This page was last updated on: April 9, 2021
I like gadgets – a lot. And not just electronic gadgets. I’m often experimenting with new apps, mouthpieces, and productivity systems.
One of the side effects of being “the gadget guy”, though, is that I’m constantly being asked about things that I recommend. I also enjoy writing and talking about these things, so I thought consolidating some of my thoughts in one place may be more useful than answering dozens of emails!
To that end, I’ve decided to put together this page as a sort of “living document” for products and services that I both use and recommend.
I’ll confess upfront that I’m no Wirecutter – while I do have strong opinions about some of the tech and music things on this page, I haven’t been through exhaustive tests on all these products and their competitors.
That being said, if you have any recommendations for me to try out, I would love to hear them! You can post a comment at the bottom of the page, or contact me here.
Here’s a table of contents for things on this page.
- Horn/Music Equipment
- Home Items
Instruments, Mouthpieces, and Accessories
I mainly play on one of two Paxman instruments.
They were both made within a few months of each other in the 1990’s. The 75M (full triple) is a great horn but quite heavy, while the 25M (full double) is much lighter and easier to hold off the leg. I also have an Alexander single F alto horn that doesn’t get a lot of use, since it’s such a specialty instrument.
My secret shame (not so secret anymore) is that I also own a mellophone that I use for certain tunes with my brass group, Small Batch Brass.
While my mouthpiece choice can go through periods of instability, I mostly gravitate to a Houser H3 for the 75M and San Francisco cup for the 25M. I use both of these cups with a Houser H1 rim (stainless) with an 18mm inner diameter. I also use an old Moosewood RB12 (I think this is a Roland Berger model, but I may be mistaken) from time to time. It’s not quite as easy to play as the Houser cups, but I really like the sound I get out of it. Since Moosewood pieces are now made Atkinson, I don’t know if they have that model on file. I hope so!
I primarily use Hetman lubricants, although I do make a 50/50 split of lamp oil and Blue Juice for the inside of my rotors. I also use a snake and some Spitballs to keep my horns as clean as possible on the inside. I have a complete guide to some basic horn maintenance here.
Digital Music Devices
I’m a big proponent of digital solutions for music, and I’ve written about digital music readers many times.
- Original Digital Music Reader Guide (2017)
- Digital Music Reader Buying Guide Update (2019)
- The iPad Air as a Digital Music Reader (2020)
- All my Digital Music Reader Content
Currently I’m using an 11-inch iPad Pro with ForScore (and an Apple Pencil) as my digital music reader of choice. I switched from my Chromebook mainly due to the poor support that so many physical products sold by Google suffer from. The iPad was more expensive, but everything works very smoothly, and I’m not encountering some of the weirdness that I did using a Chromebook as a tablet.
Other music-related apps include TonalEnergy (my favorite tuner, metronome, and recorder (I reviewed it here)), MusicScanner (for easily getting music into PDF form), and BetterEars as an ear training aid.
I can use the iPad with my tablet holder and low-profile folding music stand quite easily (the stand and an older tablet holder are reviewed here). I also have a traditional Manhasset music stand and a very small folding stand that I keep in my car for emergencies. We also have a heavier-duty Peak folding music stand that my wife uses.
Most of these things (minus the music stand) fit in my music bag, which is a messenger bag by Timbuk2.
After some bad experiences with a Google Nexus phone, Google’s customer support, and Microsoft’s dicey track record with Windows updates, I switched over to using mostly Mac/iOS devices in early 2019.
It wasn’t great timing from an Apple computer perspective.
The 2016-2020 laptops were not good, and the Mac mini went way too long with outdated internals. Since the new devices weren’t great, I actually bought a 2015 MacBook Pro (in 2018), and used that as my primary Mac until late 2020.
As a testement to the long-term build quality of Macs, I’m still using that computer regularly, and aside from limited storage space, it’s still working quite well. Although now I think the best Mac you can buy is also the cheapest – the base model MacBook Air with the M1 processor.
As I said before, if you’re in the market for Mac, this (early 2021) is a weird time. It’s unusual that the fastest and most battery-efficient models are at the bottom of Apple’s price points, but that’s how it is right now. If you need a small Macbook or a good all-around, small-form Mac desktop, this is a good time to buy.
For accessories, I use a Logitech MX Master 2S mouse and a Keychron K8 wireless mechanical keyboard. I also use a basic USB hub with my Mac Mini to give it some more standard USB-A ports. I don’t have much need for Thunderbolt 3 (or 4) at the moment.
I’m still using (and enjoying) my iPhone 8.
I bought it shortly after it came out, and it’s been a champ. I’ve had the battery replaced once, and would be fine doing that again to keep it going. My hope is to use it for the entire 5-year period that Apple offers software support for it. (If you’re looking for something with a comparable form-factor, I recommend the new iPhone SE – it’s the same iPhone 8 form-factor but with the internals of an iPhone 11, which means it will stay up-to-date for a few years longer than the 8).
