs, as well as pitch and modulation wheels. In addition, the V49 features up/down octave buttons, and includes Ableton Live Lite 9 as well as Xpand!2 by Air Music Tech.

Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Great build and key quality
  • 8 backlit trigger pads + 8 rotary knobs
  • Works effortlessly with all DAWs
  • Adjustable sensitivity and pressure velocity
  • Pitch-bend and modulation wheels
  • Ableton Live Lite Alesis Edition included
CONS
  • Pads need two-finger taps
  • A little on the heavy side

Why We Recommend: The V49 oozes quality when it comes to its rugged build and minimalist design; a choice they went for to accommodate the full-sized piano keys. Although it’s a little heavy than most MIDI keyboards, it’s still not particularly bulky and can be transported with ease. The fact that you’re easily able to adjust the sensitivity of the keys is a huge bonus too, and a rarity with other models. Though it hasn’t adopted as many features as other Alesis keyboards, you still have a good degree of control on the pads and sliders. Both are large and sturdy enough to perform finger drumming, in addition to clip launching. 

Nektar are more known for their production of larger keyboards, and the LX25+ is practically a scaled-down model of their 2012 61-key Panorama series. This one offers 25 full-sized synth action keys with 7 different velocity adjustable curves. It also sports a performance deck of 8 rotary knobs for auto mapping direct to a variety of DAWs; BitWig (included), Cubase, FL Studio, GarageBand, Neuendo, Studio One, Logic etc. There are also 8 back-lit assignable drum pads with transport controls for switching between patches and presets, plus pitch-bend and modulation wheels.

Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Integrates with most popular DAWs
  • 25 full-size velocity-sensitive keys
  • 8 back-lit trigger pads
  • Full transport controls
  • Bitwig 8-Track included
  • Sustain pedal
  • Impeccable build quality
CONS
  • Not the best for Ableton users

Why We Recommend: It was so tough finding anything bad to say about this MIDI keyboard. Despite its compact size, it really does feel like playing on a real piano, particularly when the sustain pedal is in use. The build quality itself feels second to none. The trigger pads were extremely responsive, and assigning them was quick and easy on all 3 different DAWs we tried it with. Our only quarrel with this keyboard was the fact that Ableton didn’t recognize it straight away, however configuration took 2 minutes so we’re not knocking any stars! A solid all-around option for both beginners and veteran producers.

Featuring 11 backlit function pads, three assignable knobs, a volume slider, encoder, plus a modulation wheel and pitch-bending abilities. The AKM320 is a 32-key, velocity-sensitive plug-and-play synth renowned for its composing, editing, remixing and recording proficiency. It also comes with sustain pedal input for easier maneuverability and adding some rich, smooth harmonics to your overall sound. At just 18” long and weighing in at 1.6lbs, it takes up little space in the studio, and is light and durable enough for mobile use.

Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Incredibly good value
  • Lightweight and compact
  • No external drivers or adaptor needed
  • Pitch and modulation wheels
  • Adjustable octaves and transpose features
CONS
  • No software included
  • Keys are a bit stiff

Why We Recommend: Designed for its lightweight feel and affordability, the AKM320 may look small and toy-like, but it certainly packs a punch which many larger synthesizers lack. It comes with everything needed to create exciting compositions, including an internal apreggiator which can be synced to your DAW. It also comes with different modes that can assist in everything from correcting key tones, to creating complex patterns and sequences. Despite the cheap price and look, we found the AKM320 will suit the basic needs of more seasoned producers as well as beginners with no problems.

The Arturia Minilab MKII is a highly compact keyboard with 25 adjustable velocity keys. Built with both live performers and producers in mind, it features both pitch and modulation touch strips as opposed to wheels, alongside 16 rotary encoders with auto-mapped parameters and 16 assignable trigger pads. The pads can be controlled using the shift modifier feature and switched between preset banks with the up/down octave controls. Also included is Analog Lab Lite, complete with 500 unique preset patches, and the option to upgrade to the full version with 6000 vintage synth sounds included. 

Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • 8 velocity-sensitive RGB back-lit pads
  • 16 rotary encoders
  • Analog Lab Lite included + 500 patches
  • Plug and Play
  • Pitch and modulation touch strips
  • Solid build and compact design
CONS
  • Keys are very slim
  • Not as many presets as before

Why We Recommend: We found every aspect of this keyboard an absolute delight to play on. The pads are highly responsive and feel smooth to the touch, while the pitch and modulation touch strips worked a treat despite our initial skepticism. For or the price, quality, and extent of features you get with this midi keyboard, any evidence of flaws are quite hard to come by. The only thing we were a bit sad about was the fact that they have downgraded from their previous model. It included 5000 presets before. Now it only comes with 500… Albeit, there are some very interesting patches included with this one and you can easily upgrade the software at any point. That aside, we can certainly say this keyboard is a step-up from the previous MKII model, which is why we had to add it to our own studio setup!

