2014 was a massive year for gear. With manufacturers big and small premiering new bits of kit at a feverish pace, it was hard enough to just keep track of the new offerings. Evaluating the latest gear to help our readers make the most savvy buying decisions, is no easy task, but picking the best of the best was even harder. However, since that’s our job, here are our choices for the FutureMusic 2014 Gear Of The Year Awards.
NI Maschine Studio
Native Instruments claims the Maschine Studio is the “ultimate beatmaking system with unprecedented physical control. The smoothest workflow, and the most tactile, responsive hardware in the industry.” We agree! In addition, the Maschine Studio can take a beating. In our long term evaluation against Ableton’s Push controller, we found the Maschine Studio held up better over the long term, was more intuitive, and its gorgeous dual-color screens made creating your own beats seamless.
iConnectivity Says: “Setting a new benchmark in MIDI connectivity and iOS integration” We Say: “And then some!” iConnectMIDI4+ supports Macs, PCs, and iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod touch) simultaneously with its Audio passThru technology by routing audio between them digitally with zero signal degradation (No A/D D/A conversion!). Your three devices also appear as an audio interface to the operating systems, allowing for more flexibility. If you’re looking to incorporate your iPad’s audio action into your DAW, then run, don’t walk to iConnectivity and pick up a 4+ today!
Black Lion Audio
Our favorite “hotmodders” Black Lion Audio certainly did not disappoint when they debuted the sequel to the White Sparrow analog-to-digital converter. It earned a 95% and a FutureMusic Power Award our Black Lion Audio White Sparrow mkII review. If you’re looking for bang-for-the-buck in your conversion, then Black Lion Audio’s White Sparrow delivers outstanding quality for about half the price of their competitors. Highly recommended!
Steinberg’s Cubasis is an excellent port of their flagship Cubase to the iOS world. Cubasis features a 32-Bit/96 kHz audio engine dozens of audio and MIDI tracks at your disposal and 24 physical inputs and outputs for flexible routing options. It also includes the fun Micrologue virtual analog synthesizer, a sweet mixer with more than 12 effect processors, a virtual keyboard and drum pads, as well as 85 virtual instrument sounds based on HALion Sonic to get your creative juices flowing. Best yet, easily import what you’ve created in Cubasis to Cubase to take advantage of your Mac’s processing power. Intuitive, great workflow and fun!
Arturia Says: “MicroBrute SE synthesizer is a limited edition of a pure analog sonic powerhouse. Small in size but loaded with features.” We Say: “Great sound, a cool vibe and tons of value…” The Arturia MicroBrute SE, winner of a FutureMusic Power Award, has been a staff favorite ever since it was installed in our Sound Lab. Some may easily dismiss it as a “hipster toy” — and it certainly would look the part on a college dorm desk — but it is such a fabulous descendant of Arturia’s awesome ‘Brute lineup, it deserves major respect. The MicroBrute Special Edition comes in three different flavors, white, blue and yellow, and features mixable waveforms, a new sub oscillator design, a Steiner-Parker multimode filter, syncable LFO and the new step sequencer. The patchable mod matrix and preset overlays make it that much more retro. It comes with a sweet carrying case and a couple of patch cords to get you started. All for just $379. Winning!
Moog took an entirely new approach to their stellar Sub Phatty analog synthesizer. Basically they took their silky-smooth, love-cat sound signature and gave it rabies. The Sub Phatty has an aggressive, grungy sound that’s perfect for not only some of the latest electronic music genres, but also great for hip-hop and alternative rock. The Sub contains 25 full-size keys, 31 tasty front panel knobs, and 16 presets to store your creations. The Sub Phatty also features a free standalone/plugin editor for really getting under the hood.
Dave Smith Instruments
The Pro 2 is Dave Smith’s flagship mono synth with an all-new dual analog filter architecture, a step sequencer, superwaves, digital bucket-brigade delay, and a lot more. The Pro 2 is a fusion of classic analog synthesizer design and the latest digital technology. It boasts four high-resolution digital oscillators, plus a sub oscillator, and an all-new dual filter design. Filter 1 is a 4-pole low-pass design inspired by the original Prophet-5 filter. Filter 2 is a state-variable design inspired by the Oberheim SEM and can be continuously varied between low-pass, notch, and high-pass operation, with an optional band-pass mode. All this “analogital” deliciousness for $1999.
