The Annual Rock Star Holiday Gear Guide

Artists, DJs, and engineers reveal favorites that help you treat everyone on your list like a rock star
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Time to troll for markdowns on music and studio equipment. In this year’s holiday special feature, we asked 20-plus music-making pros to tell us what’s on their Christmas wish and gift lists. Each one revealed one “practical” choice and a “sky’s the limit” idea. Bearing in mind that one electronic musician’s “low-budget” may be pure fantasy for others, you’re sure to find some inspiring ideas to enhance your productions and your musical friends’.

Teenage Engineering OP-1 synth/workstation Above and Beyond

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Formed in 2000, this British EDM group also owns the record labels Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep. Members Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki also host a weekly radio show called Group Therapy. Their latest album is We Are All We Need.

“As a budget gift,” says member Jono Grant, “the Teenage Engineering OP-1 synthesizer/workstation [around $850] is a lot of fun and gets you thinking outside the box.

“Crane Song’s Avocet stereo monitor controller [around $3,000] may seem like an extremely expensive volume knob to some, but the excellent D/A converter ensures you’re hearing things correctly, and because most things are done “in the box these days, it makes sense to spend the money on the listening environment and monitoring tools.”

Rusty Soup Can microphone Adam Hawkins

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L.A.-based Grammy-winner Adam Hawkins’ varied discography includes engineering and/or production for recent releases by Switchfoot, Gary Clark Jr., Avenged Sevenfold, Regina Spektor, and Keith Urban.

“My practical choice would be the Rusty Soup Can microphone from Mead Guitars [around $24.99]. They’re made by a small company that sells them on eBay. These are just so much fun for odd drum, vocals, or guitar sounds. They give you unique sounds for small-sounding drum loops or a weird filtered kind of guitar sound without having to do any extra work. You just plug it in, see what it sounds like, and creatively it can inspire something you wouldn’t do otherwise. They’re dirt-cheap and everything they do is really fun.

“If the sky’s the limit, buy the nicest studio monitors you can afford, assuming you’ve already got a treated room. Nothing changes your work more than hearing more detail in your mixes. And there’s nothing like changing to give you a new perspective and a new way of listening to everything. Right now I’m on Focal SM9s [about $7,500/pair], and I like them because they don’t lie. If something sounds bad, it really sounds bad, and if something sounds good, it really sounds good. A lot of monitors I’ve tried seem to always sound good no matter what you do. You make an EQ change and you’re like: That sounds good, too. Which one’s right?”

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Make Noise Shared System Alessandro Cortini

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Multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Cortini has lent his synth genius to Nine Inch Nails, both in the studio and onstage, on and off since 2004. He co-wrote some material for NIN’s eighth album, Hesitation Marks, with Trent Reznor; founded SONOIO; is a touring member of How to Destroy Angels; and has collaborated with the likes of Ladytron and Christina Aguilera. Cortini is preparing instrumental releases on Important Records (Forse 3 will be available soon) and Hospital Productions. (Sonno is available now, while Sonno II will be released soon.)

Cortini’s budget gift suggestion? A Korg Volca Keys analog loop synthesizer ($150). “It’s incredibly versatile and unique sounding, includes MIDI, and hackable, for only 150 dollars.”

His sky’s-the-limit gift suggestion: Make Noise Shared System ($3,330), a complete synth voice that offers highlevel, West Coast-style modular synthesis capabilities in a portable case that lends itself to live performance.

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Roland System-1 All Hail the Silence

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All Hail The Silence is the collaboration between BT and Christian Burns. BT’s career has spanned more than 20 years, nine albums, multiple movie scores, and development of numerous music software products, including Stutter Edit, BreakTweaker, and Muse. Vocalist Christian Burns has collaborated with the likes of Tiësto, Armin Van Buuren, and Benny Benassi. All Hail the Silence will be releasing a fully analog album in early 2015.

BT: “FL Studio [various versions—prices vary] because it’s the most comprehensive and powerful DAW ever made. And better than that, all your friends think it’s a toy and won’t understand why all your latest music sounds so effing awesome.

“The Roland System-1 [around $600] looks beautiful, sounds great, and is a wonderful head break from a computer screen.”

CB: “In a dream scenario, a bit of gear I would say to get is an actual Lexicon 224 reverb [upwards of $1,200—resale prices may vary]. I recently got to play with one and it has actual magic inside. Unicorn central.

