If you’re a musician, college can be a great place to learn about new music, play with others musicians, exchange knowledge and refine your techniques. Unfortunately, dorm rooms do not exactly welcome you to crank up your amplifiers and rock out. However, with the proliferation of affordable and portable gear, your rock and roll aspirations don’t have to be hampered by your living conditions. Whether you are pursuing a traditional degree program and living on campus, or you’re earning a degree through a great online program, having quality gear with flexible options can make a huge difference in your motivation to play, learn, and grow as a musician.
The following article lists some ideal gear for dorm room rockers. The list, though not exhaustive, includes a variety of affordable and portable options, from keyboards to software instruments to hybrid amplifiers, all of which allow you both to play in the quietest of settings through headphones and to plug in and rock out a concert hall. Whether you are into classic rock or electronica, whether you live in a dorm or attend an online college, there will be something on this list for you.
IK Multimedia Amplitude Max Bundle
What it is: Some guitar players go crazy for amps and effects, and that’s not necessarily without justification. The right amp, the right pedal, and the right combination of factors can lead to new tones and new sonic discoveries. All of those things cost money, however, and require regular maintenance and lots of space. The Amplitube Max Bundle from IK multimedia solves those problems by providing loads of amps and effects in a convenient software package.
What it does: The Amplitube Max Bundle emulates classic and sought-after amps and effects, giving you access to 80 amplifiers, 92 cabinets, 88 stompbox effects, 24 rack effects, and 19 microphones (with variable placement options), all on your computer. With that many choices, all you need to begin the endless quest for the ultimate tone is to plug in through a USB interface (see below) and start turning the digital dials. On top of all that, the bundle includes an eight-track recorder, allowing you to record and loop.
Why you need it: You can’t bring a Marshall 8x12 stack to your dorm room, but with this software, you can have all of that and more, rocking out to your heart’s content through headphones, without getting booted from the dorms.
What it costs: $499.99 through Sweetwater. Don’t want the full package? You can also buy individual Amplitube series products to meet your needs, but the Max bundle is likely the best deal.
Arturia Minilab MkII
What it is: Made by Arturia, the Minilab MkII is a USB keyboard controller for software instruments, with plenty of control and routing options housed in a compact package.
What it does: The Minilab MkII enables you to control an army of software instruments (or, a single software instrument) through mini keys, encoders, pads, and pitch and modulation touch strips. Plug it into your computer, open up your software instrument of choice, and go nuts. As a bonus, the Minilab MkII comes with 500 presets from Arturia’s wildly popular V series of software instruments (see the next profile for more info on those).
Why you need it: If you want to use software instruments (which we highly suggest you check out), you are going to need a controller. Why pay more than you need to? The Minilab MkII is affordable, flexible, and portable enough for any setting, from dorm rooms to stadiums.
What it costs: $99 through Sweetwater.
Arturia V Collection Six Software Instrument Bundle
What it is: Building on the success of its prior versions, the Arturia V Collection Six Software Instrument Bundle offers a world of classic keyboard and synthesizer sounds in an affordable software format. There is something in here for everyone, from synth-fanatics to retro-junkies to modern musicians. The Collection Six includes new instruments and updated controls.
What it does: The Arturia V Collection Six provides accurate, rich digital emulation of a boatload of the best keyboards ever made, including the Minimoog Model D, the Moog Modular, the ARP 2600, the Wurlitzer and Fender Rhodes Electric Pianos, the Buchla Easel, and Hohner Clavinet. Any of those instruments, in their physical form, would break the bank; to own all of them would cost way more than an arm and a leg. The Arturia Collection allows anyone with a computer to easily play and explore these classic instruments.
Why you need it: Access to loads and loads of classic keyboard sounds in an affordable, flexible, portable package! With the Arturia V Collection Six, you can have all of the fun of a fully-loaded dream studio, all from your laptop. Whether playing through headphones in your dorm, or playing live with a band, the Collection Six can satisfy all of your keyboard dreams without making you default on your loans.
What it costs: $499 through Sweetwater. Don’t want the whole collection? You can also buy individual software instruments, but the bundle is by far the best value.
Behringer U-Phoria UMC22
What it is: The Behringer U-Phoria UMC22 is a USB audio interface and preamp. If you plan on recording on a computer, or using software instruments or effects, you need a way to plug your instrument in; the UMC22 allows you to do just that.
What it does: Simply enough, the UMC22 lets you connect any instrument to any computer with a USB port. The UMC22 provides a preamp to control input levels from the instrument as the signal is converted into a form that the computer and software can in turn process.
Why you need it: If you have any intent of hooking up an instrument to a computer, you need an interface, and the UMC22 provides USB audio interface options in an inexpensive format. Sure, there are some very high-end, studio-quality interfaces available, but why pay more than you need to?
