The Best Gear Of The Decade: 2016

Here are six of the best studio products that we reviewed in 2016.

This year we highlight the wonders of modular synthesis, new innovations in microphones, the emergence of subscription-based sample curation and the mastering process becoming achievable from your own home…

iZotope Ozone 7

What we said: “iZotope has come back fighting with an extensive update that includes some excellent new features, modules and algorithms. Ozone 7 sounds better and more flexible than ever.”

Were we right? The seventh version of iZotope’s premiere mastering suite locked the product in to a winning streak of updates over the following four years, leading it to consistently garner critical acclaim and scoop MusicTech awards. Ozone demystified the mastering process and allowed for extraordinary sonic control. Algorithms and AI additions to the software have seen it get even cleverer over the years, too. It’s basically your own personal mastering studio in a box.

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Conclusion: Ozone continues to set the benchmark in terms of home mastering, but it was this version that really made us sit up and take notice. 2018’s version 8 brought in a futuristic AI mastering assistant while this years’ version 9 added Stereoizer and cutting-edge modules. This, combined with other mastering software released from the likes of FabFilter and Mastering the Mix, has effectively cast a floodlight on the previously murky, esoteric world of mastering.

RATING

  • Innovation – 10
  • Impact – 9
  • Price Then – $499 (Advanced)
  • Price Now – $499 (Advanced)

Read our full review here.

Aston Spirit

GOTd Aston Spirit

What we said: “Aston Microphones has brought the Spirit back into British microphone manufacturing.”

Were we right? Founded with the ethos of building affordable and innovative new microphones entirely in the UK, Aston Microphones had already caused a stir with its single-pattern Origin condenser, but to follow up with the Spirit remarkably soon after the inaugural product’s launch proved that Aston was not going to rest on its laurels. The Spirit enables cardioid, omni and figure-eight polar patterns, giving it a versatility that the Origin lacked. In our tests, our eyebrows were raised by the fact that the Spirit outperformed some of those bigger, more expensive microphones. This was still only the beginning…

Conclusion: Aston Microphones continued to make a considerable dent in the music production world in the second half of the decade, with further affordable releases including the laser-guided Starlight cardioid small-diaphragm condensers and – what the company defined as, ‘the world’s most versatile microphone’ – the Stealth, that boasted a range of design firsts. It’s exciting to see a company genuinely spearheading new ways of improving the humble microphone. They’re quickly becoming a recognisable name in numerous studios around the world.

RATING

  • Innovation – 9
  • Impact – 10
  • Price Then – £349
  • Price Now – £299
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Read our full review here.

Yamaha Montage

GOTD Yamaha Montage

What we said: “Yamaha promised the mother of all synths and with Montage, the ship has well and truly landed. Montage is the new standard.”

Were we right? Bringing Yamaha’s expert approach to FM synthesis to the self-contained digital workstation market resulted in a cover-all keyboard that, as we said, set a new standard following its release in 2016. Aside from the dual-engine design and stacks of sounds, one thing we drew attention to in our review was how (like similar workstations from Native and inMusic) you can use the in-built screen to go deep on performance editing, sound selection and modification, allowing computer-level sound sculpting capability and choices.

Conclusion: Yamaha’s MODX series, released a couple of years later, brought many of the capabilities of the Montage to a lower-budgeted market, but the Montage remained the digital overlord, and is still capable of delivering every sound imaginable via its two synthesis types. It remains one of the most fully featured, self-contained music making behemoths we’ve clapped eyes on this year.

RATING

  • Innovation – 9
  • Impact – 8
  • Price Then – £3,000
  • Price Now – £2,975

Read our review here and here.

Splice Sounds

GOTD Splice Sounds

What we said: “This could be the future of buying and using samples. Smooth and easy to use, with an ever-expanding selection of sounds.”

Were we right? Trailblazing an approach to sample management and curation that has seen further developments from the likes of Loopmasters and Native Instruments, Splice innovated this field with its Sounds service, finally providing the ability to search, audition and purchase the specific samples they need from expansive collections, doing away with the problem of having to buy a complete pack just to use one or two samples from it. For better or worse, the subscription model has become the content-delivery mechanism of choice in the 2010s, but here it just works extremely well to enable you to cherry pick precisely what you need for your projects.

Conclusion: The ever expanding world of Splice has taken this same principle of sample management and also applied it to plug-ins, as well as offering cloud-based storage and engaging with a vibrant community, it has become an important name in the music production world and kickstarted a growing move towards subscription access to near-endless mountains of content.

RATING

  • Innovation – 9
  • Impact – 9
  • Price Then – $7.99/mo
  • Price Now – $7.99/mo

Read our full review here.

ROLI Seaboard RISE

GOTD ROLI Seaboard RISE

What we said: “The extra length of the 49-note version does accentuate the added expression that the RISE concept affords. The bottom line, then, is that bigger is definitely better. RISE is a fabulous concept made real by some great-sounding software.”

Were we right? By the time we got our fingers on the squidgy keys of RISE 49 we were already keenly aware of ROLI’s quest to bring affordable, accessible MPE keyboards to the masses. Their first Seaboard (the Grand) was an eye-opening, groundbreaking product (‘squidgy keys…what!?’) but it was the smaller RISE series that really opened up the potential of the unique design and got us exploring the multidimensional wonders of MPE

Conclusion: ROLI’s product line has expanded further with its creatively-aimed BLOCKS in particular redefining the idea-forming process, and it continues to innovate and educate about the potential of MPE. The Seaboard has defined itself as a cool, exciting-to-use instrument with unprecedented levels of sonic sculpting ability and only seems to grow in popularity.

RATING

  • Innovation – 10
  • Impact – 9
  • Price Then – £949.99
  • Price Now – £1099.95

Read our full review here.

Studio Electronics Modstar Sensei

GOTD Studio Electronics Modstar Sensei

What we said: “This is the best synth you can choose to have someone else build for you – portable, powerful, beautiful and sonically incredible.”

Were we right? This decade, the modular synth world has completely exploded and become a side-industry in its own right that is celebrated at such shows as Berlin’s Superbooth. The boutique nature of modules means that people generally love to build their own bespoke set-ups, in a LEGO-esque fashion. But the Sensei arrived at MT HQ as a fully formed modular beast, ’31 years in the making’… The sounds we got from it were absolutely peerless, largely due to SE’s expertise in this field. Despite the hefty price tag, what the Sensei demonstrated to us was that with the right expertise and the right combination of modules, the very best synth sounds we could dream of are obtainable.

Conclusion: Modular synthesis can be a complicated, daunting world for newcomers, so pre-built set-ups like this are great ways to explore the possibilities of the modular world, of course the Sensei’s price tag is a barrier for entry for most people, but cheaper approaches to this same concept are myriad, (eg: Erica Synths’ Pico System III) and now there’s an even better way of comprehending how this universe works, via the open-source VCV Rack, a way to simulate Eurorack on your desktop.

RATING

  • Innovation – 7
  • Impact – 8
  • Price Then – £4,999
  • Price Now – £4,899

Check out the full Gear Of The Decade: 2010-2019 list here.

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