Gear Of The Year 2022
In our annual roundup, we take a look at the most in-demand studio gear from 2022. From customer favourites to the latest new releases, check out what made it onto our bestseller list...
There are a handful of classic processors that never go out of fashion, and Universal Audio’s LA-2A is firmly in that camp. Imagine the sound of an archetypal valve opto-compressor and chances are you’re thinking about an LA-2A. Simple to use, the smooth, lush and musical sonic footprint is particularly effective on vocals, bass and acoustic instruments. It's also very forgiving and levels can be pushed hard while still sounding unforced and natural. A true classic.
Also included in last year’s list, Terry CEQ continues to grow in popularity. 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.
We’re big fans of Tegeler gear @KMR. They have the canny ability of taking standard designs and give them a novel twist to create something that is both fresh while remaining reassuringly familiar. Raumzeitmaschine is, on the surface, possibly a slightly bonkers idea – taking a digital reverb, adding a valve stage then building the whole thing into a box with motorized remote-controllable knobs. Use this thing, however, and it suddenly makes sense. It sounds great – flexible enough to be your only outboard reverb, while different enough to sit alongside more “regular” high-end digital reverbs and and offer another useful colour. This has been a bit of a sleeper, but it seems customers have woken up to it in 2022.
Solid State Logic have released a slew of new products in the last 12 months and one of our favourites is The Bus+, a next-generation take on their classic bus compressor, famous for its ability to make tracks “sound like a record” with punch and glue for miles. At its heart, Bus+ remains faithful to the original bus compressor found on the 1970's SSL 4000B console, with the addition of some great additional features including selectable clean SuperAnalogue 9000 Series or grittier 4000E topologies, a feedback mode for more relaxed vintage-style compression, a new dynamic EQ section and an expanded range of compression settings covering applications from mastering to drum bus duties.
Despite the enduring popularity of vintage Neve processors, RND have never directly reissued Rupert Neve’s vintage 70’s designs – you have to look to AMS Neve for these products. But with the Shelford range, RND is clearly referencing these older designs while adding updated features for the modern engineer. Shelford Channel is based on a new Class A mic pre-amp, combined with a classic inductor EQ section, characterful diode bridge compressor and Neve’s gorgeous Silk/Texture transformer saturation control. The whole thing adds up to a very classy unit – both in its build quality and sonic performance. Everything about this unit screams quality. A future classic – no doubt.
Swiss manufacturer PSI Audio’s A17-M nearfield monitors deliver levels of performance and accuracy that most 3-way designs can only dream of. This is a no-compromise monitor with a stunning degree of detail and balance across the entire frequency range coupled with impressive LF extension – especially considering the compact cabinet size. We’re asked almost every day “is Monitor A better than Monitor B?” but choosing speakers at this level very much comes down to personal preference – the performance is undeniably there, the rest is down to a subjective and largely emotional choice. If you’re in the market for a monitor of this size and price point you owe it to yourself to give these PSI’s an audition.
Tom Oberheim’s OB-X8 8-voice twin oscillator polysynth is a tour de force from one of the great names in synthesis. Over 40 years after the all-conquering OB-X made such an impact in the 1980’s, OB-X8 (designed in partnership with synth pioneer Dave Smith, RIP) offers a “best of” feature set from the historic OB range. The core of the sound lies in Oberheim’s SEM 2-pole low-pass filter with all four original filter modes – low-pass, high-pass, band-pass and notch, alongside a Curtis CEM3320 filter from the OB-Xa and OB-8. Solid build quality combined with a spacious layout and all the feature highlights you could hope for from the classic OB series makes this the definitive OB powerhouse.
Unlike other premium brands who have entered the small audio interface market with products aimed solely at entry-level users, Neve’s bus-powered 88M offers cleverly chosen functions that work equally well for those looking for professional quality on a limited budget as well as pro users looking for a simple, high quality portable solution. Two Marinair transformer-coupled 88RS mic/line/DI inputs run through mastering-grade conversion (up to 24-bit/192kHz) with additional ADAT I/O enabling users to plumb in, for example, an additional 8ch pre-amp for multichannel field recording. Balanced inserts allow users to incorporate their favourite processors into the signal chain. A really nicely specified portable interface.
