The Best of The Best
It’s been a long, strange year. Huge shifts of audio teams and individuals from facilities to homes, which leads to much different buying patterns when it comes to upgrading audio systems—or developing and releasing new products. But! The industry has responded with a flood of late-year debuts—including Avid, Steinberg and Focusrite all in one week in November!—to go with a slow-but-steady stream of new releases since last year’s NAMM Show. (That seems like a looooong time ago sitting here in mid-November.)
To celebrate year’s end, Mix asked its technology editors and contributors to offer their suggestions for the year’s top products. Here’s what we came up with.
AMS Neve RMX16 500 Series Digital Reverb Module
With its company roots going back to 1970s, Advanced Music Systems introduced the RMX16 Digital Reverberator in 1981. It was the world’s first microprocessor-controlled, full-bandwidth digital reverb, and it went on to become a signature reverb effect heard on many (now) classic records from those times. The AMS Neve RMX16 500 Series Digital Reverb module was launched at the 2020 Winter NAMM Show and is a remarkable-sounding rendition of that original reverb that fits into just three slots of any 500 rack. Besides the original, and by now familiar nine reverb programs, the new RMX comes with nine more carefully chosen programs for 18 total. The new RMX16 uses 24-bit, 48kHz sample rate audio, 32-bit DSP processing and the A/D and D/A converters were design to sound the same as the original units. For the most part, AMS NEVE has kept the user interface/operation and controls the same—even within the compact front panel. The wide, red LED display of the original 2U RMX is replaced by a 2.4-inch OLED display mounted above the familiar 16-button alphanumeric keypad.
Apple Logic Pro X 10.5 (Mac)
Even before the release of version 10.5, Apple Logic Pro X offered an amazingly deep feature set—not to mention a ridiculously low price. The update ushered in a slew of new capabilities, mostly aimed at the EDM world. The headline addition is Live Loops, a well-designed and deep clip-launching and arranging environment. Version 10.5 also features a number of excellent new plug-ins. Some of the most notable are Remix FX, a versatile dance-music oriented effects processor; Sampler, which replaces the venerable ESX-24; and Drum Machine Designer, an electronic counterpart to the existing Drum Kit Designer. Also new is a powerful Step Sequencer, 2,500 more Apple Loops and much more.
ASI Audio x Sensaphonics 3DME In Ear Monitors
The ASI Audio 3DME is a universal-fit IEM system that combines patented Active Ambient audio technology from Sensaphonics with a smartphone app to customize and enhance on-stage or streaming performances. The system includes 3DME Active Ambient universal-fit, dual-driver earphones with embedded binaural microphones that capture ambient sound with 3D directionality. Three sizes of ear tips are included for isolating the listener’s ears from high SPLs while allowing ambient sound to be fed into the earpieces via the embedded mics. The microphones feature a full-range frequency response (20 Hz to 20 kHz) and wide dynamic range for natural ambient reproduction with accurate directionality. The mics are controlled using the (free) ASI Audio App running on the Android platform (v5.0 and up). The app allows a user to create custom settings for each ear with 7-band EQ, limiter and room ambience levels. The rechargeable 3DME Bodypack Mixer/Amplifier integrates with any wireless personal monitor system, combining the monitor mix feed with the ambient mics to add 3D stage sound to the monitor mix. When used without a monitor mix feed, 3DME functions as a high-fidelity earplug system with a customized sound signature and active level control. Custom-fit, soft-silicone ear tips are also available from Sensaphonics.
Audio Design Desk 1.4 (Mac)
If you work with sound for picture, Audio Design Desk is a game-changer. Created by a filmmaker, a composer and a musician/programmer, it combines the functionality of a workstation, a sound effects and production music library, a sampler and an editor in one kick-ass application. Sound designers and sound effects people in particular will find ADD’s unique and well-thought-out workflow to be a huge time-saver. And its library of sound effects and production music (library size varies depending on which subscription plan you choose) to be hugely useful. You can also import your own sound libraries into ADD. Whether you’re working on soundtracks for feature films or YouTube videos, you’ll want to check out ADD. It even offers a free version that includes the ADD application and a small library.
Avid Pro Tools | Carbon
The newest software/hardware product from Avid is Pro Tools | Carbon, a 1U interface that combines your computer’s Native processing with eight onboard DSP chips—equivalent to about one-half the power of an HDX PCIe processor card. Carbon is designed to run on Macs with Catalina 10.15.6 OS or later and connects to your computer over high-speed Ethernet.
