In pictures: the best hi-tech gear of 2009

18th Dec 2009 | 09:45

In pictures: the best hi-tech gear of 2009
Control surface of the year
Novation Launchpad £150

With the global economic downturn affecting pretty much every business on the planet, it’s probably safe to say that music technology developers and manufacturers have had a pretty tough year. God bless them, then, for still managing to give us such an impressive range of new products, the best of which we’re celebrating here.

Our awards are based both on the reviews from our sister magazines - Computer Music and Future Music – and our own experiences. Kicking things off, 2009’s best control surface.

It was a straight fight between the two first ‘official’ Ableton Live controllers here: Akai’s APC40 and Novation’s Launchpad. Though each is designed for a slightly different type of user, both do their jobs superbly, but in the end, the Launchpad’s fun factor and affordability won the day. It certainly owes a debt to the monome, but in the value-for-money stakes, you just can’t beat it.

Read Novation Launchpad review

In pictures: the best hi-tech gear of 2009
Audio interface of the year
Cakewalk V-Studio 100 £629

It might not scream ‘look at me!’, but for outright usefulness, few of 2009’s releases can come close to matching this one. More than just a very capable audio interface, it’s also a controller and standalone recorder (with support for SD and SDHC flash memory cards). A generous software bundle (this includes a special version of Sonar) completes a very comprehensive package, and one that any mobile-minded producer should consider.

Read Cakewalk V-Studio 100 review

In pictures: the best hi-tech gear of 2009
Controller keyboard of the year
Novation SL Mk II £330

2009 was the year in which Novation cemented its position as the king of MIDI controller hardware: with the SL Mk II and the Launchpad (not to mention the Nocturn Keyboard), it covers the bases like no other manufacturer. The revised SL keyboard tweaks rather than reinvents what came before but, when the original was so good anyway, it didn’t need to do anything else.

Read Novation SL Mk II review

In pictures: the best hi-tech gear of 2009
Software synth of the year
FXpansion DCAM: Synth Squad £179

Remarkably, this was FXpansion’s first full-on foray into the world of synth development, but the company hit the jackpot straight away. Featuring three separate synths (Amber, Cypher and Strobe) and a ‘shell’ instrument that enables you to layer them up, this bundle might not do anything groundbreaking, but it does enable you to produce an extraordinary range of high-quality sounds.

Read FXpansion DCAM: Synth Squad review

In pictures: the best hi-tech gear of 2009
DAW of the year
Propellerhead Software Record £229

Given its reluctance to refer to Record as a DAW, Propellerhead might not want this award, but it’s getting it anyway. In a year that saw Pro Tools, Cubase, Live, Logic and Sonar receive substantial updates, the company managed to produce a package that, for those who simply want an easy way to make music, arguably trumps the lot of them, while finally giving Reason users the seamless audio recording functionality they’ve craved for so long.

Read Propellerhead Record review

In pictures: the best hi-tech gear of 2009
Computer of the year
Apple iMac 27-inch £1,349 upwards

Sure, you can get better performance for less money elsewhere, but if you simply want to order one piece of computer hardware on which to make music, this beautiful machine is hard to beat. The iMac has been ignored by musicians in the past because of its relatively small display, but this 27-incher gives plenty of room, and 1TB of storage comes as standard. The entry-level model contains a 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, though you can up the ante with a 2.66GHz Intel Core i5 (quad-core) powered model.

Find out more about the Apple iMac

In pictures: the best hi-tech gear of 2009
Compact synth of the year
Dave Smith Instruments Tetra £552

Dave Smith’s Mopho claimed this award last year, so when you consider that the Tetra effectively gives you the power of four of these, its victory here should come as no great surprise. The synth’s sonic character is practically identical to that of Smith’s Prophet 08 (another MusicRadar favourite) though, like the Mopho, you also get additional sub oscillators and feedback routing. At this price, it’s hard to fault.

Read Dave Smith Tetra review

In pictures: the best hi-tech gear of 2009
Synth of the year
Roland AX-Synth £810

2009 probably won’t go down as a vintage year for new synth hardware, but with the AX-Synth, Roland managed not only to release a highly playable and expressive instrument, but also to reignite a whole genre. They might not have wanted anyone to call it a keytar (it’s a ‘shoulder synthesizer’, thank you very much), but that’s what it is, and a very fine one at that. Just ask Brett Domino.

Read Roland AX-Synth review

In pictures: the best hi-tech gear of 2009
Monitor of the year
Event Opal £2,500 per pair

When our sister magazine Future Music pitted a selection of monitors head-to-head in blind listening tests, this was the one that stood out. Yes, it’s expensive, but the frequency accuracy, transient response, stereo imaging and construction/design are all incredible. This is a speaker that you can trust completely and won’t fatigue your ears even during mammoth listening sessions.

Find out more about the Event Opal

In pictures: the best hi-tech gear of 2009
Plug-in effect of the year
iZotope Ozone 4 £250

It feels like software effects have taken a generational leap forward this year, with an unprecedented number of them scoring full marks in our tests. It’s to Ozone 4’s credit, then, that it still managed to stand out: this one-stop mastering solution contains six modules, all of which sound stunning. There are other mastering options, but the bottom line is that this one works better and is easier to use than all of them.

Read iZotope Ozone 4 review

In pictures: the best hi-tech gear of 2009
All-new product of the year
Native Instruments Maschine £515

Fans of Akai’s MPC range of grooveboxes are famously loyal, so releasing a hybrid software/hardware rival was a brave move on NI’s part. Fortunately, it’s a stunner, being suitable not just for creating beats, but also complete productions. That said, the fact that it integrates seamlessly with your existing DAW setup is another major plus point, as is the inclusion of 5GB worth of samples and loops.

Read Native Instruments Maschine review

In pictures: the best hi-tech gear of 2009
Hi-tech hero of the year
Calvin Harris

For lying about losing his laptop to buy more time to finish his second album, raging against the NME and the BPI, creating a human synth, helping Dizzee Rascal to create another number 1 single (Holiday) and scoring one of his own (trance ballad I’m Not Alone), annoying those who deem that all dance music should be ‘intelligent’ (not to mention Simon Cowell) and - most importantly - releasing one of 2009’s finest pop albums, Calvin Harris is our hero of the year.

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