Arturia’s iProphet app, an iOS emulation of the Sequential Circuits Prophet VS, earned a 100% Rating and a FutureMusic Power Award in our Arturia iProphet review. Arturia did an outstanding job of emulating the vector synthesis, which was pioneered by Chris Meyer at Sequential, as well as nailing the unique interface and workflow. Arturia’s iProphet is a wonderful synth and a showcase of what can be achieved in the world of iOS. At $9.99 its a steal and deserves a slot on your iPad.
Developed in part with everyone’s favorite Controllerist, Moldover, Livid Instruments’ Guitar Wing is an innovative MIDI controller that easily attaches to most guitars. The Wing provides an expressive, MIDI control surface that communicates wirelessly to your computer or USB-MIDI host. You can use the Guitar Wing with the bundled WingFX effects plug-in, or use it with the leading DAWs like Logic, Garage Band, Ableton Live, Guitar Rig, Reason, and more.
iZotope’s RX, now in its fourth incarnation, is an audio repair and restoration powerhouse. With a slew of tools to fix almost any type of sonic problem, RX4 can be a miracle-worker when you want to save that once-in-a-lifetime performance. Currently being put to the test by our sister publication, FutureFilmmaking, to rectify GoPro audio problems with phenomenal results, there’s almost nothing iZotope’s RX4 can’t restore or enhance.
FabFilter’s Pro-Q2 equalizer with is gorgeous and intuitive Retina interactive display, multi-band selection, stellar sound quality and precise editing made it a shoe-in for our dynamics winner this year. Pro-Q 2 offers everything you could wish for: a quality linear phase operation in addition to the zero latency and Natural Phase modes, Mid/Side processing, variable stereo placement of EQ bands, an intelligent solo feature, optional Auto Gain and a built-in, fully customizable spectrum analyzer. Just brilliant!
Universal Audio’s Neve 1073 plug-in collection for Apollo and UAD-2 provides all the features, unique circuit behaviors, and coveted sound of Neve’s original hardware design. By modeling the dual-stage preamp, tasty three-band EQ, and post-fader output amplifier with an entirely new emulation technology, the Neve 1073 Preamp & EQ replicates the experience of the original 1970s hardware with scary accuracy. Like the hardware, the new Neve 1073 plug-in incorporates all 10 clipping points from the preamp and EQ circuitry, delivering trademark clarity, grit, and harmonically rich class-A saturation. Can’t find a coveted 1073 for your studio? Buy this…it’s a stunner.
Val Kolton’s obsession with creating the ultimate headphone yielded a 100% rating and a FutureMusic Power Award in our V-Moda XS Headphone review. The XS take their sonic cue from the M-100’s, but with smaller 40mm Dual-Diaphragm metal drivers. The signature of the XS is more refined than the M-100 with less hyped bass and a detailed midrange. The top end adds a little more sparkle, a modification over the previous M-80, but it is “still smooth as silk.” If you’re looking for a great-looking, awesome-sounding headphone that’s build-quality is second to none, then the XS is for you.
Native Instruments never sleeps. The German company has been constantly tweaking Traktor Pro 2 since version 2.0 debuted in 2011, and it just keeps getting better. Now at version 2.7.3, the DJ mixing software is arguably the most sophisticated program available with savvy additions like the Controller Manager, Remix Decks and other features for the Post Beatmatching Generation. At $99, it’s a steal.
The Analog Rytm pushes the limit of what is possible to achieve with a single machine. The eight analog drum voices take advantage of several dedicated analog circuit designs, each of them fine-tuned for generating a distinct class of analog drum sounds. For ultimate percussive flexibility, every voice can also be spiced up with customizable samples. The perfect unity of analog drum sounds and samples simply goes beyond. At $1549, you certainly pay for all this power and sound quality, but not spelling. It’s Rhythm boys, R-h-y-t-h-m…
Roland’s Aria series of the TR-8, SH-1 and TB-3 was an easy choice for best reboot. Most felt that Roland was 20 years too late in trying to reclaim the famed electronic music throne, which they fumbled with inane X0X products and not putting out their own software emulations, but we felt it was a very positive move after years of brutal hemorrhaging. Our prediction was confirmed after the most recent NAMM show where Roland is showing signs of life with provocative new products, including the latest Aira offering the MX-1.
Blue’s Mo-Fi headphones feature a built-in audiophile amplifier and smooth, yet visceral drivers, to deliver an amazing listening experience that will make your iPod, as well as your studio, sing. Don’t let the medieval-torture-device design fool you, the excellent sound is married to supreme comfort, for hours of listening enjoyment.