The new Hybrid Engine design allows your computer’s CPU to handle virtual instruments and run Native-only plug-ins with the ability to monitor and record through AAX DSP plug-ins with near-zero latency (below 1-ms) on individually designated channels in DSP Mode.
At any time during a session, Carbon allows for changing channel(s) back and forth between DSP Mode for super-low-latency monitoring/processing and recording over to conventional Native mixing channels. This is a standalone interface with up to 25 x 34 simultaneous I/O channels, including eight XLR microphone preamps and/or variable impedance instrument inputs, four headphone outputs for four separate stereo mixes, and 16-channels of combinations of ADAT optical and analog inputs/outputs over rear panel DB25 connectors. Also on the rear panel are Word Clock in/out BNCs, separate TRS stereo monitor out jacks, and a programmable footswitch for the front panel’s talkback mic. All I/O setups, monitoring configuration, and headphone mixes will be handled in the new I/O pages starting with version Pro Tools 2020.11.
Avid Pro Tools | Carbon sells for $3,999 MSRP and includes a one-year subscription. A large suite of both Native and AAX plug-ins from Arturia, McDSP, Plugin Alliance, UVI, Native Instruments, and Embody are included. —Barry Rudolph
DiGiCo Quantum338 Digital Mixing Console
Based on seventh-generation FPGA technology, the Quantum 338 from DiGiCo is designed to provide advanced processing capabilities and a high level of flexibility in a compact format. The Quantum 338 supports 128 input channels, 64 aux or subgroup buses, LR/LCR/LCRS/5.1 master buses, 24 control groups, two solo buses and a 24×24 matrix—all with full channel processing.
The Quantum 338 work surface includes 38 100mm touch-sensitive faders organized in three blocks of 12 faders, plus a central section with two masters. A 17-inch high-res touchscreen with two rows of rotary encoders is located above each fader bank for quick access to various channel parameters.
Eventide H9000 AVID PT|HDX Expansion Card
First introduced in 2017, the H9000 is Eventide’s flagship product, a multichannel audio processor with eight times the processing power of the H8000. The H9000 features four, quad-core ARM DSP modules on plug-in boards that will run 16 effect algorithms simultaneously. Released in 2020, the H9000’s AVID PT|HDX Expansion Card connects up to 32 channels directly to and from an Avid HDX processor card in your computer via a single DigiLink cable. Amazingly, the Eventide H9000 will support up to 96 channels of I/O over the three expansion card slots on the unit’s rear panel. The H9000 is posed to become the de facto standard in configurable outboard DSP for post-production and high-end mix studio complexes. A single H9000 can be split between two studios (with the same sample rate) and can share its immense power with excellent reverbs, delays, choruses, flangers, pitch-changers, dynamic processors, equalizers and more.
iZotope RX8 (Mac/PC)
The latest version of RX has dropped, and, as usual, iZotope’s industry-leading, AI-powered audio-repair suite doesn’t disappoint. Audio-post users running RX8 Advanced (the top-tier version) will love the new Spectral Recovery and Wow and Flutter modules. Users of the Advanced and Standard versions will appreciate new features such as Loudness Control (which makes adjusting masters for streaming and many other destinations easy), Guitar De-Noise; and improved versions of Music Rebalance, De-Hum and the Batch Processor. If you work with lots of files open simultaneously, you’ll love that iZotope doubled the number of open tabs you can have from 16 to 32.
Lectrosonics DCR 822 Dual Channel Portable Digital Receiver
The Lectrosonics DCR822 is a high-performance, portable two-channel receiver compatible with Lectrosonics mono and stereo digital transmitters. It is also backward-compatible with Lectrosonics’ Digital Hybrid Wireless transmitters and can tune across six Lectrosonics blocks. SmartTune and two-way IR sync simplifies the identification of clean channels and transmitter setup. A new RF front end design provides low-noise amplification, high sensitivity and extremely low intermodulation susceptibility. Vector Diversity smoothly and continuously combines RF signals from two receiver front ends per channel for maximum signal integrity. The DCR822 can record receiver audio directly onto a microSD card in WAV (BWF) file format at 24 bit/48 kHz.
