The Must Have Studio Gear For 2018
8. JoeCo: Cello Audio Interface
This entry stands out to me since it offers audio engineers/studio owners further options as far as high quality audio interfaces/converters without breaking the bank. This incredibly sleek interface features an impressive 384kHz sample rate option (first time ever for a desktop unit), and a very respectable 125dB of dynamic range. While I see no real need to go over 96K most of the time myself… this presents an affordable way for those working on film scores and other similar work a way to get tip top sample rates sent in like the big boys. If the computer can handle it, of course. You get 2 preamps with a total of 22 inputs and 4 outs, and the AD and DA conversion offers filtering options to better fit the needs of the project. With each all-analog preamp offering a staggering 80dB of gain, a high pass filter, and inserts, I just love
seeing the standards continue to rise. To upgrade your monitoring setup, you get a built in talkback mic in addition to onboard monitor controls; so that with the word clock connectivity shows that this is meant to grow with your studio. Not a measly starter interface with maybe a 1 year life span, as the Cello pushes substandard quality and conversion further to the wayside. Will this dethrone (spoiler alert) Audient as my favorite in the price range? Possibly, but it ranks here since I have yet to do a full round of testing with it. At $899, it is certainly a direct competitor. There is so much misinformation about sample rates and why it makes a difference having a higher one (summarized, it is what you don’t hear when it is raised, not what you do hear), but that is too long and technical of a subject for me to explain right now.
7. Warm Audio: WA73 and WA-47 Lines
It may be a little unorthodox including not only an entire line of gear on this list, but two, though that is a big reason why I have them on here in the first place! While we have seen 1073 and U47+U47 FET inspired gear in the past, it is incredibly rare to get the amount of bang for your buck that seems to be offered in Warm Audio’s latest models. More so than this though is how consistently often their new releases are and have been for some time now, and the ambition of releasing two entire lines at once is commendable. Options are the key word here, with not just a single product per category, but different versions to fit the needs of your particular studio. You can purchase the incredibly affordable yet not “cheap” WA-47jr for $299, or the flagship $899 (still ultra affordable) WA-47. Or a single channel, preamp/DI only WA73 ($599), WA73-EQ preamp and EQ combo ($799), all the way up to a dual mono WA273 ($999) and WA273-EQ ($1,499). This is an example I believe many manufactures could learn from, allowing studio owners and engineers the option to pick what is perfect for them. No more, and no less.
6. Audient: iD44 Audio Interface
In my opinion, Audient is changing the game as far as affordable, (sometimes) entry level, yet high quality audio interfaces, microphone pre amps, and conversion. In this price range, mediocrity runs rampant, giving new, naïve consumers an up hill battle to make music that is to par with modern standards. Audient is always the company I recommend when friends ask me what interface they should start with, cause I wish they were around when I got my first (crappy) little interface. Yes, I made it work as many of us have at some point, but why make life harder than it has to be? Crappy is the last word I would use here, since Audient is the only company around that uses the same preamps in their couple hundred-dollar iD4 interface as they do their $50,000 consoles. Burr Brown conversion, J-FET DIs, and no shrill, thin character to ward off later. The iD44 is the next evolution of the previous iD22 flagship interface, offering 4 of the Class-A Audient console pres, 2 DIs, a DSP mixer, and a total of 20 x 24 connectivity. Add to that the ASP800 8 channel preamp/converter expansion unit (that I use next to preamps costing many, many times more), and you’re in for a solid, clean, and fast setup that’ll surpass most home studio rigs. Oh, and USB-C has been utilized for less latency!
5. API: 529 Stereo Compressor
The legendary API 2500 compressor has been brought to a doublewide 500 series format, more or less. The API 2500 (followed by the 527) compressor is hands-down my favorite unit from API, and now it is more accessible from ever. Besides the variable L/R link and variable release options, you get the same THRUST, knee, old/new compression type, and everything else we have grown to know and love. Drums, electric guitars, mix busses, certain vocals, and everything you want punchy and up front are in for a treat. This beast will sell for an “intro price” of $2,195 starting mid-February, and will be what directly battles the Hyperion for space in my current chassises (till I inevitably cave, buy a 3rd ten space chassis, and then the other).
More information on the API 529 here
4. ZYLIA Portable Recording Studio
While this was also at Summer NAMM, it is too cool for me not to mention. Looking like some kind of futuristic, orb version of Amazon Echo, this sphere has 19 omnidirectional microphone capsules inside of it, and a VST/AU plugin to control each one. With the software, you can effectively turn one, 19 capsule microphone into up to 19 separate microphones, or any other combination (figure 8 requiring 2 diaphragms, etc). And then change those polar patterns even after you record, similar to the Townsend Labs Sphere L22 but for different applications. With configurations and even presets for 5.1, 7.1, 22.2 surround, and so much more (including good ol’ stereo, of course), this changes the game as far as recording band auditions/practice sessions outside of a professionally/well equipped studio. Not only is it awesome for bands honing their performance or preparing for the studio, but school bands, orchestras, and choirs as well! It can also record and convert audio to HOA (Higher Order Ambisonics) for applications like Facebook 360 and similar platforms if you get the Pro model. The base model selling for $499 does most things but leaves out the options for virtual microphone/polar pattern/microphone count adjustment and surround/3D options mainly. The Pro Set that can do everything is still a modest $749+shipping. What makes it even cooler is that it was funded on Indiegogo (funded 233% of goal, may I add). This could have topped the list, but it technically isn’t a fresh NAMM product so I didn’t want to cheat anymore than necessary.
