The best music tech gear of the year: 2013

18th Dec 2013 | 10:07

The best music tech gear of the year: 2013
The cream of the crop

Although a majority of hi-tech musicians are now producing their music 'in the box' using a DAW and plugins, at the start of the year it felt like hardware releases were the ones that were firing producers' imaginations.

The 2013 Winter NAMM show was full of new synths, and it seemed that all anyone could talk about was the analogue revival.

But then the software companies struck back. We witnessed major updates to just about all of the big-name DAWs - some of which were long-awaited, to say the least - and new application-specific controllers for some of them, too.

All of which adds up to a year that's been stuffed with great new gear, the best of which we're going to celebrate right here. As usual, we've divided our awards into categories, some of which were extremely hotly contested.

So, if you want to know about the best DAWs, plugins, synths, controllers, iOS apps and other products of 2013, read on...

The best music tech gear of the year: 2013
DAW of the year
Apple Logic Pro X (Mac, £139.99)

In what was a big year for DAW updates, Logic Pro X wins our award by a nose. Given how long had passed since the release of version 9 this was always going to be a massive release for Apple, but it managed to come up with an application that satisfied most existing users while also being accessible enough to attract new ones.

Drummer is great; Stacks are a delight; Flex Pitch fills the pitch correction pot nicely; the MIDI Effects hit all the right buttons; and the new interface (despite its skeumorphism) is beautiful. The fact that there's now a companion iPad controller is the icing on the cake... and did we mention that the whole thing costs just £139.99?

READ:Apple Logic Pro X review

Also in the running

Steinberg Cubase 7

Ableton Live 9

Propellerhead Software Reason 7

FL Studio 11

The best music tech gear of the year: 2013
Hybrid product of the year
Native Instruments Maschine Studio (PC/Mac, £829)

Products that rely on hardware and software working together are becoming increasingly common, but no one's managed to master this concept quite like Native Instruments.

In 2013 it added to its Maschine line-up with the new Studio model, which feels like a genuine leap forward for the range. With its extra Edit section, complete with multifunctional, LED-ringed jogwheel, it gives you instant one-finger access to many functions that require the Shift key on Maschines Mk II and Mikro.

And as for those two displays, to see them is to want them: browsing, pattern editing, Scene arranging, sampling and sample editing, mixing… Studio gives you much more visual feedback than its siblings, in full colour and (relatively) high resolution.

The controller ships with the all-new Maschine 2.0 software - itself a worthy update for existing Maschine users - and, if you can stomach the price, provides a truly luxurious groove production solution.

READ:Native Instruments Maschine Studio review

BUY: Native Instruments Maschine Studio currently available from:
UK: Andertons Music | Thomann | Gear4Music
USA: Sweetwater | Full Compass
FR: Thomann | Michenaud | Star's Music | Woodbrass

Also in the running

Akai MPC Studio

Arturia MiniLab

The best music tech gear of the year: 2013
Monitor speaker of the year
Genelec M Series (from £778 per pair)

Genelec has always been a hugely respected name in the monitor business, with its products being used not only for music production, but also post production and broadcast work.

The new M Series range, however, is aimed squarely at musicians, and manages to deliver the kind of superb sonic performance we've come to associate with Genelec, but at a reduced price.

There are two models; the M030 and M040 have 5-inch and 6.5-inch bass drivers respectively, and cost £778 and £1,158 per pair. Despite their relatively small size, both monitors sound pretty 'big', though it's no surprise that the MO40 is a bit more expansive. That said, the MO30 is a touch more precise - this is by no mean's a poor man's Genelec.

Whichever set you go for, you'll be getting a solid pair of monitors that's easy on the ear and can be relied upon to help you create mixes that will translate well to other systems.

READ:Genelec M Series review

Also in the running

Unity Audio Boulders

Equator Audio Research D5

Eve Audio SC207

PreSonus Eris E8

Yamaha HS Series

The best music tech gear of the year: 2013
Plugin effect of the year
DMG Audio EQuilibrium (PC/Mac, £174.99)

You might have heard people talking about different types of EQ plugin - surgical, vintage, mastering etc - but EQuilibrium changes the game somewhat by being all things to all men. That's because it essentially enables you to build your own EQ from the ground up, a process explained in a setup wizard that starts when you launch it.

For all its versatility, Equilibrium does have presets that you can call on, and you can create your own using up to 32 bands. Most importantly, the resulting processors sound fantastic.

Re-imaging the EQ plugin is the music technology equivalent of re-inventing the wheel, so we can only stand back and admire what DMG Audio has managed to achieve here. It's not for beginners who want a quick and easy solution, but EQuilibrium represents a hugely impressive achievement.

READ:DMG Audio EQuilibrium

Also in the running

FabFilter Pro-DS

Klanghelm DC8C 2

u-he Satin

The best music tech gear of the year: 2013
Analogue hardware synth of the year
Korg MS-20 mini

If we'd have been running this award a few years ago then we'd have struggled to come up with a credible shortlist, but such has been the resurgence in the analogue market that, in 2013, this is arguably the most competitive of our categories.

The MS-20 mini might do anything new, but it takes our prize because it does something old very well indeed, and struck a chord with its audience in a way that few other products manage to.