“And if you don’t have $10,000,000 to spend on a Lexicon, I recommend a vocal pedal called the TC Helicon VoiceLive 3 [vocal effects processor and harmonizer with vocoder, talkbox, guitar FX, and looper]. I have been using it on all my recent shows and it sounds incredible. Take control of every single part of your vocal sound. A must for any vocal performer.”

Shure SM57Brian Tarquin

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Brian Tarquin is an Emmy Awardwinning composer and guitarist whose credits include daytime dramas (General Hospital), prime-time series (The Simpsons, Grey’s Anatomy, many more), and news programs (60 Minutes, MSNBC Reports, etc.). Working out of his own Jungle Room Studios, Tarquin also operates the BHP Music label, whose projects include the Guitar Master Series featuring music from Jeff Beck, B.B. King, Carlos Santana, and many others.

“My practical-budget purchase would be a Shure SM57, the most versatile microphone, from miking drums and percussion to guitar amps and horns. For 100 bucks you can’t get a more useful microphone for the studio. I have several 57s and always use them when tracking drums.

“If the sky’s the limit, my choice is the Neve 33609 compressor/limiter [around $5,000], the ultimate bus compressor. It fattens those weak digital mixes, giving a smooth bottom to the mix. Still manufactured today by AMS in England to Rupert Neve’s original specs, it’s worth every dime. I use mine across the mix bus for every style of music and love it.”

Chris Dugan

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Green Day’s go-to engineer, Chris Dugan, works mainly in the band’s Jingletown Studios (Oakland, Calif.). Dugan recently tracked and mixed the new album by Toy Guitar, as well as the Billie Joe Armstrong/Norah Jones tribute to the Everly Brothers, Foreverly, and all of Green Day’s albums for the past dozen years.

Slate Virtual Buss Compressor “The Virtual Buss Compressor from Slate Digital is only about $99, and it’s just a kick-ass plug-in for the money. It’s designed to emulate three famous bus compressors: an SSL 4000, Focusrite Red, and a tube-based compressor like a Vari-Mu or Fairchild. You can put them together tailor your mix in a custom way. It can be very versatile. Even just between the SSL and the more vintage style, you can get a broad range of really cool possibilities.

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[Universal Audio’s] Apollo Twin interface is top-notch. You can’t go wrong with any of the UAD stuff; everything in their bundle is always quality. The Apollo not only is portable, but it lets you get in the door so you have the hardware that is required to actually process all of those [UAD] plug-ins. You get a cool interface as well as a cool A-to-D converter that’s super handy, and a volume knob and multifunction knob. For someone who might be struggling with their interface for their laptop or their home studio and wants to make a step up, I definitely recommend the Twin or the Apollo 16, the bigger one.

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JBL LSR305 Chuck Ainlay

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Nashville-based Chuck Ainlay has been a force in music and audio technology for more than 30 years. As a producer and engineer, consultant, and developer, he remains a voice for quality in the industry at large as well as his own projects. His recent work includes album projects for Miranda Lambert, David Nail, Lee Ann Womack, and George Strait, and co-development of Fredenstein’s line of 500 Series modules.

“As a budget choice, I was blown away by JBL’s new powered studio monitors. They make two different versions. The LSR305 has a 5-inch woofer [around $149/pair] and they have an 8-inch woofer version [LSR 308, around $249/pair]. Speakers are the first thing you need to evaluate anything, and you could mix on these things and be satisfied that what you’re hearing is accurate.

“For the high end, I love the Audeze LCD-3 headphones [around $2,000]. For me, they’re the only headphones I could try to mix in. They’re so comfortable; it seems like you’ve got a pair of speakers rather than a pair of headphones just forcing music in your ears. I was on a conference call the other day about high-resolution audio at the AES show. There was going to be an entire row devoted to high-resolution audio, and Audeze was mentioned as being there. Bob Ludwig was also on the phone call, and he said, ‘Oh great!’ He’s obviously a big fan as well.”


Golden Age Pre 73 MK2 Deerhoof

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After 20 years on the punk scene, Deerhoof remain steadfastly DIY in the studio. Guitarist Ed Rodriguez shares a couple of gift picks. The band’s 12th album, La Isla Bonita, was released last month on Polyvinyl.

