TOOLS


I’ve always been a gearhead. I’ve owned one of everything but I’ve scaled down to a mostly portable setup for the road. Please hit me up to talk gear and share your setup with me.

Speakers

For monitor speakers, I’ve enjoyed Event 20/20’s and Dynaudio BM5a mkii’s. But for now, I’m using my listening setup for monitoring, made up of Dynaudio DM2/7’s and Mirage Nanosats paired with an ARC-equipped Anthem MRX-310 for home theater and listening. I’m wildly happy with this setup. I like how the Nanosats just kind of “radiate” the sound from where they’re placed. Loved the similar approach from the Bose 3-2-1 Gemstone system I used to use. I know, heresy. Speaking of, the full-sized Klipsch Heresy speakers blow me away. I’ve tried some planar magnetic stuff in the past and been really interested in the sound but not the fragility, size, weight, maintenance and price tag.

Visuals

I’m a huge advocate for projectors -- mine is an InFocus IN3138HDa. I wouldn’t recommend going lower than native 1080p. I’ve been happy with the $40 retractable 105” screen I got on eBay minus a few tolerable quality niggles. This whole home theater setup is super helpful when I’m scoring to picture or occasionally when I’m collaborating with another artist at my place.

Since Windows is so inept at HiDPI scaling, running the OS at native resolution on the Apple LED Cinema Display works great. The display makes macOS look bad though, since I think we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing it at Retina.

I used to have a huge setup with multiple monitors, but now I’m trying to go for something that gets out of the way a little more. I’ll definitely be depending on the iPad for Sidecar functionality when that comes out. I’ve used Duet Display which is fine but I’m excited to see the more integrated version from Apple.

Interfaces

I now use a MOTU Ultralite AVB which I’m just beginning to work with. In the past I’ve used Apogee stuff like the Duet and the One, an RME Babyface, and various budget Focusrite options. Even a low-end UMC from Behringer.

Honestly these interfaces are all relatively decent or better. My typical recommendations for USB interfaces are Behringer UMC for cheapest possible, Focusrite Solo or 2i2 for the solid value pick, Audient ID4 for better performance, and MOTU or really high-end stuff like Antelope or RME if you want special features like digital mixing. Haven’t tried UA but have heard the Apollo is good. I like the stuff I’ve tried from Schiit Audio including the Fulla but for the record, I can’t tell the difference between different DAC’s I’ve tried. ODAC vs. Behringer UMC was indistinguishable to me.

I’ve also made extensive use of a $4 pawnshop spray-painted-black Yamaha Audiogram which has made itself surprisingly useful with my iPad and a USB adapter.

Headphones

I’ve tried stuff all over the map. Right now I track with Sony MDR-7506’s and love the sound. I depended for a while on Sennheiser HD 280’s and found those to be fine as well if a little uncomfortable. I own some Bose QC35ii’s. I know some people hate the sonic signature but the noise cancelling is absolutely fantastic, especially on planes, and I enjoy the sound for what it is. Great battery life but weirdly short range -- probably an issue with my pair.

I really liked the Audeze iSINE’s for a while, hated the Audeze gaming headphones and messed up a pair of UE TripleFi 10’s by getting them put into a custom molded enclosure. They don’t sound good anymore. Totally muffled. I use Shure SE215’s for IEM’s more often than I use the UE’s. Really unfortunate. Also have some Koss PortaPro’s and a FiiO E12 Mont Blanc amp floating around.

Mics

I’m using a Rode NTK mic with a Telefunken Black Diamond tube for all collabs. I’ve enjoyed the Aston Origin for some things especially spoken word with the rolloff engaged, the AKG C414XLS for everything except cost and a Grace 101 preamp with its detented knobs and clean performance with the 414 but I got rid of it when I couldn’t pick it out of an A/B test. Really enjoyed the sound I got from sax from a Telefunken 251 in an iso booth recently. I also recommend Popgard for pop filtering. Especially good at point-blank proximity.

Wireless rig for shows is a fantastic Shure Beta 98H/C into a Sennheiser 300 G4 wireless system via a Performance Audio cable adapter. I considered using a Shure system, but I can’t depend on anything in the 2.4 band due to the number of cell phones in Surfaces’ audiences and nothing under $1000 or so from Shure fits that requirement without sacrificing sound quality. 

Thought about switching to an AMT
LS or DPA 4099 but I’ve heard the AMT is darker in tone which is a no-go because I’m very happy with what I’m getting straight out of the Beta 98, and the DPA may in fact provide better tone quality but is said to transfer more key noise, have a more finicky clip, provide worse isolation of other onstage sound and it costs way, way way more. 

Saxophones

My current tenor sax is a Yanagisawa from the 80’s. Lately I’m transitioning to a vintage Berg Larsen hard rubber piece modified by John Yoakum paired with Plasticover 3 reeds and an Olegature, though I’ve been recommended to try a lig from Saxxas. The Berg is much louder and projects better than my also-very-good prior setup, an unmodified Otto Link 7* hard rubber + Rovner ligature with 3-soft reeds from Roberto’s Winds or Rigotti Golds.

I don’t play much alto but when I do, I use a Buescher TrueTone from the 60’s (not by choice) with Rico Plasticover reeds and a Beechler Bellite in the 7-8 range customized by John Yoakum. I also really like Morgan Excalibur mouthpieces for more straight-ahead stuff.

I also use a T.C. Helicon Correct pedal for various effects including adaptive compression and tone shaping, “warmth” and pitch correction. Some may frown on autotune, but I think some tasteful pitch correction helps the sax gel with produced, pitch-perfect instrumentals. Some producers I’ve worked with like a hard-tuned sound -- it’s all up to them once I hand off the tracks. 

I clip the belt pack onto the sax with a custom bracket attached to one of the outer cages. I think there are better ways to do this with Velcro but haven’t looked into it much. I use a Hercules sax stand but very much do not recommend their collapsible, in-bell alto stands. I’ve heard SaxRax are the best.

Keyboards

On the keyboard side, I formerly used a Roland VR-09 onstage but now I’m transitioning to a Nord Electro 6D 61. The action, sounds and build quality are all better. I also have a Korg X50 which I will never sell and a Novation X-Station 25. I’ve been playing with a Hohner Airboard melodica and have definitely not ruled out a keytar of some kind for the future.

My stand of choice for seated + standing playing is the QuikLok QLY-40, though it’s not without fault. For  standing stage playing, I am currently figuring out an angled keyboard setup using a reversed second tier for better ergonomics.

Computer

2015 15” MacBook Pro with a 2.5GHz quad i7, 16GB RAM and Radeon graphics. Marco Arment called this the best MacBook Pro ever made, and I really like it. It’s also the only relatively recent option available with an i7, discrete graphics and 16GB of RAM at a reasonable price and without a defective, highly error-prone keyboard. When the next crop of MBP’s comes out (not the 16-inch - that’s just too big and presumably expensive for me) I’ll probably pick up a model with AppleCare. If they make a 13-inch with discrete graphics and 16GB of RAM, that’ll be the one, though I’m not holding my breath for that config.

I make music in Logic Pro, make video in Final Cut Pro (moving from Premiere), use Lightroom for photo, Audition for podcast production, Illustrator and Photoshop for graphic design, Spark for social media graphics and occasionally InDesign for layout. I’ll probably upgrade to something with AppleCare once the next crop comes out.