Okay, but what if instead of choosing, I get both?
January 13, 2021 8:14 AM   Subscribe

I have a preteen who wants to do hip hop beats but needs to use a parent's computer to access Midis. Is there an affordable midi-controller slash drum machine that they could hook up to a computer and stick a toe in the DAWs but also use independently when there isn't a computer available for them?

Correct answers will be rewarded with better music in 6-10 years.
posted by history is a weapon to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Your definition of "affordable" is the key here.
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:24 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]

I want to spend less than 200, but I am also open to things that are more expensive because I may buy used.
posted by history is a weapon at 8:25 AM on January 13

Korg Volca Sample? It has MIDI connectivity so it can be controlled by a DAW, but also intuitive built in step sequencing. I'm seeing used versions around $100.
posted by clockwork at 8:48 AM on January 13

I can't think of anything at that price point. Generally, things are MIDI controllers with keyboards and pads and sliders, or they're standalone drum machines/sequencers/samplers that can be connected to a computer, but don't; offer as much in the way of being a controller.

For a kid that age, I'd just get them a newish iPad, which you can probably find refurbished for around $200. It'll come with Garageband, which is very capable, and there are a ton of other music-making apps that can be bought for cheap.
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:56 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

I'd second the Volca Sample suggestion. I have a Volca Beats that is great for what it does, and the Sample adds sampling functionality it sounds like your preteen wants. They're cool little devices that are powerful at what they do.
posted by lhputtgrass at 9:48 AM on January 13

Do they have a Nintendo Switch? If so, Korg Gadget is pretty cool.
posted by q*ben at 10:11 AM on January 13

Novation Circuit is a great little groovebox/drum machine that has some decent functionally as a pad/knob midi controller. You used to get them used under $200USD, check reverb.com, prices for a lot of music gear have surged under the pandemic. It's some of the best value in hardware synthesizers out there right now in my experience, and totally capable of making hip hop beats (with basslines and melodies too) on its own. Just google /novation circuit hip hop/ for tons of nice examples.

It's true a used iPad is most bang for the buck, but real knobs and pads have a lot of appeal, and a lot of people are working on limiting screen time, not extending it. Plus many people find they spend more time making music if they have a physical device, compared to using computer screens.

Happy to discuss details of that device over MeMail if it would help.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:19 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

You might show the preteen videos of both the Volca and the Novation Circuit and see if either lines up with what they have in mind. Both styles of controls are popular (the row of beats along the bottom with the Volca vs. the grid of buttons with the Novation) with the hiphop set but very different ways of working. If they're thinking something with an actual keyboard like a piano, that'll be an even different working experience.

I'd agree overall that the most capabilities in that price range are going to come from an iPad if they're responsible enough not to break it and then see about getting something more music specific if they show enough dedication to merit it.
posted by Candleman at 11:18 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Korg Gadget is available for iOS as well. Also iMaschine, Beathawk, hundreds of others.

For me, if a compromise on money must be made, I think it's more fun to use obsolete professional tools than modern cheap junk. How are Akai MPCs from the late 90s holding up these days? If the knobs and buttons work, buy one of those.
posted by cape at 12:16 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

I think it's more fun to use obsolete professional tools than modern cheap junk. How are Akai MPCs from the late 90s holding up these days? If the knobs and buttons work, buy one of those.

As a counterpoint, I think that a complicated, powerful but older system with a bad UI due to limitations of old displays/controls and a lack of YouTube videos showing how to use them would be a good way to kill a kid's interest. The MPCs were good for the day but fun isn't the word I'd use for getting them functional. (Also, they're still expensive - guess they're "vintage" now.)
posted by Candleman at 1:39 PM on January 13

The Korg Volca line is pretty neat, there are a lot of options and the Volca Sample is a pretty solid one. I'd also recommend Teenage Engineering's Pocket Operator line! For instance, the PO-33 is a fully featured sampler-sequencer that's about the size of a pocket calculator and retails for $89. It's got a mic to record samples but can also record via line in. It does not have midi but does play well with Korg Volcas and other synth gear. They're incredibly powerful and there's tons of good tutorials and resources online.
posted by sleeping bear at 4:31 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

Have you considered buying a super-cheap refurb PC off of Woot.com or something? It'd be $200, and can probably be locked down early so it does not get on the Internet.

OTOH, I'd get standalone sequencer and worry about connectivity later, as nowadays, you can probably download through a smartphone or a tablet!
posted by kschang at 4:43 PM on January 13

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