Six of the best: Weirdest hardware

The world of music-production hardware is getting more and more unusual, but we stop at nothing to cover gear of all shapes and sizes at MusicTech. Here’s a look at the best weird gear we’ve reviewed recently…

Roland AX-Edge Keytar in black

Best keytar: Roland AX-Edge Keytar

Price £879
Contact Roland

We finish with something that has been prodding the edges of keyboard history for decades now – a wearable device. Guitarists have always had the glory, being able to wield their axe-like instruments like great Nordic gods on stage, so keyboard players have been trying to strap their wears on in envy, with mixed success. That might be about to change with the AX-Edge Keytar, which comes with its own sounds and even a voice vocoder for maximum onstage ‘cool’.

We said “One reason the instrument sounds so effective is that, in true Roland form, each patch is a stacked sum of parts. Even more enticing is the presence of an onboard vocoder which, although a bit basic in implementation, sounds excellent. Even with a very cheap dynamic mic attached, diction is clear enough, while there’s a welcome smattering of both modern and classic preset sounds. It’s a lot of fun and really well made, so when you’re hanging on to the modulation grip, which has an assignable ribbon controller and mod control, it feels incredibly solid. It’s a great bit of kit, but are you a big enough kid at heart?”

Read our full review here.

Best tone retainer: Universal Audio OX

Universal Audio OX - Product shot

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Price £1,170
Contact Universal Audio

Perhaps not that unusual in function, but Universal Audio’s OX does look as cool and chic as the kind of transistor radio that you’d find in a bedroom in a state-of-the-art millionaire’s mansion. What it actually does is marry the company’s modelling technology with some of its classic heritage design to produce what Universal Audio describes as an ‘Amp Top Box’. It contains a reactive attenuator that allows guitarists to retain their tone without necessarily having to blast out at high volume.

We said “OX is primarily intended for guitar players who don’t want to be at the mercy of sound engineers and vice versa. But if you like running beats, basslines and vocals through guitar amps, the OX is ideal for the job. It is at its best in a studio, where guitarists can enjoy countless inspiring tones and recordists get control, convenience and pristine sound quality. It’s a bona-fide alternative to mics that will make guitar recording quicker in all kinds of studios. For attenuation, sending sound to a mixer, home practising with an inspiring tone and effortless recording, it is a one-stop solution that is very hard to fault.”

Read our full review here

Best wooden box: Leaf Audio Microphone Soundbox

Leaf Audio Microphonic Soundbox - Hero

Price €149/€199
Contact Leaf Audio | Exploding Shed

We’ll start this round-up of the weird and wonderful with a box which is, well, empty. But then that’s what a guitar is, essentially, and where that makes wonderful noise because of surface-mounted strings, this also has a bunch of bits on top with which you can create amazing noises. It still remains the only piece of hardware we’ve reviewed without a plug, mind…

We said “Like all the best ideas, this is all about simplicity itself, and you can’t get much simpler than a box that you hit. Even a single strike, bow, pluck or scrape will offer some rich harmonic content, so if you like to experiment with sound, it has an interesting palette that’s loads of fun and as a source for sampled tones, it’s a very useful contraption.”

Read our full review here.

Best synth pedal: Meris Enzo

Meris Enzo synth pedal

Price £319
Contact Meris | Audio Distribution Group

Back to something with electricity, and this is a more unusual stompbox, in that it’s setting its sights on the synth rather than the guitar. It is a dual-oscillator box with two-tap modulated delays, three synth modes, two envelope types and a six-mode filter –all in a pedal aimed at bass, guitar and keyboard players. Yes, there are other guitar-synth pedals out there, but this one will take you on some very different sonic journeys.

We said “We’re sure this compact stompbox will prove to be very tempting for adventurous guitarists (or bassists). They may be at the outset of their journey into the dark side of the Moog and want to inject a sheen of synthesis into their more traditional live-band setup. It’s a cupboard full of synth-module flavour in guitar-stompbox form – this is the most inspiring pedal yet from Meris and it offers a different sonic adventure every time you switch it on.”

Read our full review here.

Best wearable: Soundbrenner Pulse And Body Strap

Soundbrenner Pulse - device and accompanying iOS app

Price $99
Contact Soundbrenner

We’ve been promised the idea of a tomorrow’s world of wearable tech for a while now, but this is one of the first to reach the real world of music-making. It’s a metronome that is the same size as a wristwatch, but one you wear on your wrist, arm, leg or chest. Paired with an app, it goes a few steps further and you can set your exact tempo, the time signature, note subdivisions, vibration intensity, beat duration and even the colour of the light that illuminates on the face. We’ve also had a sneak peak of version 2 which looks like tech that we’ll all be wearing in our space-rocket future.

We said “For the solo musician, the Pulse is a fantastic companion. After practising live guitar looping with the device, we found ourselves nailing the loops. With the right combination of effects and some experimentation, you can create some really interesting looped patterns and overlay different rhythms. The Pulse is an innovative and stylish bit of tech that greatly rewards those willing to put in the work.”

Read our full review here.

Best recorder: iZotope Spire Studio

iZotope Spire Audio

Price £349
Contact iZotope | Spire.live

The joys of multi-track recording on a computer are many and varied, but something about using your Mac and PC doesn’t really compete with the grand old days of instant recording and bouncing on multi-track tape. Okay, it wasn’t really that good, but iZotope is attempting to recapture some of that recording joy in this easy-to-use digital and portable multi-tracker. With a free app, you get to edit and add more to your recordings, too, and it really is instant fun…

We said “As a standalone recorder, things couldn’t really be any simpler. The quality is surprisingly good just using the onboard mic, although you can plug a higher-quality one in should you wish. You set the level with the Soundcheck mode, hit record, play your tune, then hit record again and your first track is stored. Where the app works really well is for simple mixing and panning under the Mix window. Spire Studio is a great, rugged device that allows you to make fast and good-quality multi-track recordings as a standalone unit. With the app, you have a fantastic partnership that allows you to get your musical ideas down quickly. It is a fabulous recording tool.”

Read our full review here.

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