My keyboard rig used to be big and impressive, but as time goes on I am finding I am using less gear and generating much more impressive sounds. Today I do not even need to bring a keyboard with me! My rig is 100% portable and for the most part, can be carried in a small backpack.

Here is a diagram of my keyboard rig, current as of May 2019

Keyboard Rig rev.052019

All sounds are run off a 2012 MacBook Air, with 8 gigs of RAM. Apple’s Mainstage is my software synth of choice. The rest of the gear runs off of USB. This means, with a fully charged battery, I can actually power my entire rig using only the laptop! Wow! I have a severe disdain for cables. My previous keyboard rigs were snake pits of cables, slithering everywhere.

The keyboard can be anything, as long as it has USB MIDI output. All modern keyboards do, and if I ever were to run into a keyboard sporting only real MIDI plugs, I have an adapter to convert those to USB also.

The nanoKontrol2 MIDI mixer gives me powerful control over Mainstage. The faders, buttons, and knobs map to critical faders, buttons, and knobs in Mainstage. The nanoKontrol enables me to decouple from needing to lug around a keyboard, such as my M-Audio Axiom. Regardless of the keyboard used, my experience with sounds remains the same.

Previously I had always used the audio card in my laptops, however, recently I have run into more and more issues getting clean sound to house sound systems. Behringer makes a dedicated USB audio interface that is stellar. No more issues with hum, hiss, or buzz, just crisp clear sound. The added benefit of two XLR/quarter inch inputs allows me to mix in additional instruments as needed. I am also experimenting with mixing the monitor send back into Mainstage, through one of the inputs, for personal monitoring, thus eliminating two more pieces of hardware to carry around.

That’s it! That is all it takes to have a portable keyboard synth rig that will knock your socks off!

List of my gear

Software Synth

Keyboards

These keyboards stay in my home studio nowadays, unless there is no keyboard available at the venue.

Laptop

  • 2012 MacBook Air with 8 GB RAM

Audio Interface

Other Gear I carry

  • Korg nanoKontrol 2 (required)
  • Anker 4 port USB 3 hub (required). Supports powered and non-powered
  • Azor 5 way power supply. Powers gear needing 9 volts, when applicable
  • Rowin Noise Gate. Can be used to eliminate low-level buzz to the house or from the monitor sends.
  • Starument Laptop Stand (required). Awesome stand! The laptop sits on top and other gear is velcroed to the bottom. It is lightweight yet very sturdy. Maybe my favorite gear addition as laptops and hardware are always difficult to find spots for!

Other useful gear

  • Rolls headphone tap PM52. Useful for safely converting a powered send (such as a monitor cable from an amp) to levels safe for headphones or inputting into other audio equipment.
  • Rolls personal monitors PM50s. A cool little mixer that I used for years to merge the house monitor signal and output from my rig into my headphones. This method lets me set my level as high as I want without disturbing anyone else. I ran across a new version of this that is battery powered. Rolls PM55P. I would buy this if I needed another Rolls mixer.

Previous gear