Conclusion

MIDI keyboards seriously cut a lot of the extra work and carve out more time for you to play around with new concepts and ideas as a result. They let you pay more attention to the details and micro elements in your tracks that would otherwise prove very limited through your DAW alone. We concluded that every single unit we tested in this list has their own unique qualities and features, and most if not all, would be suitable for both beginners and professional musicians.

However, we have to say that the Arturia MiniLab is our undefeated champion for the best MIDI keyboards. Not only did it take minutes to set up and was compatible with all the popular DAWs we tested it with, we found the keys to be a complete pleasure to the touch. Even before we messed with the velocity curves! This was also something we found to be quite fiddly and long-winded with the other models. The responsiveness of both the trigger pads and transport controls were also impressive, while the overall build quality of the keyboard feels sleek and made to last. All in all, the MiniLab is a beautiful, fully-loaded controller with one of the most affordable price tags on the market. We wouldn’t hesitate to add to our own set up, let alone recommend it for anyone else’s!

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Top 10 DJ Headphones for 2019

Image
PRODUCT
PRODUCT DETAILS
Our #1 Rated
Our #1 Rated

Preserves high and low-end frequencies to an exceptional degree. Punchy bass and outside disturbances are virtually non-existent.

Closed-back model with a wide frequency range, allowing you to hear the deepest of bass noises without sounding too distorted.

Powerful enough to withstand distortion and are more than capable of blocking out a good degree of external noise.

Impeccable audio quality with a comfy and lightweight design. Produces crystal-clear frequencies even in the loudest of settings.

Semi-open design gives a rich and full mid-range with a sharp treble, making tunes with vocal tones sound especially smooth.

Incomparable level of noise isolation, while bass response is unbelievably deep, full-bodied and responds even better to an amplifier.

Offer an impeccable tonality and a wide soundstage which give them a highly engaging sound.

A highly comfortable set of bass-heavy cans, with good noise-isolating abilities and a powerful mid-range.

Lightweight, on-ear design with optional Bluetooth capabilities and can be fully customized to the user’s preference.

Comfortable, robust padded headband with 2 small circular cups for reversible listening and monitoring on either side.

Headphones are an essential part of any DJ tool kit. Whether you’re a vinyl junkie, a CDJ user, or a controller whizz. A decent pair of headphones can make a real difference to how you perceive tracks, as well as the way in which you choose to mix them.

In this article, we’re going to highlight some of the best DJ headphones currently on the market; taking into account vital factors such as sound quality, price, and comfort. 

Why should you choose DJ headphones?

Though you’ll often discover many types of headphones are designed to withstand the noisiest of environments, the best ones are built specifically for DJs and professional studio use. This is why they tend to be more expensive than most, and it can be tough deciding which one would is right for you if you’re not sure what to look for.

 

How to Choose

A good pair of headphones should be:

Sound Sufficient – Quality is something which simply cannot be compromised. Forget using your IPod headphones. You should be able to hear every high, mid and low-end frequency with little or no problems. 

Comfortable – If you’re going to be wearing these bad boys for hours on end, they’ll need to fit your head properly with good clamping force.

Portable – Carrying a laptop or some records around won’t leave you much room for anything else. Fortunately some headphones fold up at the cups to make them more compact.

Durable – Whether you wear them across your head, around your neck, or hold one cup to your ear. Your headphones will take a bit of a beating over time, so they should have enough resistance to maintain their quality and shape.

Closed Back or On-Ear – Noise cancellation headphones are always a winner, but any good DJ headphones will have a closed-back or on-ear design for reducing background noise and isolating unwanted disturbances.

It’s also worth paying attention to the more technical aspects of a good pair of DJ headphones:

  • Frequency Response – The range of frequencies: measured in kilohertz (kHz)
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – Threshold of hearing: measured in decibels (dB)
  • Impedance – Resistance to an electrical current: measured in Ohms (Ω)

Now… let’s take a look at our picks for the top 3 DJ headphones to start with!

 

Our Recommendation:

Smart Choice

Sennheiser’s HD series has long been the favorite choice among DJs for years, and for good reason too. Not only do they deliver an unparalleled quality of sound with a highly balanced response, they are light as a feather, durable, and can be worn for hours on end with no discomfort.

They’re also fantastic at preserving high and low-end frequencies to an exceptional degree; bass is punchy, but doesn’t drown out the treble or upper mids, while outside noise and disturbances are virtually non-existent.

