Thanks for taking the time to check out my 2023 Gear Guide. This year’s edition is completely brand new and re-worked to make it easier to find the best gear for you.
In this year’s guide, you’re going to find:
Shoot-outs and suggestions for the best gear that you need to use on-stage
Gear Suggestions based on specific scenarios
Gear that I’ve personally used, road-tested that you know will work.
In addition to gear and suggestions, you’ll find links to tutorials and courses that will help you learn even more.
Where possible, I’ve included affiliate links. This simply means when you purchase a product using one of these links, I get a small percentage of the sell. This doesn’t cost you anything extra, and is a way you can support my efforts while still getting the gear you love.
This year’s gear guide will continue to get updated as I discover, test, and find new gear so make sure you bookmark this page for future updates.
Thanks for reading and Thanks for your Support!
Choosing a Computer
When it comes to purchasing a computer, it isn’t as easy as, “purchase the computer with the fastest CPU, most RAM, and biggest hard drive.” If money was no concern, sure…that’s the best approach, but unless your money tree is growing faster than mine, we have to consider budget.
We also need to consider the idea that we would be better off to create a redundant rig-meaning two computers instead of one. Take your budget, and divide by two…what should you buy now?
Oh…and you want to also run keys as well? You COULD use the same computer, but that’s not what the pros do. Divide that budget by 3 now. Ooops… that should be redundant too, so divide by 4 now.
Vocal Processing also? Divide by…. you get the point. So here’s my suggestions for computers:
Mac vs. PC
I’ve got to start our conversation about computers with the age old question, should I use a Windows machine or Mac? This is a highly personalized and bias question, and you’ll likely answer based on your personal preference. If you’re asking my opinion (it is my gear guide after all)… I would encourage you to consider a Mac.
I am biased, primarily because it’s the main OS I use, but also because in my testing and troubleshooting for customers, Windows OS can often make the process overly complicated for new users, and users just getting started with audio and live performance.
Because of my experience, I will only be recommending Mac computers in this guide.
That might be limiting and frustrating, but I’d much rather only recommend what I’ve used and know will work, than throw out some random links to PCs that you’ll buy on my suggestion, that I’ve never used.
So… on to computer choices.
Best Mac for Playback/Running Tracks
If you’re looking for a Mac for running tracks, you don’t need much when it comes to a computer. Running tracks doesn’t take alot of power or CPU.
I’ve made my thoughts very clear when it comes to Mac minis. I LOVE them. They are the best computer Apple makes. For redundant rigs, they are amazing. Pick a monitor, keyboard, mouse you like (swap them out as needed) and you’ve got an amazing computer.
Looking more for a laptop, don’t buy a Macbook Pro for tracks. Get a Macbook Air. Don’t let “air” scare you. Get an air
Best Mac for Keys
When it comes to using Keys live, I’m going to prioritize a faster CPU, more cores, and more RAM. Processing MIDI and outputting audio, takes far more power than simply playing back tracks.
Again, my thoughts on the Mac mini are well known. If you can afford to upgrade to 32 gigs and the 12 core, do it. You won’t regret that extra power for keys.
💵 Mac mini
Again, if the budget allows consider bumping up the cores, and RAM.
Best Mac for Live Looping
For live looping, you’re going to be doing a combination of playing back audio and processing audio and MIDI in real-time. You want a FAST computer. At minimum I would get 16GB or RAM, but consider upgrading from there if possible.
You know the drill now with the mini. Consider upgrading RAM and to 12 cores if possible.
💵 Mac mini
Consider bumping up to 24GB’s if that’s in your budget.
Best Computer for Running Keys, Running Tracks, and Processing Vocals at the same time?
Please don’t… It won’t go well. Listen to this episode of Behind the Space Bar. Do this instead:
Implement the concept of “division of labor” and split the load between multiple computers and let each computer focus on one task (i.e. one for tracks, one for keys, one for vocal processing).
Implement a redundant setup, so that if your tracks computer goes down, your backup tracks computer keeps going instantly.
How to save on a Mac Purchase
If you want to save some money on purchasing a Mac, consider Apple’s Refurb and Clearance store. Every Mac I’ve ever bought (excluding the one I’m currently typing this on was a refurb. They still come with a Factory warranty, and you can still purchase Apple Care for them.
If you’re looking to save some cash on your purchase, check out the store!
