2017 In Review: Studio Gear of the Year

Words by: Gavin Herlihy
Posted: 14/12/17 12:01

Photo courtesy of Ableton Live.

For the first in our series of features looking back on the year we cast our eyes towards the studio. It’s been another phenomenal year for production hardware. While the purists continues to plunder Ebay for the classics, companies like Roland and Korg were hard at work designing futuristic tools that threaten to shake up the music world.

 

1

Elektron ‘Digitakt’

Sweden’s Elektron are the mavericks of the studio technology world. Best known for machines that tear up the rulebooks that sit perfectly in tune with house, techno and everything in between. They sit atop this list for a variety of reasons. They started the year with the Digitakt, a compact sampler and sequencer with a crisp, modern design and an arsenal of functionality crammed into its small frame.

It splits between eight channels of audio and eight channels of midi and it’s designed to let you jam out your tracks quickly and deeply. Like all Elektron devices, before doing so, you need to invest a good portion of time learning its tricks and secrets. But once you’re on board, you’ll thank yourself for putting the time in, as the Digitakt really sits on the front line of what studio technology can do.

That’s not the only reason Elektron makes this list of course. The company hit ADE in October with a wave of redesigns of their flagship products. Rytm, Octatrack, and Analog Four were all revamped for second versions and thrust at the same time onto an unsuspecting public. The Rytm is by our ranking, the world’s most advanced drum machine, and adds further weight to that claim with VII.

While not cheap, it is, like the Digitakt, a deeply immersive piece of equipment that will have a big impact on those producers willing to take the time to learn its ways.

For more info, click here.

 

2

Korg 'Monologue'

The Monologue was the last Korg machine designed by the company’s former chief engineer of analogue synths, Tatsuya Takahashi. At £234/€299, much like his other designs, they are a bargain priced synth. They might not be the most powerful mono synths, but they are second in this list because in twenty years time, we will probably look back on them as being instrumental in shaping the music of today’s future stars. Just like the mid 1980s, when the legends of house and techno began writing music with the synths they could afford, rather than the flashest machines available at the time, the most instrumental pieces of equipment are more often than not, the ones that are within reach.

In his time at Korg, Takahashi spearheaded some of the most important trends in studio technology of this decade. One being the trend towards minituarization, as best seen with his Volca range of book sized synths. And the other being his dedication to placing analogue remakes of classics like the Arp Odyssey, as well as new school analogue technology in the shape of his Minilogue, in range of bedroom producers.

The Monologue is the sister device to the polyphonic Minilogue and boasts Aphex Twin in its production credits for his assistance in designing presets, sounds and scales. Underneath the hood, it is basically a single voice Minilogue with two oscillators, less keys and a few less features, like delay. It has some nice feature twists like microtuning and a different sequencer that make it still a worthwhile purchase for those who already own a Minilogue.

For more info, click here.

 

3

Arturia ‘DrumBrute’

The DrumBrute was another impressive score in Arturia’s expanding range of modern studio hardware. An all analogue affair, it contains 17 sounds similar in nature to the Roland 808 (especially the cymbals, hats and one of the kicks) updated for today’s studio needs and given a dose of steroids for good measure. And it’s when used as a live instrument that the DrumBrute truly comes alive. 

Its 64 step sequencer is complimented by numerous features like mute, solo, repeat and roller, output filters, pitch controls, probability or reverse cymbals and that make it a joy to jam with. Throw in poly rhythmic functionality that allows you to set different lengths for different sequences so your drum loops start to take on a life of their own, and you have an extremely studio and live friendly machine for a bargain price point.


For more info, click here. 

 

4

Novation 'Peak'

The affordable luxury synth revolution continued with this hybrid digital/analogue desktop poly synth. The UK company has a reputation for creating cheap but hooky machines like its infamous Bass Station 1 and II and their popular Ableton controller, the Launch Control.

Poking over the one thousand pounds/euros mark, it’s in a different league of cost compared to those two machines. It is however, aimed at the bracket of synthesizer currently dominated by companies like Dave Smith Instruments and Moog and significantly undercuts its most like minded competitors with a quality synthesizer that has a sound of its own and combines the sonic range of digital oscillators with analogue filters and signal paths.

For more info, click here.

 

5

Roland 'Boutique SE-02'

If (like us) you’ve spent the last few years moaning about every new Roland machine’s digital engine, then prepare to eat your words. A collaboration with much revered analogue kings, Studio Electronics, the SE02 is a three oscillator analogue mono synth made by one of the longest running analogue companies in the business. It’s kind of a Moog Model D mutated with a classic Roland synth. And it has a 16 step sequencer with expanded functionality with lots of presets to one-up its closest rival the Behringer D.

Its only off putting feature for us, are its compact pots which don’t exactly give you the jam friendly, tweakability that bigger knobs do. They're great for packing your live gear into an airplane cabin friendly bag but not so great for home studio use. Jamming with it is a little fiddly as a result and it takes some time to get a feel for the finger tip tweaking, but if you stack that against the features and quality of design on offer, it’s a point worth getting over it.

For more info, click here.

 

The Best of the Rest6

Genelec ‘The Ones’

Reliable studio monitors with room correction that don’t kill your bank account.

7

Novation Circuit ‘Mono Station’

Novation combine some of their best machines in this sequencer synth.

8

Cyclone Analogic ‘TT-78 & TT-606’

The French companies remake two Roland machines in all-analogue glory.

9

Roland ‘TB-03 Bass Line’

The Japanese giants deliver a much better 303 remake than their Aira version.

10

Roland ‘TR-09 and TR-08’

The world's most important drum machines return in Boutique format.

11

Behringer ‘DeepMind 12’


All powerful polyphony for a reasonable price.

12

Native Instruments ‘Maschine MK III’

The latest sample controller has an inbuilt audio interface.

13

AKAI ‘MPC Live’

The masters of the sample pads return with a condensed machine.

14

Teenage Engineering ‘PO-32 Tonic’

Another next-level miniature synth from the Scandinavians.

15

Korg ‘Volca Kick’

The much loved Volca range's simple but highly effective kick machine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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