They also have excellent separation and will rarely distort even at extreme volumes.

Quality
5/5
Price
5/5
Our Rating
5/5

The HD25s also work well with the EQ on smart phones and other devices; making them great for leisure listening as well as live mixing and home use.

  • Frequency Response – 16 kHz
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 120 dB
  • Impedance – 70 Ohms
PROS
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Very comfortable
  • Excellent isolation
  • Replaceable/detachable parts
  • Rotatable cups
  • 2 detachable cables (1 x coiled and 1 x straight)
  • Leather carry pouch and ¼” jack included
CONS
  • Cable could be longer
  • Leather ear pads can get a bit sweaty

Why we recommend: Sennheiser have made replaceable parts available for the HD25 model, which is a huge advantage. These headphones are comfortable, sound incredible and are entirely customizable too; meaning you can swap the leather ear pads for pure foam ones, and even buy an extension to your cable if you really need to – all for a very affordable price!

So, if you are serious about your craft and don’t want to be forking out for another pair of DJ headphones in 2 years’ time, the HD25s are 100% worth the investment and any experienced DJ will likely tell you the same!

 

Budget

The HDJ-X5s are a closed-back model with a wide frequency range between 5 kHz-30 kHz. They allow you to hear the deepest of bass noises without sounding too distorted – a huge benefit when working with powerful PA systems.

They also come with swiveling ear cups and a highly comfortable headband which can be easily adjusted.

Quality
4/5
Price
5/5
Our Rating
5/5

Despite the cheap price tag, they also look and feel much more professional than some of the other Pioneer HDJ models, and have been built to withstand a good few years of abuse. 

  • Frequency Response – 5 kHz
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 102 dB
  • Impedance – 32 Ohms
PROS
  • Clear and crisp sound quality
  • Comfortable for extended use
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Rotatable Cups
  • Versatile listening
  • Coiled cable and ¼” jack included
  • Leather carry pouch
CONS
  • Not the best for long duration listening
  • Doesn’t sound as nice with non-EDM genres

Why We Recommend: Pioneer are one of the leading masters in audio equipment and their HDJ-X5 cans certainly lives up to the reputation. These headphones sound incredibly clean and crisp in club settings, but are very convenient for everyday commutes due to their comfort factor and wide frequency range. Considering they’re Pioneer, they’re also very well-priced! So they’ll last a lot longer than many other brand of headphones.

Beginners
High End

The M-100s are the 4th edition in the M-100 Crossfade series which are the go-to choice for high profile DJs like Eric Morillio and Deadmau5. They are renowned for their portable and fully customizable design, on top of their extremely rugged build. In terms of quality, the M-100s deliver a bass-heavy sound with a frequency response between 5-30 kHz, allowing them to flourish at high volumes. With the volume set at around 75%, these cans are powerful enough to withstand distortion and are more than capable of blocking out a good degree of external noise. 

  • Frequency Response – 5Hz
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 103 dB
  • Impedance – 32 Ohms
Quality
5/5
Price
4.5/5
Our Rating
5/5
PROS
  • Exceptionally durable and compact
  • Fully customizable
  • Kevlar-wrapped cables
  • Sound great regardless of genre
  • Good clamping force
CONS
  • Slightly heavy
  • Plastic grips wear down over time

Why We Recommend: If comfort and style are 2 of the main things you’re looking for, the M-100s have without a doubt got you covered. Not only do they already look awesome, they’re fully customizable and are built to fold up with 0 effect on durability. Though the noise cancellation is not as good as some other V-MODA models, they definitely do a great job at preventing unwanted sounds and produce an incredibly clean range of mid to low frequencies in all respects.

Though the HD25s probably remain the most popular, the HD 8 model is the latest to take the spotlight with its impeccable audio quality, its comfy, lightweight and robust design, alongside its ability to produce crystal-clear frequencies even in the loudest of settings.

The cups are large enough to fit over the ears, and can be rotated at a 90° angle to adapt to your mixing stance. They also work especially well for beat matching and cuing up tunes.

  • Frequency Response – 30 kHz
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 115 dB
  • Impedance – 95 Ohms
Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
5/5
PROS
  • High quality, durable and comfortable
  • Rotating cups with up to 210° movement
  • 2 choices of cables + ¼ jack
  • 1 x spare velour ear pads
  • Premium carry case included
CONS
  • One of the most expensive
  • Clamping force is a bit weak

Why We Recommend: Admittedly, they’re one of the priciest choices. But as we said, you can’t compromise sound quality and if you have a few extra bucks to go the full yard – do it! The frequency response means you won’t have any issues with outside disturbances, and you can fully adjust the cups to your liking for better monitoring. Even sound engineers have praised these headphones to the high heavens. And after vigorous testing: we have too!