Millennia Media HV‐316 Remote Mic Preamp
Millennia Media’s HV‐316 has up to 16 channels of the company’s TECnology Hall of Fame HV-3 transformerless microphone preamps that are remote-controllable using Millennia’s third‐generation AELogic software. The HV‐316 provides simultaneous analog and Dante 32‐bit/192kHz Ethernet outputs and other digital audio output options are planned, including USB and MADI. and an HV‐3R and HV‐316 will operate together on a single Ethernet network for up to 256 redundant audio channels with remote control of Gain, Polarity, Pad, Mute, channel Linking, highpass filter, and selectable ribbon or phantom-powered inputs on every channel. The 1U HV-316 uses 16 channels of the new generation AKM 192-kHz analog-to-digital conversion that’s multi‐paralleled for extreme dynamic range performance (130dB); super-low jitter clock (measured in femto seconds), and up to +34dBu of input headroom.
miniDSP UMIK-2 omni-directional measurement microphone
The UMIK-2 is miniDSP’s second-generation omnidirectional acoustic measurement microphone. It features a convenient plug-and-play USB connection and a unique calibration file for each microphone to ensure accuracy in the measurement process. The UMIK-2 employs a 0.5-inch microphone capsule for reduced noise and distortion, and analog audio is converted using a 32-bit ADC built into the microphone housing. Sample rate may be set from 44.1 to 192 kHz, ensuring compatibility with a wide range of measurement and recording software, including Room EQ Wizard and Dirac Live (version 3 and later). Driverless operation with macOS, Linux, Android and iOS, and a supplied ASIO driver for Windows, facilitate integration into many other measurement and recording applications.
PreSonus AVB-D16 Networking Bridge
The PreSonus AVB-D16 is the first plug-and-play endpoint that bridges communication between AVB and Dante™ networks. The AVB-D16 can send and receive up to 16 channels of audio between an AVB network and Dante network with one device, enabling connection of a PreSonus StudioLive Series III AVB (or any AVB-compliant) device to Dante-equipped products. Built-in Asynchronous Sample Rate Conversion ensures that the AVB-D16 provides precision clock isolation between networks for clear audio without dropouts or artifacts. When viewing a Dante network setup via Audinate’s Dante Control software or managing a StudioLive Series III AVB ecosystem via UC Surface or the StudioLive Series III console touchscreen, the AVB-D16 shows up as a simple 16×16 network device. This enables a user to easily patch up to 16 audio sources on any AVB device to any available input on a Dante network, and vice-versa.
Radial Engineering HotShot 48V
The Radial Engineering HotShot 48V is a condenser microphone output switcher designed to silently switch a single microphone between two discrete outputs. The HotShot 48V is packaged in a stomp-box format with a chassis constructed from 14-gauge steel, and features one locking, balanced XLR microphone input and two balanced XLR outputs. The microphone input to the HotShot 48V can supply 48 VDC phantom power, making it unnecessary to derive phantom power from the switching destinations and avoiding the audible pops and clicks that would otherwise result from doing so. An isolation transformer on the XLR input, in conjunction with a time-delay microcontroller, ensure noiseless switching between the A and B outputs, and a heavy-duty footswitch swaps the input signal between outputs A and B. The HotShot 48V may also be used with dynamic microphones.
Retro Instruments 500PRE Tube Mic Preamp
Retro Instruments’ 500PRE is a single-channel tube microphone preamp/line amp module that fits into a single slot of any 500 rack, incoporating double-balanced Class-A circuit topology like the company’s flagship Sta-Level limiter. The 500PRE works as microphone preamp or as a line level amplifier; its two switchable gain ranges with an input operating range of -72dB to +12dBu. Two subminiature relays are used to switch in/out an additional third tube gain stage while a solid-state buffer amplifier output stage drives the customized Cinemag CMOQ-2S output transformer to full line level. A CMMI-10BPC mic input transformer is used and the entire module only draws 160mA of slot current—a high current 500 rack is required. The Retro Instruments 500PRE stands out for its rich, tube sound and the unlimited ways it can be used to amplify sound from clean to colorful to overdriven textures.
