Another year, another 30 crazy-innovative products
IT’S A tough job, but it’s one that we love. Each December, Electronic Musician staff and contributors take on the enviable task of reviewing the year’s most innovative product debuts, and narrowing the hot list to 30 favorites for our Editors’ Choice Awards.
Rather than wedging products into rigid, predefined award categories, we prefer to pick the winners first, then give each product a unique award that truly celebrates the things that make it special. We think doing it this way makes the awards more meaningful, and a lot more fun.
Picking 30 winners is never easy. Here at the magazine, we get to try out hundreds of new production tools throughout the year, and we’ve seen more amazing product debuts during this year’s eligibility period (post-AES 2012 through AES 2013) than we could ever fit here. Innovation is everywhere, from the simplest of accessories to the most elaborate workstations. So after much consideration—and quite a few heated debates—we present this year’s winners. Congratulations to all!
A Tasty Pixel
DISCOVER THE MISSING LINK IN THE EVOLUTION OF IOS MUSIC
With the growing multitude of cool iPad music apps, very few can claim to be musthave products. However, we dub A Tasty Pixel Audiobus to be just that, because it strengthens the utility of every one of the several hundred compatible apps. Audiobus routes synths/samplers/microphones/etc. through effects and processors and into DAWs/loopers/DJ mixers/visualizers/etc. For making an iOS device a true music production/performance machine, Audiobus is the most important piece of the puzzle.
RIGHT ON THE BUTTON
WHEN YOU WANT A CONTROLLER DONE RIGHT, DO IT YOURSELF
There are generic button-grid controllers, and then there is Ableton Push, the actual physical extension of Ableton Live software. Push rules over the entire Live domain, allowing you to play, perform, record, and mix, as well as access the Library and most settings, all on the Push’s buttons, encoders, and display. With an innovative melodic step sequencer, automation, intelligent new uses for the touch strip, and much more, Push pushes keys aside and creates an almost entirely new writing/performing environment for Live— away from the computer screen.
THE DREAM WEAVER
Air Music Technologies
ADDITIVE SYNTHESIS MEETS LEGO
Loom’s hybrid of additive synthesis and modular design encourages experimentation and the creation of vivid, animated synthesizer tones. You can quickly generate the harmonic and overtone content, and shape sounds from there with a choice of up to four envelope generators, three LFOs, and freely scatter the signal path with slots for as many as ten modules, each of which offers a multitude of options ranging from additional oscillators to all sorts of time and frequency warpage to filters and rhythmic components, all governed by a rich modulation matrix. Loom is a sound designer’s dream come true.
Logic Pro X
THE MOST DAW YOU CAN GET FOR THE LEAST AMOUNT OF MONEY
While Apple’s long-awaited Logic update added a ton of great features, the redesigned interface made it easier than ever to use— without sacrificing functionality. For example, the Drummer track provides a musical way to create organic drum parts while drawing from the world-class sample library included with the program. Other notable additions are the new MIDI effects and virtual instruments, the track stack feature, and the ability to control the whole kit and caboodle from your iPad. But the thing that sealed the award was the price: At $199, Logic Pro X makes perfect sense for every studio.
THE FAB FOUR
A-T SHOWS WHY IT’S HIP TO BE SQUARE
Audio-Tehnica’s AT5040 is definitely not another “me too” microphone. Boasting a revolutionary capsule that employs four rectangular diaphragms behaving as a single transducer, the AT5040 has a noise floor that’s in the sub-basement. Though it excels as a vocal microphone, the AT5040’s smooth frequency response and wide dynamic range (137dB!) make it a natural for acoustic instruments as well. If your studio is quiet enough, you’ll wonder, is this thing on?
REPEAT AFTER ME: WINNER
SPANNING THE GAP BETWEEN MUSICAL INSTRUMENT AND AUDIO PROCESSOR
Roland has been making digital loopers longer than just about anyone, steadily improving them with each generation. The latest Loopstation is the RC-505, a one-of-a-kind looper designed for hands-on control. Singers, recording engineers, or anyone who plays an instrument can endlessly overdub on five separate tracks and control them in real time. With three hours of onboard memory, you can take your sweet time recording all the parts in your next looping masterpiece.
THIS ONE GOES TO 12
Dave Smith Instruments
GREAT SOUNDS AND MAXIMUM PROGRAMMABILITY MAKE THIS A WINNER
The Prophet 12 is definitely a player’s instrument. With 61 velocity-sensitive keys and channel Aftertouch, it provides 12-voice polyphony built around digital oscillators running through analog effects, filters, and VCAs. Sound shaping is a snap, thanks to the dedicated front-panel controls. The intuitive interface helps you take full advantage of the wealth of modulation options. On top of that, you can internally route the VCA outputs back into the synth for tuned feedback, and add some attitude to the patches using the Character effects. The result is a keyboard that defines the term “polysynth” for the 21st century.