Choosing a Version of Ableton Live
What version of Ableton Live should I start with?
If you’re just getting started with Ableton Live, I would suggest purchasing Ableton Intro or see if any hardware/software you’ve purchased recently came with Ableton Live Lite, a free version of Ableton Live that’s often bundled with hardware.
This will allow you to get started and learn Ableton Live with little to possibly zero (with Lite) cost involved.
Once you’re hooked, you can upgrade to Standard or Suite. If it doesn’t take for you… you’re out of no (or only a little) bit of money.
What version of Ableton is best?
While Intro and Lite are great to start with, if you’re going to get serious about running tracks, you’re going to need Ableton Live Standard. It removes all limitations of Intro/Lite and gives you full access to all the features you need to run tracks. If you’ve already purchased Ableton Live Intro, you can upgrade to Standard, instead of paying full price.
If you’re looking to use a Setlist management plug-in, you’ll likely need Max4Live, which means you’ll need Ableton Live Suite. If you’ve already purchased Intro or Standard, you can log into your Ableton account and upgrade instead of paying full price.
Ableton + Apple Silicon Compatibility
While any new Apple computer with Apple Silicon will work for running tracks, it’s important to point out there is an interesting “bug” with Ableton Live on current Apple Silicon machines (M1 and M2 at the point of this writing)
Because of the two types of cores on Apple Silicon Macs (Efficiency and Performance cores) your computer is constantly looking at when to switch between the cores. If you run your buffer size at 512 or higher in Ableton Live, you’ll experience audio drop outs because of this bug.
In short, if you’re running Ableton Live on a new Apple Silicon machine, you HAVE to run your buffer LOWER than 512. Start as low as possible and move up until you achieve the best performance on your computer.
Choosing a MIDI Controller
What’s the best MIDI Controller? That’s a hard question to answer, because it depends on context:
What are you using it for?
What instrument do you play while using it?
The answer to those questions will guide my answer. I’ve attempted below to try and provide a few great solutions, no matter what your answer/goal is.
Setting up your MIDI Controller for Live Performance
Regardless of what MIDI Controller you use, I suggest setting it up so you can simply and easily use it to run tracks. All it takes is 4 buttons to have all the freedom you’ll need.
MIDI Foot Controllers
If you’re looking for a dead-simple foot controller for running tracks, Looptimus is it. With multiple modes, multiple banks and no editor software, it’s a highly usable pedal that won’t make you spend hours trying to figure out how to program the pedal.
If you’re looking for a MIDI foot controller that you can program and customize exactly the way you want-this pedal is it. With a simple and easy to use browser based editor, it won’t take long to start editing and customizing this pedal to become the perfect solution for you.
If you’re looking for a MIDI foot controller to also control and manage your pedal board as well as controlling tracks, this is it!
Oaktone Floor Vista
If you’re looking for a simple foot controller that gives you control of your tracks and allows you to view and navigate your Ableton set from your feet, this is the controller for you.
With integration with Taz lite, SP, and Pro, it’s the perfect solution for anyone looking to get control of their setlist from their feet and move their computer out of the way.
Best Table top MIDI Controllers
If you’re a Playback Tech, Keyboard player, or someone running tracks and you have a surface to set a controller on, these are my favorite solutions
The Oakboard mini is my go-to MIDI controller. It’s the one I most often use in my setup. It’s simple and easy to get up and running and falls in line with my simple form or mapping (for ultimate flexibility).
Oakboard Slide Duo
The Slide Duo is the big sister to the mini. It’s a mini with two faders. If you need a fader for click, tracks, or controlling a vocal track, or maybe need a couple faders for your keys rig, the Slide Duo is the perfect solution.
Gosh… this controller is spectacular. It’s well made, its simple and intuitive, and it’s powerful. You can easily use this to navigate your Ableton Live Set (particularly if you have lots of songs in your set) but you can also create and build set-lists directly on this controller without re-arranging songs in your Ableton Live Set.
It also doesn’t require Max4Live or the installation of a plug-in to use, which makes this even more powerful.
MIDI Controller for Drummers
If you’re a drummer, it’s best to pick a drum pad to trigger and run tracks with. The stand-out and all around crowd favorite here is the Roland SPD-SX Pro, but there are a few other great options you should consider.
