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Words by Eli Duxson
Putting 2021 in the rearview mirror but not these awesome releases!
It’s fair to say we thought 2020 sucked and that 2021 would be far more fruitful. Weren’t we wrong! Despite this, the music gear releases kept swarming in as we adjusted to life as it is whether you remained holed up at home like last year, or if you managed to get out and gig or collaborate if you were one of the lucky ones.
To turn in the new year and put it way behind us, we’re giving you 20 of the best music gear releases this year offered, ones that we won’t be forgetting anytime soon!
Universal Audio Volt
Universal Audio kicks this list off with their Volt series of USB interfaces with our personal favourite the 476 (4-in/4-out). The small-scale desktop 476 boasts “the best-in-class” sound quality, a vintage mic preamp mode, a built-in 76 compressor, and a suite of included audio software. Volt’s tube emulation circuitry allows users to dial in rich, full sound on vocals and instruments, one that was hard to miss this year!
“With simple audio connections, Direct Monitoring for latency-free recording, iPad/iPhone connectivity, and rugged metal construction, Volt elevates any production space or mobile recording rig with stylish UA design, built to last decades,” UA said.
Warm Audio WA-8000
Emulation continues to come to the fore of product development because “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to”. Warm Audio decided to rebirth the famous Sony C-800G, a classic 90s Hip hop and R&B vocal microphone which the likes of Dr. Dre and Mariah Carey popularised. The faithful reproduction features the same old stock 6AU6 and the unique external heat sink design as the C-800G with a Swedish-made Lundahl transformer. With clear midrange and open top end, the WA-8000’s ability to capture every detail of vocal performances gives you the true sound of modern R&B and Hip hop for good value.
Baby Audio Taip Plugin
Building on their range of intelligent mixing tools, Baby Audio returned with a tape saturation plugin that is very versatile. Using AI neural networks, they have tracked the impact of tape machines on audio signals and created a plugin that serves to emulate the true warmth and behaviour of analog tape. The plugin features in-built compression, limiting, and other tape related parameters including noise and wear, with presets designed by industry-leading engineers including Max Jaeger and Mark Needham. There’s even a compression type effect through the glue slider and a brick wall limiter on the output, just in case there weren’t enough saturation/distortion options already.
Fender Acoustasonic Jazzmaster
Following on from the lauded release of their Acoustasonic Telecaster and Stratocaster models, Fender introduced a familiar new face to their hybrid electric-acoustic range: enter the American Acoustasonic Jazzmaster. A hollow mahogany body and Deep-C neck with a 25.5″ scale length is paired with an ebony fretboard to tap into classic unplugged tones, with the slim body shape and larger size making for an ultra-comfortable feel and producing some pretty impressive unplugged tones. A carved neck heel enhances this experience even further, allowing you to reach right up the neck for zippy lead lines.
It’s loaded with no less than three pickup systems – a Fender Tim Shaw-designed Acoustasonic Shawbucker, Fishman Under-Saddle Transducer and a Fishman Enhancer, each of which can be paired and blended to unlock a colourful palate of tones. There’s also a nifty five-way switch and Mod Knob to flick between both pickups and acoustic guitar voicing
UDO Super 6 Synthesiser Desktop
UDO Audio backed up their release of their debut Super 6 binaural synthesiser with its very own keyboardless desktop version the Super 6 Desktop. The sound engine of the Super 6 is based around a hybrid FPGA platform with analogue voices, utilising 7-core super-wavetable oscillator with ‘Waveform Download’ as its main oscillator while a second DDS oscillator offers FM, sync, X-Fade and sub-oscillator modes. Users have the option to lay the Super 6 Desktop flat on a table or angle it up thanks to its rear legs that pop out, while also having the option to keep it in a rack with the optional at an additional cost 7U mounting brackets.
Think hyper-modern versatility with an irresistibly cool retro sheen, and you’re somewhere in the ballpark.
