Every year, Electronic Musician’s esteemed panel of judges climbs into the corporate jet, arrives at our executive villa on Kona, and breaks out the no-limit credit cards for a month of fine dining while we discuss—with Zen-like focus—which products merit the prestigious Electronic Musician Editors’ Choice Awards.
And then the alarm clock goes off . . . time to wake up.
Okay, so the process actually involves numerous multi-hour conference calls on Skype. But the part about the Zen-like focus is true; we take this process very seriously as we pore over reviews, product releases, show reports, forum posts, and notes from the past year as we try for a consensus.
For those who have been following the awards, we followed the same basic strategy as last year, when we retooled the two-decade-old process to base the awards around hot products, rather than trying to shoehorn products into fixed categories. This makes the awards a lot more meaningful, and also, more fun for us to choose.
Choosing the winners was not easy. There were lots of really great products released during the eligibility period (post-AES 2011 through AES 2012), so to narrow down the choices somewhat, we tried to focus on innovation—and we still had a hard time choosing only 30 winners.
But one thing’s for certain: Every product is exceptional for some reason, so congratulations to the winners—you deserve these awards and our deepest thanks for making the tools that allow us to express our musical dreams. And the winners are . . .
BLISS DISGUISED AS A SOFT SYNTHSteinberg Padshop Pro
Taming granular synthesis for new sounds
was cool enough—a granular synthesizer with an easy-to-use interface,
and the ability to create atmospheric pads unlike anything you’d heard
before. But then Steinberg dropped the other shoe with Padshop Pro,
which allowed loading and deconstructing your own samples—pushing it
into a level of coolness that exceeded its predecessor. The sounds it
creates range from fascinating to gorgeous; if Enya had Padshop Pro, she
probably would have sold twice as many CDs.
AFFORDABLE SYNTH AWESOMENESSCasio XW-P1
No one’s making jokes about watches and calculators any more
In the ’80s, Casio put a lot of synths on the map, like the
CZ-101 and CZ-1000. While the company continued to produce keyboards, no
one expected the twin onslaught of the XW-P1 and XW-G1 that stole the
show last year at Winter NAMM, and again at Frankfurt Musikmesse. Bold,
original, clever, and definitely not “me-too” synths, the XW siblings
showed that Casio is back in the synth game with a vengeance.
OVERACHIEVING AUDIO APPWaveMachine Labs Auria
Busting iPad expectations
Auria, iPad apps for audio were primarily about synths, remote control,
and useful accessories. But then WaveMachine Labs blew that stereotype
out of the water with Auria, a full-featured DAW with up to 48 tracks of
playback. And even that wasn’t enough—they bought in ace plug-in
programmers PSP Audioware to create a channel strip worthy of the app.
After Auria, you’ll never look at an iPad the same way again.
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THE P.A. WITH A BIG BRAIN
Line 6 StageSource L3/StageScape M20d
You know you’re in trouble when your sound system is smarter than your band
6 seems to take great enjoyment out of reinventing the ordinary into
something extraordinary, whether that’s turning kidney beans into
effects, or making a guitar that can sound like 50 other guitars. And
now, they’ve pulled the same kind of trick for sound systems by
reinventing the mixer, the speakers, how they interact, and even the way
you operate them. In the process, the P.A. has gone from a sound system
to an ecosystem.
THIS DAW GOES TO 11MOTU Digital Performer 8
When it comes to DAWs, DP aims to be the guitarist’s pick
there are lots of great DAWs. But DP8 gets the Editor’s Choice Award
for the included guitar effects, with amp sims and processors that are
not only the best you’ll find bundled in a DAW, but are also equal to or
better than third-party amp sims. Of course, many types of musicians
use DP . . . but who would have thought the video community’s favorite
audio-for-video DAW was also a hardcore shredder?
