Comments Off on Gear Of The Year 2014 – Future Music
– AUDIO INTERFACE –
It’s been a bumper year for desktop interfaces, with an impressive three Platinum award winners
1. UAD – Apollo Twin
Apollo Twin was one of the most eagerly awaited audio interfaces ever. Bringing the highly coveted hardware emulation platform to the masses, the Twin owes its performance to the Thunderbolt connection allowing Universal Audio to bring the UAD-2 real-time platform to a wider audience with a low price.
2. SPL – Crimson
If you are looking for a desktop audio interface but don’t necessarily need to invest in the UAD platform then look no further. The Crimson is a robust six in/six out USB interface that is cheaper than the Apollo and is both Windows and Mac compatible.
3. Prism Sound – Lyra 2
The third audio interface to take top honours is the Prism Lyra 2. This two in/ four out interface with mic pres and eight channel optical I/O has incredible conversion quality, outstanding mic amps and excellent control features. All wrapped up in a very compact and portable enclosure.
4. Steinberg – UR44
Yet another Yamaha built interface from the house of Cubase, the UR44 is a 6×4 channel USB with MIDI and so offers a fair amount of flexibility at an attractive price point.
5. Focusrite – Saffire Pro 26
Much like the UR44 the Saffire is decked out with 10, and straight from the box you have access to eight ins and eight outs, with a further ten ins courtesy of the onboard ADAT card.
6. iConnectivity – iConnectMID14+
We couldn’t have been more excited to hear about the MIDI4+ with its iPad charging and audio passThru, and we weren’t disappointed. Those who run multiple devices and ever more complex MIDI set-ups including an iPad will find this indispensable.
7. Teenage Engineering – Oplab
If you work in a more experimental way, you may need more than just USB and MIDI connectivity, which is where Oplab comes in handy. The MIDI, USB, CV/Gate, trigger, clock, sensor interface and converter should provide you with enough 10 to get those creative juices flowing.
This year has been all about portability and power.. Cheek out 2014’s monitor trends
2014 Trends Concentric Cones
Although by no means a new technology, concentric or ‘coaxial’ drivers are popular this year. the tweeter is mounted at the centre of the driver to eliminate any interruption of frequencies as all sound is emanating born the same point. The tweeter acts as a waveguide for the driver with manufacturers taking this opportunity to further tune the drivers’ response and thus giving rise to a superior sound stage and greater accuracy off-axis.
1. Fluid Audio FX8
New kids on the block Fluid wowed us with the sound quality and low price of last year’s F5s and they’ve raised the bar once more with the FX8. These coaxial 8-inchers come in at just under £300 for the pair – yes you heard that right. These are the perfect monitors if you are tight on space and budget and can be trusted for critical mixes.
2. Presonus Sceptre S8
At the other end of the price scale in the project studio market are the Presonus Sceptre 8s. Also a two-way coaxial design but at a much larger price and footprint than the Fluids, the S85 feature onboard DSP for finely-tuned driver performance.
3. M-Audio M3-8
One of the latest monitors from the M-Audio stable is yet another coaxial design, but this time in a three-way set-up. The three-way design is rarefy seen at such a low price point, but that doesn’t stop the M3-8 from delivering plenty of power and low-frequency extension.
4. Fender Passport Studio
Surprise performers of 2014 were the Fender Passport Studio monitors. Fender teamed up with Focal to produce a portable active studio monitoring system. The chassis is Fender’s ‘Take-anywhere’ seen on bigger PA models loaded with Focal tweeters and drivers Despite being in plastic enclosures. these monitors work well for casual listening and mixing alike.
5. JBL 3 Series
With their unique tuned waveguides the 3 series monitors from JBL give the same off-axis detailed accuracy you’d expect from a coaxial design. We looked at the 8-inch and 5-inch models, with the latter really impressing when paired up with the LSR3105 subwoofer.
