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For our annual Holiday Gift Guide this year, we thought, “What’s the best way to approach recommendations for today’s musicians?” And from there, it was easy: if we were setting up a home studio rig from scratch, what sorts of things would WE put on our wish list?
With our friends at AKG, JBL and Soundcraft generously letting us test out their gear throughout the year, we knew we had a killer mix of products in mind for the musical loved ones on your list (or hey, get a little something for yourself while you’re in the festive mood).▼ Article continues below ▼
EVEN BETTER! We’ve enlisted the help of a diverse group of artists this year to test out a variety of these products, which we’ll be showcasing on our YouTube and Instagram channels via video demonstrations, exclusive song premieres, a streaming Bandcamp sampler plus the coup de grace: a physical cassette release featuring new tracks using an assortment of AKG microphones we shipped to our participating artists!
Without further ado, let’s get into this year’s picks for our Holiday Gift Guide. We hope it helps inspire some ideas, and even more – inspire some great music to be created!
The P Series of microphones from AKG serve a wide range of applications, from vocals to acoustic instruments to drum overheads and everything in between. Need to mic a loud guitar cabinet? They’ve got you covered. Want to capture the perfect sound from your acoustic’s sound hole? Check. And how about the grand piano and vocals for that tender ballad? Again, the P Series has everything you need — so much so that we challenged artists from all over the country to record exclusive, original tracks using just the P Series mics this year. You can hear those songs on our annual Bandcamp sampler AND give those artists a listen on our end-of-year cassette mixtape, brought to you by the good folks at AKG.
You’ll also get to see each of those artists perform their songs using their chosen AKG mics in exclusive videos on our YouTube and Instagram channels this month, so how cool is that? You don’t just have to take our word for it, you can HEAR the entire range of P Series microphones in action with today’s coolest indie artists.
That said, we’d be remiss if we didn’t give a quick rundown of our faves from the P Series, so you can prioritize your shopping list this season.
AKG P120 — this is our go-to for an ultra-affordable, do-it-all mic if you’re just getting your home studio’s mic locker in order, and want killer sound at a good price. The P120 delivers crystal-clear vocals, so you can use it for all your vocal needs and even for the budding podcaster inside you.
AKG P170 — the P170 is the perfect place to start if you need a few high-quality instrument mics that you can place on drum overheads, inside your acoustic piano, on your acoustic guitar, and even on your cabs. They’re supper durable, fit just about anywhere because they’re small and are accurate enough for even the most discerning home studio user.
AKG P220 — stepping up to the P220 gets you a few nice options, including a handy bass-cut filter and pad, plus it comes with a nice shock mount and travel case. If you’re thinking of upping your stage game, a few of these on some loud sources would do wonders in a live setting, as well.
AKG P420 — The 420 is one of our absolute faves, all around. It’s a dual-capsule design, offering up even more sonic flexibility, and it’s just as warm on vocals as it is on instruments, which makes it one of the most versatile mics in this range.
AKG P820 — and here we have the grand-daddy of them all, the killer tube P820 which is our absolute top choice for amazing vocals. The multi-pattern tube microphone is an excellent tool for highlighting lead vocals, brass instruments, electric guitars and drums. With its dual one-inch diaphragm capsule and the advanced ECC83 dual-triode circuitry, the P820 Tube delivers real tube sound and raises the bar in its class of affordable tube microphones. BONUS — it even comes with a shock mount, carrying case, and remote control unit to select the polar patter, pad and cut settings.
The C Series from AKG presents an ideal solution to high-end commercial studio sound, even for the home studio user. Here’s a rundown of our top choices.
The C214 professional large-diaphragm condenser microphone has been designed as a cost-effective alternative to the high-end C414 family. Like the C414, the C214 offers a supreme one-inch capsule on an integrated suspension to reduce mechanical noise. A switchable 20dB attenuation pad allows recording of loud sources of up to 156dB SPL. A switchable bass-cut filter allows close-up recording with almost no proximity effect. The C214 captures sound by combining one capsule of the legendary C414 dual-capsule system and the patented AKG Back-Plate Technology, resulting in an outstanding performance close to the famous C414 XLII.
The C414 XLII multi-pattern condenser microphone offers a choice of nine polar patterns for the perfect sonic capture for every application. A peak hold LED displays even the shortest overload peaks. For live sound applications and permanent installations, all controls can easily be disabled for trouble-free use.