Sequential Prophet 10
The return of a legend is something that we couldn’t quite put together as eloquently and justly as Sequential did themselves: “The new Prophet-10 is Dave Smith’s ten-voice version of the analog poly synth that changed the world. It’s “the best of all Prophets” as Dave puts it because it embodies all three revisions of the legendary Prophet-5 synth — Rev1, Rev2, and Rev3 — through the use of genuine Curtis analog VCOs and filters (as in the Rev3) as well as new 2140 low-pass filters designed by Dave Rossum, like the 2040 filters he designed in the original Rev1 and Rev2. A Rev switch lets you choose between the two filter designs. It also adjusts the Filter Envelope’s shape and response to match the original Prophet Rev 1/2 or Rev 3 respectively.
“The result is as pure a renewal of an analog classic as you could wish for, with the authentic, muscular sound of the original and the roadworthiness of a state-of-the-art modern instrument.”
Cole Clark TL2EC-BLBL-HUM
Let’s start at the beginning of the playing experience here: the tweed case. It has five catches! That’s just one example of the close attention to detail Cole Clark has taken with this guitar. The guitar is a ‘Grand Auditorium’ model with a thinline body and cutaway. Its deep ‘C’-shaped neck immediately feels very comfortable in the hand and the satin finish, cutaway, and excellent set-up means it plays beautifully the length of its 25.5 inch scale. Its unplugged sound is surprisingly loud, very even across the strings and nicely woody. Finger-picking, fairly hard strumming, and single lines all sound lively and focussed as you would expect from a high quality GA.
Speaking of wood, this guitar is a mix of Australian reclaimed timbers: blackwood top, back and sides, and Queensland maple for the neck with a sheoak fretboard and bridge, while The acoustic amplification is Cole Clark’s rock solid standard 3-way system: bridge piezo, a face/top sensor and an internal mic inside the box. We could go on about this forever!
Jones-Scanlon x Sonarworks SoundID Reference
Australian Jones-Scanlon Monitors and Latvian Sonarworks have collaborated to produce world-first Sonarworks SoundID Reference-equipped Jones-Scanlon Studio Monitors. The monitors have the ability to measure and then store calibration information directly onto the monitors themselves, and then have this correction occur at the speaker level. This can all be achieved with zero latency, a bi-product of the incredibly powerful DSP found on the SoundID Reference-equipped Jones-Scanlon monitors.
In a textbook example of Australian ingenuity, the duo have managed to become the first monitor manufacturer in the world to successfully integrate Sonarworks’ industry-defining SoundID Reference software into their line of highly touted studio monitors, coming through where others had previously fallen short and beating some very high profile manufacturers to the punch.
Acustica Audio Sienna
Italian software developer Acustica Audio and their new three plugin suite, Sienna, is an absolute game-changer, with the ability to emulate world-class studio listening environments and monitoring setups on inexpensive headphones. In an age where the high tier studio experience is getting closer and closer to recreate in the home, a tool like Sienna is invaluable, further bridging the gap and bring high quality monitoring to those who grew up referencing on headphones and headphones alone. Sienna offers a huge range of perspectives to reference, improve and perfect your mixes with, resulting in better quality monitoring for the budding engineer and significantly lowering the price of entry into the world of critical audio – meaning better mixes for all. It’s a noble undertaking, and one which can have an extremely powerful and liberating effect on your mix work.
Zoom G6 Multi-Effects Guitar Processor Pedal
This sturdily built, well-sized unit has six different amp models to choose from, with each amp being custom designed and tweaked for inclusion. There’s also an impressive 22 cabinet emulations, with 70 pre-loaded full impulse responses providing various options for microphone positions and rooms. If this wasn’t enough, you can also upload your own favourite impulse responses (IRs) via the SD Card slot.
The G6 Multi-Effects Guitar Processor Pedal has Zoom’s very own effects designed and developed over the span of 30 years; such as, reverb, delay, drive, modulation and more. All of these effects sound great in operation, and unlike some other processor effects, don’t sound noticeably digital – something that many an analogue enthusiast will be impressed by. It has a 4.3 inch colour touchscreen with a really easy-on-the-eye and user-friendly interface with its drag and swipe functions that’ll help you get to your preferred setting quickly and with ease.
