The Universal Serial Bus (USB) has been a prevalent standard for connecting accessories to computing devices since its initial release in 1996. The USB interface is increasingly being used in environments we would not traditionally consider directly related to computing, especially audio. The ability to carry power and data, including digital audio, along the same small, low cost and easily available cables makes USB an attractive interconnect for musicians. We are starting to see devices such as MIDI controllers, guitar wireless systems, and even effects pedals with USB interfaces.
I carry a basic USB toolkit with me in my backpack pretty much everywhere I go. It has all sorts of uses. Here’s what you need to make your own.
USB Battery Pack
A portable USB power pack can be used to recharge devices such as phones and tablets and power other devices such as some wireless guitar systems. They recharge from the wall or another USB power source. There are numerous different sizes and types available, many with additional features such as an internal flash light. Lithium Ion types provide the most storage capacity relative to size and weight. It’s wise to pay a little more and be sure to get a good quality battery. Respected manufacturers will ensure that there is plenty of protection against short circuits and over voltage, current and temperature; all of which can result in serious failure such as fire or explosion.
The battery capacity is normally rated in milliamp hours (mAh) which describes how much current the battery can deliver for how long. Watch out for low cost sellers on eBay, Alibaba etc. that are notorious for overstating battery capacity. Here are some great battery packs to consider:
- APC M10BK : 10000mAh. Very slim for a 10Ah unit. Looks professional. Lots of safety features. On/off switch. This is the one that’s always in my backpack.
- Griffin Survivor : 6000-10000mAh. Ruggedized with silicone surround and weatherproofing. Internal flashlight. Very easy to carry around. On/off switch.
- Anker Powercore+ : 26800mAh. USB C and Power Delivery support. 30W capability for large items like laptop computers.
- Naztech 13000mAh : Slim and low profile, but still powerful. It even has a USB-C output. This one is verified by Mission for use with our 529 products, and can also charge your mobile devices. You can purchase one from us here.
USB Adapter kit
USB-C should eventually simplify things as there is just one type of connector, but its new and there is a huge installed base of devices with different types of USB A and B connector. For the best chance of having the right connectors, you should keep a set of adapters. I carry a JDI Tech Goldx 5 in 1 kit. It includes a 10ft cable and is very robust. I’ve been using the same kit for more than five years without issue.
Note that some of the low-cost multifunction adapters are power only, which may be all you need, but if you expect to send data (including digital audio) make sure that the adapters you use support it.
Plug-in USB testers are easily available online for around $20. Plug one in between your source and load, and the meter will display useful information such as the voltage, current and temperature. For basic function checking I use a Drok USB 3 multi-tester. It is very simple to use and has a nice clear display. If I need to do more detailed testing such as USB C, graphing changes over time, and logging to a laptop, I use a MakerHawk USB Power Tester which can work with higher voltages from USB power delivery and log results to a Windows computer via USB or Bluetooth wireless.
USB – 9V Pedalboard Power Converter
The Mission 529 converts any 5V USB power source into 5 isolated 9V power outputs for effects pedals. Whenever I need to power a few pedals, I use one of these with the USB battery pack. I can run a modest size pedalboard for a day or so without having to worry about finding a reliable AC power source and running large power cables. If you travel internationally, you don’t have to mess with wall adapters which is an added bonus. Click here to check it out in our store, and click here to check out the 529i to take your portable power a step further.
USB Wall charger
For recharging the battery pack, or just charging my phone I usually carry both a USB A and a USB C Power Delivery wall charger. Some of the devices already on the list such as the Mission 529 and the Anker Powercore+ come with their own wall chargers that you can use. If you need to buy one, I like wall chargers from Phihong because of their small size and extensive regulatory and safety testing.
You can easily carry all of these with you in a gig bag or backpack. If you are like me, you’ll soon find that they get you out of a tight spot so often that you’ll rarely be without them.