Next up is the Beyerdynamic DT 1350 Pro. Not only do these have an incomparable level of noise isolation, but the bass response is unbelievably deep, full-bodied and responds even better to an amplifier.

Every kick and snare sounds solid in these cans and the soundstage is particularly impressive for their compact size. The DT 1350s come with rotatable cups and a split headband for closed monitoring and easier portability.

  • Frequency Response – 5 kHz
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 109 dB
  • Impedance – 80 Ohms
Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4/5
PROS
  • Bass sounds amazing
  • Excellent isolation
  • No leakage
  • Strong build quality
  • Hard case with ¼ adaptor
  • Split headband for best fit
CONS
  • Clamping force a bit tight
  • No detachable cable

Why We Recommend: We were relatively surprised at the bass power on this model. For a pair of on-ears, the quality is second-to-none and they are one of the best choices for professional monitoring due to their accuracy and frequency precision. Clear mids and highs, alongside a highly durable and comfortable design make these headphones a great choice for DJs as well as producers.

You might be surprised to know these headphones have actually been used by musicians and sound engineers alike for over 20 years.

Albeit they have come a long way since the first model! The 240 MKII come with a highly durable adjustable headband, complete with over-the-ear cups and 2 sets of ear cushions included for added comfort.

Their semi-open design gives a rich and full mid-range with a sharp treble, so tunes with vocal tones sound especially smooth.

Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
5/5

The detailed response from the mids and highs also means that instruments layers are easily distinguishable, even in noisy environments.

  • Frequency Response – 15 kHz
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 91 dB
  • Impedance – 55 Ohms
PROS
  • Naturally clear and crisp mids/highs
  • Phenomenal vocal range
  • Lightweight and comfortable
  • 2 x sets of interchangeable ear cups
  • 2 x detachable cables
CONS
  • Bass isn’t as punchy as other AKGs
  • Plastic build feels a bit cheap
  • No carry pouch included

Why We Recommend: Though these headphones lack a little bit on the bass side, the quality and natural rich sound of the mids and highs definitely make up for it. Vocals sound incredible, while the rugged headband and quirky over-ear design promises comfort and a good few years of long-standing use.

All in all, the MKIIs are very reasonably priced for their performance, and will make a good addition to your mixing setup.

These are a recent upgrade from Audio-Technica’s A-T series, and have been designed for hours of prolonged use and abuse.

Aside from being light and comfortable, they offer an impeccable tonality and a wide soundstage which give them a highly engaging sound. Bass sounds weighty without drowning out the upper mids, and the ear cups can be rotated on 2 axes for more flexible monitoring.

They also come in different colors.

  • Frequency Response – 15 kHz
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 99 dB
  • Impedance – 38 Ohms
Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Great value
  • Good noise separation
  • Powerful bass response
  • Strong and durable build
  • Color varieties available
  • Choice of coiled or straight chord + ¼ adapter
CONS
  • No active noise cancellation
  • Carry case isn’t the best

Why We Recommend: The M50x definitely deserve more credit than its ancestors. They are the most comfortable out of the range, and have a flawless sound quality that many higher priced headphones struggle to achieve.

The fantastic soundstage makes even classical music sound sexy as hell through these badboys, and they’ll certainly make a welcome addition to the tool kit of any DJ, producer or professional audiophile.

Numark are creators of some of the best DJ gear on the market, and when it comes to their headphones – they equally hold onto that reputation! The Red Wave Carbons are a highly comfortable set of bass-heavy cans, with good noise-isolating abilities and a powerful mid-range. Vocals penetrate clearly and concisely, while percussive elements give off a real rich and smooth sound. They come in a stylish red color with over-ear design, plus swivel cups for singe-ear listening and easier portability.

  • Frequency Response – 15 kHz
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 98 dB
  • Impedance – 24 Ohms
Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Great value
  • Punchy low-end
  • Striking red design
  • 180° swivel and dual-pivot cups
  • 2 x detachable cables + ¼ adapter + carry pouch
CONS
  • Muffle a bit at high volumes
  • Feel a bit heavy

Why We Recommend: The Red Wave Carbon DJ headphones certainly didn’t disappoint us when it came to their depth and clarity in the mid-range, as well as ability to produce a fat-sounding bass.

They felt a little heavy on the head after a few hours, but the leather ear cups provide great coverage and do well at drowning out most outside disturbances. 

The TMA-2 Modular come in a lightweight, on-ear design with optional Bluetooth capabilities and 4 fully-customizable areas; headband, ear-pads, cable and speaker units – making them appropriate for DJing, studio use, and general leisure listening.

