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Xmas gear guide 2020

What's hot in Santa's studio?

2020 Dec 22     
2 Bit Thugs

Whether you're last-minute gift-grabbing or spending your Christmas money, here are some of the best buys around for producer types

Sorry to cast a dour note, dear reader, but I think it would be fair to say this year has not been a classic. I for one will count my blessings and hope we get through to the end of it without Santa drinking a nerve agent-laced sherry left out for him by Putin at the Kremlin. So if ever there was a need to brighten up our winter evenings with a selection of cool and useful audio gadgets, I would say now is the time. 

With that in mind, here are some the nicest new toys Santa's elves have come up with of late, whether you're putting them under the tree for that special someone or gleefully recirculating the tenners that came tucked inside your Nan's Christmas card…


Audient EVO 4 

Anyone who's in the market for a sleek, portable, studio-quality USB audio interface right now is in luck, because Audient have knocked it out of the park with their new EVO range.

The EVO 4, a two-in, two-out interface with a large monitor control as its centrepiece, could qualify as a minimalist design classic of the future. Its mic pre amps, while not as rich and ambrosial as those of a Neve, say, are clean and quiet with bags of dynamic range. 

Perhaps the most revelatory idea, however, is the new Smartgain feature, which acts as a kind of mix assistant to help you set recording levels. With Smartgain enabled, the EVO will automatically set the correct recording level dependent on the signal being fed to the inputs. Extremely handy for when you want to get creative and not have to go into sound engineering mode! 

The EVO performs very well at low latencies without any pops or glitches, the overall sound quality is excellent, and at this price there’s not really anything better.


Korg Nu:Tekt NTS-1 

An incredible synth that will fit into the smallest Christmas stocking is the Korg Nu:Tekt NTS-1. For anyone who had LEGO or Meccano as a kid, tthis digital homunculus takes the Christmas theme a little bit further, as it requires you to build it yourself. Don't worry, though – it’s an easy job with no soldering and helps form a proud builder's bond with your toy. Hopefully without any sweary outbursts to spoil the festive ambience! 

Once built, you have a very deep instrument that's sonically diverse and harmonically rich. The sound source is based around a multi-engine digital oscillator, the very same one that's found on the Prologue and Minilogue XD. It’s compatible with all the third-party oscillators and effects that have been written for those machines and uploading new ones will keep things interesting for a long time. Onboard there are three FX units with all your usual suspects – reverbs, delays, chorus, flanger, etc – but it’s the pitch-shifting reverb that really takes you into the Upside Down territory. 

As you would imagine, the overall sonic aesthetic is profoundly and unapologetically digital in timbre, which is no bad thing – at times we need digital to cut through the analogue richness and vice versa. Arpeggiator fans are in luck as there's a nice one onboard which is fun and easy to use, making up for the ribbon strip keyboard which can be a little tricky for those with agricultural digits.

All in all, a massive whack of sonic potential for your money. 


Walrus Audio Fathom

Walrus Audio pedals are frankly beautiful and I can’t think of a single musician who wouldn’t be glad to find one under their Christmas tree. The Fathom, more specifically, is a multi-function reverb pedal that's ideal for a producer that needs to keep their live hardware set-up compact and bijou, or for anyone who likes having a tactile unit to tweak and interact with. 

It offers four different customised reverb algorithms, ranging from tasteful, small room reverb to long, modulated trails dripping with ambient goodness. Hall and plate reverbs are a familiar concept and they sound big, lush and organic, perfect for adding space to drums, pads and keys. The potential to sculpt strange and otherworldly spaces, however, is vast. The Lo-fi mode, which allows thin AM radio-like tones, or Sonar, which allows the blending of a higher and lower octave, take reverb firmly into the territory of sound design. 

The build quality is excellent, as you would imagine for something that's designed to be stamped on. And did I mention how lovely it looks?


Leapwing Audio RootOne 

If you're reading this, it’s probably fair to assume that you have a fondness for all things bass. Handy, then, that software gurus Leapwing have a new plug-in that will help sculpt your bass to the width of an atom. 

The RootOne works astonishingly well for electronic music, adding such seismic weight and punch to kicks and basslines that it will shake a club to dust. It’s also thanks to the saturation control that the RouteOne can be very helpful in allowing bass to cut through on smaller speakers, a task that traditionally has required a great deal of time and hair-extraction. The saturation here gives a very analogue feel that’s reminiscent of overdriven tape. Great pain has been taken to keep the GUI clean and crisp, and parameters have been selected and calibrated carefully to allow you to get results quickly.

Anyone who is serious about their low-end should check this out as it has the Midas touch when it comes to bass. You can download the free 30-day trial, but do be prepared to aerate thy wallet once you hear it!


Dreadbox Typhon

Greek analogue synth aficionados Dreadbox have previous when it comes to offering great-sounding, creative synths at sensible prices, and here they've teamed up with software developers Sinevibes to ram pack a small but robust desktop unit with a veritable armada of sound design tools. 

The first thing to mention is the overall sound aesthetic: it’s as fat as Santa’s backside after he’s eaten a sleighfull of mince pies. The Typhon is also incredibly tactile and just begs to be tweaked, with all the important controls laid out logically without feeling cluttered, which is a real test of design ingenuity on such a small instrument. 

Big, thick bass is what we think of when the words “analogue mono synth” are uttered and the Typhon delivers that in abundance, as well as cutting leads and jagged percussive timbres. There are a huge range of modulation options on offer, not to mention a high-quality, three-stage FX processor to further twist and mangle your sounds. 

Generously, Dreadbox have also included a 32-step onboard sequencer, as well as a 254-patch memory to store all your sounds in. This is a serious synth for a small amount of desktop real estate. 

From all at iDJ, have a great Christmas!

Words: Chris Lyth





Tags: Xmas Gear Guide 20210, Audient Evo 4, USB audio interface, Korg:Nu:Text NTS-1, DIY synthesizer, build-it-yourself synth, synthesizer kit, Walrus Audio Fathom, reverb, reverb pedal, Leapwing Audio RootOne, plugin, plug-in, bass, Dreadbox Typhon, analogue synth