Yes it’s been a year most of us would rather forget. Amongst the rollercoaster that has been 2020, there has been a number of amazing music gear releases that have kept the creative juices flowing for those that have been in lock-down and isolated. Noisegate’s senior contributors have summarized their best picks for 2020 and my editor’s choice for the year appears at the end. As we come to a close of this retched year, take a look at these choices ranging from musical instruments, synths, software, pro audio products, technology and more — some you may have missed over the year or possibly overlooked.
Best Headphones: AKG K371BT
• Bluetooth capable with built in microphone – unplug yourself!
• Incredible frequency response of 5 Hz to 40 kHz (unheard of for its price point)
• Mini XLR cable negates any cable borne interference
• Up to 40 hour battery life
• Sound quality on par with headphones twice their price.
Expect to pay: $350AUD
Best Multi-track Mixer/Recorder: Tascam Model 12
• Portable mixer, recorder and multi-track audio interface all in one!
• Warm and punchy pre amps
• SD card recording and playback allows printing of EQ, compression and FX
Expect to pay: $1099 AUD
Best New Mixer: Korg Soundlink MW Series Hybrid Mixers
• An uncompromised, full size, high quality 8-bus mixer design
• Greg Mackie and Peter Watt designed analogue circuitry
• Great intuitive workflow features
Expect to pay: MW-1608 $1999, MW2408 $2499 AUD
Best New Audio Interface: Universal Apollo Solo
• An accessible entry point into the UA ecosystem for amateurs or professionals alike
• Thunderbolt or USB models
• Luna compatible
Expect to pay: $899 AUD
Guitars and Bass
Best New Guitar: ESP LTD Eclipse ’87
• Built on ESP’s design legacy, unique take on classic shapes
• Floyd Rose 1000 bridge and Seymour Duncan pickups
Expect to pay: less than $2000AUD
Best New Acoustic Amp: Blackstar Sonnet Acoustic Amps
• A brilliant natural and dynamic response.
• Packed with features like multiple channels, USB, effects, EQ and Bluetooth.
Expect to pay: Sonnet 60: $650, Sonnet 120: $1000 AUD
Best Bass: Fender American Professional II Jazz Bass
• The new flagship bass guitars from Fender raise the bar again
• Stunning new finishes
• New sculpted neck heel is a subtle but very nice tweak to the classic shape
Expect to pay: less than $2700 AUD
Best New Footswitch/Accessory: Blackstar Live Logic USB / MIDI footswitch
• Super versatile
• Software easy to use
• Integrates easily with Ableton Live
Expect to pay:
Best New Effects Pedal: Chase Bliss Audio / Meris CXM 1978
• Collaboration between two of the most exciting pedal manufacturers
• Innovative motorised faders with MIDI control
• Inspired by early digital reverbs, CXM provides character in the bucket laods.
Expect to pay: $899USD (there’s a waiting list, good luck!)
Best New Bass Pedal: Aguilar DB 925 Compact EQ pedal
• Enhances passive basses without intrusive on-board mods
• Small footprint and compact size
• Easy to dial in a great tone
Expect to pay: ~$280AUD
Best New DAW: Universal Audio Luna
• Free for UA hardware users, yet another reason to enter the world of Universal Audio
• New take on recording
• Uses unique Luna plug-ins
Expect to pay: FREE for all existing Thunderbolt Apollo & Arrow interfaces (Mac only)
Can’t Wait For: Ableton Live 11 (Coming Soon)
The imminent arrival of Ableton Live 11 in early 2021 has no doubt been the hottest news in DAWs over the last few weeks, with comping (finally), new instruments, effects and tons more. It’s a great time to buy Ableton Live too with 20% off Live 10 with a free upgrade to Live 11 upon its release.
Expect to pay: Live 11 Intro $139, Live 11 Standard $629, Live 11 Suite $1,049 AUD
Best New Production Suite: Native Instruments Komplete 13
• As always, Native Instruments have put together an enormous package of high quality instruments and sounds for their latest iteration Komplete
• The Cremona Quartet is an incredible achievement in software sample-based instruments, bringing priceless instruments to musicians the world over.
