The best music tech gear of the year: 2012

6th Dec 2012 | 15:55

The best music tech gear of the year: 2012
And the winners are...

While you’ll probably get more music made if you close your eyes and ears to the numerous new DAWs, synths, effects, controllers, monitors and apps being released every month, we all know that gear-lust is part of the fun.

2012 has seen some cracking launches in all of these departments. Some have sought to emulate classics from the past; others have released enhanced versions of existing products; and the bravest of the developers and manufacturers have sought to bring something entirely new to the table.

We have evidence of all of these strategies in our round-up of the best music tech gear of 2012. We’ve studied the last year’s worth of reviews on MusicRadar to come up with a definitive list of recommendations.

Of course, you’ll have your own view on what history should show as 2012’s most essential kit, and we encourage you to share your thoughts. For now, though, here are MusicRadar’s picks.

NEXT: DAW of the year

The best music tech gear of the year: 2012
DAW of the year
Propellerhead Software Reason 6.5 (£349)

When it comes to DAWs, you might argue that 2012 has promised more than it’s delivered - Bitwig Studio, Ableton Live 9 and even a new version of Logic Pro have all been trailed without being released - but this half update to Reason has changed the software forever.

With the launch of Rack Extensions you can now customise your Reason rack with specially prepared instrument and effect devices. It’s not quite plug-in support (Propellerhead would actually argue that it’s better than that; we’ll leave you to debate that one) but now that we have audio recording and REs, Reason can finally claim to be a fully comprehensive and expandable music production solution.

FULL REVIEW:Propellerhead Software Reason 6.5

Also in the running

Cakewalk Sonar X2

Acoustica Mixcraft Pro Studio 6

BUY: Propellerhead Software Reason 6.5 currently available from:
UK/Europe:
Thomann | Gear4Music
USA:
Sweetwater

The best music tech gear of the year: 2012
Hybrid product of the year
Native Instruments Maschine MkII (£469)

Maschine pretty much defined a new product category when it was released in 2009. It comprises a self-contained software production environment (running standalone or as a plug-in), a dedicated hardware controller with 16 MPC-style pads, and a fully browsable 6GB library of sampled instruments, patterns, loops and hits.

Although the software has gradually and thoughtfully been updated, 2012 saw the first hardware revision for Maschine. Most notably, the pads and Group buttons are now backlit; this might sound like merely a cosmetic change, but it’s one that aids the workflow.

There are plenty of new features in the latest version of the software, too, and just to sweeten the deal even further, the full version of NI’s Massive is now included as standard.

FULL REVIEW:Native Instruments Maschine mkII

Also in the running

Akai MPC Renaissance

BUY: Native Instruments Maschine mkII currently available from:
UK/Europe:
Andertons Music Co. | Thomann | Scan Pro Audio | Gear4Music
USA:
Sweetwater

The best music tech gear of the year: 2012
Monitor speaker of the year
sE Munro Egg 150 (£2,060)

Monitors shaped like eggs might sound like a gimmick, but Andy Munro - the chap who created these oval entities - reckons that they can solve some of the refraction problems that are inherent to rectangular designs.

We’re not going to get into the science here, but what we can tell you is that the Egg 150s are totally ‘unflattering’ - which, in case you were wondering, is a good thing. These speakers give an impressively honest representation of your music and they look pretty ‘cracking’, too.

FULL REVIEW: sE Munro Egg 150

Also in the running

Unity Audio The Rock MK2

EVE Audio SC307

BUY: sE Munro Egg 150 currently available from:
UK/Europe:
Andertons Music Co. | Thomann | Gear4Music
USA:
Sweetwater

The best music tech gear of the year: 2012
Effect of the year
Sonic Charge Permut8 ($79)

It’s hard to compare effects processors - some are purely functional, while others are endlessly creative - but our 2012 award goes to this quirky 12-bit digital delay. It’s actually an ‘emulation’ ofan imagined digital effects processor from the '80s - if that’s even possible, that is.

Permut8 might come off as ridiculously complicated and wilfully retro, but it really is a plug-in for everyone, harking back to a golden age but sounding wholly relevant and contemporary. The effects it generates are many and varied, and there's plenty of controllable digital aliasing and noise on tap, too. A triumph.

FULL REVIEW: Sonic Charge Permut8

Also in the running

Audio Ease Altiverb 7

Sonoris Mastering Compressor

ValhallaDSP ÜberMod

Plugin Alliance Mäag EQ4

iZotope Ozone 5

BUY: Sonic Charge Permut8 currently available from:
UK/Europe:
Plugin Boutique

The best music tech gear of the year: 2012
Hardware synth of the year
Roland Integra-7 (£1,399)

It might not be revolutionary in terms of how it works, but you can’t argue with the breadth of content that the Integra-7 offers.

What we have here is a two-unit rack synth featuring all the sounds from the highly regarded XV-5080 module, SuperNatural sounds from the latest Jupiter-50/80 synths and V-Drums, plus all 12 virtual SRX cards and seven new virtual expansion cards.

There’s a free iPad editor to help you with browsing and editing of these tones (a similarly-equipped plug-in one would be nice, too) and the Integra-7 is also an audio interface. As such, it could easily become a crucial component of your studio.