“Deerhoof have always been big followers of the ‘do the most with what you have’ school of recording—from the years of four-track knob twisting to manipulating free online software to now having honest-to-goodness computers and recording programs. But even still, some of the instruments on our recent albums were recorded using the mic built into the laptop. If you decide to take a step further and use a real microphone, a mic pre can add some life, especially to vocals. A great one is the Golden Age Pre 73 MK2 [about $350]. It can usually be found used for only a few hundred bucks. It’s perfect for adding that little something to take your recordings to the next level. If money is no object, I would recommend the Abagnale 48, which I absolutely guarantee will make everything you write a great song or I’ll give you double your money back.”

Moog Little Phatty Stage II Denitia and Sene

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The Brooklyn-based singer-producer duo Denitia and Sene meld hip hop, soul, and electronic music, with influences ranging from The Fugees to The Beatles; their EP, side fx, was released last month via Red Bull Sound Select. Producer Sene offers some ideas for your gear wish list.

“I think a great lower-cost tool is [Native Instruments’] Maschine [hardware options range from $350 to $999]. It’s so diverse; by being a synthesizer and programmer, it gives a lot of editing options and sampling options, good for studio work or live triggering. If you are all about your synths and can shell out a buck, then I would suggest a Moog Little Phatty Stage II [around $1,400]. It’s got a really warm sound that a lot of new-school producers spend hours trying to duplicate. It’s a steroid option to the Micro Korg.”

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Ferry Corsten

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Dutch trance pioneer Ferry Corsten is a producer/DJ who has worked with superstar vocalists from Simon Le Bon to Guru. He’s also remixed songs from U2, The Killers, Moby, and more, and has released four albums of his own.

NI Komplete 9 “I’m a fan of Native Instruments. Their software is amazing, and the team behind the company are great guys and help me out whenever I need it. Komplete 9 [around $350] is a great package to have. This is a basic package that contains everything you could possibly need in a production—from amazing synths, sound libraries, and fun stuff like the guitar rig. I think it would be a great Christmas gift because it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

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“If I had a to give a piece of audio gear as a Christmas gift I would give the old-school Roland JP 8000 synthesizer [priced from $400 on eBay]. I know it’s from way back but some of my earliest hits were made on that synthesizer. There are obviously new synthesizers in the market that you could use, but since it’s Christmas I’d want to give something special and, of course, personal.”

Yamaha CS-80 Escort

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Disco big band Escort have been filling dance floors around the world since the 10-plus person ensemble burst onto the scene in 2006 with party hits “Starlight” and “All Through the Night.” Cofounder Dan Balis is all about synths on his wish list:

“For the analog synth fetishist in your life, the SoundToys FilterFreak [around $180]—we’ve been programming analog synths for over 15 years now and it’s simply one of the best-sounding digital filters we’ve heard. They’ll be able to take any cheap synth and make it sound like a modular monster. If we had an impossibly wealthy benefactor, we’d be perfectly happy to get a MIDI retrofitted Yamaha CS-80 [vintage prices vary]. After all, who doesn’t want a 200-pound polyphonic beast under their Christmas tree?”

Focal SM9 monitors Gareth Emery

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The British producer, DJ, and “fervent anti-genre campaigner,” known for blending house, progressive, and trance into creative new productions, spent months touring in the wake of the success of Drive, released last April. Emery, who is currently in the studio working on a follow-up album project, took a break to talk gear gifts.

“The Studio Electronics SE1 [about $1,800] is a classic analog bass synth … it’s still impossible to get these sounds with software! Sensaphonics 3D AARO [starting at $2,000] is the best in-ear monitoring system I’ve ever used, for both for live shows and travel.”

Credland Audio Big Kick : “If you’re making any genre of music that requires kick drums, this wave-shaping tool will be the best $65 you have ever spent. Trust me! My sky’s-the-limit pick: Focal SM9 monitors with Focal Sub6. They may cost the price of a new car, but these are the best studio monitors I have ever used, incredibly transparent and precise, whilst also being a lot of fun to make music on—which is often lacking in many ultra-neutral reference monitors.”