In recent years, Neumann have been doing a great job re-releasing their classic vintage mics. Their 2018 U67 reissue was a huge hit – they simply couldn’t make them fast enough and waiting times following its launch were painfully long (as customers will attest!). M49V is their latest classic reissue, recreated in painstaking detail from the originators themselves, it benefits from modern serviceability and is sure to retain its value. Cheap it is not, but you can be sure you’re getting a quality product and if you want “the real deal” then this is it. A classic mic, brought back to life by the company that created it in the first place. What’s not to like?
It was great to see venerable UK designer Malcolm Toft return this year with his new Punishr harmonic distortion 500 Series module. The well laid-out front panel packs in a huge range of functions including four tonal shaping paths, three different distortion types (Symmetrical, Asymmetrical and Iron Transformer Saturation – each independently switchable), a 1970’s inspired shelving EQ, sweepable high and low pass filters and a SUM mode that simultaneously feeds the input to all three distortion circuits. A dry/wet mix control allows parallel processing for a wide range of applications from injecting life into dull sources to full sonic annihilation. This may well be the only saturation processor you ever need - all at a very reasonable price.
Locomotive Audio was created by Eric Strouth to create gear – specifically all-valve gear – that captures the soul of classic vintage recordings. Although his name may be unfamiliar to some, Strouth’s designs have a loyal and enthusiastic following by aficionados of proper valve recording equipment. Having taken on the range earlier this year, it’s easy to see why – this stuff sounds amazing! The Model 14B combines the input stage from Bill Putnam’s 176 with a Gates Sta-Level/ RCA BA-6A output stage. It’s important to note this isn’t a vintage clone or “inspired by” design – it simply uses principles from classic vintage gear and recombines them in a novel way to create something new with its own unique lush, warm tone while retaining plenty of definition and a touch of gritty saturation. It’s a great achievement.
Heritage Audio’s Motorcity Equaliser is a spot-on reproduction of Michael Brauer’s legendary Motown EQ, originally designed at Motown’s “Hitsville” studio. A single channel passive EQ with seven fixed bands and stepped gain controls, this is an uncompromising design with no less than 21 inductors and 21 tone capacitors (three per band), matched to within 1% tolerance of Brauer’s vintage units. Motorcity EQ has all the musical, sweet character you expect from an inductor EQ in spades. A lovely thing.
After their highly successful Dictator compressor, this year’s Empress equalizer is another great-sounding piece of gear from Budapest-based Gainlab Audio. Empress takes the classic Pultec EQP-1A as its starting point, makes it stereo and adds some really useful additional features including a whole additional mid band, extra frequency steps and a switchable Tube Boost function to inject more saturation. As with the Dictator, build quality is to a very high standard with stepped controls for easy repeatability. Gainlab are keen to make their gear accessible to as many users as possible and the very reasonable price tag reflects this. An exciting new company that are quickly earning a deservedly great name for themselves.
This has been a long anticipated release and we were very excited to see Flea’s take on the legendary ELA M 251 valve mic finally become a reality. To date, Telefunken’s 251 has been hard to beat with (arguably) only Dave Bock/Soundelux offering a more reasonably priced alternative at this premium level. Flea’s re-issues of classic mics really hit the sweet spot for us in terms of maintaining genuine top-tier quality without emptying out your bank account. This is a meticulous recreation of this much sought-after mic built to Flea’s usual exemplary standards. A smart choice if you’re after this type of microphone.
Erica Synths Perkons HD-01 brings a fresh approach to rhythmic synthesis - a four-voice hybrid drum machine and synthesizer combining a digital sound engine with an analogue multimode filter and overdrive as well as a versatile four-track sequencer. With its aggressive sonic character, the vast range of possibilities provided by this instrument makes it the sort of thing you can easily spend hours exploring – there’s simply nothing else quite like it. This isn’t a “flick through the presets” kind of product, but if you’re the sort of user who enjoys deep-diving into a synth’s possibilities and get excited about creating original tones then this will be right up your street. And it’s immense fun!