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TRUST US—THIS IS ACTUALLY A GOOD IDEAPeavey AT-200 Guitar with Auto-Tune
An unlikely pair gets along extremely well
would be so easy to make jokes like, “Well, now that Auto-Tune has
destroyed music as we know it, guitars are next.” But play an
AT-200—while keeping noobies in tune is an appealing feature (especially
for the listener!), it’s not the instrument’s only one, by far. From
pure intonation to alternate tunings to assisted bends, Auto-Tune adds a
new toolkit for creative guitar players—regardless of the level of
THE iPAD PIGGYBACK MIXING PARTNERMackie DL1608
Achieving synergy with consumer electronics
doubt about it, the DL1608 is a Mackie mixer. But that’s not enough to
merit an Editor’s Choice award. It’s not even about the way Mackie has
integrated iPad control with rugged hardware and SHARC DSP, clever as
that is. The thing that makes the DL1608 special is the app that makes
the concept work for live performance and allows for fluid mixing from a
multitouch interface. That’s hard to pull off—but Mackie succeeded.
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ADVANCING THE CAUSERadial 500 Series 2012 Releases
Reaching a module tipping point
never given an award for a product line before, but this is no ordinary
product line. In 2012 Radial Engineering did more than anyone else to
popularize API 500 Series setups, both by creating frames in a variety
of sizes and prices, and producing a wide range of modules to populate
them—from simple and useful to esoteric and lust-worthy. For those who
want to add analog mojo to their digital worlds, Radial aims to please.
SOMETIMES THE SEQUEL IS BETTERNative Instruments Maschine MK2
The total tool for the beat generation
products were such immediate hits out of the box as the original
Maschine: Its combination of great sounds, fluid workflow, and tight
control launched a zillion grooves. NI got it so right the first time, a
sequel seemed superfluous; but the workflow tweaks, inclusion of
Massive, more sounds, even more sensitive pads, and accessorizing
options took Maschine on its path to the next level—and an Editor’s
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DJS PLAY INSTRUMENTS, TOOPioneer RMX-1000
Don’t just spin—play
RMX-1000 opened the floodgates for DJ controllers designed specifically
as “sidecars” to the more traditional dual-platter controllers. No
longer did DJs have to adapt controllers designed for recordists or
keyboard players to use with their DAWs or samplers—the RMX-1000 bridged
the twin worlds of DJs and electronic musicians, and in the process,
created a powerful new instrument for the burgeoning controllerist
HIGH END FOR THE LOW ENDTC Electronic BG250
Bassists go high tech
a few people here wondered what a bass amp was doing as a nominee for
an Editor’s Choice Award. Then they checked out what the BG250 was all
about. From its light weight and compact size to its internal processing
and TonePrint options, the BG250 delivers high-tech amplification
disguised as a traditional bass amp . . . that just happens to do a
whole lot more than most bass amps.
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TOUCHY-FEELY EXCELLENCENumark NS6
Responsiveness puts this one over the top
been a bumper crop of fine DJ controllers from a variety of
manufacturers, and frankly, it was tough to choose just one. But the NS6
has rugged hardware that’s downright sexy, coupled with being both a
high-level controller and mixer. Part of what makes the hardware
exemplary is the responsiveness and fluidity of the platters themselves;
sometimes it seems the NS6 would be more than happy to play itself if
you just nudge it in the right direction.
THE CURE FOR ’80S PRODUCTION EXCESSESZynaptiq Unveil
Banish excess ambience back to where it belongs
had some strong competition from . . . Zynaptiq, for their PitchMap
pitch-processing software. But Unveil’s ability to remove ambience, from
reverb to room sounds and more, is novel and has applications varying
from compensating for mistakes (e.g., remastering cuts with too much
reverb) to removing ambience when recording dialog. How do they do it?
We have no idea. Possible explanations are a deal with devil, or being
magicians in their spare time.
PORTABLE PARTY DJ MACHINEIK Multimedia iRig Mix
There are so many ways to do iOS wrong, but this company got it right
musicians still look at iOS devices as toys—capable toys, but toys
nonetheless. That’s why iRig Mix is so interesting. Yes, it’s more
expensive than typical apps; but that’s because of the mixer hardware,
which despite its diminutive size is eminently useful. Couple that with
DJ software that even allows beat-matching with music from external
sources like CD players or iPods, make it super-portable and easy to
use, and you have a novel DJ rig you can take anywhere.
