It's that time of year again. The holidays are here, presents are being frantically purchased, and wish lists are being fulfilled. It's been a great year for music in both the hardware and software worlds, and with so many new things being released this year, finding the perfect gift for your music-making loved ones, or yourself ;), can be quite a challenge. Fortunately, we are here to help, and not only have we rounded up our favorites from the year, but we've also enlisted some of our DJ friends to give us their top picks as well. Below, you'll find an assortment of various products at different prices, from synthesizers to signal processing units and everything in between.
What: Jammy MIDI Guitar
Why: At the 2018 edition of Ableton's Loop event in LA, I met the creators of an ambitious new MIDI controller designed to finally close the gap between playing a real guitar and being able to control your synths and other VSTs. Not only does it do what the creators intended it to do, but it's highly portable, and can be used with an app on your phone or tablet. We actually partnered up with the team over at Jammy to provide our readers with an exclusive discount. Just enter the code MAGNETICMAG at checkout before January 15th, and prepare to rock it in the studio or on the go.
Price: $349 (per monitor) & $699 (pair)
Why: When IK Multimedia introduced their Micro Monitors, producers of every level were shocked at the quality of the build and audio, and they have since become a staple in many studios around the world. This year, IK took their successful miniature speakers to the next level, and thus the MTM monitors were born. Using DSP, the MTMs pack a serious punch for their size, and, as the company states, are able to compete with monitors many times their price. What makes them even better is that they come with a free ARC (Auto Room Correction) Mic and can very quickly adapt their sound signature to fit your room or studio. This is crucial for less than ideal studio environments, and I can attest that they are worth adding to your setup.
What: Behringer clones (MS-1, Pro-1, TD-3, Poly D, RD-8, etc)
Why: Ever since Behringer first announced they were going to begin cloning the most legendary and sought-after synths in history, the internet has since been flipped on its head. A company that was once the laughing stock of the hardware world, has now become one of the leading synth makers in the world. I mentioned the Model D in my 2018 guide, and 2019 has seen the company release almost 10 new synths. This year they went for what you could call the "essentials," fan favorites such as the MS-1 (SH-101 clone), the RD-8 (TR-808 clone), the TD-3 (TB-303 clone), Pro-1 (Pro-One clone), and many others. Behringer even released their own synth called the Crave, which has become instantly popular due to its price and ease of use.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was their latest "Poly D," which is a 4-voice polyphonic (or paraphonic depending on who you ask) version of their Model D, wrapped into a full wood case, much like the original Moog Model D it was based on. It was certainly a wild year for them, but with rumors, teaser photos and Uli's constant communication with readers, 2020 is going to be hectic for many people's wallets. Stay tuned for their NAMM release videos.
What: Korg Minilogue XD
Price: $549 & $649
Why: I've expressed my love for this synth over and over, so instead of reiterating, I'll keep it short and say this is a great synth for those who want something that can do a bit of everything, very well. Read my full review here.
What: RODE Mics RODECASTER Pro
Why: If you've been following my work for the past few years, you might be interested to know that my podcast In Conversation has undergone many technical changes since it started. I'm always looking for ways to streamline things, and prior to my latest setup, I was recording everything into Ableton and had to create a vocal processing chain for myself and the audio being recorded from my phone. Yeah exactly. When David showed me the RODECASTER Pro, and showed me some sample audio, I knew it was time to change things up.
Since then, it has become the life force of my podcast, taking care of any processing and rendering right from the get-go. I can even program the pads to trigger intros, sound fx, and whatever else I want. It has auxiliary inputs and Bluetooth connection, allowing me to have up to 7 different sources of audio at once. The possibilities are endless, and it's extremely portable, meaning I can get professional quality production no matter where in the world I am. Read our review here.
What: Akai Force
Why: One of the biggest announcements at this year's NAMM was Akai's Force, their new standalone production workstation and Ableton controller. Taking everything they learned with their previous collaboration with Ableton on the original Push controller, as well as all of their APC and MPC units, they created what you could essentially call Ableton in a box. The layout is familiar to a push, with a large, robust touch screen and a military-grade-like build, the Force is a serious piece of kit. The company has just released its long-awaited software update for full Ableton integration. If you're interested in building a live setup, this is a damn good place to start.
