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From sound engineers and screenwriters to celebrity makeup artists and stylists, Variety’s new series “Ask an Insider,” will ask top professionals within the entertainment industry to share their must-have essentials, for work… and for play. In this installment, four in-the-know producers, musicians, and sound engineers — who have worked with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Dua Lipa, G-Eazy and Kanye West — share the studio essentials that they use nearly every single day. 

Gifting professional musicians can be a challenge: like any expert in their field, they know which gear works best for their needs and might be wary of trendy products that aren’t worth the hype. Meanwhile, you might not even know what a plug-in is or the difference between a dynamic and condenser mic.

To help, we’ve gathered recs from four in-the-know producers, musicians and sound engineers: from multi-Grammy nominated Sam Barsh, whose credits include Kanye West’s “Donda” and Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” to Kellen Pomeranz, Grammy nominated for her work on John Legend’s “Conversations in the Dark.”

Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Speakers

Courtesy of Amazon

“These have such great sound quality for the size, portability and price point. The audio response is very clear, and you can make the two speakers into a stereo pair. Another great feature is you can pair multiple Ultimate Ears speakers together, and place them in PartyUp mode, allowing you to play your music around a larger area. Since they are also waterproof, it makes a great addition to your beach bag and allows you to listen to your music in the shower.”

– Simone Torres (Grammy-nominated sound engineer, vocal producer and vocalist)

Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Speakers $186.13  $174.99


Shure Sm7b Microphone

Courtesy of Sweetwater

“I love this mic. I use it on almost all my records.  What I love most about it is how affordable and durable it is compared to other industry standard microphones. It has a great natural sound, and I can just throw it in my backpack when I’m on the go and still capture high quality vocals.

In addition, being that it is a dynamic mic, the artist is able to hold it in their hand in the studio and move around with it while tracking. By doing vocals that way you are able to capture those spontaneous moments in the studio much more easily than when you have them go into a sterile vocal booth where they may feel less comfortable.”

– Kelly Pomeranz (Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter)

Audio-Technica ATH-M40x Headphones

Courtesy of Amazon

“Both models of these Audio Technica headphones are ubiquitous among record producers working in the business, and with their affordable price tags they are a no-brainer purchase. The M50x, the more expensive of the two, boasts boomier bass, while the M40x offers a slightly more balanced sound. I personally use the M40x, because the bass is still very present, and I feel they offer an accurate sound for mixing that translates well to different speakers and sound systems.

Both models feature a folding design that makes them easy to pack into a backpack or travel bag, and comfortable padded ear cups that swivel, for those who like to record with one ear only. They also come with detachable cables, so if you run them over one too many times with your office chair, you can replace the cables without having to buy a whole new pair of headphones.”

– Sam Barsh (Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter)

Audio-Technica M40x Headphones $177.10  $359

Yamaha HS8 and HS5  Studio Monitors

Courtesy of Sweetwater

“The Yamaha HS line of powered studio monitors is an all-around winner in terms of quality, value and aesthetics. The HS8s, the largest of the bunch, offer detailed sound and enough bass that they won’t require a subwoofer in small to medium-sized production rooms.

The HS5s have a similar sonic quality to the discontinued classic Yamaha NS10s but, unlike the NS10s, they are powered so they won’t require a separate power amp. While they don’t produce lower bass frequencies, the HS5s are perfect for fine-tuning mixes, and can be coupled with a subwoofer if more bass is required. The lack of sub-bass also makesthem perfect for home studios, since low frequencies are most likely to travel through walls (and upset spouses, roommates or neighbors).

All the HS series monitors come in both white and black; the white versions look especially chic, and (unlike many light-colored pieces of gear) are very easy to clean, while the black versions have more of a classic studio vibe. Yamaha also offers the 7-inch HS7s, but they don’t have quite enough bass to work properly without a subwoofer, so I would recommend spending a small amount more for the HS8s, or going with the HS5s and adding a subwoofer if you want the additional low end bump. If you need to mount the speakers to a wall or ceiling, the HS8i and HS5i come with mounting points on four surfaces for a slightly higher price.”

– Sam Barsh (Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter)

BUY NOW: $374.99

Casio SA-46 Portable Keyboard

Courtesy of Amazon

“It’s shocking how many uses I find for this thing. I use it constantly for a pitch reference during vocal tracking sessions, vocal tuning, quick chord ideas for songwriting sessions, and even have run it through a bunch of guitar pedals to come up with cool sounds for records. It’s cheap, available, and can be equally as useful for my three year-old as it is myself in a professional environment. Any music maker can find a use for this little keyboard.”

– Matt Dyson (Sound engineer and mixer)

Casio SA-46 Portable Keyboard $69.99  $49.99

Electro-Voice Handheld Microphone

Courtesy of Amazon

“Anyone who does home recording needs microphone options and this is an often overlooked and under appreciated mic. It’s inexpensive, readily available,  but is very rare as an omni directional dynamic mic. I’m constantly finding new and creative uses for this one. Whether it be on a drum kit, vocals, or acoustic guitar (my personal favorite) this mic always delivers something cool and possibly unexpected.”

– Matt Dyson (Sound engineer and mixer)

Electro-Voice 635A Handheld Interview Microphone $189.00  $159.00

Splice Membership

Courtesy of Spice

“Splice is one of the go to places for finding royalty free samples and allows you to expand on your creativity, and it’s great for people that are both beginners and advanced. I personally like to use Splice while writing to give me a foundation to work off of and Auto-Tune to help enhance my vocal creativity.”

– Simone Torres (Grammy-nominated sound engineer, vocal producer and vocalist)

BUY NOW: $7.99/Month