This real analog monosynth looks
and plays like the love child of an
ARP Axxe and an Octave Cat. It
has one oscillator, but with blendable
and “Ultrasaw” fattener, that’s like
saying a properly mixed zombie
is just one drink. The filter from
the rare Steiner-Parker Synthacon has an aggressive sound you won’t hear
elsewhere, and the arpeggiator is wicked decent. Be warned: If you use the
MiniBrute just for dubstep, we will find you.
CASIO XW-P1 and XW-G1
$549 | arturia.com
We mentioned the XW-P1 in February, but having gone hands-on at NAMM, we’re even more impressed with the sound (everything from buzzy synths
to organs to orchestral layers is solid), the immediate layering and editing, and the ease and groove of the step sequencer. The G1 ditches the P1’s drawbar
organ (which sounds surprisingly good) in favor of a pedal-style looper and more dance-oriented sound set.
XW-P1: $699.99 | XW-G1: $799.99 | casiomusicgear.com
As in, miniature Taurus. Moog crammed all the seismic analog bombast
of the Taurus 3 into a practically palmtop package. All that’s
missing are the pedals and preset memory, and if anything, you get
more hands-on-knobs control with the Minitaur.
$699 | moogmusic.com
Don Buchla famously holds that synthesizers should free our creativity
from the 12-note keyboard. Recently acquired by a group of passionate
industry veterans, he’s now doing business as Buchla Electronic Musical
Instruments. His new Skylab packs true modular power into a fold-up
form you can take on a plane with your patch intact—as long as the TSA
doesn’t evacuate the airport while they ponder which wire to cut.
$14,950 | buchla.com
Sporting an accelerometer that lets you affect any MIDI destination
by titling the neck, the Vortex takes you back to the
’80s in every way except for making your Cavariccis fit again.
Th e pitch wheel, ribbon, sustain button, and octave shifters
are all in just the right place, the keys sense aftertouch and
velocity, and you get templates for popular software, making
this a lot of keytar for the money.
$399 | alesis.com
However great Nords sound (and they do), their Achilles’
heel with serious organists has always been the use of up/
down buttons instead of real drawbars. The C2D changes
that. Though its drawbars are somewhat fader-like, they
have a satisfying but not overdone tactile click, and are
laid out like on a vintage B: two sets for the upper manual
on the left, two for the lower on the right, and a pair of
pedal drawbars in the middle. Like the C1 and C2, it’s
light enough to carry under one arm.
$4,195 | nordkeyboards.com
Never mind the MPC drum pads, touch-fader strips that’d be at home onboard
NCC-1701D, arpeggiator, and step sequencer. The real story is that a company
as large and arguably mainstream as Akai put analog control voltage and gate outs on a
MIDI controller. That’s major validation that analog is here to stay and, thanks to a burgeoning
number of aff ordable desktop synth modules, not just for fat-walleted enthusiasts anymore.
$549 | akaipro.com
Most Desirable Unattainable
On the final day of NAMM, Prince’s musical director Morris Hayes texted editor
Stephen Fortner: “This keyboard is SICK. Get over here!” Agreed. The sound is
indescribably huge and lush, and the one-knob-per-function panel makes inventing
new sounds surprisingly quick given the instrument’s depth. How much will
the ultimate analog polysynth set you back? About 30 grand. Designer Stefan
Schmidt has built two so far, and Morris was eyeing this one.
For their sound and keyboard feel, Kawai is a
supremely underrated value in digital pianos.
With its 192 voices of polyphony, separate multisamples
for each key, and a real wooden action,
we’d recommend the CE220 to an educator, committed
student, or serious pianist with limited
space. It also features four-hands (duet) mode
and recording to an attached USB stick.
$2,195 | kawaius.com
Designed from the ground up to work with Propellerhead
Reason, this controller wowed us with its eye-popping design.
With a bright OLED display for separate modes that control
Reason’s instruments, mixer, channels, and transport, if you
have this and Balance, you have a complete
$599 | nektartech.com
The 2012 Winter NAMM Show was our first chance to get handson
with the big brother of the SK1 (reviewed Nov. ’11). Not only
is it the most compact dual-manual organ, but the extra non-organ
sounds (the same as in the SK1, with very good vintage keys
patches in particular) really let you put both manuals to good use,
playing organ on one and something else on the other.
Yamaha Throws Down
$2,895 street | hammondorganco.com
In a left turn from their caféweight StagePAS systems, Yamaha wants to be the first name you think of for ballsy powered P.A. speakers. The
demo we heard of their new DXR series suggests they might get their way—even the eight-inch baby of the bunch was hella loud and clean, with
studio monitor-like detail, and we initially thought the accompanying DXS subwoofers were on when they weren’t. In addition, 10", 12", and 15"
models are available, and the low street prices ($549.99–$799.99) surprised us just as much as the sound.
Great Studio Gear
SAMSON GRAPHITE 49
We didn’t know what to think when we first heard Samson was getting
into the black-n-whites game. Then we played the Graphite and loved its
keyboard feel. It senses aftertouch, the knobs are the endless kind, it’s USB
powerable (including by an iPad), and the fit and finish are surprisingly
tight. The price even includes Komplete Elements, a 3GB sound set culled
from Native Instruments’ best.
$199 street | samsontech.com
They may not be a brand-new model, but they sound so good, and are
so physically comfy and sonically non-fatiguing, that we can think of
no better value in cans that you can really use for mixing.
