SHopping: I Want To Own a ... Portable Studio - It's Abbey Road in any street you like

Twenty years ago, if you wanted to get into electronic music and recording, you would probably have required an extension to the house, a silly amount of cash and an army of neighbourhood nerds to counsel you through the trauma of daring to plug the gear in. Now, though the posh end of the market still offers some bewilderingly complex and expensive equipment, the ever-decreasing cost of digital technology has created a wealth of affordable music-making gadgets at the more "domestic" end - and so given bedroom noodlers and strummers the chance to create polished recordings of their musical dreams.

And when that earth-shattering tune hits you, there's no need to wait until home-time to get working on your latest opus. All of the equipment here is portable - even pocket-sized - and ranges from simple recording devices to capture a quick hum to complete studios in miniature. Whether you're after a bit of "giving-it-up-large-style" at 200 beats per minute, or just putting down a few ideas for your four-week opera cycle, these tools should help you to compose yourself.

If you really want to put Abbey Road into your pocket (musicians, mixing desk and all) the Yamaha QY70 Music Sequencer will weigh you down about as much as a Rolf Harris Stylophone. Somewhere inside this box you'll find 519 "voices" (sounds and instruments), 20 drum kits, a range of effects to add such things as reverb, echo and distortion and a brain that can remember up to 32,000 notes of music - the "sequencer". If you need a little stylistic help along the way, a database of over 4,000 professional examples, such as drum patterns, bass lines and chord progressions, can be fitted into your songs. If you have a tune but no chords to go with it, there are also automatic composing features that can help fill in any gaps you have left.

Tunes can be built up part by part, adding a layer at a time; then, rather like a word processor, you can chop them up and rearrange them at will. Pieces can then also be saved on to an ordinary Mac or PC home computer through a connecting lead. You can't exactly do a Shine performance on the tiny keyboard, but then it's pretty hard to compose at a grand piano and get to work at the same time.

Great artists steal, apparently, and if you fancy doing a bit of a Fat Boy Slim and pinching bits of other people's music to mix up for yourself, you need a sampler such as the Yamaha SU10. A sampler essentially listens to a sound that you play - perhaps from a CD or a microphone - remembers it (in digital form) and then allows you to play around by changing its pitch, stretching it to make it last longer, playing it backwards, looping and so on. So, instead of using the sounds of "instruments" that are pre- stored, it uses whatever you feed it to play music with. The higher the sampling "rate", the more faithful the reproduction, and the rate for this unit is 44.1kHz, which is CD quality. So to create a piece with the sound of your mum sneezing, next door's car alarm, and a quick snippet of the James Bond theme (Robbie Williams got away with it), this is the box to use. An optional extra mini-piano keyboard is available to make playing a little more convenient and, like the QY70, it offers a sequencer to remember the patterns you create.

The trusty cassette four-track has been around for years - and may seem a bit geriatric in the face of newer digital devices - but it still offers a cheap way into multi-track recording. Standard cassettes have room for four tracks on the tape, and on an ordinary stereo cassette player two tracks are used at a time to create a stereo recording. When you turn the tape over and play the other side, you hear the recording on the other two tracks, with the tape running in the opposite direction.

A four-track (such as the budget Fostex X14) uses the same ordinary cassettes, but employs all four tracks at once. Plug in a microphone (or use the built-in mic) and you can record your warbling on track one, then listen back to it while recording the pots and pans on track two. That done, you can listen to both those tracks and add your third part, and so on. With the slightly more expensive models, such as the X-24, you can also "bounce down" - once you have filled three tracks, you can take all that music and put it onto track 4 and start the process again. When you have finished, you can plug the machine into an ordinary stereo cassette recorder and make a stereo final "mix" that will play on a standard machine.

If you just want to mumble a quick tune so you don't forget it later on, when you come to develop it into a symphony, there are plenty of "notetaking" devices on the market, from recording Walkmans and dictaphones to high quality recordable Minidiscs. After all, Beethoven got a fair bit of mileage from one tiny idea for the opening of his Fifth Symphony (something like: "da-da-da-dummm").

If sound quality isn't a primary concern, but portability is, the Sony ICD30 offers a notetaker that uses no cassettes or discs, with computer memory to store up to eight minutes of sound in a palm-sized unit. It has two message files which hold up to 99 separate snippets, with facilities for skip through and repeat playing.

Alternatively, if all that mixing, bouncing and taking samples gets a bit too serious, you could invest in a Funrise Double Step-a-tune Electronic floor keyboard. A bit like playing Twister on a piano, it has 16 keys, Rock, Disco, Rap and Dance rhythms, six demo songs and a record/playback function. Great for "Bad" Michael Jackson impressions and it'll double up as a picnic mat when the batteries go flat.

Stockists: Yamaha QY70, pounds 400, Turnkey (0171-419 9999); Yamaha SU10, pounds 200, Turnkey (0171-419 9999); Fostex X14, pounds 120, Turnkey (0171-419 9999); Sony ICD30, around pounds 99, (0990 111999 for nearest Sony dealers); Funrise floor keyboard, pounds 30, Hamleys (0171 494 2000)

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living