💵 Bop Pad
Grid Based MIDI Controller
I would NOT recommend a Grid-based MIDI Controller if you’re running tracks. Primarily because grid based controllers aren’t meant to control Arrangement View and arrangement view is the view we use to run tracks, and also because you get lot’s of buttons but little feedback as to what those buttons are.
For example, you could map every section of your song to a MIDI controller, but you wouldn’t know what section that button or pad corresponds with. You can use board tape and a sharpie, but it isn’t worth it.
But, if you’re looking for Grid Based MIDI controllers to use in Session View to launch clips, here’s my
💵 APC Mini
Best MIDI Controller for running Tracks
This is great and all Will, but…what’s the best controller for running tracks?
Again…I would say it’s all dependent on your context, but if you’re going to force me to choose, there are two I would generally recommend for most people:
This is my personal go-to MIDI Controller for running tracks. This is such a well-built, simple, easy to use MIDI Controller. I like that it’s got 4 main buttons, two additional buttons and that’s it.
That’s all I need. There is some programming software that can allow for more options, and you can pair it with Taz lite, SP, or Pro, but for me, the Oakboard mini and Ableton Live, is all I need!
This is a newcomer to my arsenal of MIDI Controllers, but it’s quickly become a favorite and a top contender. If you’re trying to manage a large setlist of songs, and need to build and re-arrange setlists often, this is a perfect solution.
It’s very well built and easy to use. It’s a great solution-even if you’re not building setlists on the controller. The interface makes it dead simple to navigate a large Live Set and you can customize everything about the device without any editor software.
How to send MIDI long distances
If you’re wanting to keep your MIDI controller near you, and move your computer side of stage, or out of the way, you’re going to need a way to extend your MIDI.
Avoid purchasing cheap USB-Ethernet extenders off of Amazon, because they won’t work. Or, if they do, they won’t continue to work.
Instead consider a MIDI Interface from iConnectivity. You can connect your 5-pin or USB MIDI Controller to a MioXM or MioXL, and send your MIDI over an Ethernet cable back to your computer.
With the MioXM you can make up to 12 connections via ethernet and up to 22 on the MioXL. If you truly hope to build a Connected Stage, these boxes are the key.
Best Audio Interfaces for Backing Tracks
When it comes to audio interfaces for running tracks, there is one thing that matters, outputs. It doesn’t matter how pristine your pre-amps are. You need outputs, preferably lot’s of them. Here’s 3 of my favorites.
If you’re looking for 4-6 outputs for an interface, this is the best option. The 4C gives you 6 outputs that are balanced outs, and protected against phantom power surges so you can skip the direct box and connect these to your stage snake with a TRS-XLR cable.
In addition, you can connect this interface to two different computers, iPads, iPhones and send audio from both devices at the same time, making it one of the most flexible interfaces available.
The TrackRig is all about simplicity. Nothing fancy. 8 outputs. I like that they are XLR, balanced outputs so you can go directly out of your interface. The USB-hub is a nice touch, but keep in mind it’s a USB passthrough hub-not a fancy hub like on the Audio4C or PlayAudio12. Still a great, simple interface and bonus points for the ability to rack-mount as well.
This is the best audio interface for running tracks. 12 Balanced, Phantom power protected outputs (no more direct boxes). 4 RTP MIDI connections. 8 USB-MIDI connections. Oh.. did I mention it’s redundant? Meaning, Connect two computers and when one goes down you can automatically or manually switch between both machines. Hands-down the best value and best interface for running tracks.
Dante is the industry standard when it comes to sending audio over IP. You’ll find Dante used most often in installations and Houses of Worship.
The best solution for getting audio out of your computer onto a Dante network is using Dante Virtual Soundcard. It is a software to shows up on your computer like it’s an audio interface, and allows you to send audio to and from Ableton Live with a Dante network.
While DVS is the easiest solution for running tracks and using Dante, you’re going to need something else if you’re planning on having a redundant tracks rig. What do I mean by a redundant tracks rig? I mean two computers that are running the same Ableton Live set and incase one computer goes down, you can switch to the second computer, without skipping a beat (pun intended).
In order to make that happen you need the Exbox.md from DirectOut audio. It will allow you to route up to 32 channels from two computers using DVS and the Exbox will function as the switch. Only 32 channels will show up on your Dante network, and if your first computer goes down, you can manually switch to your back-up computer and your Dante Network still sees 32 channels. It’s an amazing solution for a redundant track rig.