6. Samson Resolve A6
The latest models in the Resolv range come with a ribbon tweeter, which is yet another rarity at this price and size. Made from aluminium, the 2.5-inch tweeters provide a smooth top-end that is well matched with a solid low-end courtesy of the 6-inch drivers.
7. Tannoy Reveal 802
For performance. price and design the Tannoys are locating to be as popular as thee predecessors and stand out in an already over-crowded mid-range monitor market. We liked the inclusion of an aux-in for plugging in any device. which you often see on smaller ‘multimedia’ monitors, so why not the bigger ones?
8. Genelec 8010A
Genelec hit 2014 with the smallest monitors we have tested all year. but you wouldn’t know it to listen to them. They offer impressive low-frequency response. smooth accurate high-end and well-balanced mids – what’s not to like? The 8010As measure just under 20cm high and, as with all Genelec, the build quality is second to none. Even though housed in die-cast aluminium, they are still quite light at 1.5kg each
– BEAT & SAMPLING –
Big drums and cheap sampling have been the order of the year with Roland making us get all nostalgic, Elektron looking to the future and A going up against Korg to see who’s made the most fun sampler
1. Roland TR-8 (Future Music Innovation of the year 2014)
Roland were never ones to look back and revisit the past, much to the dismay of everyone else. Well that was until they unveiled the Aira range this year. The unofficial leader of the pack had to be the TR-8, which was a wish come true — an 808 and 909 in one sleek box. Yeah it’s not true analogue but, standing up against the originals, Roland’s ACB technology sounds just as good, if not better.
2. Elektron Rytm (Future Music Innovation of the year 2014)
Remember how fresh the classics likes of the 808 were to your ears when you first heard them? We had the exact same feeling the first time we clapped ears on the Rytm. Its eight-voice analogue/digital drum machine with step sequencing and real-time recording, plus drum pads, effects and user sample loading make it a real beat-making beast. It might be three times the price of the TR-8, but its expandability mom than makes up for it.
3. Akai MPX16
Much like the Volca. the MPX16 won’t change the world of sampling, but they are both useful loop and phrase building tools, whether used live or in the studio. We still think Akai’s pressure-sensitive pads are best out there and, despite the lack of a sequencer and time-stretching functions. the audio inputs, built-in mic, and SD slot make the MPX more flexible than Korg’s offering. Not to mention its use as a USB and MIDI pad controller.
4. Korg mini KP2S
When its predecessor was released. we loved the upgrades from version 1, but the lack of sampling diminished our ardour somewhat. The new S version has reignited that love as it’s not just another FX processor. In addition changing pitch and cue points. The sample recorder lets you capture sounds that are input via either the line in or the built-in mic. And, compared to its big brother, it is just as useful for live performance and DJing If you’re on a budget.
5. Korg Volca Sample
Just like original Electribe series back in the late-’90s, Korg have added a sampler the Volca line. Despite its initial reliance on sampling via an iOS device, Korg have since announce the release of the SDK for Audio Pocket to Developers, which will hopefully address the batch loading issu. We loved the amount of controls at your disposal and how easy it is to tweak the100 onboard sounds. It is the perfect addition to the Volca range.
– DRUM SOFTWARE –
2014 hasn’t just been about drum machines, it’s been a bumper year for software beat-machines too. Check out these excellent options
1. Arturia Spark 2
Spark 2 is a 16-track beat production environment with step and real-time sequencing that operates as a DAW plug-in or standalone. The slicker-than-before software design and low price earned this update top marks.
2. Toontrack EZDrummer 2
To say that the fast iteration of EZ Drummer was a success is an understatement. Eight years on and, while not much looks to have changed, version 2 features a whole new sound engine and overhauled browser. Easy just got easier.
3. FXpansion BFD3
BFD3 is by far the most advanced and expensive of the ROMplers, but for good reason. It represents the current state-of-the-art acoustic drum kit emulation. Each sound is editable down to the level of microscopy.