The C414 XLII version differs from the C414 XLS version in one major respect – the capsule. The C414 XLII’s slight presence boost and impressive spatial reproduction are both similar to the legendary AKG C12 microphone from 1953.
The C414 XLS multipattern condenser microphone offers a choice of nine polar patterns for the perfect sonic capture for every application. A peak hold LED displays even the shortest overload peaks. For live sound applications and permanent installations, all controls can easily be disabled for trouble-free use.
The C414 XLS maintains the sonic character of the legendary C414 B-ULS, the most popular AKG C414 version since 1971. Engineered for highest linearity and neutral sound, it has been the most versatile large-diaphragm microphone for decades.
Now that you’ve recorded your tracks into your DAW, you’ve got to hear them played back, right? When monitoring your mix, there are a ton of options out there. We’ve been SUPER impressed by the entire 3 Series lineup from JBL when it comes to home studio monitors.
The 3 Series comes in a few flavors, including 5-inch drivers (305P MkII), 6.5-inch drivers (306P MkII) and 8″ with the 308P MkII. Whichever size makes the most sense for your space, the entire 3 Series family design leverages over 70 years of JBL acoustic expertise to create refined studio monitors that deliver outstanding value.
The 3 Series also features the LSR310S subwoofer, which extends the low end of your mixer to really enable you to hear the entire soundscape from the ultra-high to the most thumping lows you can conjure up.
If studio monitors aren’t your thing, OR if you’re more of an on-the-go producer, you can still monitor your mix using headphones. We really dig the AKG K300 Series, which we’ve tested out here at Performer HQ in all its iterations.
AKG K361 and K361-BT — both 361 variants (the BT featuring Bluetooth, of course) are foldable designs, which make mobile production much easier since they can easily stow away in a backpack, plus the over-the-ear closed-back design is not only super comfy, but prevents audio leakage to those in your general vicinity. Trust us, we’ve tried them out in mixed company and no one around us was bothered by our mixing even at full volume on the commuter train.
AKG K371 and K371-BT — stepping it up from the 361’s, the 371 models feature an even greater frequency response. In fact, K371-BTs are precision-engineered to match AKG’s Reference Response acoustic target to reproduce natural, balanced audio in extraordinary detail, so you can make more confident decisions when you’re mixing and editing. They deliver deeper bass and higher highs than any other model in their class, with a stunning frequency response of 5 Hz to 40 kHz. K371-BTs offer the convenience of switchable Bluetooth wireless and wired connectivity: a built-in microphone allows two-way Bluetooth communications, whether you’re in a studio session or a conference call; use gesture controls located right on the earcups to answer calls, adjust volume, play and pause music, and more with the swipe of a finger.
We’d be remiss if we neglected one of the most important aspects of your rig: the mixer. Luckily, we’ve been hands-on with the Notepad series from Soundcraft and can totally recommend each of these units as not only a standalone mixer (awesome for keeping that ever-growing synth rig manageable) BUT ALSO an easy-to-use audio interface to record demos, rehearsals, podcasts as well as full band mixes. The coolest thing about the Notepad series is not just the small size, but the powerful feature set: each model, regardless of channels, features USB I/O for connecting to your DAW plus the 8FX and 12FX have cool Lexicon effects built-in, too. As a mixer and interface in one, it’s a smashing combo.
It doesn’t matter how many channels you choose (5, 8 or 12), we were suitably impressed with each Notepad’s mic preamps and control layout — the knobs and faders were all smooth, and the mic pre’s offered supreme clarity for all our spoken word and musical needs. We recorded one of our podcasts with them, and even scratched out some demos for another past project with one of the Notepads we got on loan from Soundcraft — so we can speak personally to the quality-to-dollar proposition on offer here.
Not only were the mic pre’s excellent, the echos and reverbs we had access to on-board were perfect for our needs (no plug-ins required!) and we could easily create an aux send mix for any outboard processing. The Hi-Z channel for our guitar was a nice bonus, too — it meant we could go direct into the board without miking it up OR record an extra direct signal in addition to our amp.
From all of us here at Performer, we wish you the warmest, happiest holiday season. We hope you get everything on your wish list, and are able to make the best shopping choices for the loved ones in your life, as well!
And when you do end up creating some new music, be sure to send it our way!