Audio Interfaces for Vocal Processing
When it comes to processing vocals, the key here is low-latency. The best solution in this case is Universal Audio and the ability to process vocals on hardware and not use your computer’s CPU at all.
Universal Audio Arrow
UA no longer makes this interface. They replaced it with the Solo, but this means you can find these for less than $300 USD. This interface has the same A-D as the Arrow, but only has one DSP chip. For primarily vocal processing, this is a great solution at an amazing value.
Universal Audio Solo
This is the new version of the Arrow. It only has one DSP chip, but has the same preamps and A-D as the Apollo twin.
Universal Audio Twin
This is the interface you’re most aware of. It’s got two DSP chips which makes it easier to process more audio than the Solo or arrow. Great preamps, super low latency, and best of all you can process audio in real-time with zero latency with UAD plug-ins on your interface.
Redundant Vox Processing Setup
The key here is using Universal Audio Interfaces to process vocals in real-time with zero latency, but a few additional pieces of gear from Radial, allow you to do this redundantly.
The secret sauce 👇
Buy one of these interfaces 👇
Best Redundant Solutions
The PlayAudio12 is the most affordable and easiest solution to create a redundant analog setup. If you’re considering a redundant rig, this is the best solution for you.
If you want to create a redundant Dante playback rig, this is the solution for you!
If you’ve already got two (identical) audio interfaces that you like, this is the solution for you.
Custom vs. Universal In-Ears
If you’re going to use in-ears on stage, it’s worth investing in custom in-ears. If you’re looking to use in-ears only in the studio or at FOH or monitors, you can get by with universal in-ears.
The biggest draw to customs for on-stage is how much they cut down on the ambient sound. This helps protect your hearing, and helps you create a better in-ear mix.
My personal choice for in-ears is Alclair. Below are suggestions based on what instrument you play.
Best In-Ears for Drummers
Best In-Ears for Keys
Best In-Ears for Guitar
Best In-Ears for Bass
Best In-Ears for Vocals
Best In-Ears for FOH/Monitors
Best hubs/docks for Computers
Ok…here’s an area I have yet to really test, but will be testing this year. I am in need of a new dock/hub to use with my computers. My previous hubs were not great. I sent them both back for warranty replacements and one of them still doesn’t function properly.
I do have an everyday hub that I use and love, but it’s USB-A only.
So, I’m in the market for a new hub/dock that’s USB-C/Thunderbolt 4. Here’s a few I’m considering, and I’ll update this guide, once I’ve settled on a clear winner.
What I currently use 👈This works really well (not the aforementioned non-working docs) The only problem with this one, is it’s USB-A only, not Thunderbolt 4.
Best desks for music production
Will… this is a gear-list of gear for live production, why talk about desks for music production?
Well, I’d agree [INSERT NAME OF PERSON ALWAYS ASKING QUESTIONS], this does seem like an odd addition, but after spending a few weeks researching desks for my own use, here’s what I found:
Ultimate Support Nucleus Series
Ultimate Support Nucleus Z series
Platform by Output
Affordable (but still great!) Options
Gator Framework Elite Series
Gator Framework Elite Series Corner Piece
Gator Frameworks Elite Rack
Gator Framework Content Creator Series
Gator Framework Content Creator Corner Piece
On-Stage WS7500 Series Desk
This is what I personally decided on!
On-Stage Corner Piece
Affordable Picks (I found on Amazon)
Armocity Music Studio Desk
Glorious Sound Desk Glorious Sound Desk Pro Black
I personally only use and trust one brand of hard-drives on-stage, Oyen Digital. I use a few different variations of their drives in my setup, and soon will be adding a few new additions to the arsenal to test out.
The 💵 U32 Shadow is my main drive for playback and running tracks.
I use the 💵 Mobius as my main archive and storage drive in my studio/office.
I’ll soon be 💵 testing out the Helix to see how drive speeds compare to the U32 Shadow.
I’m also excited to try out the 💵 Dash Pro as a high-speed portable SSD thumb drive.
For back-ups, the easiest solution (and the only solution I trust) is 💵 Backblaze. I install backblaze on all my laptops and have it back up to the cloud. All my drives that are connected to my computers get backed up as well.
Hard Drives and backup are one of the most important parts of your setup and rig. You computer will crash. You will get in a situation where you’re missing files you need.