ALL THE DAW YOU NEED—AND THEN SOMEAcoustica Mixcraft 6
The “little engine that could”—did
was always “good for the price.” But with Version 6, it became “really
good, and it’s still the same price.” While it has fast, smooth workflow
and tons of content, it’s set apart by video capabilities that beat any
music DAW, regardless of price—including text and image inserts, clip
crossfades, and automatable video processing. If anything ever qualified
as the “direct-from-garage-to-YouTube” program, this is it—for less
HERE’S YOUR CAREER INSURANCEEtymotic MP•9-15
Hearing protection joins the 21st century
these earplugs are expensive ($399)—but your hearing is priceless. The
thing that makes them special is the adaptive noise-reduction element;
protection doesn’t kick in until the sound exceeds safe levels, at which
point they provide gradual attention, at 9dB or 15dB
(switch-selectable). They don’t need custom molds—nor do you need to
remove them when things quiet down and you want to hear the world around
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FEATURE CREEP CAN ACTUALLY BE GOODPreSonus AudioBox 1818VSL
Continuing to blur the line between stage and studio
does the 1818VSL deserve an award when there are so many great audio
interfaces? This one is different in that it’s an element in a seemingly
ever-expanding system that involves PreSonus’ StudoLive mixers, iPad
control, Virtual StudioLive software, and our personal favorite—the
“Wheel of Me” iPhone app that lets musicians dial in their own monitor
mixes (“more me!”). By continuing to add features—mostly free— to mature
products, PreSonus has shown that feature creep can be a good thing.
SUPER-SYNTH FOR STAGE AND STUDIORoland Integra-7
Rejuvenating the hardware rack synth
rack synth has fallen out of favor over the years, but Roland has given
the genre a major shot in the arm. Whether you’re on stage and need a
rugged hardware synth, or in the studio and want to add Roland’s
SuperNATURAL sounds without having to buy another keyboard, the
Integra-7 does both—while adding a ton of I/O, powerful effects, and a
unique ambience engine that places sounds in a 360-degree sound field.
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THE WAR IS OVER, BOTH SIDES WONLewitt Audio LCT 940
Tube or FET? Well, why not both . . . and more?
not just that you can select the tube or FET path (and adjust their
blend). This mic also has nine polar patterns, along with multiple pad,
filtering, and attenuation options—all of which you can adjust remotely
from the power supply. But the LCT 940 isn’t only about features; its
own flavor of detailed and articulate character makes it well-suited to a
wide variety of miking applications. Flexible, innovative, sounds great
. . . pass the award.
SO MUCH FROM SO LITTLEYamaha THR10
This amp is small in stature, but big in features and sound
compact THR10 has a lot going on under the hood: five different guitar
amp types (and flat, bass and acoustic amp settings), onboard effects
with tap tempo, tuner, five user preset slots, and battery/AC power
options. But wait—it’s also a USB-equipped DAW interface (bundled with
Cubase AI and THR editor software) that offers stereo hi-fi audio
playback and direct recording capabilities. Yes, the THR10 sounds great
at bedroom-friendly levels . . . but if you want to meet your neighbors,
crank it up!
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AS IF GUITAR PLAYERS NEEDED MORE EGOElectro-Harmonix SuperEgo
Super sustainer scores big
guitar player isn’t the only one who’ll want this. Taking the EHX
Freeze pedal’s concept to new levels, the SuperEgo has latch, momentary,
and auto switching modes, as well as gliss and speed/layer controls. It
even has a handy effects loop for processing the sustaining signal,
without affecting your dry sound; the result is a fully-polyphonic,
sustaining “synthy pedal of goodness” for accompanying yourself or
HEARING THINGS FROM A NEW ANGLEDynaudio DBM50
Speakers designed for serious desktop production
addresses desktop musicians and production suites by approaching
speaker design from a different angle: The DBM50 (a two-way bass reflex
design with a 7.5” woofer and a 28mm soft-dome tweeter, each with its
own 50W amp) sits astride your monitor, and is angled upward so the
sound makes a direct path to your ears. Around back, lots of EQ controls
let you better match your room or dial in personal preferences; there’s
even an optional remote level controller.