As well as being able to choose your own components, the TMA-2s offer wireless connectivity and a battery life of up to 16 hours from a single two-hour charge.

  • Frequency Response – 20 kHz
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 117 dB
  • Impedance – 32 Ohms
Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Tailor made to the user
  • Punchy bass response
  • Good isolation
  • Crystal-clear mids and highs
  • Wireless headband and mic
CONS
  • Bass can overpower the mids a little
  • E03 on-ear velour set not so comfortable

Why We Recommend: These headphones are particularly interesting due to the fact you can literally build them from the ground up, making them suitable for a whole range of different uses. Mids sound warm and vibrant while high-end frequencies tinker and resonate within the mix exactly how they should. They also sit on the head perfectly regardless of which headband you go for. 

Overview: Last but in no means least, is Sony’s MDR-7506 headphones. These feature a comfortable, robust padded headband with 2 small circular cups for reversible listening and monitoring on either side.

The closed-back design promises minimal leakage and a strong bandwidth delivers a solid sound quality, particularly where low-end frequencies and bass elements are concerned. 

  • Frequency Response – 18 kHz
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 106 dB
  • Impedance – 63 Ohms
Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
PROS
  • Portable and compact
  • Natural soundstage
  • Highly comfortable headband
  • 2 x reversible cups for monitoring
  • Easily repairable
  • Good tonal accuracy
CONS
  • No extras included i.e. case or adaptor
  • A bit expensive for the build quality

Why We Recommend: Though these cans aren’t the best quality in terms of build, they are comfortable and the actual sound is something which definitely makes the price tag worth it.

They’re not the most stylish compared to Beats headphones for example, but are still very powerful, highly compact, and more than suitable for pros as well as amateurs.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a noob to the world of mixing, or you’re just a general music enthusiast who wants to expand their listening capacities. Every pair of DJ headphones we reviewed here have proven themselves to be true advocates of the craft. Whether it’s down to their unmatched sound quality, sturdy and vigorous build design, or the useful parts included – each one will serve the needs of professional DJs, musicians and audiophiles without complaint.

We have to say though…

Sennheiser’s HD25 model will probably always be at the top of our list for best DJ headphones. In comparison to the others, these cans are built to last years and make mixing in even the loudest of clubs a piece of pie. They also have affordable and replaceable parts too unlike the others, which can usually be repaired for free if they’re still within their warranty. They have excellent noise isolation and an unrivalled response to the harshest of frequencies, making any genre (especially metal and bass-driven genres) an absolute pleasure to listen to.

Know of any DJ headphones which top the HD25s? We’d love to hear your feedback!

The Best DJ Controllers of 2019 For Both Beginner And Professional DJs

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PRODUCT
PRODUCT DETAILS
Our #1 Rated
Pioneer DJ-DDJ-SB3​
Our #1 Rated
Pioneer DJ-DDJ-SB3

2-Channel DJ Controller for Serato DJ Lite We’ve combined the popular features of the DDJ-SB2 with our leading Serato DJ controllers to make learning to DJ more accessible than ever.

Numark DJ2GO2 ​
Numark DJ2GO2

Ultra-compact DJ Control. With its compact size and light weight, the Numark DJ2GO2 is a featherweight.

Pioneer DDJ 400 ​
Pioneer DDJ 400

2-channel DJ controller for rekordbox DJ.

Denon DJ MC4000​
Denon DJ MC4000

Premium 2-Deck controller for Serato.

Numark Mixtrack Pro 3​
Numark Mixtrack Pro 3

A great solution for all entry-level DJs. Comes with multi-function backlit performance pads, dedicated channel filters and unique touchstrip FX control.

Roland DJ-202​
Roland DJ-202

A forward-thinking Serato DJ Intro controller that gives DJs the features and layout of a full-size professional controller in a rugged and portable unit.

Hercules DJ Controller Inpulse 200
Hercules DJ Controller Inpulse 200

The smaller version of the Inpulse 300. There are fewer performance pads and the EQ section is limited to a two-band EQ.

In an age where technology is constantly advancing, the struggle is real for many artists and musicians looking to invest in a new piece of gear. It’s not just discovering what to look for but also where to find it, and that’s why for any amateur or seasoned DJ, we’ve taken the time to narrow down a few suggestions for DJ controllers which could ultimately revolutionize your home mixes and live sets.


Whether your back has finally caved in from carting those 12” vinyl around all those years, or you’re just discovering the exciting world of mixing and looking for an easy and affordable way to get started – we’ve pulled together some recommendations which will cater for all tastes and preferences, regardless of skillset or expertise.

