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Gear of the Year

Top audio pros look back at 2019 and share what new equipment caught their eye, what was added to their audio arsenal, what old standbys took their projects to the next level and more.

New York, NY (December 20, 2019)—As we look back at the past year and forward to the Winter NAMM Show, rather than compile a list of 2019’s most notable product introductions, Pro Sound News contacted recording engineers and producers to find out their Gear of the Year, to see what caught their eye or made the most impact on their workflows—new products or old, software or hardware—in 2019.

“First off,” says Joe Barresi, known for his work with guitar-centric bands at the heavier end of the rock spectrum, “I’m stoked that Phil Wagner is back at SSL,” as senior vice president, North America. “He’s a super-nice dude.”

On the hardware side, two of SSL’s products were on Barresi’s radar this year. “They have this new analog console, Origin. I haven’t tried it, but it’s very interesting to me: 32 inputs, inline, analog and $50,000. How can you go wrong with that?”

SSL’s Fusion, essentially an analog coloration toolkit, also looks cool, he says. “It’s designed for people mixing in the box, to give them some analog flavor. You put it on your mix bus.”

As for his Gear of the Year — and 2019 in general — Ryan Hewitt says, “This year was crazy. I worked with 35 different artists,” including country stars Little Big Town and Brett Eldredge, and Harry Connick Jr. He purchased a few pieces introduced in recent times, including an UnderToneAudio UnFairchild: “That’s pretty spectacular,” he says.

He also got a pair of PMC IB1S monitors. “I’m still using ProAcs, but the PMCs are bigger party speakers. Clients love them. They get loud and bright and tell the truth.” He adds, “Another thing I got was the Chandler TG microphone. I love that mic.”

One more highlight for Hewitt was a prototype of the Nautilus EQ, the brainchild of Govinda Doyle at Australian boutique manufacturer Harris Doyle Audio. “He cornered me at the Nashville NAMM and made me try this thing—and now I won’t give it back.” The stereo unit has stepped, ganged controls for each function, and super-high headroom courtesy of 110V rails, says Hewitt, “and it’s got this very unique, all-analog transformer saturation circuit that is pretty ridiculous. No one else has anything like it.” It’s not cheap, he adds, “but I think it’ll be worth every penny.”

“I’ve been bouncing around between studios a bit more in the last few years,” reports Ronan Chris Murphy. His credit list, ranging from pop to rock to jazz to world music and everything in between, is topped by work with King Crimson, GWAR, Ulver, and the videogame Mafia III.

As for his Gear of the Year, in addition to finally pulling the trigger on a Great River MP-500NV mic pre in 2019, Murphy reports that he recently upgraded from a prototype to a production model of A-Designs’ Ventura SE channel strip, which is ideal for his peripatetic style.

“If you cart that along, you’ve got your bases covered for almost anything you need on the front end. With a single unit, I have one of the cleanest, most articulate instrument sources I’ve ever used, a really clean and full-bodied mic preamp, and a very usable EQ section,” he says. “I think it’s the single most underrated piece of gear in pro audio. I’m stunned that it’s not an insanely popular piece of equipment.”

A familiar refrain among engineers is that the industry is saturated with plug-in emulations of classic gear. “We don’t need replicas of things anymore,” says Hewitt. “Make something new and exciting that gives me more tools and a bigger palette.”

Hewitt has added UAD’s Capitol Chambers plug-in. “I’m using them every day. The Al Schmitt preset is pretty much all you need,” he says. Valhalla’s reverb, he adds, “is great and has a tone to it very different from everything else.”

Unusual emulations are welcome at Barresi’s studio. Arturia has come out with some interesting offerings, he says: “They did a couple of preamps, a V72 and V76 type thing, and a Trident A Range. Preamps are interesting to me—because I have so many of them anyway but I never really think about software preamps—and putting an A Range across something and having that kind of EQ capability is pretty cool.”

As for delays, he says, “They’ve come out with a couple that are really good—a Roland Space Echo [Tape-201] and Delay Eternity,” an original design. “They’ve got something else coming out that I can’t even talk about,” he confides.

A cool Gear of the Year item always seems a little better when you can get a deal on it. “On Black Friday, I always pick up some sales,” Barresi continues. “The new Sonnox Oxford Drum Gate is pretty interesting, and Dave Pensado turned me on to something called Limitless from DMG Audio that’s pretty cool—you can get your mixes loud with it and not whack them out.”

For Murphy, “The most significant addition to my arsenal was the Avedis E27 plug-in by PSP Audio. It’s become my most-used EQ for texture and character. It’s a great tool for making things bigger or more aggressive without harshness or other negative artifacts.”

He continues, “I usually cut frequencies with one of my cleaner plug-ins, then boost with the E27 for bigness and character. I feel like the E27 has a really nice texture. The fact that I can do M-S processing with it makes it even more useful. I even use it on some aggressive masters.”

Murphy adds, “I use a lot of Plugin Alliance stuff and pulled the trigger on their bundle. In terms of my mastering work, Softube’s Weiss MM-1 limiter is starting to creep into the number-one slot as my most-used mastering limiter—and I have quite a few.”

Murphy made a software change that has had a significant impact on his workflow. “I finally took the plunge and bought Reason Studio. It can essentially work as a plug-in inside of Pro Tools,” he says.

“I’ve been using Pro Tools since version 1.0, and as an audio recording and mixing format, I still think it’s fantastic.” But for doing production work, especially on more pop-oriented projects, he says, Pro Tools is not an ideal composition tool, creating bottlenecks and requiring him to jump through hoops.

That led to a Gear of the Year pick that’s more like a Gear of 1998 choice. He says, “Working with Pro Tools and working with Reason have reinforced my opinion of what a brilliant piece of software [Opcode] Studio Vision was, and how heartbreaking it was that Gibson killed it.” Gibson Guitar Corp. acquired Opcode in 1998 and discontinued development on Studio Vision the following year.

The platform was essentially 20 years ahead of its time, he says. “It was basically where modern production was going.”

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