Wade Goeke makes great gear – that’s pretty much a given. So it’s no surprise that his latest piece, the RS660 mono valve compressor is drawing a lot of attention. RS660 is a mash-up of circuits from the historic EMI RS124 and Fairchild 660 compressors – distilling them into a refined and elegant compression circuit. Tony Maserati sums it up well… “I’m old enough that my ears remember the sound of well-designed tube analogue gear. The RS660 compressor is nostalgia for my ears, warm, accurate and simple. I’ve come to realize that whatever piece of gear Wade develops I’m going to need it in my hybrid set up. The RS660 Compressor is another piece I will use on every mix, for all my days; save up for this one!"
Beyerdynamic’s DT770 closed headphones have long been studio stalwarts – providing great sound quality in an affordable and rugged studio-proof design. Beyer's latest X-Range steps things up and includes the closed-back DT700 Pro X with STELLAR.45 drivers, detachable mini-XLR cable, rugged steel headband and memory foam pads. Compared to their predecessors, the resulting sound is more balanced, detailed and dynamic. A great example of taking a popular, established product and making it even better.
Bettermaker’s Stereo Passive Equalizer (SPE) takes the passive filter design from the Pultec EQP-1A and reinterprets it for the modern age with its stereo format and solid-state electronics. This “digitally controlled analogue” design combines a 100% analogue signal path with digital control of the parameters enabling real-time automation and session recall from either the front panel or included DAW plug-in. Although this is a Pultec design, the sound is very different from the valve-based colour and heft you expect from an EQP-1A – this is very much a modern processor with a clean, defined sound, enhanced with a light-touch musical warmth that never swamps the original source material. One of our most popular EQ’s from this year.
Audeze cans remain our single most popular high-end headphone brand with their LCD-X already an established favourite. The MM-500’s (designed in collaboration with producer/mixer Manny Marroquin) take things in a more specifically studio-oriented direction with their excellent build quality, neutral sonics and stunning detail/resolution. Bass is fast, solid and tightly controlled. Mids are rich, detailed and neutral. HF is incredibly detailed without ever getting abrasive. MM-500 will get you right inside your mix without distracting you with hi-fi flattery. If you found the LCD-X's a little too warm or lush sounding (and there's nothing wrong with that!), MM-500 will fix this for you. A class-leading set of headphones.
ATC 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. All parts and drivers are either manufactured by ATC themselves or specified from UK manufacturers, giving them complete control over their product with an almost obsessive attention to detail in the manufacturing process. SCM25A hits the sweet spot for engineers in terms of cabinet size, performance and price. Hard to go wrong with these.
Released in 2002, API Audio’s 2500 stereo bus compressor quickly became a modern classic – it’s forward, punchy delivery making it an immediate go-to for drum bus duties. Not wanting to rest on their laurels, 2500+ adds an expanded threshold control and new Mix/Blend feature making parallel processing available straight out of the box. Two selectable compression modes – “Old” feedback style and “New” feed forward style – combined with API’s “THRUST” circuit to drive the bottom end make this an essential tool in your compressor arsenal.
Converter technology has come a long way in the last few years and it’s probably fair to say that any audio interface over a certain price point will deliver the goods sonically. What differentiates Antelope’s Galaxy 32 is its huge 32 analogue I/O channel count, class-leading clock source, drag and drop virtual patchbay, flexible built-in mixer and powerful onboard DSP – all squeezed into a 1U rack space with comprehensive Dante, TB3 and Avid HDX connectivity. Pro Tools users can take advantage of simultaneous 64-channels even @192kHz and Antelope’s latest Synergy Core processing offers emulations of some of the most sought-after analogue processors with a huge choice of plug-ins available. All this makes Galaxy 32 a top choice for use with a mixing console and studios with extensive outboard – as well as for immersive audio production including Dolby Atmos.