What is a DJ Controller?

Let’s start with a breakdown of what a controller actually is. A DJ controller is device which is hooked up to your computer and allows you to blend multiple tracks to create one big mashup or a long interrupted mix.

Unlike turntables or CDJs which are heavier and more expensive – DJ controllers are more basic, compact versions of their older counterparts with the added value of being much easier to set up and transport around.

They still come with the main key features of a standard player and mimic the same functionalities, only controllers have been designed as a more simplified and affordable alternative.

Some controllers do actually allow you to do more than industry standard players these days – such as create complex loops or mix up multiple tracks from one single piece of equipment. This is why so many artists and music enthusiasts are becoming more inclined to buy the “all-in-one” solution as opposed to individual players and equipment.

In this article, we’re going to outline a combination of the best DJ controllers currently on the market, which will hopefully help you spice up your mixes and take your DJing endeavors to the next level.

How to Choose

Before we go any further, it’s worth taking into account some important factors when comparing DJ controllers.

Budget

Although there are some incredibly cheap options out there, know that these aren’t always the best. If you want to play quality music, it’s always worth investing in some quality gear that’s not going to cut out on you or malfunction halfway through a set. Spending a bit more now will set you up for years of good use in the long- run, and you’ve also got peace of mind knowing there’s a warranty attached to it if something ever goes wrong.

Software

This part is extremely important because certain controllers are only compatible with certain types of software. For example, if you have Serato software installed on your laptop and then go out and by a  Traktor controller – you’re probably going to kick yourself when you get home and your comp says it’s not supported.

Make sure you select a controller according to your operating system i.e. Windows, Mac, Linux (also very important), the software you’re running, and it’s compatibility with any extensions you might look to use such as an interface or standalone mixer.

Functionality

There’s no point in buying some top-of-the-range gear if you don’t even know what 2 thirds of it does. Every controller is unique and comes with a wide range of functions, including scratch plates, built-in soundcards, roll pads, extra filters, FX, and several other features which you may never use. So it pays to establish what you’ll need based on your set up and what you feel comfortable with before making any purchases.

Our Recommendation:

Smart Choice

Pioneer are one of the most reputable manufacturers out there.

They have spent decades in perfecting their products and making them suitable for a wide-range of musicians and artists.

When they first released the DDJ series back in 2012 – they became some of the most sought-after DJ controllers on the market, and the Pioneer DJ-DDJ-SB3 is certainly no different when it comes to quality, affordability and performance.

Quality
5/5
Price
5/5
Our Rating
5/5

Unlike the SB2, the latest model features an additional USB input; allowing you to connect 2 laptops simultaneously and switch between them with an A & B Library Switch.

Each of its 4 channels can be switched between Serato DJ or standard RCA inputs, and all still work when using a microphone.

On top of this: the SB3 incorporates additional features such as Pad Scratch for creating patterns and adding FX without interrupting the rhythm of the tune, FX Fade for even smoother blends, Pitch Play; allowing you to adjust the playback speed and set hotcues at a multitude of different pitches, Sound Color Effects; Jet, Echo, Filter and Noise, an upgraded Grid adjustment slide, as well additional mapping features to create your own presets, hotcues and effects.

PROS
  • 4 deck mixing control
  • FX Fade for smooth transitions between genres
  • Unique Pad Scratch Feature can be applied to cued and playing songs
  • Highly responsive and accurate jog wheels
  • Plug-and-play; no need for external soundcard
  • Can be mapped to third-party software such as Traktor
CONS
  • Feels a bit toy-like
  • Only RCA – no XLR/TRS outputs

Why we recommend: The SB3 is something which both beginners and professionals will appreciate fully – not only because of its extensive features and FX, but also its lightweight look and feel; the jog wheels are small and are handled like CDJs – but allow great scratching sessions!

The faders and knobs are all conveniently positioned on the mixer to make transitions and layering effects effortless, while the sound remains crystal-clear even with all 4 channels in use and a microphone plugged in.

The SB3 comes with Serato Lite and can be upgraded at any time to Serato DJ Pro for more advanced functions such as Slip mode, Beat Jump, extra hot cues and 8 sample buttons.

Budget

The Numark DJ2GO2 can act as the perfect solution for any DJ looking to fuse beats together on the move.

This pocket DJ controller may look small and basic, but it has many surprising qualities which will have most people giving it a second glance.

Quality
4/5
Price
5/5
Our Rating
5/5

It features 2 channel inputs with 2 mini jog wheels, cross fader, pitch faders, 4 different pads for creating loops, sample playbacks, cue point mapping, built-in soundcard plus headphone output.

