How I Built My Mobile Gear Kit

Sometimes, I just want to get out of the house and get some work done. Depending on my surroundings, and how my Internet connection is working in the office for the day, I like to get out to my local coffee shop or favorite Philadelphia co-working space for some fresh air and a new perspective (both physically and mentally).

No matter where I go, I always get looks of amazement shot my way because of the gear in my kit. Of course my laptop is awesomely decked out to represent as well.

Audio

I focus best when I can shut out life's little (and big) distractions. To aid in this, I pack a small but deadly punch to ambient noise. No matter what genre of music I'm listening to, I want to hear as much of the nuance in the music as possible - and no chatter. As a result I searched high and low for a pair of headphones that would help with this. A while ago I purchased a pair of Sennheiser HD 280 Pro reference headphones. These babies are closed-back headphones packing a whopping 32dB of ambient noise attenuation and are driven at 64 Ohms - capable to being driven by just about any decent DAC or amplifier. I've used these with my home theater receiver and with my desktop DAC, performing equally well in both situations.

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Out and about, they fold up to a compact size to tuck away neatly in your bag without breaking. They come with a coiled cable, which I am a fan of in tight spaces. No longer do I trip over a long, straight cable tangling itself under the wheels of my office chair and feet.

Any self respecting audiophile should also consider making a portable DAC part of their standard kit. After a very delightful experience with my Maverick Audio Tube Magic D1 for desktop use, I decided to purchase a portable DAC for mobile use - and I'm glad I did. I decided on the Fiio Olympus E-10.

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Fiio is known for their portable audio gadgets and audiophiles around the world take the brand seriously. The Olympus E-10 is the only USB DAC amplifier in Fiio's lineup of portable devices. You might say that the built-in DAC is good enough, but when you actually compare the two, you pick up on the subtle nuances that really make good music stand out. The E-10 offers analog controls which I am a complete sucker for. Touch screens belong on your smartphone and tablet - not on serious audio gear. Among other stellar features, the DAC offers a manual gain switch to power my Sennheiser headphones. In the high gain position, it delivers an additional +10dB of power, capable enough to keep any decent pair of reference headphones sounding awesome.

I've had my E-10 for almost as long as my Sennheisers and it has held up extremely well: no dents or scratches. It looks just as good as it did the day I got it.

Ergonomics

On Saturdays, you'll frequently find me between Starbucks, Saxby's and on the rare instance I have a day off through the week, Indy Hall. I'll sit for hours working on a blog post, doing server work or helping my wife with web design projects for clients. Because I sit there for hours on end, having my gear in the best possible ergonomic position helps keep RSI's in check.

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Since my mobile computer-of-choice is a 13" MacBook Pro, I want it to look as good as possible when I'm getting work done. Enter the Aviiq Portable Laptop Stand. I bought mine about a year ago in Aluminum to match the finish of my MacBook Pro. With +12 degrees of arc, this stand is the best thing for weary wrists that get fatigued easily after an hour's worth of work. It also provides plenty of ventilation for those times I'm doing audio editing or critiquing photos from a photo The best part of the stand is that adds a mere 5.5 oz of weight to my kit, making it a no-brainer for long days at my favorite co-working space.

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Power

One of the most precious resources when working mobile is power. A place to plug in your laptop isn't the only concern anymore. Power for your ancillary goodies - smartphone, tablet, and external peripherals can be just as essential, especially if you're plugging everything into your laptop.

On such gadget that was a no-brainer when deciding to add it to my kit was Twelve South's Plug Bug. Weighing in at a feather light 0.15 pounds, this adapter for my MacBook Pro charging brick helps me free up a USB slot on the side of my laptop when I need to charge either my iPhone or iPad. This is pretty critical, since I like to keep as many of my on-board USB ports free as possible to save on my battery life. Considering one is already in use when I'm using my E-10, that only leaves one left, so I don't like to clog it up. It also works if there are limited power outlets at your favorite coffee shop - or if you're a frequent traveller - the airport boarding area. This little gadget will save you from fending off the ire of other passengers or coffee-sippers because you won't be clogging up two outlets with your phone charger and laptop charger. Go you.

Plugbug in use

Another obvious, yet frequently overlooked, component of many mobile kits that I was sure to add was a dedicated A/C adapter for my laptop. Most people don't think of having more than one power cord for their laptop, but let me tell you it's saved me a time or two. There are some days I need my bag ready for a grab-and-go kind of morning and I don't always have an opportunity to pack the night ahead (who plans on sleeping in late?). The ability to keep a dedicated charger for my laptop in my bag keeps me from kicking myself 4 hours into working outside of the house because my laptop is dying and I left my charger home. Not a fun place to be in. This way, it stays in my bag and is only used outside of the house so not only is it used for a dedicated purpose and is always at the ready, the wear and tear on it is minimal so it lasts me a pretty long time too.

Some find it accommodating to carry around a small power strip to multiply the amount of available power outlets. From what I've found, some establishments frown upon this practice and personally it's just too cumbersome of an item to carry around with me on a consistent basis.

One Bag To Bind It All

OK, so the title of this section is a bit cheesy - but definitely poignant. What's the point of having top-notch goodies in your kit if you can't keep it all in its place while you travel from point A to B?

I spent a lot of time last year choosing the perfect bag for my gear. My requirements were simple: something that looked good, had plenty of compartments to keep things in their place, and felt right on my shoulder. My prayers were answered with the STM velo medium laptop shoulder bag The bag is designed for a 15" laptop, which at the time I purchased it, chose the medium size specifically in case I ever upgraded from my 13" MacBook Pro I wouldn't have to buy another bag. I love my STM velo too much.

This bag has room for everything: pouches for pens and USB cables, 4 inner pockets for portable hard drives and power adapters, a larger section for magazines, paper items, a fitted pouch for a tablet where I keep my iPad, and a separate slip on the side for the laptop. The cool part about this laptop compartment is that I don't need to open the whole back to get working.

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As you can see, the main interior pocket under the zippered cover is deep enough for my laptop's power adapter and extension, Sennheiser headphones and laptop stand. Towards the back, you can see the sleeve compartment for my iPad.

Though I've had this bag less than a year, it's held up remarkably well. Anyone who knows me knows I'm rough on my gear and if it can handle my daily stress, its pretty damned rugged.

Some Conclusions

If you like to work hard on the go, but still have fun, here are the core items I suggest you consider as part of your kit:

  • A decent pair of headphones and perhaps a portable DAC. This means no Beats by Dre. If you're a true audiophile, show it.
  • Some ergonomic support, as it will help you avoid repetitive stress injuries and help to cool your laptop at the same time.
  • A second power adapter for your laptop. Avoid those embarrassing (and counter-productive) moments when you have to book it outta there because your laptop is dead.
  • A few extra USB cables for connecting miscellaneous gear on the go like smartphones, tablets, portable hard drives, etc. A few thumbnail drives in 8, 16 and 32 GB sizes aren't a bad idea either.

And one last note, don't wait to test any remote access software until you're out and about. There's nothing worse than trying to connect to a VPN to access an important Powerpoint presentation under deadline and your connection won't authenticate. If you have this access but you use it infrequently, consider making it a point to swing by a Starbucks where you sometimes work to test it every now and then. Some companies will revoke your credentials if you don't use this access after a certain amount of days. As always, YMMV, so check with your local IT staffer if you're in doubt.

Did I leave anything out? Do you think I'm off-base with an item or two? Want to share what you have in your mobile kit? Say so in the comments and we'll compare notes.