What it costs: $39.99 through Sweetwater.
Electro-Harmonix 720 Stereo Looper Pedal
What it is: If you know effects pedals, you know Electro-Harmonix, the original “boutique” pedal maker, famous for such classics as the Big Muff Pi, the Q-Tron, the Small Stone, and the Deluxe Memory Man. The 720 Stereo Looper builds on the Electro-Harmonix Legacy, providing quality, yet affordable, looping options for musicians of all types.
What it does: The 720 is a looper, allowing you to record, in real time, up to 12 minutes of loop time and infinite overdubs as well as save up to 10 loops, and edit your loops in a simple, compact format. Whether playing guitar, bass, keyboards, or any combination of instruments, the 720 allows you to fill up your sonic space without requiring extra players. With the optional three-button footswitch controller, your sonic palette and control can be further expanded.
Why you need it: With the Electro Harmonix 720, you can practice by yourself with looped accompaniment, or even function as a one-person band! With its streamlined control interface and small enclosure size, the 720 provides versatile looping options in an easily portable and affordable package.
What it costs: $139 through Sweetwater.
Korg MicroKORG Synthesizer/Vocoder
What it is: A modern classic drawing on the notable legacy of Korg synthesizers, the MicroKORG delivers rich synthesizer and vocoder tones, as well as drum patterns, in a concise package. For many musicians who use synthesizers, the MicroKORG has become a must-have tool since its initial release in 2002 because of its sound quality, affordability, playability, and portability.
What it does: At its most basic, the MicroKORG provides 192 adjustable polyphonic synthesizer presets. Beyond that, it includes drum patterns and a step-arpeggiator, allowing you to incorporate it into band settings, or play entire songs with nothing more than the MicroKORG. The vocoder also provides unique options for vocal effects.
Why you need it: It gives you access to loads of synth sounds, drum patterns, and a vocoder, at a low price and in an easily portable package. It can be used in the loudest club, or in the quietest dorm room. Whether you are a seasoned keyboardist, or just want to dabble with synth sounds, the MicroKORG is a can’t-miss.
What it costs: $399.99 through Sweetwater.
Line 6 POD
What it is: Line 6 specializes in digital effects and amplification. The POD is their (very popular) super-portable multi-effects processor, which gives you access to loads of effects in a pocket-sized, battery-powered device.
What it does: The POD includes over 300 adjustable tone presets, 32 amp models, 16 cabinet models, and 16 effects presets, all while easily fitting into your guitar case and weighing no more than six ounces. The POD can be played in live band settings, or in the privacy of your room with headphones. Running on nothing more than four AAA batteries, the POD can be taken anywhere, and played without access to an electrical outlet.
Why you need it: A fully-loaded pedal board is great, but it takes up a lot of room, costs a lot of money, and requires a lot of power. The POD lets you dial in virtually any effect or tone you want, without any of the hassle (or cost!) of a well-curated pedal board. This versatile multi-effects processor is equally comfortable in practice settings with headphones, or in live settings with a full band.
What it costs: $129.99 through Sweetwater.
Moog Minimoog Model D App
What it is: The Minimoog Model D is the most famous analog synthesizer of all time, the gold standard for how synthesizers should operate and sound. It has been used on countless classic recordings in a wide array of genres, and has inspired many imitations. Good luck finding one in working condition for less than $3K. With the Minimoog Model D App, Moog has distilled the essence of its classic synth into a super-affordable app that features all the parameters and sounds of the original synth for a fraction of the price ($14.99).
What it does: It makes all of your synthesizer dreams come true. It simulates the Minimoog Model D on iOS devices, like an iPad or MacBook (sorry Android and Microsoft users), giving you full access to explore the classic synthesizer, without having to shell out the big bucks, maintain aging retro analog technology, lug it around, or worry about it getting stolen.
Why you need it: If you have any interest in synthesizers at all, you probably already know why. Moog is Moog, and at this price, even if you know nothing about playing keyboards, this can be fun to mess with on a whim without resulting in buyer’s remorse later. Using an iOS device, you can play it through headphones in your dorm, or just as easily plug it into a PA system at a club and jam out.
What it costs: $14.99 for Apple devices through the App Store.
Orange Micro Terror Series Heads
What it is: The Micro Terror series guitar amp heads from Orange take the successful Tiny Terror amps series and make them, well, micro. The result is a pair of 20-watt guitar amp heads the size of a small lunchbox: the Micro Terror and the Micro Dark. The heads utilize hybrid circuitry (tube pre-amp with solid-state power amp), but they are all-Orange.