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ZVEX Fuzz Factory Generationals

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The dreamy pop duo from New Orleans has been featured in movies, television, and by retailers ranging from Bloomingdales to Amazon and Starbucks. We caught the band on their headline tour supporting their fourth studio album, Alix (Polyvinyl); frontman Grant Widmer shared his gift picks:

“I first bought a ZVEX Fuzz Factory [about $175] a couple years ago, after it caught my eye in a display case at my local guitar store. I assumed it would give me a cool, boutique distortion sound, but I had no idea how much I would love it. There are 5 knobs that give a ton of different variations on a typical fuzz distortion sound, and if that’s too much variation to start with, ZVEX provides a little recipe book with a handful of setting combinations that sound great to get you started. It’s a super-fun toy to plug any instrument signal into and immediately get a lot of new buzzy textures. Highly recommended for fun and studio.”

t-Jays Four Jonathan Segel

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Multi-instrumentalist and recordist Jonathan Segal is best known as a founding member of Camper Van Beethoven. He has also fronted his own band, and owned and operated personal studios in California and in his current home base in Sweden. His latest projects include the new Camper album, El Camino Real and a solo record called Shine Out.

“For the budget-minded shopper, I would suggest something that everybody needs these days, which are earbuds for listening to music on the move. I know that it can be a nuisance to have to listen to MP3s, but I have finally found some decent ear buds: t-Jays Four. Made by a company in Sweden, Jays, they are the first in-ear headphones that I have actually liked to listen to, and they’re only a little over $100!

“For high-end gifts, I think I’d get that studio head on my list one of the new Universal Audio UAD-2 Satellite Thunderbolt units, and why not go with the UAD-2 OCTO Core PCIe card with eight SHARC processors. And let’s say it’s the Ultimate bundle, with 79 plug-ins. You won’t go back to your old plug-ins, whether compressors, EQs, even delays or reverbs.”

Bose QC15 noise-canceling headphones Hook n Sling

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In-demand Australian DJ/producer Hook n Sling received an ARIA Music Awards nomination for his early hit “The Bump” in 2007. He has remixed songs for Calvin Harris, Fedde Le Grand, and numerous compilations for Ministry of Sound, and he regularly DJs at venues and festivals around the world. Hook n Sling’s latest offering is “Magnet,” a collaboration with longtime David Guetta collaborator Chris Willis.

“On a practical budget would be a pair of Bose QC15 noise-canceling headphones [the current model, QC25 retails for around $300]. I swear, the amount of times these things have saved me on a hung-over or sleep-deprived plane trip home is ridiculous. Also, when I’m on the road, these are the headphones I use to work on my music. They’re surprisingly accurate and the fact I’ve had them for a few years now means I know them inside out.

“My sky’s-the-limit gift choice is a pair of Barefoot MiniMain 12s [four-way active monitors, around $20,000/pair]. I can do without analog gear, but what I’ll never be able to do without is a good-sounding room and an amazing pair of near- or midfield monitors. These can pretty much do it all. I was lucky enough to hear them in a studio in the Vintage King complex in L.A. a few months back. They sound incredible, and the way they can emulate smaller speakers like NS10s is unbelievable. Can someone please buy me these for my birthday?”

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Bricasti M7 Kevin Shirley

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One of rock’s most celebrated producer/engineers, Kevin Shirley has helped define the sounds of guitar-god acts including Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Metallica, and Joe Bonamassa.

“For years I have used the Peavey Kosmos Pro [sub-bass generator/audio processor, around $200]. I use it on guitars; it can really help you give heavy metal guitars that kind of width and height and thump that doesn’t really occur naturally in the amplifier.

“As a more high-end thing, there’s a wonderful reverb called the Bricasti M7; it’s my go-to reverb. It’s got the most wonderful algorithms in it that make it sound like the most natural reverb in the most natural rooms, and there’s so much you can do with it. It’s got some great halls in there, but you can really adapt it to actually copy [the reverb of] a room. I did a show with Joe Bonamassa at the Royal Albert Hall, and I could tell what the delay and reflections were by listening to the microphones. It’s a very echoey room, and with the Bricasti, I could do the odd fix here and there, put the identical room sound on the fixes, and just blend it perfectly.”

Kissy Sell Out

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Kissy Sell Out is best known for his production chops, charismatic DJ style, and wildy successful Kissy Klub BBC Radio 1 show. But he’s also a designer, label manager (San City High), part-time astrophysicist, and in his spare time, he composed official music for the 2012 Olympic ceremonies in London.

Pioneer DJM 900NXS DJ mixer “I definitely have a special place in my heart for the wide range of compressors and multiband-limiting plug-ins I use on a daily basis, but as the endless studio sessions of being locked indoors for days at a time have passed by over the years, another piece of studio gear has become crucial to almost everything I now do. The piece I’m recommending as a killer gift for any aspiring musician is the Pioneer DJM 900NXS DJ mixer [about $2,300].

