How exactly does one review a backpack in a music technology magazine? I mean, when it comes to lugging your music gear around everyone’s needs are different, aren’t they? Nonetheless, I was persuaded to try out a range of bags by US company Mono, and I have to confess to being impressed. The whole range is very ruggedly built; the materials used, the zips and clasp fastenings and the stitching all inspire confidence. But what is it that makes these bags particularly suited to the musician? Well, they’re just so brilliantly conceived. The Flyby, for instance, which is the model I took on a several-month road test, has been designed to maximise the amount of music tech gear you can take on your travels. It’s not limited to those travelling by air by any means, but it’s intended specifically to let you make full use of just about every last cubic millimetre of hand-luggage space, without taking you over the limit. Once you’re aboard, you’re able to detach the laptop carrier, which forms the front of the rucksack (ie. the part that rests on soft yet heard-wearing pads against your back), so that the laptop can be kept nearby while the remainder slots neatly into the overhead locker. The laptop holder accommodated my 15-inch MacBook Pro with room to spare — Mono say that it can accommodate a 17-inch laptop — and there are so many other compartments that you really are spoiled for choice. With the laptop case attached, there’s a section between this and the rest of the bag, into which I could fit a two-octave Korg microKey USB controller keyboard vertically, and several hard drives and a compact stereo recorder adjacent to it. In a roomier compartment behind this, I could fit my very large and non-folding Audio-Technica headphones, alongside plenty of cables and PSUs. On the back of that are three further zip-up compartments and there’s another one on each side. These are perfect for storing all manner of dongles, cables, USB hubs, Thunderbolt adapters, notepads, smartphones, DI boxes, cable testers, and so on. I’m sure you’d choose a very different selection of gear to go in the bag than I did, but you get the picture.
The only issue I had on occasion was that I packed so many bits inside that for the first week or two I had trouble remembering which compartment I’d put things in. Cue emptying the bag and reloading it several times! Perhaps the biggest selling point for me, though, is that the whole ensemble is incredibly comfortable to wear. The weight is distributed nicely, the padded straps and back don’t chafe, and the bag itself (if not its contents when fully loaded) is as light as could be hoped for something this rugged. When you’re lugging heavier loads around, there’s a chest strap, which clips into place to help redistribute the load. Alternatively, if you prefer, the bag features clips and a shoulder strap that allow it to be worn courier style. A final plus point for this design is that when you’re not wearing it, the bag stands upright on its flat base so, as long as you’re not massively careless, the risk of it toppling and smashing your expensive electronic gear is minimal.
I could see this bag being of interest to recordists, DJs and gigging laptop musicians alike. It certainly works beautifully for an SOS Reviews Editor working between his home studio and the office! Finally, it’s worth me saying that, although I didn’t road test the other bags in the range, I was sent a few to check out and a quick investigation reveals them to be similarly well designed and manufactured. So if the Flyby doesn’t quite offer what you need then it’s worth checking out what’s available — their web site suggests appropriate bags for a number of common scenarios. The one need the company don’t yet meet but which I wish they would is the engineer or recordist needing to lug their 19-inch rackmount devices to a session — but then there are plenty of companies already offering that. Mono’s bags don’t come particularly cheap, but the asking price should be a drop in the ocean compared to what you’ve invested in your gear, and these should last you years. Highly recommended. Matt Houghton