Coming off of what could easily be described as the craziest year in my lifetime, the holidays will hopefully give us all an escape from the current Covid-19 reality. And to help the escape be even more successful, dig into our latest holiday gift guide — you’ll find a host of great new products (and a couple of older ones) that can make for the perfect gift for your favorite producer, engineer or musician.
USB mics are a dime a dozen these days and the majority of them feel (and sadly sound) like they are disposable. Not true with the Earthworks Audio ICON USB mic (www.earthworksaudio.com); this thing is made to last a lifetime. If there’s a USB mic whose look, feel and performance can be compared to driving a Ferrari, the ICON is it! The mic has a built-in pop filter, looks fantastic on camera and incorporates the legendary low-noise, non-colored, musical sound that has made Earthworks famous. The cardioid mic has a 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response, and after spending time recording with it, I found that besides voice, it beautifully captures virtually any instrument or sound source.
To top it off, the mic includes a custom Triad-Orbit base, and based on its impressive specs, you’d be hard pressed to think you weren’t recording with a high-dollar studio microphone rather than an affordable USB mic. Speaking of the studio, I should mention that there is also an ICON PRO studio version of the mic, equipped with an XLR connector rather than a USB port.
At only $149, the Sonic Presence SP15 USB-C Spatial Microphone (www.sonicpresence.com) is absolutely the best way to capture stereo recordings, and using it is a complete blast. I fell in love with the first version of the Sonic Presence mic a couple of years ago and the current USB-C version is as close to perfect as imaginable. The stereo microphone set incorporates two small, omnidirectional mics that hang over your ears, sitting just in front of the ear canal so you can still use AirPods or IEMs for monitoring if desired. The Sonic Presence website has recommended apps depending on the desired quality, as the mic supports 24-bit/96 kHz. I’ve loved recording with the mic and it’s discrete enough to easily sneak into a concert (don’t tell anyone I said that, though). The SP15 is compatible with Android, Windows, USB-C equipped iOS devices and Mac OS. The mic can be used with USB-A computers by utilizing a USB-C to USB-A adapter cable.
AcoustiTools from Acoustic Masterminds (www.acousticmasterminds.com) is an awesome iOS audio analysis app. The $24.99 module-based app allows four modules to be viewed and utilized simultaneously. Modules bundled with the basic application include Augmented Reality (allows the user to tag specific locations in an acoustic space and calculate the volume level, distance and delay for each tag), dB Meter and Real-Time Analyzer modules.
The RTA module looks fantastic and can be switched between spectrum color and solid blue displays; it includes a red problem frequency line that allows you to instantly find a problem frequency that has a tendency to feedback. The Diagnostic PEQ and Diagnostic GEQ are accessed via in-app purchases and each cost $14.99. The Diagnostic PEQ uses an innovative, real-time Diagnostic Parametric Equalizer module to analyze pink noise played through a system and then recommends a corrective parametric EQ setting for the system. The Diagnostic GEQ is essentially the same feature, but it recommends a corrective graphic EQ setting for the system rather than a parametric setting. The number of bands in the software is adjustable, so it can be set to match the number of bands on the system’s GEQ. Besides configuring a space for sound reinforcement, this feature is also great for setting up a home theater or tweaking a car stereo.
In-ear monitors have become as much of a fashion statement as a tool for many artists and musicians. Ultimate Ears (www.ultimateears.com) was at the forefront of allowing users to customize the look of their IEMs, and now the new UE SWITCH system takes customization one-step further by allowing users to swap out custom-designed faceplates, providing unlimited visual options. SWITCH-equipped IEMs look identical to previous models, but their face plates are easily removed and replaced by using the SWITCH’s simple twist-lock mechanism and simply rotating the faceplate, removing it and replacing it with another in seconds.
The new interchangeable faceplates are just like the current faceplates, except for the twist-lock mount on the back. The SWITCH faceplates can incorporate any of the faceplate colors, materials and design options offered with standard IEMs. The UE SWITCH option includes three Faceplates and is available with any new UE Pro or CSX model for $199. The UE SWITCH upgrade is available for any existing UE Pro or CSX model for $199. This upgrade includes a three pack of faceplates.
Beyerdynamic (www.beyerdynamic.com) has a pair of useful new mics that are worth checking out. The TG D70 utilizes the legendary M88 capsule and is designed specifically for kick drum, and it works extremely well for that purpose. It’s quite versatile as well, as I had good results using it on floor tom, bass and guitar cabinets, and trombone. Meanwhile, the TG I51 is an amazingly affordable workhorse microphone that lends itself to electric guitars, but also sounds great on snare, toms and bass guitar. Both mics are well made, include a carry bag and feature a built-in mounting system.
Nothing beats a great book and there are a couple of fantastic ones that simply can’t be missed. Patch & Tweak with Moog (www.bjooks.com) is a beautifully designed book and a fantastic read. The book was written and designed by electronic musician Kim Bjørn and features a foreword by Hans Zimmer. The book covers a wide range of Moog synthesizer-oriented topics, including professional artist interviews, creative patch ideas, sound design tips, in-depth discussions with Moog engineers and an overview of Moog’s history.
There’s also a view of the Moog factory in Asheville, North Carolina which I’m fortunate to have visited multiple times. It truly is an amazing experience to see the precision and finesse that goes into building a synthesizer by hand, and if you can’t visit the factory in person, this book is the next best thing. Patch & Tweak with Moog is the ultimate studio coffee table book!
Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Eric Clapton, the Faces… by Glyn Johns (www.penguinrandomhouse.com) is a stunningly good read. The book sucks you in like a great novel, while secretly feeding you tons of wisdom in regards to producing, engineering and knowing how to interact with artists, managers and labels. I somehow missed the book when it was released in 2014 [It was in our Holiday Gift Guide that year! – Ed.], but thankfully superstar engineer Doug Sarrett turned me onto it last summer and I couldn’t be more grateful. Glyn Johns played a strong hand in the creation of many of my all-time favorite albums, and hearing the stories gives you a fly on the wall perspective as to what went into creating many of these masterpieces.