This slightly miniaturised resurrection of the semi-modular MS-20 is faithful to the original in pretty much every important respect; it might not sound exactly the same as a vintage model, but it's certainly impressive. And the fact that it supports MIDI means that the mini will integrate much better into a computer-based studio than its predecessor ever did.

At this price, the MS-20 mini is super-tempting, and should please long-standing synth lovers and newcomers to the analogue world alike.

READ:Korg MS-20 mini

Also in the running

Elektron Analog Four

Moog Sub Phatty

DSI Prophet 12

Novation Bass Station II

The best music tech gear of the year: 2013
Digital hardware synth of the year
Clavia Nord Lead 4

While it might not be a radical reworking of the successful Nord Lead recipe, this new version still impresses.

The synth keeps its distinctive red livery, but now sports wooden end cheeks. More importantly, the oscillator section has been overhauled, providing the spearhead for a much-improved VA engine.

The Lead 4 isn't just about aping analogue, though; its new filter modes help it to spit out sounds of the warped type, too. Further variety comes courtesy of the Soft Sync, Hard Sync and two new FM modes, while the Impulse Morph feature is great for performers.

At home both in the studio and on the stage, the Nord Lead 4 brings a classic synth brand bang up to date.

READ:Clavia Nord Lead 4 review

BUY: Clavia Nord Lead 4 currently available from:
UK: Andertons Music | Thomann | Gear4Music
USA: Sweetwater | Full Compass
FR: Thomann | Michenaud | Star's Music

Also in the running

Novation MiniNova

Korg KingKORG

The best music tech gear of the year: 2013
iOS app of the year
A Tasty Pixel Audiobus

It might surprise you to learn that our award for the best music-making tool of 2013 goes to an app that doesn't actually make or process sound at all. However, it's what Audiobus can do with other apps that makes it so impressive.

Put simply, it enables you to do what was previously impossible: use iOS apps together. So, you can (for example) record a synth into DAW, with an effect being placed in the chain between the two.

The system is reliable, easy to use and - thanks to the just-announced version 2 update - will soon “be capable of running as many apps in parallel or in series as your device can handle."

All of which suggests that, despite Apple's introduction of the similarly-themed Inter App Audio feature, Audiobus has a big future.

READ:A Tasty Pixel Audiobus

Also in the running

Wolfgang Palm PPG Wavegenerator

Korg iPolysix

The best music tech gear of the year: 2013
Software instrument of the year
D16 Group LuSH-101

Hardware synths have come back with a vengeance this year, so it's perhaps not surprising that groundbreaking new software instruments have been thinner on the ground.

LuSH-101, however, was a dazzling newcomer. Roland doesn't seem keen to resurrect its classic SH-101 synth in hardware form, but D16 took this as its inspiration and then propelled it to vastly more powerful and complex heights.

It's actually eight 101s in one, with each being presented as a separate layer. Each of these can be treated with effects, and then mixed together.

LuSH-101 was in development for quite a while, but it's clear that D16 was using its time wisely. A joy to program and play, this is a synth that both beginners and experienced producers will relish.

READ: D16 Group LuSH-101 review

Also in the running

Reveal Sound Spire

Togu Audio Line TAL-Bassline-101

The best music tech gear of the year: 2013
MIDI controller of the year
Akai MAX49

Doing something different with the MIDI controller concept is a perennial challenge for the companies that make them - how do you create a product that shakes the market up a bit?

With the MAX49, Akai broke the mould in several respects. Firstly, it did away with knobs and faders and brought in ribbon-controller sliders, while CV and Gate outputs enable you to use the keyboard to control vintage synths as well as MIDI-capable ones. There are onboard sequencing and arpeggiator options, too, while the Akai Connect software 'wraps' your plugins so that they're ready to be controlled.

In workflow terms, the MAX49 enables you to significantly cutdown your mouse time once you've got it set up, and the aftertouch-capable keyboard feels great. And with that striking red finish, this controller doesn't only have a refreshingly different feature set, it has a different look about it, too.

READ: Akai MAX49 review

BUY: Akai MAX49 currently available from:
UK: Thomann | Gear4Music
USA: Sweetwater
FR: Thomann | Michenaud | Star's Music | Woodbrass

M-Audio Axoim Air 61

Ableton Push

Livid Instruments Base

The best music tech gear of the year: 2013
Mic of the year
Audio Technica AT5040 (£2,999)

OK, you might not be able to afford the AT5040 condenser mic, but if money was no option, it's certainly something that you'd like to have in your studio.

Its key element is its capsule, a four-part rectangular design that brings more than 10cm-square of surface area. This is designed to translate into higher sensitivity and lower noise.

In use, you hear a neutral-sounding mic that enables recordings with real 'openness'. You can get great results not only with vocals, but also - providing you position it correctly - acoustic guitars, percussion and drums.

If you've got a three grand mic budget, the AT5040 is a great buy; if you haven't, just admire it.

READ:Audio Technica AT5040 review

BUY: Audio Technica AT5040 currently available from:
UK: Thomann
USA: Sweetwater | Full Compass
FR: Thomann

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