When going digital for music, one consideration to keep in mind is that you’ll need to have at least a few cables and power supplies on-hand.
I use a Peak Design pouch to carry all my batteries, charges and cables. This pouch fits nicely in my bag, and I find all of Peak’s products are well-designed. I also have their Wash pouch and I (used) to get lots of use out of it. I have my eye on some of their other products when travel resumes again.
Inside the pouch I have all manner of cables, batteries and chargers. Some of the more useful items are my Anker PowerCore battery pack, my Anker multi-port USB charger, many (Anker) cables, and a small Anker Qi charger. Having the battery pack and the multi-port charger are two things that have saved me (and some others) on quite a few occassions!
At home, I have several of these Anker Qi-charging stands scattered throughout our house, so I can easily charge my phone wherever I am.
I started doing most of my reading on a Kindle Paperwhite a couple of years ago, and I find it very nice to give my eyes a break at night (or just after doing a few hours of Zoom teaching).
Over the past year, teaching online has gone from special one-off lessons for students far away to a daily occurrence.
For online teaching, I use my Zoom H4n as a computer microphone and I listen through inexpensive-but-surprisingly-good Anker over-the-ear headphones. I also use a Logitech webcam and a wide variety of online video software.
For other listening (while doing dishes, cleaning, working out, etc), I usually will use my AirPod Pros or some Anker bluetooth headphones, depending on whichever is nearby.
One of the things I’ve been focused on over the past few months is reducing the number of apps (especially subscription apps) that I use.
Not only does this help my wallet, but carefully considering and using a few apps makes it easier (and far more likely) for me to actually get work done.
Apps for Music
I think I’ve already covered all the apps I use for music practice. They are:
That pretty much covers all that I need.
Apps for Productivity
- GoodTasks: For one-off or recurring reminders. It hooks into Apple’s built-in reminders system, which means that timed/dated tasks show up in my calender (if I choose).
- BusyCal: For both MacOS and iOS. I was using (and loving) Fantastical, but they moved to a $40/year subscription that I couldn’t justify for a calendar app. The iOS version of BusyCal is fine, but the Mac app is great.
- NotePlan3(iOS/MacOS) and Obsidian(PC/Linux/Mac): For general writing. This app lets me write down notes about the day, keep track of projects and ideas that I’m working on, and link notes/ideas (using a Zettlekasten-like method) that may be related to each other. Very effective for trying to connect ideas together.
- Trello: Where I track the progress of long-term projects. Trello has a simple interface, but there’s a lot of power and functionality buried beneath the surface. I find that this kind of UI helps me spend less time fighting the tool and more time actually using it to get work done.
- Notion: While I used to use Notion for a lot of things, now I mainly use it to keep track of lesson plans/student progress. It’s slow and cumbersome, but the database features make it hard to replace in this area (at least for now).
- Toggl: For time tracking. I use this both to see how I’m spending my time over the course of a month, but also to bill clients. The Timery iOS extension makes it much easier to automate using the iOS Shortcuts app.
Apps for Health
- FoodNoms: For tracking calories. It’s just fun and feature-filled enough to keep me doing it.
- Zero: I do intermittent fasting, which basically just amounts to skipping breakfast. This app helps me keep track of when I start and how long I’ve fasted.
- GymBook: For keeping track of my progress during workouts.
- AutoSleep: For tracking my sleep. Ever since reading Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep I’ve been a lot more proactive about tracking (and getting) enough rest every night.
- You Need a Budget: Also called YNAB, this is one of my most-used and favorite apps. While the app is slick and easy to use, it’s the philosophy behind the software that makes it so effective. If you want a free trial (and a free month after the trial) use my link and we both get a free month!
- InoReader: This is part productivity, part entertainment, and part avoiding the bubble of Facebook. InoReader is an RSS reader – basically you “subscribe” to multiple websites and anytime they post something new you can see (and read) it all in one place.
- Overcast: My podcast app of choice. There are many choices, but I find this one both easy-to-use and aesthetically pleasing. It also helps that it’s created and managed by a long-time Apple guy.
- Carrot Weather: A great-looking and very flexible weather app with a personality.
Early on in the 2020 pandemic, we were having constant wireless internet issues. We eventually figured out that the problem was our WiFi router. To replace it we (really, me) decided to go for a bit of overkill – a UniFi Dream Machine router/access point with another UniFi Flex-HD as a remote access point.
I’m wary about IoT devices, but I do have a few in our house. I like to stick to bigger-name brands, since they are more likely to be secure and updated if security vulnerabilites are found. I use Hue and Weemo devices primarily. They are definitely more expensive than some products you can find on Amazon, but I have zero confidence that any of those inexpensive devices will get a security fix when (not if) a security flaw is discovered.
I like(need) to stay caffeinated. One of my favorite ways to make coffee is with an AeroPress. It’s realtively inexpensive but you can make a lot of different styles of coffee with just an AeroPress and some recipes. You will need a kettle, though, and I use this one.