Not only does it fit perfectly snug on top of your laptop, it also comes with Serato Lite and is compatible with virtually any DJ software or operating system; making it the ultimate party package and perfect for when you want to mix on the fly.

PROS
  • Ultra-lightweight and portable
  • Built-in soundcard with master gain + headphone output
  • 4 pad modes for manual looping and cue points
  • Serato DJ Intro included
  • Compatible with any DJ software application
CONS
  • No scratch mode
  • No Mic input, EQ, or FX unit

Why we recommend: Other than headphones and a small speaker, you probably won’t need much else to get the party started with this controller. It’s the perfect solution for the travelling DJ as well as the beginner, due to its quick responses for loading tunes and setting cue points, controlling the pitch, setting manual loops, and enhancing your sets through the awesome different pad modes. From our experience it produces a nice, clear-cut sound, looks stylish, and is a great way for anyone to get a feel for DJing without spending too much money.

Beginners
Beginners

Pioneer are at the top of the list again, only things are a bit different on the DDJ 400 compared to the SB3. There are 2 channels which are spaced more widely apart on the mixer than other Pioneer DJ controllers – which (interestingly enough) make it feel more like one of the DJM units. It also comes with 3 band EQ, dedicated effects unit with slider and switch controls, 8 performance pads, dedicated loop and memory cue buttons and sync button.

Quality
5/5
Price
4.5/5
Our Rating
5/5

It also comes with a license key for Rekordbox; allowing you to determine the key and BPM of your tracks, as well as set hot cues and give you a better overall understanding of what tunes work – a huge benefit for beginners and those getting to know the fundamental basics of DJing.

PROS
  • Lightweight and compact
  • 8 performance pads
  • Free Rekordbox license key
  • Built-in beginner tutorial
  • Very similar feel and layout to high-end Pioneer gear
CONS
  • Easy to miss hitting the rubber pads
  • No standard effects

Why we recommend: Other than headphones and a small speaker, you probably won’t need much else to get the party started with this controller. It’s the perfect solution for the travelling DJ as well as the beginner, due to its quick responses for loading tunes and setting cue points, controlling the pitch, setting manual loops, and enhancing your sets through the awesome different pad modes. From our experience it produces a nice, clear-cut sound, looks stylish, and is a great way for anyone to get a feel for DJing without spending too much money.

Denon may have tried to outdo Pioneer over the years, but their latest creation is definitely on a par with some of the more top entry-level DJ controllers.

Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
5/5
Producers
Producers

It features 2 channels; each with its own robust 100mm pitch fader, a dedicated EQ panel with effects controls, 2 twin-band EQ Mic channels with audio ducking + echo effect for balancing vocals throughout mixes, 2 touch-activated platters, 4 sample control pads, independent hot cue buttons and loop performing abilities, separate master gain and VU cue meters, as well as an AUX connection for linking up to external devices or a backup source. Serato DJ Intro is also included with a 50% off voucher for Serato DJ Pro.​

PROS
  • Compatible with all third-party software
  • Pitch fader feels like using CDJs or Technics
  • Knobs allow simultaneous control over FX and separately
  • 2 Mic inputs with EQ and Echo FX
  • Lots of connection options including XLR ports
  • 50% off coupon for Serato DJ Pro
CONS
  • Requires a laptop connection
  • No slicer mode on the performance pads

Why we recommend: We were big fans of the MC3000, and the MC4000 certainly didn’t disappoint us either. It’s sleek-looking and well-built, but also lightweight and easily portable with multiple inputs/outputs – so you probably won’t need a big setup. The 100mm faders are fantastic for getting to grips with beat matching and enabling the user to make more precise and accurate pitch adjustments. The fact that you can manually map the controller to most applications (other than Serato) is also huge plus, while the 24-bit integrated soundcard takes listening pleasure to completely new heights.

Say hello to the third instalment of the Numark Mixtrack Pro series – the Pro 3!

If you’ve had a chance to toy with the Numark Pro II, you’ll be pleased to know the latest edition features the same sleek, high-quality design as its ancestor, only with a few additional features which truly pack a punch.

Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4/5
Scratchers
Minimalist

2 channels with pitch adjusters, samples and hot cues, loops modes, touch-sensitive platters for scratching and stop/starting tracks, 3-band EQ, 16 backlit multi-function performance pads, 16 effects controls, and a unique and classy FX touch strip giving you more control, as well as easier navigation of tracks.