Shure DuraPlex Subminiature Headset Mic
Shure DuraPlex is a new series of subminiature (5 mm) omnidirectional lavalier and headset microphones that feature IP57 waterproof and dustproof ratings. DuraPlex consists of the DL4 Omnidirectional Waterproof Lavalier Microphone and the DH5 Omnidirectional Waterproof Headset Microphone. Both mics were designed to provide consistent and neutral sound quality with low self-noise for vocal clarity in a variety of environments, and complement Shure’s mid- and high-tier wireless systems. DuraPlex microphones utilize the same ultra-thin (1.6 mm) cable found in Shure’s TwinPlex line of microphones; it is immune to kinks and memory effect due to an innovative spiral construction with redundant shielding. DuraPlex DH5 Headsets are available in Tan, Cocoa, or Black with a brushed steel frame for stable placement, while DuraPlex DL4 lavalier mics are available in Black, Tan, Cocoa, or White. The mics are fully paintable with typical theater paints, pens, and polishes. Accessories supplied with the microphones include carry cases, foam and snap-fit windscreens, a presence cap and a single tie clip; the DL4 also includes a sticky mount. The DH5 and DL4 are available terminated with either LEMO or MTQG (TA) connectors. More info here.
Solid State Logic SSL 2 and SSL 2+ USB Audio Interfaces
Year 2020 saw Solid State Logic introduce its very first desktop USB-powered audio interfaces. There are two versions: the 2-in/2-out SSL 2 and the 2-in/4-out SSL 2+. Both models operate up to 24-bit/192kHz using AD/DA AKM converter chips and are class-compliant on Mac computers with no driver required. PC users would download the included ASIO/WDM driver. They use an SSL microphone, line, and instrument preamp capable of up to 62dB of gain with a microphone input impedance of 1.2k-ohm. Also Identical on both models are three separate push-button switches for Channels 1 and 2 to select: +48-volt phantom, line level, or a 1-megaohm high impedance input for direct connection of a guitar or bass. There is a lighted “4K” button that adds a combination of high-frequency boost and subtle harmonic distortion. This is the sonic profile of the SSL 4000 Series consoles when their inputs are driven hard.
Steinberg Cubase 11
On the 11th day of the 11th month, Steinberg released Cubase 11, and when Steinberg puts out a major Cubase update, it’s always important in the music production world. As you would expect, all the new features are in the flagship version, Cubase 11 Pro. A smaller subset made it into Cubase 11 Artist, and a smaller one yet into the entry-level Cubase 11 Elements.
Perhaps the most impressive of these is what Steinberg refers to as Advanced Audio Export (Pro). It’s a complete overhaul of the Export Audio for Mixdown window that dramatically simplifies and streamlines the process of printing stems. You can now create stems from Group Channels (buses), FX Channels, Instrument Tracks and Individual tracks. You can even set it so that any track you select in the Project window is automatically selected for export. You can create custom queues or bounce everything out simultaneously. It’s going to be a huge time-saver for everyone, but particularly those who deliver stems regularly.
Sampler Track 2 (Pro, Artist, Elements) updates the Sampler Track with many new capabilities, including Slicing Mode, which automatically chops up your loops by their transients so you can edit and rearrange them. Vintage Mode converts your 24-bit samples to sound like you created them in an old 12-bit machine. Mono Legato Glide adds motion to bass lines and other sampled parts.
The Scale Assistant (Pro, Artist, Elements) is a brand new feature that will be great for songwriters and those whose keyboard skills are limited. The Snap Live Input setting constrains your live MIDI playing to a key and scale that you select. You can also apply the Scale Assistant’s powers to existing MIDI parts, and it will quantize the pitches to the key and scale of your choosing.
Several brand-new plug-ins were added. One is Squasher (Pro, Artist, Elements), a multiband compressor that offers downward and upward compression. Although designed with EDM in mind, it’s quite powerful and could be handy in any musical style.
Imager (Pro, Artist) is a multiband imaging plug-in that gives you precise control over the stereo field. SuperVision (Pro, Artist) is a highly customizable and comprehensive multimeter. —Mike Levine
Steinberg SpectraLayers Pro 7 (Mac/PC)
All software updates are not created equal. For SpectraLayers Pro—a spectral-based audio-editing-and repair application—the jump from version 6 to 7 was a significant one, transforming the program from a niche product to a mainstream one. The biggest reason is the addition of extremely powerful AI-assisted processing. One example is the Unmix Stems feature, which splits a stereo file into separate Layers for vocal, piano, bass and drums. The Unmix Components “deconstructs” your audio into Tonal, Transient and Noise elements. Both processes are impressively fast and accurate. Then you can easily edit, export, solo, mute and rebalance levels for the various split-out components. Steinberg also added several new AI-assisted audio repair processes including Click repair, Hum reduction, Clip repair, De-Esser and Voice Denoiser.