FULL REVIEW:Roland Integra-7

Also in the running

Arturia MiniBrute

Nord Electro 4D

BUY: Roland Integra-7 currently available from:
UK/Europe:
Andertons Music Co. | Thomann | Gear4Music
USA:
Sweetwater | Full Compass

The best music tech gear of the year: 2012
iOS app of the year
WaveMachine Labs Auria (£34.99)

So many iOS music making apps are released these days that it’s sometimes hard to keep track of what’s making waves. Auria is definitely one of 2012’s standout releases, though, setting a new standard for iPad multitrack audio DAWs.

It offers 24-bit/96kHz recording (interface permitting), up to 24 inputs and 48 tracks, and specially converted VST effect plug-ins built by genuine heavyweight developers.

Despite a few limitations (no MIDI being the most obvious) Auria feels like the real deal. If you want to record and mix audio on your iPad, it's well worth the price. We had no trouble at all recording a full, professional quality production from start to finish, and without a single crash.

FULL REVIEW: WaveMachine Labs Auria

Also in the running

Liine Lemur iOS

Propellerhead Figure

Apple GarageBand For iOS 1.2

VirSyn Addictive Synth

Moog Music Animoog

The best music tech gear of the year: 2012
Soft sampler of the year
MOTU MachFive 3 (£319)

Shipping with a revised audio engine, a slicker interface and 12 synth engines that can be used either independently or in conjunction with the sampling one, the third version MachFive feels like it turns the software into what we’ve always wanted it to be.

There are improved loop, timestretching and pitchshifting options, a huge number of effects and a 45GB sample library that gives you all manner of high quality acoustic and electronic instruments.

All of which means that MachFive has well and truly moved out of Kontakt’s shadow: it’s an equal to it in most respects, and actually trumps it in several others.

FULL REVIEW:MOTU MachFive 3

BUY: MOTU MachFive 3 currently available from:
UK/Europe:
Thomann | Gear4Music
USA:
Sweetwater | Full Compass

The best music tech gear of the year: 2012
Hardware drum machine
Dave Smith Instruments & Roger Linn Design Tempest ($1,999)

A product bearing the names of Dave Smith and Roger Linn was always going to spark an obscene amount of interest, and fortunately, the Tempest lives up to the two designers’ lofty reputations.

It’s an analogue/digital beast based on tweaked Evolver/Tetra/Prophet 08 voice chips, allied to an MPC-style sequencer and built with live performance in mind.

Tempest doesn’t do sampling, but no other drum machine on the market is as powerful in terms of hands-on synthesis. It’s every inch a classic in waiting.

FULL REVIEW:Dave Smith Instruments & Roger Linn Design Tempest

Also in the running

Clavia Nord Drum

BUY: Dave Smith Instruments & Roger Linn Design Tempest currently available from:
UK/Europe:
Thomann

The best music tech gear of the year: 2012
Audio interface of the year
Universal Audio Apollo (£2,149)

For anyone who felt that they couldn’t quite justify buying a UAD-2 device because it was all DSP and no I/O, Apollo is a dream come true.

A 1U recording and processing box, the device offers great converters and preamps and access to a fantastic selection of powered plug-ins. For ultimate performance, you can even invest in an optional Thunderbolt card.

Even as a FireWire device, though, Apollo is a winner: in fact, the only thing missing is MIDI I/O.

FULL REVIEW:Universal Audio Apollo

Also in the running

Tascam iXZ

Akai EIE Pro

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

BUY: Universal Audio Apollo currently available from:
UK/Europe:
Andertons Music Co. | Thomann
USA:
Sweetwater

The best music tech gear of the year: 2012
Software instrument of the year
KV331 Audio SynthMaster 2.5 ($129)

SynthMaster 2.5 might be the most comprehensive and complete synth we've ever come across. The interface may not be the prettiest, but it's definitely intuitive and user-friendly, which counts for a lot more in our book.

This semi-modular monster has a feature list that's exceptionally extensive and broad, while the sound is truly outstanding. You can take quick control with the eight ‘easy mode’ control knobs or dive in deeper on the Layers page.

Many developers say that they've produced the one and only synth you'll ever need, but we've always felt that was a dubious claim. In SynthMaster 2.5’s case, though, it’s one that rings true.

FULL REVIEW:KV331 Audio SynthMaster 2.5

Also in the running

Arturia Oberheim SEM V

FXpansion Tremor

u-he Diva

Dmitry Sches Diversion

The best music tech gear of the year: 2012
MIDI controller of the year
Keith McMillen QuNeo (£199)

It makes sense to gauge demand for a product before you actually go ahead and make it, and that’s exactly what Keith McMillen did with the QuNeo. Launched as a Kickstarter project, this touch controller easily got the funding it required, and has become one of the most talked-about MIDI/OSC controllers of the year.

Each of the QuNeo’s 27 pads, sliders and rotary sensors is pressure, velocity, and location sensitive and offers multi-coloured LED feedback, giving you an enormous amount of control.

There are presets, templates and scripts for many of the top music production and DJing applications, or you can set the device up to suit your requirements.

A triumph, then, for both entrepreneurial spirit and good design.

Also in the running

Nektar Panorama P4

BUY: Keith McMillen QuNeo currently available from:
UK/Europe:
Thomann | Gear4Music
USA:
Sweetwater

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