EarthQuaker Devices Astral Destiny
The Astral Destiny is a larger format pedal which, similar to most Earthquaker pedals, has an input and output on top, either side of the 9V adapter input. The pedal features two stepped knobs to switch between the eight presets and eight modes. Presets 1-8 are readily loaded from the factory, but can be overwritten with your own settings. The ‘Activate’ button can be toggled between either the Preset Mode or Live Mode that are indicated by a red/green LED or a yellow LED respectively. The Astral Destiny can achieve a huge variety of sounds that you may be chasing, as well as creating sounds that no one has ever heard before. You can access harmonies within your reverbs to blend within your own playing, and dial back the Mix knob to sit it beneath your tone. The modulation can be tweaked to either slowly modulate or overtly jitter in and out of pitch and feel.
Premium Swedish microphone manufacturer since the 1930s Milab have made their 21st century debut releasing the VIP-60 large diaphragm condenser microphone that boasts a superior performance when compared to its famed predecessor the VIP-50. The most notable improvements include a significant reduction in self-noise, but fans of the VIP-50 will still recognise the unique sound with its ribbon-like warmth and sparkly highs with its notoriously extremely smooth off-axis response. The brand new VIP-60 boasts an updated capsule and optimised circuitry to bring the sound of the classic VIP-50 into the 21st century, with the capsule being of particular interest due to its rectangular shape. The VIP-60 offers five different polar patterns, cardioid, wide cardioid, hypercardioid, omni, and bidirectional, along with a selection of filters and pre-attenuation pads.
After teasing an ambiguous video, Behringer released BRAINS, a multi-engine oscillator Eurorack module with 20 synth engines and an oscilloscope. Taking design cues from Mutable Instruments’ Plaits, BRAINS is a flexible and functional Eurorack synth module. It features four knobs to change timbre, harmonics, frequency and depth, and two buttons for selecting the synth Bank and Model.
With it’s 20 modes, there are 10 for creating pitched notes, with standouts being the Additive, Karplus Strong, and Supersaw modes. The other 10 are percussive and noise based, with modes including Rain, Dust, Modal Strings and a few FM drum engines. The OLED Oscilloscope that adorns the top of this device is a cool way to see what you’re playing. In this age, people are used to getting strong visual feedback from synths and music making in general, and this allows just that. Interestingly, Behringer added a USB port on top of the device for future firmware updates.
Apogee Duet 3
Use of a breakout cable allows the Duet 3 to be low profile and functional. Made from a combination of aluminium and glass, this interface can be used as a 4 in/2 out device or as a high quality audio listening device via the headphone jack. Using the 2 mic inputs, the high-quality preamps allow for 60dB of gain, suitable for basically all applications. On-board DSP (Digital Signal Processing), allows for zero latency processing of input signals and the Duet 3 can be used with Symphony ECS Channel Strip, tuned by Bob Clearmountain. This combination EQ, compressor and saturator can be applied to your input signals to record like you’re recording the audio through a real channel strip, at zero latency.
The Apogee Duet 3 is a bus powered device, but can also be powered by the second USB-C port. This is great for stability as most small-form audio interfaces don’t offer the option to power them separately.
Austrian Audio CC8
Austrian Audio have created a state-of-the-art microphone ready for modern recording applications yet with the timeless sonic character appreciated by all. The CC8 cardioid small-diaphragm true condenser microphone is hand-built in Vienna and created with professionals in mind. The CC8 sounds natural and open without becoming harsh or spiky, even at extreme volumes. The mids and highs are silky smooth, never exaggerated. This makes the CC8 the ideal microphone for the detailed recording of various acoustic instruments, such as stringed instruments, woodwinds and brass, and orchestral percussion, in addition, instruments like acoustic guitar, piano, snares, hi-hat, and entire drum sets.