A CINEMATIC PERCUSSION LIBRARY THAT DEFIES THE GODZILLA PARADIGM
StormDrum 3 favors organic-sounding, ethnic percussion over processed, larger-than-life drums. An 89GB library holds loops that extend beyond the typical 4-bar patterns, many percussion pieces have generous velocity layers, plenty of special performance techniques, and round-robin articulations— and frequently let you mix up to five additional mic positions. Most of the organic vibe comes from the grooving loops, which are soaked in the real dynamics of musical interaction rarely found in quantized performances. Many of the instruments and loops come from percussionist Mickey Hart’s extensive and exotic percussion collection. EastWest has sent this collection spinning out of the park.
ZLX Powered Speaker
A SPEAKER FOR LIVE SOUND THAT YOU CAN LIFT WITHOUT A CRANE
Electro-Voice has packed a lot of technology into the ZLX Series of powered sound-reinforcement speakers, including features like Class-D amplification, dual inputs, onboard crossover for easy integration with a subwoofer, and an XLR output for system expansion. The fact that they can do it in a box that really can be moved by one person is fantastic. My chiropractor is not happy.
ONCE YOU TRY IT, WE PROMISE YOU’LL WANT ONE
Everyone who’s used them knows that Eventide’s stompboxes are best in class. Based on rackmount Harmonizers and built like bricks, these pedals deliver unique effects, and they sound amazing. Now Eventide has stepped up the game with the H9, a stompbox that can do everything the award-winning PitchFactor, TimeFactor, ModFactor, and Space can. Paired with an app that supplies loads of onscreen knobs and switches, the H9 offers the best integration of stompbox and iOS that we’ve seen.
CONTROL (VOLTAGE) FREAK
HIGH-RESOLUTION CVS WITHOUT SACRIFICING AUDIO OUTPUTS
Although the ability to send control voltages from a DAW to a modular synth is not new, there are often issues to deal with—loss of audio outputs, special cable requirements, and non-standardized output levels, among them. Expert Sleepers has addressed these issues by introducing Eurorack modules that simplify the task of interfacing the digital and analog worlds, providing consistent, high-resolution signals that your audio interface cannot produce. The ES-3 Mk3 frees up your interface’s audio outs by using its ADAT Lightpipe port to send eight channels of CV (or audio) to your synth. And it’s easily expandable for additional outputs, as well as inputs. Whether you use Max/MSP, NI Reaktor, or the company’s own Silent Way plug-in, the ES-3 Mk3 is an essential tool for any serious modular-synth user.
TRACKS LIKE A BLOODHOUND
FINALLY, YOU CAN PLAY YOUR SOFTWARE INSTRUMENTS LIKE A GUITAR
Far from MIDI guitar’s awkward debut, Fishman’s TriplePlay deftly integrates with virtual and hardware instruments alike. The package—a divided pickup and control unit/transmitter, mounting hardware, and a thumb drive-size USB receiver—includes TriplePlay’s app, which hosts a custom library, courtesy of IK Multimedia and Native Instruments, and sweetens the pot with Presonus Studio One Artist for recording, and Notion for tablature and notation. The guitarist’s bottom line is responsiveness and accuracy: a tall order for a wireless system playing virtual instruments, but TriplePlay tackles the challenge with ease for a tactile experience that truly feels like playing a guitar with benefits.
LIVE DRUMS IN YOUR COMPUTER!
There are tons of great drum sounds out there; the things that bring BFD back to the top are attention to detail, encompassing sound design, expressive power, and a customizable feature set. The generous supply of swappable kits and pieces—some recorded with brushes and mallets—maintain the sweet ambience of their recorded environment, thanks to several prominent engineers. Along with a revamped, drum-machine-style Groove Editor, Version 3 adds a boatload of new effects: reverbs, delays, modulation, bit-reduction, and dynamics processors including FXpansion’s DCAMS Envelope Shaper. The resulting sounds jump out of the speakers with a lifelike dynamism other drum libraries just can’t beat.
CINEMATIC SOUND DESIGN WITH DRAMATIC RANGE
Dynamic range is as important in film as it is in music. Heavyocity Aeon’s expressive sound library breaks down to a rhythmic and a melodic library, with plenty of overlap, as both have useful and complementary rhythmic engines. Instead of industrial, clangorous tones, the collection leans heavily on organic-sounding samples, ranging from guitars, dobro, and banjo, to odd, convolved combinations of synthesizer tones; cello and bass drum; upright bass, oil can, and guitar— with inspiringly musical results. Add a killer arpeggiator, triggered effects, and the ability to alter loops on the fly, and you have a sound library for the ages.