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“There are so many more uses for this thing than just mixing tunes together; it has a huge selection of effects, it has incredible sound quality, and most crucially, it is a 4-channel multiplatform versatile sound card device with zero latency. For those who are uncomfortable with the 900NXS price tag, there are low-cost alternatives, starting with the DJM 750-K [about $999].

“When making music, you should never let technology limit your ability to fully realize ideas. After all, that’s where great music comes from—ideas!”

SoundToys Decapitator Lili Haydn

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With five albums and performances with Tom Petty, No Doubt, the L.A. Philharmonic, Herbie Hancock, Sting, and Robert Plant and Jimmy Page under her belt, singer/songwriter/violinist Lili Haydn knows music technology. Listen to Haydn’s latest album Lililand, out now on MRI.

“My violin can sound shrill if it’s not recorded right, and some of the best solos on my record were recorded totally off the cuff and very badly (my fault), so the mixing was really important to get the sound beautiful and brilliant, while allowing it to be powerful and raw enough to keep the emotion. Darrell Thorp (Beck, Radiohead) used the Universal Audio UAD 1176 Rev A, UAD Neve 1073 EQ, and UAD API 550 A [plug-in bundles vary] on my violin and my voice … so I’d say those plug-ins would be an awesome gift!

“In terms of gear on a budget, for live, I love the sound of TC Electronic’s Nova Delay [about $240] on my violin, even with no actual delay; it just fattens up my tone. And for studio, SoundToys Decapitator [$179] makes everything better...great for the holidays!

As for sky’s the limit, Neve 1073 and 1176 blue stripe, or a Neumann M49 [vintage prices vary]… sound like a million bucks.”

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Maxim

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The Prodigy MC/vocalist Maxim Reality, aka Maxim, has been performing at the band’s backstage parties for years, and he’s finally ready to unleash his DJ and production skills on the rest of the world. He teamed up with hardcore MC/vocalist Cianna Blaze to produce the four-song electronic, grime, hip-hop, reggae, drum n’ bass, and rock-informed Animal Anger EP, out now on We Are Noize. Studio monitors make Maxim’s holiday short list.

Genelec 8010a monitors “I would say an essential piece of equipment is decent set of speakers; a budget pair of Genelec 8010a monitors [about $400]. If you’re writing music, the most important part is to hear what you’re doing.

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“If you have a big budget, maybe get a pair of PMC MB2S-a active monitors [around $10,000]. As I said before, you need to hear what you are truly producing; these should do the job.”

Memoryy

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Brooklyn-based artist Shaun Hettinger’s latest incarnation is under the electro-pop alias Memoryy, though local fans may recall his previous projects as Kitten Berry Crunch. We caught Hettinger on tour supporting his new self-released EP Young Oblivion.

Volca Beats Analog Drum Machine “My budget items: I’ve been loving this trend of well-priced little synth gadgets. Where were these when I was a broke teenager? There are so many stocking stuffer options out there that I’m sure will inspire more garage bands than the Velvet Underground. I was just playing with the Korg Volca line [starting at around $99], and I gotta say, I was pretty impressed. Tweaking the Volca Beats Analog Drum Machine was a ton of fun, and the Volca Bass packed a pretty big punch despite its size. Speaking of Korg, if there wasn’t an original one sitting in my studio, I’d totally splurge on the MS20 Mini [$599]. It’s a classic synth that every studio needs!

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“Sky’s-the-limit items: Roland Jupiter 8! Sorry, I had to get that one off my chest real quick. I’m a synth connoisseur and that’s my dreamboat synth [vintage prices vary; around $8,000]. Someday she will be mine; oh yes, she will be mine...I use the Arturia Jupiter-8V [$99] on just about everything I do and I can’t wait for the day when I can afford the upgrade to the real-deal big boy. It’s my sound.

“I’m not sure how often I’d use it in my Ableton-centric workflow, but gotta say the Slate Pro Audio Raven [about $2,500] would look pretty nice on my desk. It’s essentially the world’s largest iPad that’s only programmed mission is to terminate all mixing boards that have come before it. Plus it looks like something out of Star Trek, so that’s pretty sweet.”