Solid State Logic: UC1 and UF8
The UF8 is SSL’s latest studio controller and exhibits all the forethought and attention to detail you would expect from the legendary manufacturer. The premium small scale desktop control solution is an absolute go-to for anyone looking to take their mix workflow out of the box and onto a set of faders, but with a level of scalability that won’t require excessive upgrades down the line.
The UC1 is a plug-in controller designed to link seamlessly with your DAW of choice, faithfully recreating the SSL processing experience in the digital realm. Designed to control SSL’s proprietary Channel Strip 2 and Bus Compressor 2 plugins, the UC1’s layout features hardware controls for every parameter found on these plugins, themselves emulations of SSL’s legendary bus compressor and channel strips as found on their consoles.
Pioneer DJ XDJ-RX3
For those familiar with the RX3’s predecessor, the RX2, will immediately be comfortable with the size and format of the RX3, with a near identical chassis. However, the brushed metal decks contrasted with the jet black mixer section immediately stands out, looking slick and pro. A standout new feature of the screen lies with the status or beat FX modes. When in status mode, the dedicated part of the screen corresponds to the selected performance pad modes (more on these shortly) and are conveniently displayed on screen, such as hot cues or beat jump divisions. Jumping across to beat FX mode is where things get particularly interesting. Scrolling through the beat effects within the mixer section and landing on a favoured effect, this can be tweaked and then saved to one of the four available banks on the left of the screen.
Overall the XDJ-RX3 packs some serious punches and brings professional and classic Pioneer DJ class to one of the most highly anticipated DJ products of the last few years.
M-Audio M-Track Solo
M-Audio: “The M-Track Solo is the best, most portable recording interface in its class. It delivers 48 kHz audio resolution in a compact and easy to use format that is ideal for creating music on any Mac, PC or iOS device. This versatile interface works great for recording any type of sound source and features a single Combo Crystal Preamp with phantom power, plus a switchable Line / Instrument input making it compatible with any guitar or microphone. Plus, with M-Track Solo’s 2-channel recording you can use both line inputs simultaneously to capture digital pianos, drum machines or any other stereo 1/4″ device. M-track Solo is completely powered by USB, removing the need for an external power supply and making it perfectly portable for recording on-the-go. Throw it into your bag, grab a laptop, and create your next podcast, song, or mix anywhere you want!”
Roland Verselab MV-1
To kick off their slew of product announcements in the absence of NAMM this year, Roland took to their socials to unveil the Verselab MV-1: an all-in-one workstation that promises a zippy workflow and a stack of onboard content to sculpt your productions.
Combining a TR step sequencer with 16 MPC-style pads, the Verselab MV-1 offers both drum and melodic sequencing, with more than 3000 ZENcore drum, bass, lead and pad sounds included. The Verselab MV-1 is bundled with a swathe of templates and pattern generators to assist in formulating ideas, while an intuitive Workflow strip offers an end-to-end approach to production – including mixing and mastering – for a surprisingly versatile all-in-one unit. Roland’s Verselab MV-1 also features MIDI I/O, dual headphone jacks, stereo 1/4″ inputs and outputs and can be powered by USB or battery power, resulting in a truly portable approach to beat production.
Yamaha YC73 and YC88 Stage Keyboards
Last year saw Yamaha introduce the YC61: a feature-packed performance keyboard that set a new benchmark for the brand. Now, they’ve doubled down on the series with two larger units, adding 73-key and 88-key models to their arsenal.
Utilising Yamaha’s Virtual Circuit Modelling (VCM) technology to perfectly emulate the response of an organ, the YC73 and YC88 feature a healthy assortment of vintage piano models and modern synth tones alike. AWM technology lets you easily tap into classic acoustic and electric pianos, plus strings, brass and analogue and FM synthesis, with two effects sections also on offer. Users can split the Organ and Keys sections to play two unique patches simultaneously, and there’s even the option to plug in another MIDI keyboard to the unit for a two keyboard approach to performance.
For players who prefer the feel of an acoustic piano, the YC88 is loaded with natural wood keys that feature triple-sensor action and ivory key tops, whereas the YC73 presents itself as a versatile all-rounder with its balanced keys.
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