Staff by day and gear heads by night, the instructors at Electronic Music Collective reflected on our favorite pieces of gear from Roland, Bitwig Studios, EHX, and more from the past year.
Choosing studio hardware, guitars, synths, plugins, or any kind of music making tool is an import part of music production. Whatever tools you do choose can drastically effect your workflow so exploring preferences and learning what is right for you is an important and inevitable processes. It is impossible to determine whether a piece of gear is good or bad because usefulness is ultimately determined by the creative application of the piece. However, determining if a piece of gear is right for you or not is very easy. New, used, vintage, or broken, any piece of gear can sound amazing in the right hands.
Tons of great music production tools came out in 2019 so here is what our staff enjoyed the most.
Bitwig 3 and The Grid
Bitwig Studio announced a game changing update earlier this year. It included a new modular synth called ‘The Grid’ and an updated version of Ableton LINK. ‘The Grid’ supports up to 154 modules and is designed for an incredibly quick workflow. The Grid allows you to create your own instruments and effects and is a great tool for learning sound design. The Grid comes with special devices called ‘Poly Grid’ and ‘FX Grid’ which allow you to stack voices and add effects to your sounds.
Here is what EMC Production Instructor & Curriculum Director, Patrick Cupo, had to say about Bitwig 3 and The Grid:
“With its intuitive workflow and plethora of inspiring modules, The Grid became my main source of sonic exploration in 2019 and learning it finally forced me to really learn Bitwig Studio in general – a big plus for me. I’d say that I’ve become more inclined to use patches I’ve made in The Grid over those in 3rd party plugins, mainly because I built everything about the sound from the ground up.”
Minilogue XD by Korg
This year, Korg delivered a compact analog synthesizer equipped with four-voice polyphonic analog synthesis. Modeled from Korgs original Minilogue, the Minilogue XD offers an expanded and more versatile version of the original circuit. Some new features that can be found on the Minilogue XD include a digital multi-engine, effects, a powered-up sequencer, and micro tuning functionality. Out of the box the Minilogue XD comes with 200 presets and has enough space for users to save up to 500 programs.
Rosemary Minkler, an instructor at EMC, got her hands on one this year and said this about the Minilogue XD:
“This new release from Korg is an update from the original Korg Minilogue polyphonic analogue synthesizer. New features include a high quality effects section (featuring delay, reverb, and modulation effects), digital multi engine (as also featured on the Prologue), step sequencer with 16 buttons, micro tuning, stereo output, damper pedal jack, and an assignable joystick for pitch bend and modulation, etc. It’s especially a good investment for someone who’s starting to get into synthesis because a lot of the presets are amazing and the oscilloscope allows the user to see waveform changes in real time. The new Minilogue XD from Korg is a great purchase for any musician or producer!
Ram’s Head Big Muff Pi Fuzz Pedal by EHX
Legendary pedal manufacturer, Electro-Harmonix, released a reissue of their 1973 Violet Ram’s Head Big Muff in October of this year. The size of the pedal may have been cut down to fit along side other EHX Nano pedals but all the same vintage oomph is there. EHX has been releasing more modern versions of their older fuzz pedals like the Green Russian and Op-Amp in recent years. These reissues have become extremely popular in not only the guitar community but in the modular synth community as well.
EMC Marketing & Community Coordinator, Chris Seifert, owns one and had this to say about the Ram’s Head Reissue:
“At first I didn’t like the pedal because I thought it sounded too good. I wanted something more harsh and less lush. But after much deliberation, I picked up the pedal and haven’t looked back since. My favorite thing about the Ram’s Head is that open chords don’t sound over saturated when the pedal is engaged so I don’t have to play power chords all the time. You can get an amazingly fuzzy and full sounding chord which is what really impresses me. The controls are also nice and simple as opposed to other fuzz pedals I’ve tried this year. The Ram’s Head reissue is easily the best sounding fuzz pedal I’ve owned so far.”
MC-101 GROOVEBOX by Roland
Rolands MC-101 Goovebox is a mix of the past and the future in one small package. Following suit with other grooveboxes that have come before the MC-101, the layout and external design are in a familiar and easy to understand format. It is what’s inside the MC-101 that gives users a glimpse of the future of music and power that this small box harnesses.
The MC-101 is designed for on the go production and is equipped with a four track sequencer that gives users lots of options when it comes to arrangement. The MC-101 comes with 16 drum pads for easy sample triggering and beat making. Users can also upload their own samples with an SD card.
Nate Mars, EMC Instructor and Marketing Director, had a few words to say about the MC-101:
“The Roland MC-101 is one of my favorites from 2019. I remember the classic Grooveboxes and those were fun to use but the new series is packed with features that make it truly useful for live performance and studio workflow; especially when you add your own sounds. I also really like that the MC-101 is battery powered so you can sit and work on part of a live set during a train or bus long trip and not have to work with a laptop. It’s also plays nicely with a variety of other synths which you can easily sync via MIDI or USB.“
Reason 11 Suite and The Reason Rack Plugin
Propellerhead launched Reason 11 along with versions of their Reason Rack Plugins. The most exciting detail of this launch was that Reason Rack Extensions were now available as plugins. That was great news for Ableton Live, FL Studio, Cubase and other DAW users because the beloved Reason Rack could be used inside their favorite DAW.
Reason Rack allows you to get behind Propellerhead’s virtual rack and create custom patch cables to reroute audio, trigger drum machines, modulate synths, and much more. Reason Rack is also compatible with plugins from other developers, allowing you to congregate your favorite synths and effects all into one place. The introduction of rack plugins may appear to overshadow Reasons standalone capabilities however, Propellerhead is giving Reason 11’s sequencing program a subtle overhaul that is meant to make a striking difference. Adding features like curved automation, crossfading capabilities, and adding the ability to draw multiple notes in MIDI are all meant to create a faster, more cohesive workflow.
“It just sounds incredible and now I can use it as an instrument and effect within any DAW that I want. So, I can go modular with the new Complex-1 being modulated by Pulsar, further modulate the dual LFOs of Pulsar with the Modulators devices of Bitwig Studio, and process all of that with an audio effect that I build to my liking in The Grid with all its modular goodness. Bro, do you even modular?!”– Patrick Cupo
Omnisphere 2.6 Update by Spectrasonics
Omnisphere by Spectrasonics is a virtual soft synth that has been around for several years. It is a popular and versatile VST used by many producers to make all kinds of music from EDM to cinematic scores. Earlier this year, Spectrasonics released the 2.6 update which gave the synth even more range and possibilities. Omnipshere is the only VST that has a hardware integration feature which allows users to use their own hardware to control the virtual synth. The 2.6 update added lots of new mapping capability that brought the total number of hardware pieces the synth is compatible with to about 65. The update also included an expanded preset library with 600 new patches.
EMC Mixing Instructor, Greg Tobler, had this to say about the 2.6 Omnisphere update:
“It took what already was an extremely powerful soft synth and took it to a new level. New patches and features make this one of my favorite sound design and music productions tools.“
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