If you're an aspiring sound designer, or are already a sound designer, there are some must have items that you'll need in your sound design toolbox. Let first define sound design. Sound Design is the creation of sounds. This can be anything from combining sounds that you already have to make a new sound, through to creating your own sounds from scratch. There's numerous ways you can go about creating these sounds for your music productions. In the sound design process there are hardware items you're going to need to get the best results. Here are some of my hardware recommendations in the sound design field.
1. Audio Interface
I'd say the most important device you'll need for good sound design is a good audio interface. An interface with good analog to digital converters (AD/DA converters) will make sure that the audio you record into your computer will be converted to the digital medium at a high fidelity quality. Your built-in audio device will only go so far, and you'll really start hearing the difference when you invest in a good audio interface. This all depends on your budget and how many inputs and outputs you'll need. I'd recommend looking into the Focusrite and RME devices. They come with great preamps and AD/DA converters. They have a variety of different models with different input and output configurations.
If you're on the Mac side another good option is also the Apogee audio interfaces.
Next thing to look at are microphones that you'll need to record your audio sources and ideas. A good selection of different microphones will give you more flexibility. A good start is to get a condenser microphone. These are great for recording instruments and voices. I'd recommend some of the RØDE and sE microphones. They have a variety of different microphone models, plus they have very good build quality.
As you get more into sound design, you'll find that you'll need an assortment of microphone types. So start slowly and then start building them up as you goes. If you want to get into field recording to record natural found sounds, then shotgun microphones are the way to go. These microphone types are very handy to point directly at sounds and focus in on what you want to record because of their small and direct diaphragms. Take a look at RØDE's shotgun microphones, and the Sennheiser ones.
Now this brings me to my next recommendation for recording your own sounds when you are out field recording.
3. Field Recorders
Field Recorders are great devices to use while you are out and about and want to capture the sound around you. Products I have really been blown away by are Zoom's field recorder products such as the H5 and H6. These devices come with an XY stereo microphone, perfect for recording sounds while you are out on location. You can also purchase additional microphones for the device. Plus you can also use the XLR inputs to use microphones that you already have with the device.
4. Studio Monitors and Headphones
You'll then need some studio quality monitors to hear the sounds you've created or recorded. These studio monitors need to be truthful to your ears, so having a near flat frequency response on these studio monitors will give you better audio results. As most consumer hi-fi speakers and equipment have accentuated frequency curves that color the sound. Take a listen to some studio monitors at your nearest music supplier to get an idea of how they sound. These range in prices from your entry-level studio monitors at around $400 through to your high-end studio monitors into the thousands. See what fits into your budget. M-Audio and KRK offer great entry-level studio monitors.
And if you were looking for something a bit more high-end, I'd recommend taking a look at Genelec and Adam's studio monitor range.
If you're doing a lot of field recording then a good pair of studio headphones works very well, plus they can be used as a second resource in the studio to listen back to your audio creations. AKG and Sennheissers offer some great high quality headphones that will give you a good representation of your audio.
5. iPad and Apps
If you want to get a bit more creative with your sound design definitely look into an iPad and some of the audio apps that are available. You get all types or apps from audio recording apps through to synthesis apps. You could use some of the esoteric apps to create interesting sounds, and then output the sound from the headphone output of the iPad into your audio interface and record in these unique sounds.
Those are some of the hardware gear recommendations I have for the up and coming sound designers. Having the right gear can really make a huge difference with your workflow and working with sound. In my next article, let's take a look at what software you can use to further refine you audio creations.