Universal Audio Apollo Pretty Lights

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Derek Smith has kept busy since releasing A Color Map of the Sun (profiled in our August 2013 issue): He was nominated for a Grammy, and performed with the Colorado Symphony, and when we caught up with him last month, was gearing up for VooDoo Music Fest in New Orleans and Sea of Dreams in San Francisco.

“The best piece of gear to grab a producer for the holidays, I think, is something that they will use on nearly every track; something that will make its way into the signal path permanently and really take their productions to the next level, sonically.

“I’ve been a fan of Universal Audio Apollo products. I have three different units that I use as the central part of my process: An Apollo 8 for live shows, 16 for in the studio, and a Twin for on the road in the bus or hotel. The Twin [starting at around $699] has made the processing power of UAD hardware and the versatility of their numerous plug-ins available at an accessible price and a conveniently mobile size. This, plus the fact that having UAD as the spinal column of a production suite opens many doors of sonic possibilities, makes it a great gift idea.”

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Valhalla VintageVerb Sheldon Gomberg

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Grammy-winning producer/engineer/musician Sheldon Gomberg runs Carriage House studio in L.A. His recent credits include Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite’s album Get Up, as well as work with Rickie Lee Jones, Ron Sexsmith, Jackson Browne, and more.

“The other day, I bought the Valhalla VintageVerb. It’s an emulation of ’70s and ’80s reverb hardware, including a concert hall, bright hall, plate, room, a chamber, random space, chorus space, ambience, and a what they call a “sanctuary.” It includes typical things like predelay, mix percentage, decay and damping choices, and some EQ cuts and room shaping. I used it on a couple of mixes already, and I’m really enjoying it; I used the concert hall on vocals and a chamber for cello, ambience for snare. They also offer a free plug-in called FreqEcho, so for $50, you can get all of these reverb settings plus a free frequency shifter/analog echo emulation.

“On the high end, I have been using the A Designs Ventura preamp/EQ/instrument in [around $2,000]—a single mic preamp with an EQ based on the Quad Eight Coronado Series, except it’s tweaked out to the stars and it’s very versatile. You can use the mic pre with or without EQ. The EQ sounds fantastic, and you might want to use just this section for an external source while still using the pre section on its own. You can access it separately from the back of the unit using insert points, allowing you at the same time to use the pre. It’s also got a fantastic sounding instrument in, which is its own separate single ended instrument preamp. I use this for recording bass all the time. It’s basically three units in one.

Sol Republic Master Tracks XC Studio Tune Steve Aoki

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Superstar DJ, musician, producer, and Dim Mak founder Steve Aoki performs 300-plus festival-headlining, cake-tossing shows per year. In his spare time, he released the first half of a highly-anticipated follow-up to his Grammy-nominated 2012 debut, Wonderland: Part one of the concept album Neon Future is out now on Ultra; part two will be released in early 2015.

Aoki recommends “a good set of monitors like the KRK VXT 8 powered monitor [about $600].

“[Another] practical choice is the Sol Republic Master Tracks XC Studio Tune [$250] by Calvin Harris; this headphone’s incredible for the studio because it doesn’t disguise the sound with extra layers of frequencies.

If money’s no object, Aoki suggests “Barefoot Sound studio monitors; they custom-make each one, and they are my favorite speakers out there.”

Tom Schick

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Tom Schick relocated to Chicago a few months ago, as he has become the the go-to engineer for Wilco’s records and others that frontman Jeff Tweedy produces in the band’s Loft studio. Schick’s recent projects include the album Tweedy made with his son Spencer, Sukierae, and Beck’s Song Reader.

Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail reverb pedal “My budget gear choice would be an Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail reverb pedal. The Holy Grail’s Hall setting combined with a little bit of actual spring was the main reverb I used for mixing Atlas by the band Real Estate. It’s got a gritty sound that really sits nicely in the mix. The Holy Grail Plus [around $150] sounds slightly nicer than the Nano [around $125] to me if you can’t find a vintage one. It’s great because it can fit in my pocket and I can bring it anywhere.

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“My sky’s-the-limit choice would be a Fairchild 670 [around 40 grand]. It’s one of the few pieces of gear that modern technology has not been able to replicate. The plug-ins don’t quite cut it. I was spoiled when I was a staff engineer at Sear Sound in N.Y. They have a 670 and two 660s. I would use them on everything: bass, vocals, acoustic guitars, and especially drums.