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Best Budget Audio Interfaces for MainStage Under $100

best budget audio interfaces under 100 dollars

All too often, I hear about people using the headphone jack of their MacBook to run audio out of their computer when using MainStage in live performance. When this happens on an online forum, this is usually followed by a chorus of voices reminding the poor user of the fault of their ways. We then hear the usual arguments about sound quality, reliability, etc.

While not everyone has $1,500 available to purchase a shiny new RME audio interface, there are now many choices for budget audio interfaces below $100 which will work perfectly well. They may not have the same sound quality as higher end interfaces and they may lack certain features such as number or outputs, a physical MIDI connection, or higher sample rates, they’ll work perfectly fine for a user on a budget. Additionally, once one has the means to purchase a higher end interface, these budget audio interfaces can serve extremely well for use in a portable rig for travel.

In this post, I’ve selected four different budget audio interfaces under $100 to highlight. Technically, one of them is a bit over $100, but I think it’s worth spending the extra $10 to be able to use it. I’ll list the various key features and highlight a few pros and cons of each model.

Behringer U-Phoria UM22 Audio Interface

At $68.00, the BEHRINGER Audio Interface UMC22 is a great deal if you’re looking for an entry level interface. It offers the following features:

  • USB Type B connection
  • Bus powered
  • 2 x 1/4″ analog outputs
  • 1 x 1/4″ headphone jack
  • Supports sample rates up to 48kHz

Some downsides to the Behringer U-Phoria UM22 are that it lacks a physical MIDI I/O, which means that you’ll need either a separate MIDI interface or you’ll need to connect your controller to your computer via USB. In my experience, using USB for MIDI is less reliable and offers fewer options for customizing your rig. However, at $68.00, it’s easy to ignore the lack of such a feature. Another downside is that I’ve had less than stellar experience with the durability of Behringer equipment. It’s fine in a pinch when you need something that works within a specific budget, but it’s not something that’s built to last. But again, at $68.00, I’d still take the chance with this unit.

Mackie Onyx Artist 1-2 Audio Interface

The Mackie Onyx Artist 1-2 Audio Interface offers a bit more durability and a few more features than the Behringer U-Phoria. For $99.00, it’s still a great deal. Like many of the other sub-$100 interfaces, it offers 2×2 audio I/O capability. Unlike the Behringer, the Mackie Onyx Artist offers a slightly higher sample rate of up to 24-bit/96kHz. While this may be helpful when recording, it won’t make much of a difference when using MainStage as there’s rarely a need to run MainStage at a sample rate any higher than 44.1 or 48 kHz. Anything higher than that can’t be discerned in the house in a theatre situation.

The Mackie Onyx Series also offers USB bus powered connectivity and lacks a physical MIDI connection. However, my experience with Mackie products is that they’re virtually indestructible. I’ve been using the same Mackie 1202 mixer for about 15 years now!

PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 2×2 USB Audio Interface

With the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 2×2 USB Audio Interface, things start to get a bit interesting. At $99.95, this audio interface has the capability to be a real workhorse and can serve a user well for many years. It features 2×2 analog I/O, 24-bit/96kHz, a bus powered USB connection, and MIDI I/O.

For my taste, this unit sounds a bit thin when compared to higher end units, but for $99.95 it’s a compromise I could live with. In the early days of using software solutions for keyboard programming on Broadway shows, I’ve even seen some major touring and sit-down productions use this unit and it sounded perfectly fine from the house. I’m just being a bit nit-picky about the sound. For someone on a budget or for someone looking to build a portable rig, this unit is an excellent choice.

Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface

At $109.99, the Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface does cost a bit more than $100, but I think it’s well worth the extra expense. Like the other units, it offers 2×2 audio I/O, but it also offers sample rates of up to 24-bit/192kHz. Again, not essential when using MainStage, but it may come in handy for recording. This unit also comes with some bundled software which includes Ableton Live Lite and Pro Tools First. Neither are very powerful, but they can be a great way to get an intro to digital audio or to simply try out a new piece of software.

The Focusrite Scarlett series is widely known to have pretty decent sound quality and durability, so even with the absence of a physical MIDI I/O, it may be worth compromising in favor of the better sound quality.

Summary

In a sub-$100 audio interface, it will always be necessary to accept some compromises, but these four models offer enough features at such an attractive price that there’s no reason to use MainStage without an audio interface. All of these units will serve a user well until budget allows for a unit with more features. And all of these units are solid enough choices that they can easily be repurposed later for use in a travel rig.

All of these audio interfaces are available on Amazon:

BEHRINGER Audio Interface UMC22

Mackie Onyx Artist 1-2 Audio Interface

PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 2×2 USB Audio Interface

Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface

mardermusic, inc is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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Best Digital Pianos for Beginners

best digital pianos for beginners

In this article, we’ll take a look at three of the best digital pianos for beginning piano students. I often hear from piano teachers who are searching for an electronic keyboard to recommend for beginning piano students who aren’t yet ready to commit to an acoustic piano. Thankfully, the technology has evolved to the point that from the perspective of a beginning student, it’s not necessary to compromise too much by delaying the purchase of an acoustic piano. We’ll evaluate these digital pianos for their action, their sound, and their price point. When appropriate, we’ll also explore any notable features.