What: Output Portal
Why: While this is actually software, it's worth mentioning, as I've found myself using it constantly. Portal is a granular audio effect that can be used to create everything from insane and beyond strange rhythms and fx, to light and ethereal modulations that breathe a bit of something special into your pads, synths, and vocals. I like to use it as a reverb/delay, placing it directly onto an audio channel, as opposed to a send, and bringing down the wet to create subtle textures on my sounds.
Why: Massive X was on my list for many reasons. The routing is one of the main reasons why I love this plugin, its ease of use and possibilities are endless. The filters and fx are amazing in Massive X. 10/10
Why: Omnisphere has always been one of my favorite plugins. It's perfect for atmospheric sounds and creating a wide space in your tracks.
Why: Hybrid Keys is a plugin you receive when you purchase Kontakt 6. There isn't much customization but its filled with some amazing presets. Leads, pads, organs, mallets, it has a lot of overlooked instruments and there are only quality presets.
What: Izotope Ozone 9
Why: The iZotope Ozone bundle has always been amazing. And with each release, it keeps getting better and better. My favorite addition to the Ozone bundle was the "Low-end focus" feature that they added to Ozone 9. It allows you to clean up the mud in your low end and mid frequencies that you might not hear or see with an eq. It doesn't replace EQing but it is a huge help and something every producer should check out.
What: Spitfire Audio LABS
Why: Spitfire released LABS which contains 16 different plugins. They're all free download and most of them sound really good. I personally love using the Strings and Pads plugins.
Price: $249 & $29
Why: "The SP2016 Reverb is good for giving things presence, like percussion or synth leads. Newfangled's Saturator is a simple interface but gives a loud modern sound. You can push it hard. It's designed to keep the tone balanced when you push it." - Grum
Why: "This is a tricky beast to use due to its complex routing options and very basic metering, but it has completely changed my workflow since I got one earlier this year. High-quality EQ, filtering, compression, and saturation in one unit. It's my go-to unit for processing sounds, especially when doing remixes and has been part of every production I've finished since I got it, which is about as much as you can ask for from any piece of gear." - Perc
Pick: Soundtoys Decapitator
Why: "Like my sex life, my preference has changed towards the harder stuff. Decapitator adds that extra nastiness I’ve been looking for. Feliciemusic4life. But in all seriousness, I started to use Decapitator a lot more this year. My personal preferences have been more focused on a harder / rougher sound. This is great for adding a slightly warm distorted layer to things. Recommend." - Cleric
Pick: ADS AVP-7mk2
Why: "I was waiting for this drum machine for over 6 months. I saw the mk1 via Devon Analogue Studio’s Instagram and straight away emailed ADS. All of their machines are hand made however the wait was worth it. With a monster kick drum, big hats, 3 noise/tone generators and a stack loads of more features this Russian beauty is a key member of my productions now." - Will Clarke
Why: "In 2019 my main go-to source of inspiration in terms of plug-ins was a unit by Dmitry Sches called Tantra, a friend of mine recommended it to me and I had no idea about the company or the product but he sounds like a sweet guy from his website.
The Tantra VST is a hybrid glitch rhythm machine plus a whole lot more. It's a one-stop box with everything you can imagine simply laid out on one screen always running via a sequencer which then triggers the envelopes and comes out with some crazy rhythms and glitchy FX. I use it on everything from percussion and synths to pads and bleeps; its pure killer. Usually, I run it for a couple of minutes per taking on each instrument, resample and find a sweet spot to loop.
He also does 2 other instruments, Thorn which is a bass beast and Diversion which is a little more emotional sounding; great for pads and atmosphere." - Setaoc Mass
Pick: Izotope Ozone 9 and Neutron 3
Why: “Game changer for me when it comes to mixing down records. Whether you want to analyze mixdowns of your favorites tracks or tighten up your own mixdowns for maximum sonic power, this software is a beast! I almost feel like it’s cheating using this for assisting your sound design.” - Shaded