4. XLN Audio Addictive Drums 2
Sitting smack in-between EZDrummer 2 for ease and BFD3 for tweakability is Addictive Drums 2. It’s powerful yet easy to use and the newly added Tone Designer for snares and kicks really holds it up against rivals.
– CONTROLLERS –
It’s been a busy year for humble controllers — in 2014 they are offering unparalleled features and even greater synergy with host software
2014 Trends Komplete Kontrol
Having struggled with taming the beast that is Komplete with Kore, Native Instruments have finally cracked it. And less is most certainly more, They didn’t need to create a whole new ecosystem, but instead one simple interface featuring the hugely popular and powerful bowser function seen in Maschine
1. M-Audio Trigger Finger Pro (Best Value of the year 2014 – Future Music)
Another re-release in controller market was was the Trigger Finger Pro form M-Audio, landing nearly a decade since its predecessor. The TFP has certainly come at age with its huge feature set and free bundle software. The inclusion of a sequencer firmly plants this controller in the performance bracket, but it would also be a welcome addiction to any studio on beat-making duties. Coupled with a vast array of very usable samples and software, TFP does represent a good bargain.
2. Akai APC40 MkII
After the success of the first APC40, it was little wonder a new version wound come along after the release of Live 9. Akai have dispensed with the rugged housing for an enclosure similar to that of Push, and yet like Push its surprisingly sturdy and very well built. Due to the decresed size you’d be forgiven for thinking some features had been removed, but we have counted and they are all there. Instead the layout is more intuitive with Live 9 and Akai have added a few mote features to reflect this.
3. Arturia BeatStep (Editor’s Choice of the year 2014 – Future Music)
Very rarely does a product come along that ticks so many boxes such a low price that you know you just have own one. The BeatStep is one such device. Slightly steering away from Arturia’s hybir-reliant control approach. the BeatStep bridges the gap beetwen most hardware and software problems with the inclusion of USB, MIDI and CV/Gate outputs. Its extremely flexible as a standalone controlller and a Sequencer in one. And, with the help of the included MIDI control software, BealStep will gain the benefit of extra control parameters. All in all we would say this is one of our bargains of the year.
4. Korg Taktile/Triton Taktile
Korg hit us with a double-dose of controllers this year. First up the Taktile, which came In 25 and 49 key variant. Both included the mini kaoss pad style controller, which is able to send control and note Information, and an arpeggiator. but it was the 49 key version we were most impressed with. The full range of controls includes eight rotaries and faders, plus 16 pads – whereas the 25 key only features half the pads and none of the rotary dials, The Taktile family grew further with addition of the Triton edtion; The chassis and controls stayed the same. but with the addition of a Triton sound engine offering 512 sounds. Although pretty much a preset affair, there are 512 solid bread-and-butter sounds onboard including some good pianos and EPs, lush strings. juicy synth basses and leads, drums and more – it’s a pretty versatile little controller/ synth!
5. Novation Launch Control XL
With last year’s mini range, we’re glad to see another Live controller of the full-sized variety. Design to be paired up with the original Launchpad, Launch Control takes care of the mixing side of things in Live. As you’d expect there is no set-up needed in Live, but you can still edit via the downloadable editor. If you own a Launchpad and are looking for more control over Live without more pads, Then this is for you
6. NI Traktor Kontrol S8
It’s big, and boy is it clever. In fact, Native Instruments’ new flagship DJ device might be the most impressive DJ controller we’ve ever used. Undoubtedly it’s at its best when you take advantage of the built-in control vinyl/ CD support, but in any state it offers absolutely unrivalled access to Traktor’s performance features/
7. NI Kontrol S keyboards
Despite then high Price. the S series keyboards work so well with Komplete that ypu may never want to use the mouse again. Utilising tried and tested tech from Maschine Studio, the S series look to get better with each update coming its way. Every sound in Komplete instantly maps eight of the most important parameters to Kontrol S’s eight knobs. Screens telll you what each knob does and the current settings it doesn’t come more intuitive than this.