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THE TOMORROWLAND AUDIO INTERFACEUniversal Audio Apollo
It’s no fantasy—this adventurous interface explores new frontiers
offers onboard Duo- or Quad-core DSP for running UAD’s acclaimed
powered plug-ins, near-real-time processing when tracking or mixing, and
less than 2ms of latency. It also offers extensive internal mixing and
routing capabilities, lots of digital and analog I/O (18x24), four UA
mic preamps, and first-rate converters. The icing on the cake: In
addition to handling FireWire 800, its optional Thunderbolt card
provides future-friendly interfacing—and we’re ready.
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ONCE AGAIN, BOB WOULD HAVE APPROVEDMoog Music 500 Series
Spice up your rack with something from the Moog Cookbook
somewhat ironic that after nearly 50 years, Moog returned to a modular
format. With the 500 Series Analog Delay, Moog didn’t simply shoehorn
their Moogerfooger MF-104M pedal contents into a module; the company
upgraded the hardware specs, added stereo linkage, and coded a
studio-friendly editor plug-in to control the unit from your
DAW—features that befit a pro-audio environment, as well give some
serious incentive to take the plunge for a 500 Series system.
DIGITAL OR ANALOG? YES!Make Noise SoundHack Echophon
Taking voltage-controllable delay to infinity and beyond
modular synth scene has long embraced a hybrid approach where CVs
control digital signal processors, and Make Noise took full advantage of
this when it collaborated with DSP whiz Tom Erbe to create the most
inspiring Eurorack module of the year. The Echophon provides patchable
control over two octaves of pitch shifting, with multiple feedback
paths, tempo sync, a freeze function, and more—resulting in a powerful
new delay processor for your patching pleasure.
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Fistful of Analog GoodnessKorg Monotron Duo
A superb two-oscillator synth that fits in the palm of your hand
Monotron Duo pushed Korg’s cred even higher—but not just because it’s a
fat-sounding, dual-oscillator analog synth with a hearty MS-series
filter and tangy modulation capabilities. As with the original Monotron,
the company took the audacious step of posting the instrument’s
schematics online, ensuring that DIYers around the world would snatch up
several of these babies for circuit bending. It’s the synth in your
pocket that everyone’s happy to see (and hear).
VISUAL VIRTUAL SYNTHESISiZotope Iris
Setting the standard for spectral sound manipulation
audio repair tools have long been subverted for creative purposes, it
took iZotope to make that concept a core feature of a virtual
synthesizer. With up to four samples loaded into a patch, Iris lets you
independently highlight and play portions of each file’s harmonic
spectrum using intuitive computer art tools—brush, lasso, magic wand—and
further sculpt each sample using synth modules and effects. With Iris,
the term “sound painting” is no longer a metaphor.
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THE CHAMELEON IN THE PEDALBOARDDigiTech iStomp
Reload your stompbox faster than a NASCAR pit stop
the right app, an iOS device can be a great guitar processor. However,
your iPhone and iPad aren’t exactly stage-ready on their own—so DigiTech
created a rugged footpedal that can load any of the company’s
great-sounding, DSP-based “e-pedals,” completely untethered from your
Apple hardware. Whether you’ve downloaded a delay, reverb, compressor or
distortion form the iTunes store, the sound is so good that you’ll
forget that the pedal is reconfigurable—until DigiTech releases a new
YES, YOU CAN UNBAKE THE CAKESony SpectraLayers Pro
Fix it in the mix? How about fix it after the mix?
SpectraLayers Pro, spectral editing has moved beyond the realm of noise
reduction to become a powerful creative tool. It’s easy to find parts
of a mix that you want to isolate and process, extract and remove, or
analyze and repair because the tools will recognize and follow the
specific frequency or bandwidth you select—as well as the related
harmonics. You can even use VST effects to process layers. Who would
have thought repairing mixes can actually be fun?
| MODERN MEETS RETRO|Arturia MiniBrute
Your wish for an affordable analog synth has come true
we crazy for giving a monosynth an Editors’ Choice Award in the 21st
century? We’d be crazy not to, because the MiniBrute is packed with
features, built like a tank and, most importantly, sounds fantastic.
What’s more, Arturia boldly ditched the ubiquitous ladder filter for a
vintage design by Steiner-Parker; and the MIDI, USB, and CV I/O means
it’ll play well with all of your toys—analog modules, soft synths, and
DAW environment. Cool—we can all get along!