Casio Privia PX-160 Digital Piano

Gone are the days when Casio was known as a second rate manufacturer of electronic keyboards. Their product offerings for digital pianos are first rate. I often recommend them to producers as rehearsal keyboards for Broadway and touring productions because of their price point, their sound, the action, and their durability.

The Casio Privia PX-160BK Digital Piano is no exception. It features an 88-key scaled hammer action keyboard for a realistic touch, built in speakers, and Casio’s proprietary AiR technology for extremely realistic piano samples. At a price point of $399, this is about the best sounding piano you’ll find.

One especially unique feature of the Casio Privia PX-160BK Digital Piano is Casio’s Duet Mode, in which the keyboard can be split into two equal ranges, allowing the student and the teacher to play the keyboard simultaneously. This feature could be especially useful for teachers who travel to the home or for students sharing a keyboard in a group learning situation. Duet Mode makes this unit an especially useful digital piano for beginners.

Yamaha P-125 88-Key Weighted Action Digital Piano

The Yamaha P125 Digital Piano represents a modest yet well-earned price jump from the Casio Privia. It is reminiscent of the other models in their “P” series of digital pianos, and is a formidable alternative to the Casio Privia series.

The Yamaha P-125 is built around the sound of the world famous Yamaha CFIIIS concert grand piano. The graded hammer action of the instrument emulates the feel of a grand piano, heavier on the low keys and lighter on the high keys.

Like the Casio Privia, the Yamaha P-125 also includes a set of onboard speakers. I’ve recommended digital pianos from this series for several Broadway productions for use as rehearsal keyboards. At a slightly higher pricer point of around $599, the Yamaha P-125 digital piano will offer a slightly better action, a richer piano sound, and better quality onboard speakers.

While this is an excellent instrument, the price tag may scare off some beginning piano students. That said, I believe that beginners would really appreciate the superb sound and action and that the investment would be well worth it.

Korg SP-170S Digital Piano

I’ve long been a fan of Korg keyboards, though mainly for their sound, especially with the Korg Kronos, which I’ve used on the Broadway production Finding Neverland. At $399.99, the Korg SP-170S Digital Piano offer a ton of bang for the buck.

Like the Casio Privia and the Yamaha P-125, the Korg SP-170S also has an 88-key weighted action keyboard and boasts a pair of onboard speakers. The action is Korg’s NWH (Natural Weighted Hammer) action, which is similar to the Yamaha Graded Hammer action technology. In my opinion, the Korg is my favorite action of the three keyboards mentioned in this article.

One very interesting feature of the Korg SP-170S Digital Piano is the dual headphone jacks, which make it easy for the student and teacher to both listen with headphones without having to use a headphone splitter. In my opinion, this is a very simple and elegant solution. I like simple solutions. And I like solutions which enable piano teachers to work effectively and more easily with their beginning piano students.

At $399.99, this unit is very reasonably priced. And at this price point, I’m quite impressed with what Korg has done with the quality of the sound and the keyboard action.

Summary

There are certainly many more options out there, but I wanted to highlight three options which have 88-key weighted action, a decent sampled piano sound, built-in onboard speakers, and are manufactured by one of the major manufacturers. I also was aiming for products under $600, and preferably even lower. As this article is meant to highlight digital pianos suitable for beginning piano students, I didn’t see any point to reviewing units above $1,000 as this brings us into a different category, and even puts us into a price point in which one might consider spending a little bit more to purchase a used acoustic piano.

Any of these three electronic keyboards would serve a beginning piano student well for at least several years. Also, they’re all of a high enough quality to be able to be used in a home studio after the student has transitioned to an acoustic piano. All three are reasonably portable, which make them viable candidates for use on gigs.

All three digital pianos are available on Amazon:

Casio Privia PX-160BK Digital Piano

Yamaha P125 Digital Piano

Korg SP-170S Digital Piano

mardermusic, inc is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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NEO Ventilator 2 Leslie Emulator Review

Neo Ventilator 2 Leslie Emulator

While setting up the new Broadway production Gettin’ the Band Back Together, I needed to find a solution for an accurate Leslie emulator. Even though having an actual Leslie cabinet would be wonderful, it’s not always ideal for a Broadway show given the considerations for space, noise leakage, and practicality. It’s not always easy to find a good location in a Broadway theatre to place a Leslie cabinet, often the loud volume of the cabinet can be distracting for other departments which need to work in close proximity, microphones can easily get bumped accidentally (interfering with the mix), and there can be reliability issues. 

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Review: Rowin Mini Guitar Pedals

I recently had the opportunity to check out some really cool Rowin mini guitar pedals from China. Rowin has been manufacturing mini guitar pedals for years. They have a pedal for just about every effect and need, including many varieties of distortion, delay, chorus, and even various looper pedals.