Against the backdrop of a quiet year, a couple of names have made a big impression
Relatively speaking, 2014 has been a fairly quiet one on the DAW front. Last year saw a ton of major updates, including Live 9, Logic Pro X and Pro Tools 11, leaving this year mostly bereft of major events beyond a few point updates (until the very recent release of Cubase 8, which we’re yet to test) and more esoteric fare (the unconventional but impressive Renoise 3 is worth investigation). There have, however, been a couple of major players to buck the trend…
1. Bitwig Studio (Future Music’s DAW Of The Year’ for 2014)
has been looming large over the music making landscape since long before its March 2014 release date. In fact, we first caught wind of Bitwig Studio, a brand new DAW devised by a bunch of former Ableton Live developers, way back at the start of 2012. So does the application live up to the two years of hype? In short, yes. It might not be ushering in the death of its closest rival Live just yet, but we can’t remember a version one
DAW release with so much potential. Its unique modulation system is fantastic, the interface is great to work with and the interplay between its Clip and Arrangement views has Live beaten hands-down. The recent v1.1 update has yet more new devices and MIDI/audio routing capabilities. Well be keeping an eye on future updates very closely.
2. Propellerhead Reason 8
An honourable mention goes to the latest version of Propellerhead’s longstanding DAW. A refined interface and streamlined workflow make it more fun to use than ever, and the new Softube-powered amps and ever-growing range of Rack Extensions make this the most powerful version of Reason yet.
Mobile music making continues to come on in leaps and bounds. 2014 has seen the arrival of some of the most impressive apps yet
2014 has seen the realm of iOS music making continue to advance at a startling rate. What was, a few years ago, merely the source of a bit of portable production fun, is now a serious music making proposition. The past year has seen some of the most impressive app advances yet. Take, for example, Positive Grid’s Final Touch, a proper mastering tool for the iPad, or Arturia’s iSEM and iProphet, both of which take the notion of classic synth emulations for the iPad to the next level.
One developer that deserves a special mention for their iOS releases over the past year or so is Sugar Bytes. 2014 has seen the company follow up last year’s excellent ports of WOW2 and Turnado with a string of equally impressive iPad releases, most notably the brilliant, touchscreen-friendly version of Effectrix and their latest offering, the impressive groove-sketchpad Egoist. Elsewhere VirSyn’s latest iPad synth offering, the semi-modular Tera, is another impressively powerful instrument for iOS.
In short, it’s tough to pick a ‘favourite’ app of 2014. We think the four apps below, however, are all essential
1. Cakewalk Z3TA+
Cakewalk’s iOS port of longtime virtual synth favourite Z3TA+ has quickly become one of our favourite iOS instruments. Its wavetable oscillators, excellent mod matrix, arpeggiator, filter and effect are capable of creating truly deep, evolving sounds. The revamped, iOS-friendly interface is a joy to work with too.
2. A Tasty Pixel Audiobus 2
Audiobus is the app that makes your other iOS music tools worth owning. This virtual hub, which allows interconnectivity between ,OS instruments, effect. and DAWs, single-handedlly makes mobile music making a serious proposition. Version 2 added a new interface, preset, effect chains and more. Completely essential.
3. Korg Gadget
Gadget is an iOS app wins more serious ambition. More than just a virtual instrument. It’s a full mobile packed with synths, drum machines, a sequencer, mixer and effect. It may be a little pricey for an app, but you get a lot and it keeps improving with every update. Ableton Live export makes it usable too.
4. Liine Lemur 5
Originally born as a futuristic, touchscreen-centred hardware controller by Jazz Mutant some seven years ago, since being acquired by Liine and ported to iOS, Lemur has just got better and better. With the arrival of v5, this totally user-customisable MIDI/ OSC controller app is a true essential, Its now on Android too!