Expect to pay: K13 Select $299, K13 $899, K13 Ultimate $1799, K13 Ultimate Collectors Edition $2299 AUD
Best New Software Synths: Arturia V-Collection 8
• New retro instruments (finally we get a Juno!)
• Big updates to existing instruments
• Best software vocoder we’ve ever used, modelled after the
Expect to pay: $799 AUD
Best New Synth under $2000: Korg Wavestate
• Wave sequencing evolved, possibly the most innovative digital hardware synthesizer of recent times
• Incredibly powerful and capable of a wide variety of sounds
• New processor and hardware format for Korg, providing a platform for more powerful digital synthesizers in future (ie, the also fantastic Korg opsix!)
Except to pay: $1199 AUD
Best New Polyphonic Synth: Arturia Polybrute
• Innovation within analogue synthesis is uncommon, but the morphing function on the PolyBrute alongside the touchpad makes this instrument a wonderfully deep and expressive synthesizer.
• Beautiful wood and metal construction
• Incredible sound
Expect to pay: $3999 AUD
Worthy of Mention: ASM Hydrasynth
Newcomers ASM earned a lot of praise with their debut product, the wavetable Hydrasynth. It boasts a polyphonic aftertouch enabled keybed, something that hasn’t been manufactured in many many years and got many players very excited. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to try one yet!
Best New Reissued Synth: Korg Arp 2600 FS
• In a sea of cheap knock offs, Korg’s uncompromised reproduction of the ARP2600, with the blessing of its creators, stood above all.
• Added MIDI and sequencer
• Amazing build quality and true to the original sound
Expect to pay: they were limited, try getting your hands on one!
Best Sampler/Production Station: Native Instruments Maschine+
• Rumours circulated for many years of a standalone version of Maschine, finally NI came through!
• Intuitive Maschine workflow, identical to the standard Maschine
• Great connectivity and impressive CPU power, often matching or beating its computer-bound sibling.
Expect to pay: $1999 AUD
Best New MIDI Controller: Arturia Keystep Pro
• Powerful sequencer and keyboard
• Extensive CV and MIDI connectivity
• Brings the best of the Beatstep and Keystep together
Expect to pay: $499 AUD
Best New Eurorack Module: Noise Engineering Desmodus Versio
• Stereo in/out reverb with numerous sound shaping parameters
• That FSU button is classic Noise Engineering insanity!
• Open source platform able to run alternative software
Expect to pay: ~$600 AUD
Best New Semi-Modular: Moog Subharmonicon
• Polyrhythmic goodness
• Subharmonic synthesis, perhaps a first in a standalone analogue synthesiser
• Multi-layered clock generation
Expect to pay: $1349 AUD
Electro-smith’s open source ‘Daisy’ DSP platform looks like it’s going to be become the next go-to chip set for manufacturers, providing plenty of grunt and no licensing costs. It’s already been utilized in Eurorack modules from Noise Engineering and Qu-Bit Modular that have proved very popular and the platform is gaining traction with the open source community.
- Winner – Dead heat between the Korg opsix and Arturia Polybrute. Opsix for its great FM synthesis implementation and depth, coupled with Korg’s filters and a great sequencer. The Arturia Polybrute is blowing our minds, this polyphonic analogue monster that simply sounds out of this world! Both synths demonstrate an interesting evolution to both digital and analogue synthesis.
- Runner up – AKG K371BT headphones. Besides sounding and feeling great, the Bluetooth connectivity allows you to unplug the tether to your studio. Move around the studio space unfettered!
- Most Anticipated – Korg SQ-64 poly sequencer. Compact and robust design with some great performance functions. Has 3x CV/gate channels, plus 8x gate/trigger outs and full MIDI capabilities. I was lucky to try a pre-release unit and can’t wait perform with it.
I’ve got a feeling 2021 will be whole lot better. Thanks for stopping by and we look forward to bringing you more in the new year. Take care and happy holidays from everyone at Noisegate.