If you’ve got solid hard-drives and a great back-up solution, you’ll always be ok.
Setlist is easily the “industry standard” when it comes to set-list management. If you have hopes of becoming an “in-demand” professional playback tech, you need Setlist and need to know how to use Setlist.
Setlist makes it easy to create setlists and re-arrange songs in your setlist without manually moving around songs. If you’re changing song orders regularly, it’s a great solution.
Keep in mind, Setlist requires Max 4 Live or Ableton Live Suite in order to use.
AbleSet is one of my favorite set-list management solutions. It works by installing a remote control script in Ableton Live, which means it doesn’t require Max 4 Live and can be used with any edition of Ableton Live. (If you plan on using your MIDI controller to map to AbleSet, you will need to use a Max4Live plugin to do that.)
You can open your setlist in any browser window and view and control your Ableton set. This doesn’t require internet, but you can also open the IP address of your setlist on any other device on your network and get the same control of your setlist.
You can build, re-order setlists and you get a unique performance view to control your set. It is also a great solution for a backstage confidence monitor to see how much time is left in your set and what song you’re on.
Taz Lite, Taz SP, Taz Pro
Jeff Caylor has created an incredible ecosystem of both hardware and software made for playback and running tracks. While his MIDI controllers are amazing on their own, he’s also created some unique and powerful solutions with his Taz plug-ins.
Available in three editions, Lite, SP, and Pro, their unique proposition is that along with some of the other features available in setlist plugins, with the Pro version you can use the built-in voice generator on your Mac to create guide cues based on how you named your locators. Taz does require Max4Live or Ableton Live Suite to use.
For example, you could announce the name of each song in your setlist at the start of the song, or quickly and instantly add cues to your set by naming locators in your file.
Taz Lite lets you very easily see the songs in your setlist and navigate through them with your MIDI controller in real-time.
Taz SP adds a setlist function to Taz lite allowing you to create setlist in different orders from songs loaded into your set.
Taz Pro includes all the features of Taz lite and Taz SP but adds the ability to create those vocal cues in real-time.
If you’re looking for a simple, well designed interface for set-list management Taz is your choice. As a bonus, if you’re considering using the Floor Vista Taz integrates with the on-board display, so you can see your setlist.
Why is a MIDI controller included in a list of setlist plug-ins? While LioBox isn’t a “plug-in” or software it is an excellent solution for setlist management.
It’s unique take is that it’s a very well made piece of hardware that includes an easy to see screen that allows you to see all the songs in your Ableton Set and quickly and easily re-order songs in your setlist without moving anything in your actual Ableton set.
If you’re managing a large amount of songs, you should highly consider LioBox.
The newest addition to the bunch, Conductor is created by Chris Purcell, an incredibly talented and experienced Playback Tech based in the UK. Created to met the needs of clients he’s worked with, it’s a well-designed, well-thought through solution to creating and navigating a set-list of content in Ableton Live.
Conductor requires Max4Live to use, but introduces some unique ideas and concepts to this category.
Firstly, Chris has made it very easy to navigate not only songs, but song sections using MIDI clips to name song sections. This matches perfectly with my idea of creating a “markers” track for song section names.
In addition, the ability to create a count-in for a song section, and the “Follow Action Marker” commands are really unique and well-thought out.
If your interface doesn’t have balanced outs, you’re going to need direct boxes. Here’s a few of my favorite solutions:
Radial Pro D8
This is the best rack-mount direct box. It is incredibly well-built and quiet.
Behringer Ultra DI Pro
This is the budget pick for a rack-mount direct box. It isn’t as quiet or well-built as the Radial Pro D8, but it’ll get the job done on a budget.
Radial Pro D2
Need two inputs, for a keyboard or want to cut down on direct boxes you need? The Pro D2 is the gold standard for direct boxes.
Radial Pro D1
The Radial Pro D1 is the gold standard for direct boxes. It’s a mono input direct box, and these things are built like tanks.
Behringer Ultra DI100
This is a budget pick for a direct box. It isn’t as well-built or quiet as the Radial, but if you’re budget constrained, it’s worth considering.
We don’t often talk about it, but USB cables are one of the most important parts of your rig. If you overlook this important part of your rig, it could be a disaster for you.
I’ve now switched to only using and buying Startech USB cables from here on out, and also testing all my cables before using live.