Guest post by Dan Gentile
Whether you're a professional musician or just a casual listener, your favorite songs soundtrack every trip. Even those packing light should make room for at least one item that takes your favorite music to the next level, be it a compact but powerful bluetooth speaker or a streaming app that actually puts money in the pockets of artists. Here are eight items to make your vacation sound just a little bit better.
Playing music through your phone works in a bind, but no one really wants to hear music at the fidelity level of a voicemail. Bluetooth speakers have dropped in price dramatically, so much so that what used to be a luxury accessory now deserves a place in everyone's suitcase (or kitchen, or shower). For budget and size, Tribit Xsound Go ($30) is a great value with impressive sound quality, 10 hours of battery life, and spill-proof water-resistant design. For those looking to pack a dance party in their suitcase, JBL's renown build quality and power makes their Xtreme 2 ($350) a strong investment.
Few concerts are worth making your ears ring the next day, especially while traveling. A simple pair of foam earplugs will do the job (also excellent for sleeping while in loud neighborhoods), but professional-grade earplugs will be the best investment a music fan will ever make. For a cheap upgrade that's also available at most drug stores, try HEAROS ($15), which will sound infinitely better, but won't sting too much if you lose them. For music professionals or audiophiles, try the MP9-15 electronic earplugs, which activate when sound reaches a certain volume.
At this point everyone has a few music apps in their pocket. Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal may have the biggest catalogs, but that market dominance means they don't worry much about if the musicians fueling their service can make rent. A strong complement to those major apps is Bandcamp, an Oakland-based website that the NYTimes called “the holy grail of record stores,” where you can still stream many major bands, but also easily buy mp3s or vinyl from smaller artists with most of the profits going to the people who actually make the music. And if you’re tired of picking your own tunes, check out the app from NTS.live, a diverse internet radio station staffed by some of the best DJs in the world.
A good music book
Knowing the stories behind your favorite songs make them hit that much harder. A music book makes for a great travel companion: be it a history of the Beastie Boys, heartbreaking biography of Jeff Tweedy from Wilco or a meticulously detailed history of disco music. Other solid picks include Talking Heads frontman David Byrne's “How Music Works,” Patti Smith's memoir “Just Kids,” and “Meet Me in the Bathroom,” an oral history of the aughts NYC rock scene.
Music production app
Once you've checked Instagram for the millionth time, you'll wish you had something else on your phone that's not just a fomo factory. Thankfully there are dozens of simple music creation apps that are a great time, even for complete amateurs. For synthesizer fetishists, Arturia's Moog Model D let's you turn the knobs on one of electronic music's most iconic instruments. The Korg iKaossilator comes with a set of loops and sound banks ready to be played by swiping on the screen, with no real musical training necessary. For a more zen-like experience, try Bloom, a generative ambient music app that's so peaceful it might just put you to sleep. And for budding DJs, dJay offers all the functionality you'd find in an expensive DJ mixer through your iPhone.
Noise canceling headphones
Traveling allows you to experience other worlds, but along the way sometimes it's necessary to tune everything out. Bose has been the industry standard for years, with good reason, and their 700 model are still considered best in class (but at a hefty $340 price tag). For a more affordable option, try TaoTronics’s splash-proof bluetooth earbuds, a steal at just under $50.
A guitar does not make the shortlist for most minimal travelers, but it's not too hard to sneak a tiny ukulele into most bags and will upgrade any trip. They're easier to play than a guitar and much less intimidating, but give just as much of a vibe boost to a day at the beach or late night campfire. Since it's bound to get beat up along the way, don't spend more than $50 (which should include a cheap case and other accessories.) More about Marlene, our ukulele playing Pakt user, here.
A portable content studio
Gone are the days when musicians need an expensive studio to create polished-sounding recordings. Now pocket-sized USB recording interfaces prove perfect solutions for the musician on the go, especially if you're traveling and plan to meet other musicians along the way, take content creation for social media very seriously, or want to record a podcast with some friends. The Roland GO:Mixer offers plenty of inputs, pairs easily with smartphones and tablets, and can also be used to create music videos via Roland's iOS and Android apps (all for under $200).
Dan Gentile is a writer and coffee enthusiast based in Austin, Texas.