As another year draws to a close, Chris Lyth again rounds up some of the year's most desirable hardware
With fresh sleaze allegations rocking Santa’s grotto, rumours of poor working conditions and a potential revolt on the part of the Reindeer Union, the pressure is on to get Christmas right this year. Reports of a seasonal collaboration with Hermes have brought questions regarding judgement and competence, and it looks like our portly thrice-jabbed friend is going to have to work extra hard to bring you all some much-needed seasonal cheer.
So with that in mind, let’s make things a bit easier for him with this year's Christmas round-up, featuring some of the 2021 goodies we’d most love to find under the tree…
Universal Audio Volt 276
The affordable high quality audio interface market has undergone something of a revolution in the last few years, with SSL, Focusrite, Arturia and Audient all mounting strong campaigns. However, a new sheriff is in town! Universal Audio (UA) have a fine pedigree in the world of high-end audio – many of the pioneering units they built in the 60s have a near mythical status to rival that of the Yeti. Their first foray into the world of affordable audio interfaces, though, is far from abominable…
The Volt comes equipped with stereo line-level outputs, MIDI in & out and a headphone jack, plus two combination jack/XLR inputs. As UA have built a reputation for some of the best preamps, compressors and audio interfaces in the business, it's perhaps no surprise that here they've combined all three into a handy unit that's rugged enough to be thrown into a rucksack and used at gigs or for location recording.
The 1176 compressor function will safely prevent clipping as well as adding depth and solidity. and the preamp has a vintage option that adds valve modelling should you wish to add a little richness to the incoming signal. It also comes bundled with a veritable host of software including Ableton Lite and plugins from Spitfire, Softube, Brainworx and Relab – in short, everything you need to get started other than a computer.
Baby Audio TAIP
I love Baby Audio...they are a breath of fresh air in the often traditional "let's make recreations of old things digitally" world. Here they have used AI to produce a tape effect that comprehensively covers every sound imaginable from a tape machine.
Whether you want just a touch of subtle colour to glue your mix together, or require more aggressive timbres to slam your drum bus with, TAIP has you covered. Unique compression flavours can be had by pushing up the GLUE slider: when used on the main mix or on separate instruments, a certain cohesion can be had and mixes will bind that bit better. Feeding sounds into TAIP gives depth, character and weight.
There are sound design uses to be had here as well. The WEAR control will allow you to recreate the sound of knackered tape or worn-out belts and motors, to give a woozy Boards Of Canada-type drift. I reviewed Softube's Tape not so long ago which costs around four times more, and TAIP frankly embarrasses it. My plug-in of the year without a doubt.
Oh, and Baby Audio are a lovely bunch who chuck out a few toys gratis every now and then, so grab yourself some freebies here…
Roland Boutique JX-08
If warm pads, shimmering chorus and crystalline textures are your bag then Roland has your back. If you’re not familiar with the Boutique range (where have you been?) they are pint-sized recreations of Roland's golden age with all sorts of modern conveniences. Here, 17 new effects including JUNO-106 chorus, SDD-320 reverb and a lo-fi compressor have been added to what's essentially a recreation of 1985's JX-8P, along with an arpeggiator and a 64-part polyphonic sequencer with motion recording.
While the size of the sliders may prove difficult for sausage fingers, those with the lithe, graceful digits of an 18th Century poet will have no problems. As with all of the Boutiques, the sound is very good indeed and no one is going to pull you up about it not sounding like the original because it's really close.
In fact, what with the powerful sequencer, effects, portability and modern USB-C convenience, I think I'd actually rather have this than the original!
Elektron always bring the heat and with the Model:Samples they hit the price to performance ratio squarely on the head – it is positively dripping wtih features and flexibility.
The main sound-shaping tools are intuitively laid out as encoders on top of the unit, making it a responsive and tactile machine to jam with. The Elektron sequencer is a joy to behold, with features such as Parameter Locks, Conditional Trigs and Chance allowing you to shape sequences and build variation easily. Lightweight, portable, easy to use, what's not to love?
Teenage Engineering PO-133 Street Fighter
For a stocking filler or a small treat to yourself, you really can’t do much better than any one of the diminutive Pocket Operators. Their sound engines are always either on the cutting edge or downright mystifying, as evidenced here with a machine built on sounds from Street Fighter.
Its built-in sequencer is way cooler than it has any right to be for the price, and it can send and receive a pulse clock signal, allowing it to act as a master or slave when hooked up to other pulse-compatible gear such as Volcas and other Pocket Operators. There’s even a cheeky nod to Elektron, as they've taken a little slice of the jazzy Parameter Lock function, which is a very fast and powerful way to lock changes in patterns such as envelope and filter cut-off.
ADAM have been making high quality professional monitors for a long time now. Their entry-level T7Vs are designed to deliver high levels of precision at a low cost, which for producers starting out is like all our Christmases come at once.
Typically for ADAM, they output a bright airy sound that delivers punchy, controlled bass and a midrange that’s perfect for examining recordings analytically . The separation is also excellent, everything coming through clean and clear without a trace of muddiness. They are very much a modern monitor, with a contemporary sound in that they have slightly forward voicing but without being at all flattering.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Words: Chris Lyth