$199 | audio-technica.com
In a crowded field, the 4Pre hits a sweet spot for
songwriters: four squeaky-clean mic pres sharing
combo jacks with line and guitar inputs, allocated
so that you can always have a mic or two plugged in
at the same time as a guitar or a stereo keyboard.
It goes to 96kHz, sounds more expensive than it is,
and is built like your car should be.
$495 | motu.com
Color us impressed with the build and sound of this relative
newcomer’s entire line of recording and live mics. While not
all models cost under $500, most do, and you could outfit an
entire studio for less than the price of a prestige-name European
condenser or two.
KORG KAOSSILATOR 2
Just as fun live as it is for inspiring ideas
in the studio, the next Kaossilator adds
a second loop bank, letting you crossfade
between the two in DJ fashion.
As before, you can set scales up on the
touchpad, making it impossible to hit a
wrong note as you mash out synth riffs
over your loops. You can even record
everything to an internal Micro-SD card.
$230 | korg.com
SYNTHOGY IVORY II
AMERICAN CONCERT D
American Steinways are different
animals than their Germanmade
counterparts. Until now,
they’ve also been underrepresented
software pianos. Designer Joe
Ierardi told us he feels this is
his best Ivory piano yet Having
heard Mike Garson play it and
tried it ourselves (definitely not
in that order), we tend to agree.
Take a Stand
$199 | ilio.com
Ultimate Support’s new Apex AX-48 improves upon everything
about the long-running line of self-storing keyboard
stands. The column is now rounded in back. Deploying the
legs is easier. The bottom tier now features 18" tri-bars for
deeper ’boards. The Pro version features a top mount for
a mic boom or, even cooler, an on-the-go version of their
ultra-secure HyperStation laptop holder, as shown.
The Wireless Stage
LINE 6 STAGESCAPE M20D
In our opinion, this is what the future of live sound looks like.
We could write pages about how the StageScape does what it
does, but you can get that on Line 6’s website. Instead here’s
our hands-on takeaway: It’s so powerful, and its all-visual
touchscreen approach is so intuitive, that a total newbie
could quickly dial in great sound for an entire band. It has
everything you’d expect from a digital mixer (like wireless
iPad control and EQ and dynamics on every channel) and
things you wouldn’t (like feedback suppression and onboard
multitrack recording). What it feels like to use, though, has as
much in common with mixers as an episode of Top Gear does
with traffic school.
$2,799 | line6.com
Fairly or not, the iPad has raised expectations about how user interfaces on keyboards
and audio gear should handle. Mackie’s response? A digital mixer where the iPad (version
1 or 2; not included) is the user interface. The DL1608 hardware handles all the processing,
though. You can go wireless or docked, or use multiple iPads to give band members
individual monitor control.
$999 street | mackie.com
If you have a StudioLive mixer hooked up to
a laptop running its remote software, this
app lets your band use as many different iOS
gadgets as the mixer has aux sends. From your
iPhone or iPod Touch, you assign “me” channels
to the aux, which you then turn up as a
group with the onscreen thumbwheel. Max out
your “me” volume, keep turning the wheel, and
Qmix turns the rest of the band down in your
monitor. Genius ideas are often simple.
Free at Apple App Store |
There are a daunting number of choices in wireless vocal systems.
If you need one for your band that resists interference and dropouts
and includes a great-sounding mic, look no further.
Speakers that Stopped Us Cold
$399.95 street | sennheiser.com
The NAMM Show is so noisy and hectic that it’s
impossible to be drawn across an aisle just by the
sound of a pair of speakers. At least that’s what we
thought until we encountered the Pelonis Model
42 nearfield monitors. The parallelogram-shaped
cabinets let you orient them ideally for your room,
and they come with their own 400W power amp
that bi-amplifies the woofers and tweeters on
either side. If talking about sound is like dancing
about architecture, then sign us up for the Frank
Lloyd Wright memorial swing marathon.
$999 | pelonissound.com
UNIVERSAL AUDIO APOLLO
Powered Plug-Ins are just absurdly good recording gear
emulations, and they come with their own microchips to
crunch the numbers. Now, UA has combined them with
their analog expertise in this lovely little box. Of course
it’s not strictly for mobile use, but its one-two punch
of audiophile-grade recording and CPU relief is ideal
for the producer traveling with a laptop. The killer app?
Something you can’t do with a separate audio interface
and UAD card: tracking and monitoring through the
plug-ins before signal hits your computer.
Dual-chip: $2,499 | Quad-chip: $2,999 |
The “i” is for interface. The world’s favorite compact digital mixer
now pipes 16 channels at up to 96kHz to your computer over USB2.
This means you can do live sound reinforcement and recording at the
same time, with no need for expensive mic splitters or associated
extra cables. All the usual candy, like Virtual Circuit Modeling effects
and DAW control, is still there.
WAVEMACHINE LABS AURIA
$2,699 | yamaha.com
Forty-eight audio tracks on an iPad 2? It’s like Tron, only with that digitizer ray zapping an SSL
console and Studer A800 instead of Jeff Bridges. PSP and Drumagog plug-ins sweeten your
sound, and in-app Dropbox and SoundCloud support share it with others. Even your first-gen
iPad will manage 24 tracks, and Auria records up to 18 tracks at once through any USB audio
interface. Honestly, this scares us a little.
$49.95 | wavemachinelabs.com
Ultra-compact recording interfaces are multiplying
so fast that we almost think they’re what lost
socks turn into. This one stands out because of the
completeness of its I/O—for starters, it includes
all the breakout cables for iOS or Mac/PC connection,
MIDI, and using either of the two phantompowered
balanced mic inputs.
$199.99 | tascam.com