Gear Of The Year 2021
In our annual roundup, we take a look at the most in-demand studio gear from 2021. From customer favourites to the latest new releases, check out what made it onto our bestseller list...
Back in January, Korg's ARP 2600 re-issue was met with a great deal of excitement – both from customers and KMR staff. However, demand massively outstripped supply and the limited edition run sold out almost as soon as it was announced. Keen not to disappoint customers, our hunt for a high quality alternative led us to the Antonus 2600 - a gorgeous hand-made replica of the iconic Grey Faced ARP 2600, made in a slightly smaller footprint. With its all-discrete, through-hole construction, Antonus 2600 has been created with clear respect and passion for the original and it’s the closest thing we’ve found to a 1970’s vintage ARP. A truly lovely thing!
Available to users of Universal Audio’s UAD platform, the API Vision Console Emulation Bundle is the most convincing software version of a genuine analogue console experience we’ve seen. The phrase “game changer” is often thrown around, but this really does take things to another level. The bundle can be used by any UAD owner as individual processors, but it’s users of UA’s free LUNA DAW platform who will get the “full fat” version of this excellent release – where you can track in real time through accurate emulations of API pre-amps and channel modules – building a virtual console that operates and – more importantly – feels like using an analogue console. It really is quite something.
Last year, it was ATC’s SCM25A that made it onto our bestseller list. This year, customers seem to have gone a bit bigger with the SCM45A Pro. With a sonic footprint consistent throughout their range, ATC monitors offer superlative imaging, balance and mid-range detail. LF is never hyped, HF is never aggressive. If you’re in the job of mixing, these are guaranteed to help you get the job done with minimum hassle.
Also a bestseller in 2020, the continuing pandemic restrictions meant customers were looking for workable monitoring solutions that would allow them to mix from home or on the move. With fast transients, neutral response throughout its extended frequency range and high levels of comfort, Audeze LCD-X’s are a great choice when you’re working on your studio tan over long periods.
Bettermaker Bus Compressor is a stereo compressor with a 100% analogue signal path, digitally controlled from the unit’s front panel or via a dedicated DAW plug-in. “Digitally controlled analogue” offers all the benefits of an analogue signal path with the convenience of digital automation and recall – perfect if you work on several projects at the same time or revisit old mixes. Uniquely, Bettermaker Bus Compressor uses a modular design built around a pristine, clean sonic base and upgradable with additional functionality including M/S mode, high-pass filtering, different compressor modes and more – allowing users to customise to their needs. Equally at home in tracking, mixing or mastering applications.
Announced only last October, these were a late addition to the list. Beyerdynamic’s DT770 closed headphones have long been studio stalwarts – providing great sound quality in an affordable and rugged studio-proof design. Beyer's recently announced “X-Range” includes the release of the new DT700 Pro X with Beyer's STELLAR.45 drivers, detachable mini-XLR cable, rugged steel headband and memory foam pads. The resulting sound is more balanced, detailed and dynamic – we’ve no doubt these new models will prove equally as popular – if not more so – than their predecessors.
Another perennial favourite, Empirical Labs Distressor offers a plethora of flavours including the ubiquitous “1176-all-buttons-in” Brit mode, making it a true “Swiss army knife” compressor. From rich opto compressor tones to distorted “smacky” FET settings, there’s very little the EL8-X can’t do. Creator Dave Derr’s intelligent design means it’s almost impossible to make this thing sound bad. Available as a single-channel processor or stereo pair.
Gainlab Audio is a new manufacturer grown out of Gainlab Studios in Budapest. Having started as an in-house service department repairing and customising the studio’s own equipment, Gainlab have gone on to develop their own original designs and released them for public consumption. Dictator was their first release – a stereo valve variable-mu compressor offering two distinct compression modes and an LF side-chain filter. LoComp mode provides the classic vari-mu character – musical and refined with HiComp mode offering a more “grabby”, aggressive character. Build quality is excellent and the intuitive controls well laid out. Gainlab have also just started shipping a dual mono version of the Dictator for extra tracking flexibility. We’ve been very impressed with Gainlab’s offerings to date – a brand to watch in 2022…
Ever since Tony Arnold’s earlier Type 69 Helios channel module reproductions stopped being available, we’ve regularly had to disappoint customers enquiring about Helios gear. Thankfully that’s no longer the case! H2 Audio have done a great job with their 0011 replica, staying true to Helios founder Dick Swettenham’s original design – including a Lustaphone input transformer. H2 Audio have added an output amplifier with output transformer – all of original Helios design - allowing the pre-amp to drive a 600 Ohm load up to 25dB before clipping – fixing an issue that owners of original Helios modules will be familiar with. This unit nails the sound of 70’s rock, with the distinctive Helios character heard all over recordings by Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Black Sabbath, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Queen, The Rolling Stones and many more…
HEDD (Heinz Electrodynamic Design) was formed by ex-ADAM Audio founder Klaus Heinz and his son Dr. Frederik Knop. HEDD Type 20 is an advanced loudspeaker based on Heinz’s development of Oskar Heil’s Air Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeter. In an already saturated monitor market, HEDD have managed to create something different – offering room optimisation DSP and their “Closed or Ported” CoP technology meaning it can be integrated into almost any environment. All of which would be moot if they didn’t sound great – which they do! A very welcome addition to our monitor catalogue.
These neat low-profile decouplers are an affordable way of isolating your monitors from the surface on which they’re mounted – largely eliminating audio transmission that results in unwanted resonance – particularly in the mid and low frequency range. Isoacoustic ISO-Pucks are available in three different sizes, depending on the weight of your monitors. Users can expect more accurate stereo imaging and a tighter, more defined LF response.
