When you need a gift for a musician there are a lot of fun and quirky music gadgets to choose from. Tech has advanced in a way where you can stick a synthesizer or small groovebox in your pocket and make near-full songs or perform for a crowd while you’re out and about. It can be intimidating to pick something from all these options. That’s why we’ve selected our favorite and most fun musician gadgets that won’t break the bank.
Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator
When we think of quirky music gadgets, we immediately think of Teenage Engineering. Their YouTube-friendly OP-1 synthesizer paved the way for more toy-like pocket music makers. We deliberately left out the OP-1 since it’s quite a luxury device for the money.
The Pocket Operator series consist of drum machines, samplers and synths, loosely inspired by Nintendo’s Game & Watch series. They’ll cost you between 50 and 100 bucks each and kinda look like a calculator with some synchronized graphics on them. They are however capable enough to build full beats and performances with. There are even special editions with Rick & Morty, Street Fighter and Megaman available.
These Pocket Operators give an excellent taste of the fun that Teenage Engineering is able to put into their creations. You can decide to synch up multiple if one isn’t enough. Our weapon of choice is the Pocket Operator PO-33, which is the only one allowing you to sample your own sounds and play them back rhythmically using the step sequencer.
- PROVIDES 40 SECONDS OF SAMPLING MEMORY - The teenage engineering PO-33 has a built-in microphone for you to record 40-seconds of samples directly.
- PLAYS YOUR SAMPLES CHROMATICALLY OR AS ONE-SHOTS - The 8 melodic slots let you play your own samples chromatically while the 8 drum banks play your sample as a one-shot.
- ADDS PERCUSSION TO YOUR PERFORMANCE - The PO-33 is a 4-voice sampler. Its built-in micro drum machine allows you to layer more drum sounds over the sample recording.
Stylophone Pocket Synth
The Stylophone is a cute little synth that you can play with a special stylus or your fingers, that you’ll glide across the unorthodox keyboard. It has an onboard speaker and can generate different tones with a vibrato effect that you can apply on it.
The Stylophone has been around longer than you think. It was invented in 1968 by Brian Jarvis of Dubreq Studios, London. Repairing a toy piano for his niece, Brian had the idea to replace the toy keys with electronics, creating a monophonic organ and a unique, electronic sound.
You’ve probably heard the unique Stylophone tone in a few famous pop songs, most notably on Space Oddity by David Bowie.
A Stylophone nowadays doesn’t cost you more than forty bucks. In the hands of any keyboard or piano player this device can generate some cool results. In no time you’ll be playing your favorite songs on it.
1 used from $32.15
- Miniature stylus operated synthesizer is a recreation of the 1967 classic
- 5 Octaves. Optional vibrato effect
- Tuning knob on bottom allows you tune the Stylophone or do pitch-bend effects
- Built in speaker with volume control, Optional headphone jack
- Line Out (3.5mm)
Probably the cutest music maker on here is the Otamatone. Shaped like a musical note with an adorable head, the Otamatone is a weird, yet satisfying music gadget from Japan. It’s one of the best selling synthesizer toys over there!
It runs on AA batteries and you can produce sound by pressing open its mouth from the sides and then sliding your finger across the note to change the pitch. The sound is kind of like a synthesized vocal, which is one of kind.
YouTube is full of Otamatone renditions of famous pop songs. The best in our opinion is that a guy playing the Otamatone progressed to the next round in Spain’s Got Talent.
The Otamatone come in various colors and editions. A standard edition will cost you somewhere between 30 and 40 dollars.
- STAY SAFE AT HOME while having fun with your family!
- BEST SELLING – One of Japan's best selling musical Instrument Portable Synthesizer toys!
- FUN & EASY TO PLAY - You can create different sound and pitch by pressing down the middle part of the Otamatone. By sliding down your finger up and down, you can create higher and lower tone. ※AAA Batteries ×3 (INCLUDED) ※Body Size: Approx 10.6" (27 cm)
- Otamatone's face is made out of rubber, and by pushing his cheeks and making his mouth move around, the volume and the bass of the sound changes.
Melodica (Mouth Organ)
For a more traditional instrument, the Melodica is a classic, yet unorthodox music making tool. It doesn’t require any batteries or charges. You simply produce sound by strapping the keys on your hand and then using the tube to blow into it, while playing the keys.
You’ll produce a harmonica-like sound, which might fit that particular melancholic song or music style you’re doing. The fact that you just need your breathing to produce sound, makes it a perfect music making device whenever you’re off the grid, on the beach or in the park. The Melodica comes with some longer tubes as well so you don’t have to blow directly into it.
Good melodica’s are getting cheaper now, so you’re perfectly able to snag a good one for around thirty dollars.
2 used from $44.99
- ♫❤️ EASY TO PLAY: This 37 keys melodica instrument is easy for beginners, kids to play, also a good choice for musical enlightenment, to help develop kids or beginners’ musical interests quickly.
- ♫ PURE AND RICH SOUND: The enhanced air chambers and reinforced combs of this melodica can provide strong airflow for consistent playing, also provides a better resonance and wonderful tone
- ♫ HIGH-QUALITY MATERIAL: Equipped with phosphor bronze reed and Copper Base, the melodica is made of safe, non-toxic ABS resin. These high-quality materials provide users with reliable durability for long-time playing.
