Tech Talk

Favorite Gear From 2015

Audio pros are passionate about gear, and our tastes tend to be broader than most. 12/04/2015 6:45 PM

Audio pros are passionate about gear, and our tastes tend to be broader than most. We’re more like food and wine lovers who relish the nuance of taste rather than sports fans who stick to a single team. But it’s tough to keep up to speed with everything in the audio universe. So, in this last issue of Mix for 2015 I thought I’d poll friends, Mix reviewers and other pros to see what’s made them happy, new or old, in 2015. I’ll start.

Three standout products I had the opportunity to review and use this year are the Audio-Technica AT5045 microphone (Mix, November), Revoice Pro 3 from Synchro Arts, and the Fredenstein 500 Series Bento Box (Mix, May). These products took something common and made it extraordinary. The AT5045 is a side-address condenser mic with a rectangular capsule and is the most versatile mic I’ve used in a while. It’s easy to place, has the best mic mount in the industry, sounds natural and excels across a wide range of applications. Synchro Arts took VocALign to infinity and beyond by pairing rock-solid performance with the best interface to a free-standing app outside of Pro Tools that I’ve seen. Once you set up your presets, you can easily align, pitch change, and even create a very convincing double from a mono source with just a few button clicks. Fredenstein’s Bento Box 500 Series rack comes with a small LED screen that offers an instant read on whatever Fredenstein 500 unit parameter you’re adjusting, in real time. I reviewed the F609 preamp, and F600A solid state and F602 tube compressors, which all sounded great. This year, Fredenstein added designer Hutch Hutchinson (Manley, Rupert Neve Designs) to their R&D team, meaning we can expect to be impressed again.

Writer Joe Hannigan has been a busy guy so he didn’t write much for Mix in 2015, but his favorite gear includes the QSC TouchMix-16, which he installed for clients. Joe was impressed with the sound, interface and the additional iPad software. Joe also liked the frei:raum software from Sonible.com. It’s a problem-solving plug-in featuring three EQs, each with a unique approach—a smart EQ for spectral balancing; proximity EQ for controlling ambience; and entropy EQ for modifying tonal and inharmonic components.

Engineer and reviewer Barry Rudolph loved the Exponential Audio Excalibur Multi-Effect plug-in that he reviewed in August. It leans toward sound design in its approach using a 4-voice model for creating effects. Barry also tagged the SPL Iron Mastering Compressor. Read Barry’s review in this issue; SPL went deep on this one.

Live sound and recording engineer Steve La Cerra recommends the Blue Sky Star System One 2.1 monitor system. It features two active mains with 6.5-inch woofers and a 200-watt, 12-inch sub. Steve gave 5 stars to the Shure PGA181 side-address condenser microphone, which by the way costs under $100.

Engineer producer Jacquire King has been busy this year using some of the best gear on the planet, which includes the UTA (UnderTone Audio) MPEQ-1. He found the mic pre/EQ combo to be tonally flexible plus completely unique in its approach. Jacquire says, “What is possible with the EQ in terms of correction and shape of frequency manipulation is totally unique to this piece of gear and found nowhere else.” Also in Jacquire’s Yes column is the newly improved Empirical Labs Fatso EL7x. He likes the added compression ratio (11), emulating the 1176LN and how the control buttons now allow for back stepping when you hold them down. Jacquire also picked the BURL Mothership, which he says are “hands down the best sounding converters and made switching away from my Apogee converters that I had used for 20 years an easy upgrade.” P.S., it’s not just Jacquire who loves the BURLS; Nashville engineers Justin Neibank, Vance Powell, and F. Reid Shippen all have them in their racks.

Engineer Michael Cooper tagged the Sonic Farm Berliner preamp and FabFilter Pro-Q 2 plug-in as his favorites, while Brandon T. Hickey loved the Apogee Ensemble and UAD Satellite Thunderbolt. UK engineer Wes Maebe brought some very interesting flavor to my poll, adding the Schaffer Replica Tower to his list. You can get the whole story at solodallas.com but to quote the creator, “Much of the lead guitar tone of Angus Young from that magic era is due to the Schaffer-Vega. The SVDS sported a clean boost, a compressor and an expander in its audio circuitry, allowing it to further overdrive the amplifiers and add a unique signature to the sound.” Enough said!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Mix in 2015. Thank you for your support and we are all looking forward to bringing you the best in audio through print, online resources and events like Mix Nashville and our Sound for Film event on the West Coast. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016 for us all.