I do a lot of audio/video work during my day-to-day tasks at LockerGnome. During that time, I’ve gone through my fair share of equipment here in the home office. Some of this equipment I’d rather not speak about, but there are a handful of these products that I would absolutely recommend.
One thing you learn in the world of tech writing is that every product, no matter how great it is compared to everything else in its class, has faults. There are no exceptions in this group, as I’ve become acutely aware of the flaws and hassles that accompany each of these devices. Some of them are recommended because they work every time I use them, while others I’d recommend based on comparisons with other options in the same price range.
Bottom line: if you take audio and video production seriously, you want equipment that you know will work. Guessing which products will or will not perform the way you need them to while you’re capturing moments that will not repeat themselves is vital. Each of these products has passed the test on multiple occasions, and that makes them among my favorite here in the home office.
Here are my top five audio/video gadgets.
If audio quality is absolutely vital to whatever it is you do, you might want to consider stepping up to a professional microphone. Entry-level headsets and microphones are great for keeping your podcast or daily voice calls under budget, and will undoubtedly work for the majority of your needs. That said, budget USB condenser microphones don’t quite capture the same rich and full tones as a professional mic.
The PERCEPTION 420 from AKG features a large dual-diaphragm true-condenser design with switchable polar patterns to meet a variety of recording needs from vocals to instruments. This is the kind of microphone you would find in a professional recording studio, radio station, or even in the arsenal of a professional podcaster. It looks good, sounds good, and is extremely reliable.
When compared to the AT2020, another favorite at LockerGnome, the PERCEPTION 420 produces significantly more vibrant tones, adding a tough of depth to a speaker’s voice. This is the kind of mic you want to have on your desk when recording a voiceover. Combine it with some software audio editing, and you’ve got the start of a truly professional recording solution for under $250.
These speakers have added a touch of richness to my gaming and music listening experience. They take up just a little space on my desk, and have enough drive and punch to fill my home office with sound. At under $100, they are currently the cheapest set of Bose speakers you can find.
Perhaps one of my favorite features about them is that each set comes with dual inputs that allow you to connect two stereo sources at the same time. Not having to integrate a splitter or some other go-between is a big plus as I hate having to use extra cabling. A lack of a second volume knob (found on the MediaMate) can be a problem if you don’t want to control each device’s volume from the device itself.
One downside I should note is that while Bose speakers sound pretty good, and work great with general media, they lack the highs and lows that are needed for audio mastering. If you edit audio tracks as part of your passion and/or job, you might want to invest in some good headphones to plug into them.
That said, they still make my top five list because they’re currently the best set of desktop budget speakers I’ve used that don’t require a giant subwoofer crowding your feet. I love the sound that they produce, and not having to pay a fortune for something better is always a bonus.
I love having a reliable audio source to record from. The MobilePre from M-Audio has provided an excellent hardware interface for multiple audio sources for the past two years. I’ve used it and abused it daily, but it keeps providing crystal clear audio and proving to be the perfect interface to fit my needs. Two powered XLR/TS combo jacks in the front and two line inputs in the back make connecting just about anything you need directly to your computer a snap. I use it primarily to power my PERCEPTION 420 condenser microphone.
What I like most about it is that it allows me to tweak the volume settings at the source rather than having to do so with software once it reaches the PC. A USB 2.0 connection makes it perfectly compatible with Mac or PC. It even gives me the option to plug a set of speakers directly into it for source-level monitoring. I can’t say enough good things about this device.
I’ve worked with quite a few audio interfaces before. The one I used primarily before this was the PreSonus FireStudio Mobile. While it was a great device on its own, I had a few issues with it. The M-Audio MobilePre worked right out of the box and has been working non-stop ever since.
I’ve never really enjoyed a Bluetooth headset before I bought the HM3500 from Samsung. Not only was this set remarkably cheap, but it allowed me to listen to stereo audio including music and audiobooks from a single earpiece. If I’m so inclined, I can connect the included stereo earbuds to hear audio in both ears. This is a great option, and not a lot of budget-level Bluetooth headsets offer it.
The HM3500 also includes multipoint technology, which enables you to connect two devices to it, simultaneously. I’ve never had a problem pairing this device. It hasn’t failed to connect right away when I’m in range of my iPhone.
Noise reduction is pretty good, but it could be better. This is one area where the HM3500 shows its budget nature. If you plan on using it to talk to someone while you’re driving a sports car with the top down, you might want to consider another earpiece. Again, the noise reduction works, but there are better options out there at a higher price.
I have an iPhone, but I also know that there are some things you shouldn’t trust to a smartphone. Video recording may be great on it, but sometimes you need something a little extra to capture the best possible image when you need it most. For that, I have the VIXIA HFR20 from Canon.
This camcorder features a true 1080p CMOS image sensor, excellent optical and digital zoom capabilities, and plenty of storage capacity. 8 GB of internal storage is included, with two expansion slots for SDXC cards. This gives me plenty of hours of filming capability without having to dump the video data to a computer or external drive. Relay recording allows you to record a single stream of content across three different storage drives.
The image stabilization options on the HFR20 could use some work. While I’m sure it does quite a lot, it isn’t good as stabilization options you might find on other camcorders in its price range.
Colors are vibrant, low-light situations are handled with ease, and the whole unit fits in a cargo pants pocket. I’ve used this camcorder in a variety of different situations from professional production to home videos, and it hasn’t failed me yet. There are times, however, when switching between manual and automatic modes will throw off relay recording and you’ll have to set that up again.
This camcorder isn’t perfect, but it may well be one of the best options in its class.