What it does: Both the Micro Terror and the Micro Dark deliver the warm, full-bodied tone (and distortion!) that Orange amps are famous for. The Micro Terror offers a more classic flavor and British crunch, while the Micro Dark provides high-gain, modern tones that can satisfy even the most brutal metalhead. Moreover, they are versatile, with speaker outputs and headphone jacks. This allows you to plug into a speaker cabinet and rock out with your band, or simulate the sound of a cranked Orange head and 4x12 cabinet while using headphones in your dorm room.
Why you need it: Versatile, affordable, great-sounding but still super-portable amp heads that easily fit in a backpack. On top of all that, it’s Orange, baby!
Quilter Labs 101 Mini Head
What it is: The 101 Mini Head from Quilter Labs is a versatile guitar amp head, equally comfortable on a loud stage or in a quiet bedroom. The 101 Mini Head lets you practice with headphones in your room, then go out and blow the roof off of a concert hall.
What it does: The 101 Mini Head provides high-quality, clean amplification in a portable and affordable package.
Why you need it: It can push up to 100 watts in a live setting, but sounds just as great through headphones in solitude. With compact dimensions and weighing only two pounds, it is smaller, lighter, and a better deal than your over-priced biology textbook, and you can carry it around in a backpack.
What it costs: $299 through Musician’s Friend.
Tascam DR-05 Digital Recorder
What it is: The Tascam DR-05 Digital Recorder is a handheld digital recording device that allows you to easily make clean recordings of anything you’re hearing, be it a live band at a club, a practice session, or just you whistling a melody in a reverberating stairwell.
What it does: At its simplest, it records. More than that, however, the DR-05 provides a simple option for making quality recordings anywhere and anytime that can in turn be transferred and saved to your computer. The DR-05 provides stereo recording, as well as a variety of other mixing options that allow you to make the most of a quick field recording and preserve your ideas and musical experiences.
Why you need it: If you want to make music, being able to easily record on the fly is a great option. You can record jam sessions and live performances to get a better idea of how you or your band sound, or to keep track of riffs, melodies, and song sketches. You can also use it to sample interesting or strange noises discovered in the wild, and incorporate those into music later.
What it costs: $99.99 through Sweetwater.
Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators
What it is: Pocket Operators are a line of low-cost, all-in-one synthesizers, sequencers, and drum machines, stuffed into a package no bigger than what your grandparents might call a “tip calculator.”
What it does: It bleeps. It bloops. It drops a sick beat. It lets you compose, sequence, sample, and play live. It combines with other Pocket Operators and makes everybody dance. Each Pocket Operator (currently there are nine different models) comes with unique qualities and capabilities, based on themes like “Robot,” “Arcade,” or “Sub,” in addition to basic functions. Each Pocket Operator can be used on its own, or in combination with other Pocket Operators.
Why you need it: Powered by nothing more than a pair of AAA batteries, Pocket Operators provide modular capabilities, functionality and playability, as well as high-quality electronic sounds in a super-portable and affordable package. Also, they just flat-out look cool. Don’t be fooled by their simplicity; if you’re into electronic sounds, or just want a new music toy, Pocket Operators are worth checking out.
What it costs: The nine different Pocket Operators range in price, but none costs more than $89. For example, the PO-14 Sub costs $49, while the PO-20 Rhythm costs $59, and the PO-35 Speak costs $89, all through Sweetwater.
Verellen Amplifiers Meatsmoke Hybrid with 4x12 Speaker Cabinet
What it is: Verellen Amplifiers is known for making custom, high-quality, high-power amplifiers. The Meatsmoke Hybrid is the most powerful amp in their arsenal, putting out a whopping 1,400 watts of class D power when pushed to its limit. That means this amp is loud; very, very, loud. As its name suggests, the Meatsmoke Hybrid accomplishes its high power levels through a blend of tube preamp circuitry and solid-state power amp circuitry. Pair it with a Verellen 4x12 cab (hey, why not get two?) and you have an unstoppable amplifier rig, especially made for churning out the heaviest doom and black metal humanly possible. It’s sure to be a hit at the dorms.
What it does: Shatters windows. Breaks bones. Alerts the local authorities, federal authorities, and National Guard. Threatens to deafen anyone in its immediate vicinity.
Why you need it: RAWK!!! But really, we are joking. If you’re living in dorms, you DON’T need this. Using it in a dormitory would only result in a permanent ban from campus housing. Someday, when you have your degree and live in a place where you can be as loud as you want, feel free to buy one and crank it up, but remember to wear earplugs. Even then, your neighbors probably won’t like it.
The list isn’t exhaustive, or even unbiased, but we stand behind the assertion that the gear listed here is quality stuff, and well-suited for the peculiarities of dorm life. And most of this stuff is pretty cool even if you’re not living in a dorm.
If you’ve picked out the gear that is right for you, but still need some help picking out the right college, jump to the The 100 Best Online Colleges or check out The Best Colleges and Universities by State.