THE MISSING LINK
USE iOS APPS AS IF THEY WERE REAL INSTRUMENTS
If you’ve ever tried to integrate iPads or iPhones with computer-based DAWs, you’ve probably found that most solutions are too chunky, too clunky, or too expensive—until now. iConnectMIDI2+ is a solid metal box that fits in your hand and works as a conduit for sending stereo audio and multichannel MIDI in both directions between your iOS device and your computer. It’s a MIDI interface for almost anything connected to it, too. For anyone making music with iOS, the iConnectMIDI2+ is a real problem solver.
DEEP CLEANING FOR NOISY TRACKS
EVEN BAD ROOM TONE HAS NO PLACE TO HIDE ANYMORE
RX2 Advanced gave sullied recordings a complete overhaul in personal hygiene, skillfully washing away hiss, hum, clicks, pops, crackle, and even unwanted overdubs by the neighbor’s barking schnauzer. RX3 Advanced ups sonic sanitation with a new Dereverb module that sponges up ugly room tone, a timesaving Dialogue Denoiser, and more. And now that the Insight metering suite has also been added to its powerwashing facilities, it’s no contest: RX3 Advanced is the most comprehensive software bundle for scrubbing and wiping your way to pristine sound.
EVERYTHING’S UNDER CONTROL
Keith McMillen Instruments
FOR ONE SO SMALL AND SENSITIVE, THIS PUPPY KNOWS HOW TO TAKE COMMAND
QuNexus offers the seldom-heard-of combination of portability, compatibility, sensitivity, and near-indestructibility. Want to use it with an iPad? Check. Your CV and MIDI gear including CV/MIDI conversion? Check. String them all together with a laptop? You guessed it. Playing the QuNexus adds another layer of wonder as you explore the Tilt sensitivity, a new expression innovation of the controller’s button keys, in addition to standard velocity and pressure sensitivity. This much power never fit in your pocket before.
ANALOG SOUNDS THAT GO ANYWHERE
Korg continues to strike gold as it mines the creative potential of analog synthesis. The Volca line provides three instruments that, together, cover every aspect of modern music production—drums, bass, and melody/chords. Volca Keys, Volca Beats, and Volca Bass each include a sequencer, a ribbon controller, MIDI and Sync I/O, built-in speakers, and the ability to power from batteries or AC. The synths easily connect together or interface with other instruments. And with their low price and small footprint, they allow you to add analog timbres to your rig no matter if you’re onstage or in the studio. With such big sounds coming from small instruments, we couldn’t help but give the entire line the award.
THE WHOLE NINE YARDS
Komplete 9 Ultimate
BIGGER IS UNQUESTIONABLY BETTER HERE
Komplete Ultimate stuffs 370GB of virtual instruments, plug-ins, and sound libraries into a compact USB hard drive. The package orbits around the company’s flagship product line: Absynth 5, Battery 4, FM8, Guitar Rig 5, Kontakt 5, Massive, Reaktor 5, and a tasty handful of audio-processing effects modeled after vintage analog gear. A huge number of libraries support Kontakt well beyond the factory issue. Reaktor hosts an astounding studio full of unique instruments, including the amazing Prism, Razor, and Monark, a powerful analog-modeling monosynth. When it comes to bang for the buck, Komplete 9 is an indisputable champ.
DOES THIS SYNTH MAKE MY BASS LOOK FAT?
Bass Station II
YOU CAN HEAR AND FEEL THE THICKNESS
A complete reworking of the early-’90s classic, the Novation Bass Station II checks off the wishlist of modern all-analog monosynths: USB and MIDI ports, audio input, patch memories, monster filters, generous programmability, arpeggiator, and plenty more. But of course, sound is still king. With two oscillators as well as a sub-oscillator, this beast blasts and belches out the kind of wobbly and dirty bass that shakes you to the foundation, as well as spiky and shrill lead tones far beyond the bass realm.
DEALING WITH A FULL DECK
DDJ-SX with Serato DJ
BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE SOFTWARE COMES OUT TO PLAY
It’s hard to fathom a better controller to debut the Serato DJ software. The durably built Pioneer DDJ-SX packs in a near 1-to- 1 ratio of software-to-hardware controls, including a full 4-deck mixer and amazing drum pad banks that unlocked exclusive features to the new creative performance-oriented Serato DJ. With a professional soundcard built-in, the DDJ-SX can input turntables and CD players, and it gives full control over Serato DJ’s beefed up sampler and iZotope-powered effects.