3. Neumann: U67 Reissue
I know, I know. How many U67 clones/inspired microphones are already out there for $1,000-$3,000? A ton. Dozens. But now, you can own a Neumann U67 for $7,000 instead of a vintage one for $15,000+, apparently authentically crafted down to the carrying case. Am I going to sell my custom, hand built Mic Rehab microphone or any other microphone I have that is similar to get one? Nope. But this reissue makes many engineers’ pipe dream (including mine) that much more obtainable, with the “ohs and awes” to boot. I have also confirmed that Neumann is even making custom EF86 tubes for these! No easy feat, I may add.
2. PreSonus: EarMix Line
It isn’t often we see new products in the headphone monitoring department, let alone innovation. Having an AVB setup in my studio, I’m particularly excited with how seamless this would integrate. The two most popular current systems are Hear Technologies (I use this often at Slack Key Studio, and love it), and the solution from Behringer (sound leaves something to be desired, in my honest opinion), so this seems like a perfect middle ground. HearBack can get pricey, with the used market being hit or miss, so a system of this quality starting under $399 seams like a no brainer. Not only does it upgrade from the now dated ADAT connectivity of HearBack to Ethernet based AVB, but it also includes a 3 band EQ and limiter per channel, with no sacrifices made to analog connectivity. No more losing signal quality over long distances, and no more excuses for the artists you are recording not to have a great headphone mix while recording (which makes a big difference, by the way). And considering I know of Grammy winning albums mixed through the PreSonus Central Station, I can only imagine the years have yielded even better sound quality. In your choice of 8 or 16 channel configurations, hell yeah.
1. Wes Audio: Hyperion
I love seeing digital tech integrated into analog circuitry, and Wes Audio is one of the companies who have really been trailblazing this. With a borderline unheard of (especially in 500 series) 18 VCAs per channel, you get noiseless parameter changes and +24dBu of headroom (comparable or even surpassing mastering rack gear). Not to mention mid/side functionality, dual mono mode, touch sensitive encoders, +5 and +15 gain modes, two THD modes, 4 bands with variable Q, shelving and bell
modes, and tons of other stuff I wish more EQs had. In typical Wes Audio fashion, not only is it relatively affordable at $1,399, but also comes with a plugin to store presets, ride automation, and otherwise fully control the hardware from your DAW. The plugin GUI even has a spectrum analyzer and visual representation of your EQ moves, which is as handy as it is cool. I think the Hyperion may have to duke it out with another entry on this list for my last two 500 series chassis spaces, actually.
Apple: Logic 10.4 Update
Apple further improves what was my go-to DAW for nearly a decade, with notable upgrades including new plugins (API 560 style EQ and more), as well as a smart tempo feature for detecting and following tempo changes throughout a project. Fingers crossed that max buffer size is increased and multithreading is improved.
More information from Apple here
AEA: TRP2 Ribbon Microphone Preamp
AEA refines what was originally the first preamp made especially for ribbon mics, but certainly not limited here. Especially now that phantom power (with lock out mode) has been added. Increased gain (85dB), increased input impedance, and a universal power supply all come bundled here as well.
OWC: Full Line of Thunderbolt 3 Products
While maybe not as traditionally exciting as some of the other entires on this list, OWC has long made strides in computing innovation, often with Mac. With a full new line of high end TB 3 products, it has never been easier to get lower latency and blazing 40Gbps transfer speeds.
More information from OWC here
Fanstereo: Studio43 "Hybrid" Headphones
Lewitt: LCT 441 Flex
Lewitt is following up their successful LCT 440 PURE with 8 polar patterns, including 3 very unique reverse polar patterns for further experimentation and flexibility (reverse cardioid, supercardioid, and “wide” cardioid. For only about $400!
More information from Lewitt here
Slate Digital: SSD5 (Steven Slate Drums 5)
Slate is getting back to his roots with an upgrade to what many regard as their go to drum programming software. Giving the formidable upgrade their main competitor recently released a run for its money, SSD5 is more powerful and easier to use than ever. It boasts an upgraded GUI, more features+flexibility, as well as way more drum/percussion choices; all at a higher sample quality than ever before.
More information from Slate Digital here
Focal: Shape Twin Monitors
Piggybacking off the brilliant Shape line I got to check out at GearFest and Summer NAMM, Focal now has a new Shape flagship featuring the series’s new driver design and materials, twin passive radiators, with an all new 2.5 way design featuring dual 5″ cones.
More information from Focal here
sE Electronics/Rupert Neve: RNT Tube Microphone
Rupert Neve and sE Electronics are back at it again, with what is their 3rd microphone collaboration. This new flagship tube mic features an all Class-A design and custom Rupert Neve transformer, as well as the same op amps used in the revered 5088 console. Brought together with a custom capsule, it promises “larger than life”, yet pristine sound quality.
More information from sE Electronics here
Fredenstein: F610 UE-1 Equalizer
A LCD color display with touch capabilities is a first for 500 Series, with this stereo 4 band analog equalizer also doubling as a 30-band spectrum analyzer (input or output) with adjustable sensitivity. While the design is op amp based, this unit offers a “tube-like” color mode, and you can even store up to 99 settings via the USB connectivity.
More information from Fredenstein here