Tonelux JC37 Condenser Microphone
The Tonelux JC37 is the product of a ‘labor of love’ by engineer/producer, Joe Chiccarelli and Tonelux. Chiccarelli’s goal was to create a present-day studio condenser microphone having the “utility and singular sonic characteristics” of the revered Sony C-37A tube microphones manufactured in the mid 1950s. The JC37 retains all the basic elements of the original microphones, with a 6AU6 pentode tube wired as a triode, a separate power supply unit connected by a cable permanently attached to the microphone body. Tonelux modernized the power supply by making it possible to power two JC37s at a time. The JC37 uses a 37mm diameter single diaphragm capsule, and the whole kit comes in a carrying case that holds two microphones along with the power supply.
UAD Luna 1.1 (Mac)
Some might ask, “Do we need another DAW?” If it’s UAD Luna, the answer is a resounding “yes!” UAD has done a masterful job creating an analog-like environment inside Luna that seamlessly integrates UAD plug-ins and hardware and even offers analog-modeled Neve Summing (optional). The GUI is well-thought-out and will feel comfortable to those sliding over from other DAWs, particularly Pro Tools. Luna even offers on-the-fly conversion of audio files, allowing you to import them seamlessly. Luna comes with an excellent-sounding, all-purpose MIDI virtual instrument called Shape. If you pay extra, you can get the super-impressive MiniMoog and Ravel (piano) instruments. You need a UAD interface to run Luna, but the application itself is free.
Warm Audio Bus-Comp
Warm Audio has made its reputation by offering hardware products that provide pro audio sound quality at lower-than-expected prices. In early 2020, the company released the all-analog Bus-Comp, a stereo VCA compressor with a design reminiscent of the classic SSL Bus Compressor, yet priced at only $699. It’s equipped with a single set of controls, including Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, a High-Pass Filter and Makeup Gain. Although it doesn’t offer dual mono operation, you can use it with individual mono sources on input or in a mix. Sonically, it can hold its own with more expensive bus compressors. Bus-Comp also offers sonic variety. Pushing the Engage Transformers switch lets you toggle its CineMag transformers in and out of the circuit, and significantly changing the tone. If you’ve been looking for an affordable way to integrate an analog compressor into your studio, you’ll want to give a serious look to Bus-Comp.
Waves OVox Vocal Resynthesis Plug-in (Mac/PC)
OVox is a potent and comprehensive vocal synthesis processor that’s also great on drums, basses, guitars, synths and more. OVox features dual processing sections, an 8-voice synth engine and powerful pitch shifting—along with a suite of multi-effects including Reverb, Compression, Distortion, EQ, Chorus, Limiter, Delay and Autopan. You can apply scales, chords or harmonies to your source audio as well as an array of modulators. Waves also built in optional sidechain audio or MIDI control over various effects parameters. OVox offers stunning vocoder effects, pop-style synthesized voices and gives you the ability to take your source audio into uncharted territory.
Yamaha Rivage PM3 and PM5 Consoles
Yamaha Rivage PM5 and PM3 Digital Mixing Systems include two new control surfaces and two new DSP processing engines, all of which are compatible with the existing range of products in the Yamaha Rivage PM series. The CS-R5 control surface for the PM5 system features three large touchscreens and 38 faders arranged in three sections of 12, plus two masters, while the CS-R3 control surface for the PM3 provides the same fader complement and employs a single, centrally located touch-screen. The CS-R5 and CS-R3 are complemented by two new rackmount DSP engines: the DSP-RX, which provides 120 inputs, 48 mix buses and 24 matrices, and the DSP-RX-EX; which provides 288 inputs, 72 mix buses and 36 matrices. Combined with the two new control surfaces, the DSP-RX and DSP-RX-EX enable a user to create a scalable system suited to their application, and allow DSP mirroring for fail-safe redundancy. The PM3 and PM5 systems are compatible with Yamaha TWINLANe networking, as well as with Dante audio networking.