PROS
  • No external audio interface needed
  • Multi-function FX touch strip and easy track navigation
  • 16 multi-function backlit performance pads
  • 6 Prime Loop sample packs included
  • Compatible with PC and MAC
  • Touch-activated platters for stop/starting tracks
CONS
  • Dry/wet settings for effects need to be changed manually via the touch strip
  • Only 1 RCA master output

Why we recommend: Though we can pretty much vouch for all Numark products, this controller stood out for us in particular due to its suitability for beginners.

The mixer is solid, but not coated with too many fancy and overwhelming features, while the FX strip and multi-function performance pads offer a more advanced scope of options for those above the basic level.

The FX touch strip also allows the user to quickly navigate tracks and consolidate MIDI samples through the USB port, and touch-sensitive platter units coupled with Virtual DJ LE software make excellent starting points for any DJ wanting to learn the art of scratching.

If you’re familiar with Roland products, you’ll know these guys don’t mess about when it comes to churning out the highest-quality software and hardware.

The DJ-202 is based on the concept of the DJ-505 and DJ-808 with the ability to perform remixes and produce beats in a live setting.

Quality
5/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
5/5
Scratchers
Producers

It features 2 channels with 2 large, low-latency platters and the capacity for 4 deck mixes, Serato DJ Lite software with a real-time sampler for sequencing and output for syncing MIDI-supported devices, 16 multi-function pads and dedicated transport controls, plus additional vocal FX with noise gate and low-cut equalizer built in. 

PROS
  • Built in drum machine samples from TR-707, TR-606, TR-707, TR-808 and TR-909
  • 16 touch sensitive multi-function pads
  • Low latency jog wheels for authentic scratching
  • Ability to create live remixes and beats
  • Same sturdiness and quality as old school Roland products
CONS
  • Lacks some of the classic samples such as cowbells
  • Installing updates for Serato is a bit long-winded

Why we recommend: If you’re looking to take your artistry to the next level, this controller has pretty much got you covered. A tender blend of archaism and modernity – the Roland DJ-202 is packed with an entire library of features and functions to get any dancefloor pumping.

Our favorite aspects of this DJ controller are the incorporation of Roland’s legendary drum machine samples from the TR series, as well as the fluid movements of the platters which make scratching an absolute breeze. The fact that you can create live mashups and remixes is also a very attractive selling point for producers as well as DJs.

The Hercules Inpulse 200 features 2 channels with sturdy jog wheels which cater for both CDJ mode and vinyl mode to help DJs hone their scratching abilities.

Quality
4/5
Price
4/5
Our Rating
4.5/5
Scratchers

There are 16 unique performance pads; Toneplay, Slicer, Roll, Hot Cue + more, 3 EQ levels, filter, gain function; volume faders, a cross fader, and a VU meter for each deck attached to the master VU output – all of which use light indicators to help you engineer your set more creatively and select the right tracks. On top of a very reasonable price, it’s lightweight feel and fast responses make transitioning between tunes easy and fun, while still maintaining that quality sound that even some of the more expensive controllers struggle to achieve.

PROS
  • Light and compact
  • Excellent range of FX
  • Beat Match guide and Intelligent Music Assistant
  • DJUCED software suggests tunes based on similar style and energy
  • Slip and vinyl modes for scratching
CONS
  • Looks a bit like a toy
  • Requires an internet connection to download the DJUCED app

Why we recommend: The Hercules Inpulse 200 is a budget-friendly controller with an awesome range of features – perfect for those who are looking to explore the world of DJing. The smart yet simplistic design, coupled with the Intelligent Music Assistance Feature acts as a useful tool for anyone needing a bit of guidance or inspiration for mixing ideas. After messing with it for 4 hours straight, we came to conclude that the Hercules Inpulse 200 could be considered one of the most advanced, affordable and delightfully beginner-friendly DJ controllers out there.

Conclusion

There are tons of highly reputable beginner and pro-friendly DJ controllers out there, but the SB3 definitely takes the top spot for us. It’s durability of being able to switch between 2 laptops, play up to 4 tunes at once, and its truly remarkable set of FX controls made it an absolute joy to play on compared to the others we tested. The fact that it’s very reasonably priced for the extent of features you get, coupled with its compatibility with several third-party software applications and built-in soundcard – are also big benefits for both beginner and mobile DJs, and is something which not all of the other controllers accounted for.

But all in all…

It pays to do your research before making any kind of investment. With the DJ controllers listed above, you’ll be able to mix songs, match beats and create live mashups from the very get-go, all without breaking the bank or giving your back and shoulders a hard time! Each product is unique in its own way; whether you find yourself more pulled towards the FX units, juggling 4 tracks at once, or scratching your way to becoming the next DMC champion – a DJ controller is a fantastic way to kick-start your music career, and acts as a great practice tool for veterans who are already well integrated into the exciting world of DJing.