NOW YOU HEAR IT, NOW YOU DON’T
SE846 Sound Isolating Earphones
CUSTOMIZABLE FREQUENCY RESPONSE FOR STELLAR SOUND IN YOUR EARS
Shure SE846 ear monitors shut out what you don’t want to hear by blocking up to 37dB of ambient sound. Of course they let in what you do want to hear, with a response that extends from 15Hz to 20kHz. The SE846 ships with three sets of interchangeable inserts, allowing a user to customize the frequency response curve between flat, or +/-2.5dB from 1kHz to 8kHz.
NAILING THE AUDITION
THIS TOOLBOX DEFINITELY MAKES CONSTRUCTING YOUR MIX EASIER!
The Sonnox Codec Toolbox features two applications. The Toolbox Plug-in allows you to audition the effects of encoding your mix to mp3, AAC, iTunes, and other web formats in real time. The Toolbox Manager facilitates batch encoding of files, and easy addition of metadata such as artist or track name, while also providing a Clip-Safe feature that automatically compensates for any clipped samples during the encoding process.
UNPLUG AND PLAY
ANYONE CAN CUT THE CORD WITH THESE AFFORDABLE SYSTEMS
Sony wireless systems have traditionally toured only with the rich and famous, but the DWZ system brings Sony digital wireless to a price point that musicians can afford. Operating in the 2.4GHz band, the DWZ Series includes an assortment of guitar, instrument, and handheld microphone components. RF scanning and auto-channel selection make the DWZ system easy to use, while smart features such as compatibility with 9-volt guitar pedal board power and a Cable Tone control will endear it to working musicians.
Hot Hand USB
GREATER CONTROL THROUGH WIRELESS LIVING
Modulation and pitch-bend wheels are useful in performance, but remain limited when it comes to parameter manipulation. Yet electronic instruments require a high degree of control in order to attain the level of expressivity that music demands. That’s where the Hot Hand USB comes in. This lightweight ring contains an accelerometer that tracks three-dimensional movement and sends it in real time to a USB receiver. The included software editor lets you assign the gestural information from the x, y, and z axes to any set of MIDI controllers. The result is greater expressivity, no matter where you map the output. Now you really can put your hands in the air like you just don’t care.
TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL
TRAIN YOUR EARS TO PROGRAM SYNTHESIZERS
Syntorial is the most direct route between hearing a sound in your head and knowing how to bring it to life. Lesson-by-lesson, module-by-module, Syntorial shows you almost everything that synths can do without getting bogged down in theory. Learn to aurally recognize VCO waveforms, filter bandwidths, LFO rates, ADSR parameters, effects types, and more. Get the edge on sound design by educating yourself with this new approach to tutorial software.
THE NEXT WAVE
THE BEST EXCUSE YET FOR OWNING AN IPAD
From the company that invented wavetable synthesis, Waldorf Nave puts a uniquely powerful synthesizer in your iPad for less than a Jackson. Use Nave to create your own wavetables by synthesizing speech or resynthesizing anything you can record. Turn text into wavetables, view sound in three colorful dimensions, and control playback with MIDI and an assortment of modulation sources. Record music within Nave and use Audiobus to route its output to other apps. All this on your iPad? Outstanding!
TRUTH IN MIXING
IF YOU CAN’T HEAR EVERY DETAIL USING THESE MONITORS, YOU’RE DEAF!
Most inexpensive near-fields sound, well, like dime-store boxes when placed where they belong: on shelves above a mixer or DAW controller. Park them there, and their response in the upper-bass and low-midrange bands becomes cloudier than a Pacific Northwest winter. But with the HS5, the outlook is always clear. You can stick this pint-sized performer just about anywhere and it’ll dish out an open and focused sound, letting you hear every detail of your mix with pinpoint precision. And the best part? The HS5 costs less than most any other pro monitor. We call that a win-win.
SHOW OFF YOUR SIX PACK
H6 Handy Recorder
EXTRA TRACKS ON THE GO
The Zoom H6 picks up where most handheld 4-track recorders leave off. Loaded with six inputs direct-patched to six audio tracks, the H6 records MP3 or WAV files up to 24-bit/96kHz onto SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards up to 128GB. The H6 ships with two detachable stereo microphone “heads” (X/Y and Mid-Side) plus four side-mounted, balanced Combo inputs. Imagine our delight when we found hardware buttons for arming each track, no menu required.
THANK YOU AUDIO FILES, YOUR SUGGESTIONS ARE NOTED
Zynaptiq has cracked the code of the inscrutable stereo master file. PitchMap 1.5 fans out the individual parts of a mixed audio signal across the screen and lets you play new melodies and harmonies from a MIDI keyboard in real time. PitchMap can also silence individual sound parts in a mix and do the whole auto-pitch-correct thing. However, it was the deconstruction of stereo audio into individual, playable parts that we had to see and hear to believe. So we did; now we’re believers.