Gear of the Year 2020
We take a look at the most in-demand studio gear from the past year. Despite the challenges caused by the Covid pandemic, you guys have obviously been busy! Many thanks to all our customers and we look forward to helping you keep the tape rolling in 2021...
Tube-Tech’s CL1B opto valve compressor has been around since 1987 and the fact that it remains a bestseller in 2020 says a lot about the quality of this studio classic. CL1B is a go-to for smooth, buttery compression that works particularly well on vocals, as well guitar, bass and keys. The highly musical sonics maintain clarity and detail – even at extreme settings - and the simple controls allow you to get great results fast.
With more engineers and producers working outside of traditional studio environments, a properly treated room can sometimes be a luxury. Speakers work synergistically with the space they are positioned in, which means that even the best monitors will perform poorly in an untreated room. Enter the Trinnov ST2 Pro, a powerful digital room correction system that uses phase and amplitude correction to bring your monitoring to a whole new level of accuracy. During demos, it’s always a delight to see the "Aha!" moment when the unit is switched in/out. Trinnov also ensures great translation for freelance engineers who take their monitors between rooms.
2020 has seen a slew of excellent synth releases. Amongst the most popular was Tasty Chips GR-1. This affordable polyphonic granular synth allows users to import an audio file, scan through it, then play that particular slice polyphonically. GR-1 is built around a Raspberry Pi single-board computer with an informative display for editing patches. A great choice for evolving soundscapes, pads and drones – Tasty Chips GR-1 is a LOT of fun!
SSL Fusion master bus processor is designed as a comprehensive finishing tool adding warmth, character and weight to your tracks. Easy to use and highly flexible with excellent results – it’s easy to see why this is a bestseller. Particularly pleasing for us as our man Nick contributed to the product development!
RND’s Master Bus Processor is a 2ch compressor and limiter with mid-side processing designed to knock your mix bus into shape. MBP offer’s powerful tone shaping with Rupert Neve’s signature refined, musical sonic footprint - in particular, Neve’s excellent variable “Silk” circuit sounds really special.
Apart from being one of the best looking 500 Series compressors, Retro Doublewide II is also one of the best sounding. Deriving its colour from 12AT7/12AU7 valves and Cinemag input/output transformers, Doublewide II builds on its predecessor by adding faster attack and release times for more aggressive compression and a stereo link function. A top choice for adding life to vocals and fattening up bass & drums.
John Peluso’s latest mic combines a valve/FET amplification stage with a miniature pentode valve for added warmth and no hint of harshness. The sonic character of Peluso P-280 is very similar to Sony’s C800, and the attractive price point has quickly made it a winner with our customers.
Overstayer 8755 is a versatile stereo analogue channel strip offering a huge range of tonal colours from subtle sound sculpting to sonic annihilation! The processor includes HP and LP filters, 2-band EQ, VCA compressor, harmonics section and a comprehensive mixer matrix for parallel processing. Formerly only available directly from Overstayer, since bringing them into the UK they’ve proved a big hit. Brilliant bit of kit!
There’s not a great deal more to say about the Neve 1073… 50 years since it was first introduced it remains the gold standard mic pre. Now available in various formats, 1073SPX offers the full 1073 preamp/EQ feature set with SMT technology bringing manufacturing costs to a more affordable level. Also available as a 2-channel version in the 1073DPX.
A perennial favourite, Manley Reference Cardioid valve mic has a rich tonal character and gentle mid-range lift that works particularly well on vocals, as well as guitars, drum overheads and brass. An old friend!
The e22s side-address cardioid mic was originally created for legendary engineer Steve Albini (Pixies, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails...), designed so that the unobtrusive long body could be placed anywhere on a drum kit with the capsule directly facing the head. However, it has proven to be much more flexible than a drum mic alone and is a top choice for sources including acoustic guitar, guitar amps, organ and brass. One of those mics every studio should have in their cabinet.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, it was perhaps not surprising that customers would be looking for acoustic solutions to help them work from home. IsoVox 2 is an affordable, compact portable vocal booth that gives an extra level of isolation compared to the more common “screen” type solutions – both isolating the mic from unwanted room reflections and allowing vocalists to give a full performance without worrying about the neighbours complaining!
New UK company Cranborne Audio show that you don’t have to break the bank to get pro-level results. One of the most flexible 500 Series preamps currently available, Camden 500 starts with an uber-clean, linear, transparent base and then allows you introduce a variable amount of colour with its “Mojo” control. Cranborne have hit it out of the park with their first product – a brand to watch in 2021…
Low output signal levels are common in ribbon and dynamic mics, which means engineers occasionally need to crank preamp gain to such high levels that noise becomes a problem. Cloudlifter solve this by adding up to 25dB of ultra-clean gain before the mic signal hits your preamp, providing the extra headroom required to ensure you get the best from your microphones. Simple and very effective.
Bettermaker Mastering Compressor provides the best of all worlds - combining a 100% analogue signal path with comprehensive digital control of all functions. Parameters are adjusted from either the front panel or a dedicated DAW plug-in. This means you get all the sonic advantages of analogue hardware with the convenience of digital automation/recall. A powerful, forward looking tool for mastering engineers.
Footprint 01 offers Thomas Barefoot’s signature design features at a more affordable price – Dual-Force opposing sub woofers for excellent LF response, dual ring radiator tweeter and Multi-Emphasis Monitor Emulation (MEME) technology, emulating several monitor types from a single cabinet. If you’re looking for the Barefoot sound in a more compact nearfield format, these will fit the bill very nicely!
Forced to work at home during lockdown, we talked to many engineers looking for practical monitoring solutions to see them through the pandemic. When setting up monitors isn’t really an option, a pair of high quality headphones can save the day. Audeze LCD-X are a well-established favourite with our customers, with their Fazor technology offering a highly accurate, truly neutral sound with fast transient response. Ideal for mixing and editing, LCD-X’s are very comfortable and allow you to work for hours without fatigue. A pleasure to use.
SCM25A’s are consistently popular and, once again, make it into our bestseller list. With their highly accurate imaging, balanced sound, incredible mid-range detail and controlled LF, we don’t have a bad word to say about the ATC monitor range. SCM25A hits the sweet spot for engineers in terms of cabinet size, performance and price. Hard to go wrong with these.
In a year offering plenty of great new synth releases, ASM Hydrasynth stood out with its outstanding feature set and unique sound. This 8-voice polyphonic wavetable synth adds a brilliant user interface, polyphonic aftertouch, lush stereo effects and a multitude of modulation capabilities to satisfy even the most adventurous wiggler! Always great to see an exciting new synth offering something fresh.
We weren’t surprised to see AMS RMX16-500 make the bestseller list. AMS’ recreation of their legendary digital reverb for 500 Series not only reintroduces a piece of recording gear history, but is also seriously cute! Don’t let the diminutive size fool you though, this absolutely nails the sound and features of the original model used on countless hits throughout the 1980’s.