The Artiphone Orba is a puck-shaped device that allows you to put together a full music composition with drums, bass, chords and lead sounds using the capacity sensitive touch buttons. It also responds to your gestures so that you can spin, tilt or shake it to shape the on-board synth sounds.
The device features a speaker and a headphone port and pairs with a dedicated app for more control. Since the Orba responds to every touch and motion it also doubles as an advanced midi controller with MPE. This allows you to add an extra element to the mix when you’re controlling your favorite music software.
The Orba is a very quirky device. Since it never caught mainstream attention, you’re getting quite some value for the money it costs.
Kanye West’s Donda Stem Player
A.I. is powerful enough now to split any old song from stereo into 4 separate layers of bass, drums, vocals and samples. While there is a lot software (paid and unpaid) that allows you to do this, Kanye West’s Donda Stem Player takes this technology and puts it into an alien, fleshy hardware device that lets you mix and perform your favorite tracks live.
The Donda Stem Player can play your performance over Bluetooth and takes any music format you throw at it. You can loop parts, pitch up or down or reverse your track stems.
It comes with a copy of Kanye’s latest album Donda if you’re into that.
AKAI Professional MPK Mini Play
AKAI’s MPK Mini is one the most popular small midi key controllers for musicians. Midi controllers don’t make sounds of their own, but rather allow you to control music software and sound generators on your Mac or PC.
The MPK Mini Play is a Midi controller that does makes sounds of its own. Next to all the controls you have at your disposal for controlling software (the famous MPC drum pads, keys and rotary encoders), the Mini Play also features 128 built-in sounds that you can shape further with the knobs and a built-in speaker. If you don’t want to disturb others you can also plug in some headphones.
The MPK Mini Play can run on 3 AA-batteries. This means you can truly use it standalone and make something cool without needing any computer or powerbrick to power it.
Of course the Mini Play still provides you with exactly the same Midi control functionality when you do want to hook it up to your music software.
5 used from $73.04
- Standalone Piano Style Keyboard – Portable mini keyboard and USB MIDI controller with 25 velocity-sensitive synthesizer action keys, pitch/mod joystick control, plus 128 sounds and 10 drum kits
- Play Anywhere – Built in speaker, 1/8-inch headphone output and battery powered specification (3 x AA batteries – not included) for performing and producing on the go
- Beat Maker Essential – Two banks of eight ultra-responsive backlit MIDI drum pads with Note Repeat and Full Level functions for drum machine style performance and music production
Soundbrenner Pulse Metronome Watch
If you need a gift for a drummer or any other musician that needs to record their performance to a certain BPM, the Soundbrenner Pulse watch is great choice. This smart watch transmits a pulse in a BPM that you can configure. Since you’ll feel the tempo you can play in synch with other musicians and you don’t need an annoying metronome or click track to do so.
You can set the rhythm by tapping the tempo and the watch can be synched with your friends’ as well as with any DAW through MIDI over USB.
- 【Vibrating Metronome】- Feel the beat with vibrations instead of annoying clicks. Vibrations are 7x more powerful than the average vibration of a smartphone; you will never miss another beat. Free up your ears to focus on the music.
- 【Customize Rhythm】Customize time signatures, subdivisions and accents. Set your rhythm with tap tempo. Simply tap three times and the tempo will follow.
- 【Multiplayer sync】- Connect up to 5+ devices via NFC/Bluetooth and sync up with your bandmates and friends.
LUMI Keys Studio Edition
The LUMI Keys is the latest product from Roli, who are well known for their playful, wireless music making gadgets, such as the Blocks beatmaker kit and the Seaboard.
LUMI Keys is a portable Bluetooth enabled keyboard that’s able to light up each individual key as you play it. This is helpful for learning to play songs as you can pair it with the associated app to play along popular songs while the keyboard lights up like Guitar Hero.
Next to learning how to play, the keys are a joy to play and provide per-key pitchbend and aftertouch events, making it a capable tool in the studio as well. You can snap together multiple LUMIs to create a larger keybed if you want to go all out in performance.
Korg Nu:tekt NTS-1 DIY Synth
For a first entry into synthesizers, the NTS-1 from Korg is a great music gadget to play around with. It comes in a DIY kit so that you can first start putting together the individual components.
Even though it might look cute, it should not be mistaken for a toy. The Nu:Tekt NTS-1 packs a single oscillator from its bigger brother synths (Korg Minilogue / Prologue) and features multiple filters and great tweakable effects from the Minilogue XD to shape the onboard sound.
With the audio-in the Korg NTS-1 doubles as a tiny, capable effects unit that you can process other synths or sound sources with. All of this is powered by a simple mini-USB cable that you can connect to a power brick for portability.
You can also download user-created oscillators made by the Korg community or program your own if you feel like it. This way, the NTS-1 will continue to get new and great sounds.
This concludes our round-up of the most fun music gadgets for musicians. Do you miss anything on this list, feel free to leave a comment below!