The pedals are rugged, well made, sound great, and simply look super cool. Also, they’re of a size and weight that make them extremely portable, and they’re inexpensive enough to feel confident bringing them on any gig without having to worry about damage or theft to a super expensive pedal.

As you can see, these pedals sound awesome and are an amazing bargain!

In the videos below, three of the most popular Rowin pedals are reviewed by Jake Schwartz, guitarist for the Van Davis Band and The Book of Mormon on Broadway.

These pedals are all available on Amazon:
Rowin Analog Dumbler Guitar Effect Pedal

Rowin Analog Chorus Guitar Effect Pedal

Rowin LEF-614 Delay Pedal



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Review: Loctek Ergonomic Stands and Mounts

As creative professionals, we’re often sitting at our workstations for many hours on end, sometimes to the detriment of our health. Our posture suffers, we get tight quads and hamstrings, IT band issues, and fatigue. I often solve this by keeping a kettlebell sitting out in the middle of the room and taking a break every 45 minutes or so to perform a kettlebell complex. This way, I’ve done a complete workout by the end of the day, I have opportunites to move my body, and I can stay energized and productive much longer. However, I often wish I could do my work standing up. Now, there’s a solution with Loctek Ergonomic’s Sit-Stand Adjustable Workstations.

Loctek makes workstations that are easily assembled and sit on top of an existing desk. When fully collapsed, their workstations allow the user to work in a sitting position. However, the workstations can be extended to allow the user to work from a standing position as well. The workstations are solidly built and come with a tray for a computer keyboard and mouse. Many models have more than adequate room to also hold a laptop computer or other office items. As an added bonus, they’re priced quite reasonably too!

If you’re like me and choose to use more than one video monitor, Loctek has many great solutions. They manufacture a full line of articulated monitor arms, all VESA compatible. One of my favorites is the Loctek 2-In-1 Full Motion Gas Spring Dual Monitor Arm Desk Mounts for Laptop & Monitor (D5DL) which allows you to mount both a video monitor and a laptop computer on two separate articulated arms. This can easily attach to the FlexiSpot Standing Desk – 35″ wide platform Height Adjustable Stand up Desk Riser with Removable Keyboard Tray (M2B-M-SIZE) sit-stand adjustable desk.

I believe that the Loctek line of products will be extremely useful for anyone who spends long hours at their computer, especially those in the creative professions. I can see these being very helpful for composers, orchestrators, music producers, video editors, and graphic designers, just to name a few.

There are enough options to allow for access to all of the usual equipment, and I believe that the Loctek product line will grow to be an essential part of the workflow for any health concious creative professional.

 

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Review: The Pelican Case

So it’s time to share my love affair with one of my favorite products: the Pelican case. As you already probably know, Pelican makes ultra sturdy watertight equipment cases that have become the standard in audio, video, and military use. They’re virtually indestructable, come in all different shapes and sizes, offer excellent protection for your equipment, and are completely customizable.

As an example, let’s look at the Pelican 1730 Large Transport Case
This case can hold a basic assortment of audio or video gear (or whatever else you need), the foam is totally customizable, and it’s easy to check on an airplane. I have several cases very similar to this one and they’ve flown all over the world with me. I’ve taken Mac Mini computers in it to Italy, MacBook Pro laptops and RME interfaces to Japan, and hard drives to Sydney. I’ve checked it under the plane ever time and even shipped it once and have never had any issues.

The only issue I’ve ever had with the Pelican case is that some airlines treat is as an oversized or odd shaped bag when unloading luggage. More than once I’ve found myself waiting at the luggage carousel for over a half hour only to discover that my trusty Pelican case was unloaded with all of the sporting goods equipment and waiting for me in a separate area.

Pelican makes cases of all shapes and sizes and for all different purposes. They’re highly portable, indestructible, watertight, functional, and very reasonably priced. Another Pelican case that I’ve had in my collection is the Pelican 1510 Case With Foam (Black)

My Pelican 1510 has traveled with me all around the world, and has reliable protected computers, audio interfaces, and other delicate equipment even after being handled by baggage handlers on the tarmac.

I highly recommend added a Pelican (or several) to your collection if you haven’t already done so.

If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact me anytime at:

jeff@mardermusic.com

+1.917.338.7427

 

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Yamaha U1SH Silent Piano Review

Yamaha U1SH Silent Piano

I did something that most of my peers would consider to be crazy. I traded in my Steinway Model M grand piano for a Yamaha U1SH upright piano with Yamaha’s Silent feature. I absolutely love Steinways and especially loved the Model M that I owned for the past twelve years, but several months into my switch, I stand by my decision and strongly believe it was one of the best things I could have done.

The motivation to switch to the Yamaha U1SH

As a professional keyboardist an synthesizer programmer actively working on Broadway, and as someone from a deep classical and jazz background, I consider it essential to own a quality piano for practicing and learning new repertoire. The Steinway M is a wonderful instrument, but not always the most practical in a tight New York City apartment. For years, I’ve maintained separate workspaces in my home for piano practice and for synthesizer programming and composing. In the interest of space and better organization, I decided that it was time to combine these spaces into one.

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