Kerwax Studios in Brittany, France is a jaw-dropping all-analogue residential studio created by Christophe Chavanon, based on vintage gear from the 1940's through to the 1970's. Kerwax Replica offers two line pre-amp stages from their unique 24ch wraparound custom valve mixer and provides a broad spectrum of harmonic distortion characteristics, from gentle warming to full-on sonic annihilation - ideal for enhancing stems and mixes. And if you haven’t checked out the studio itself, you should treat yourself to a quick peek – it really is something else!
Majella Implexus is fresh off the press, arriving just before Christmas, and is one of the most exciting synth releases from last year. An analogue desktop instrument combining both East and West Coast styles, Implexus offers an immersive synthesis architecture with a super clean one-knob-per-function layout and top build quality. Easy to understand, a joy to use and the sonic results speak for themselves. We were so impressed, we bought everything they had available!
This is one of two products from Kerwax Studio that have made it onto this year’s list. The original Melodium 42B was a French contemporary of the iconic RCA 44 back in the 1940’s and has since established itself as a classic in its own right. Melodium 42Bn is a HUGE mic (12” high and weighing 2kg) - not something that comes across readily in the photos - offering all the characteristics you’d expect from a top flight ribbon mic. Sound-wise, the mic has a syrupy, dark warmth combined with super-smooth, natural capture, making it an ideal room mic or vocal mic for vintage tones. Just make sure you pair it with a heavy-duty mic stand!
"Classics" are classics for a reason – they never seem to go out of fashion. Neumann’s U87Ai has been a studio staple since its creation in 1967. Top end detail without ever sounding harsh, excellent definition throughout the frequency range and a sweet mid-range lift still make this a go-to choice for voice recording. Build quality is to Neumann's typically exemplary standards - this mic won't let you down - and it remains the most popular vocal mic we're asked for by our customers.
Released alongside Neve’s latest 8424 analogue console, 1073 OPX offers eight remote-controlled 1073 pre-amps in a single 2U rack. Working out at less than £500 per channel, this is a great way to add multiple channels of the world’s most revered pre-amp to your rig – with Neve’s Marinair transformers on each mic input and electronically-balanced outputs. Whether used as an outboard device for multi-channel drum recording or as a premium input stage for your mixing console, 1073 OPX takes this most classic of designs and repackages it for the modern recording engineer. A smart choice!
Rupert Neve Designs’ Master Buss Converter (MBC) combines Neve’s expertise in analogue circuit design with the top-flight digital converter technology found in their RMP-D8. MBC is designed to sit on the end of your mix chain, incorporating a super-fast stereo limiter, transformer and Neve’s highly-regarded variable Silk saturation circuitry before hitting the 2ch A-D stage. A refined, classy-sounding processor, guaranteed to add a musical, analogue sheen in both mixing and mastering applications, without sacrificing the characteristics of the original source material.
SSL’s UC1 is a dedicated hardware plug-in controller designed for use with their new Channel Strip 2 and Bus Compressor 2 plugin suites. An affordable device that, on first glance, may appear limited in its use, UC1 soon wins you over with its one-knob-per-function control over the SSL EQ and bus compressor emulations. Not many of us can justify (or indeed need) a real SSL console in our studio, but the immediacy of manipulating real knobs quickly becomes addictive – resulting in a faster, more intuitive workflow and allowing users to take a break from looking at the screen to mix by ear. UC1 has quickly become a favourite with our customers – once you get your hands on one, it doesn’t take long to appreciate why.
The whole SOMA synth range sold like hot cakes last year, but the standout product was Pulsar-23 – a semi-modular drum machine and synth offering 23 independent modules including 4 drum voices, 4 envelope generators, 4 loopers, a clock generator with dividers and a unique controlled chaos generator. Pulsar-23 sets a high bar for what users can now expect from this kind of device. Hugely powerful, and a LOT of fun to explore.
What Tegeler’s best-selling Crème offers may not be new, but the way it is packaged certainly is. Crème takes the most important functions from the Pultec passive EQ and SSL-style VCA compressor and combines them in a single stereo bus processor. The simplified controls mean that users can get excellent sounding results, fast. Controls are stepped for reliable repeatability and the signal chain order of EQ > Compressor, or Compressor > EQ can be easily swapped with the simple flick of a switch. It’s a very neat design and everything on this unit serves a useful function. Also available as the remote controlled “Crème RC”.
Marshall Terry is Chief Technician at Shadow Hills and was instrumental in building and finessing many of their flagship products. The CEQ has been released under his own Terry Audio brand and is a beast of a stereo mix bus/mastering EQ. It incorporates a unique combination of both passive and active circuits based on an inductor design with additional Pultec passive resonant shelves, Neumann PEV lacquer/vinyl cutting EQ boost and an innovative mid-cut circuit that controls both mid frequencies and reactivity. A Shift control engages a second set of LF filters providing dramatic shifts in tonality and soundstage. Apart from sounding fantastic, we particularly like the fact that there is no numerical legending on the unit – encouraging users to rely on their ears. Inexpensive it is not, but if you want the last word in bus/mastering EQ’s, this should be on your shortlist to check out.
Trinnov ST2 Pro is a powerful room correction system that brings your monitoring to a whole new level of accuracy. Experienced users know that speakers work synergistically with their room, so even if you have world class monitors, you won’t get world class results if you’re working in an untreated space - something all too many of our customers had to deal with during lockdown. The relatively high cost will put this beyond the grasp of many home recordists, but if you work in a professional environment, ST2 Pro is an amazing bit of kit that will quickly justify its place in your studio.
Also featured in last year’s list, the venerable Tube-Tech CL 1B remains a bestseller 35 years after its introduction in 1987. CL 1B is a true classic and for many is still the go-to opto compressor for smooth, buttery compression – one of those pieces of gear that once you’ve tried one, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it in your rack.