Another year has gone by and it’s time to start holiday shopping for your favorite music maker. This year brings a host of great ideas…
BLUE Yeti Nano
The Yeti Nano is BLUE’s latest USB microphone offering and it was designed to handle broadcast-quality podcasting, YouTube production, game streaming, Skype/VoIP calls and voiceover work. The $99 mic has a beautiful finish (with four color options) that looks great on camera and includes a no-latency headphone output. The mic includes a desktop stand, and the optional Radius III shock mount allows the mic to be used with any standard mic stand.
While affordable broadcast is its forte, the Yeti Nano is well-suited for music production—therefore budget conscious music creators should give this mic top consideration. The mic includes BLUE’s Sherpa app, which provides simple and easy control of the mic via a desktop application. Software controls include polar-pattern and sample rate selection, mute and gain. I’ve had impressive results using the mic to record an acoustic guitar/vocal song demo as well as multiple voice-overs.
Potential buyers should note that BLUE is currently offering the Blackout-Yeti Studio and Yeticaster Studio holiday microphone/software bundles built around the higher-end Yeti mic bundled with software from PreSonus and iZotope.
I’ve been a dedicated Triad-Orbit user since first encountering the company’s stands several years back. I never thought I would consider a microphone stand revolutionary, but that’s the case with Triad-Orbit. The beautifully constructed Triad-Orbit stands often remind me of a finely crafted automobile and their precision often equals that of the microphones they hold. In comparison to most mic stands, they are expensive, but they are worth every penny.
Not only does Triad-Orbit manufacture the finest microphone stands ever made, it is also extremely innovative and is constantly releasing new products. I’ve had the opportunity to spend the last couple of months using the Synergy Series Grip Clamp and Spring Clamp, and both are amazing additions to the Triad-Orbit System. It truly is a system, too, as the entire line of Triad-Orbit products incorporate proprietary IO allowing booms, mic arms, iPad mounts and more to be interchanged between Triad-Orbit stands and/or other manufacturer’s mic stands retrofitted with an IO mount.
The Grip Clamp ($103) is an exceptionally strong, articulating jaw clamp fitted with an IO receiver, which will securely attach to any truss, rail or stand up to 2-inches in diameter. I’ve used it in a wide variety of situations, including attaching an iPad holder to a mic stand and to position a pair of Audix SCX-25 microphones on a grand piano. The Spring Clamp ($83) is a similar device that uses a torsion spring rather than a manually tightened design for mounting. The grip is quite strong and between the spring tension and the rubber covered jaws, the device has an incredibly solid grip. I’ve used it for attaching the snare bottom mic onto the snare stand, attaching a hi-hat mic onto a cymbal stand and attaching a guitar amp mic onto the guitar cabinet. In most instances, the clamps are interchangeable, but the Grip Clasp does have a slightly stronger grip potential and the uses are endless.
IK Multimedia Uno Synth
IK Multimedia released its first-ever hardware synthesizer, the UNO Synth, earlier this year. Priced at $199, this monophonic analog synth is quite the powerhouse. Its small size and weight and battery power capability make it ultra-portable, plus it can alternatively be powered via USB. MIDI IN and OUT connectivity enables connection to any MIDI equipment and the synth can integrate directly with a DAW via USB MIDI without any additional hardware.
Designed by IK's synth guru, Erik Norlander, who was one of the brains behind Alesis’ legendary Andromeda synth, the UNO Synth provides a vast pallet of highly usable sounds as well as the ability to easily modify current presets or program entirely new sounds ground up. The UNO Synth comes with 100 presets of which 80 are rewritable.
The UNO Synth’s small size and lack of a traditional keyboard might make some pros shy away from its use, but the analog synth is actually quite powerful and it sounds stunningly good. The UNO incorporates an all-analog path, including two VCOs, a noise generator, a resonant multimode VCF and VCA, and two independent VCOs with Saw, Triangle and Pulse waveforms with continuously variable shape including PWM of the square wave plus a separate white noise generator.
Included with the UNO is a powerful editor/librarian that incorporates a full-size GUI and the ability to function as either a standalone application (Mac/PC/iOS) or as an integrated DAW plug-in (Mac/PC). The editor provides flawless control of every parameter and full preset customization.
The UNO has a 27-note onboard, multi-touch, capacitive-sensing keyboard that provides over two octaves of sound control as a chromatic keyboard or as a predefined scale keyboard with 13 available scales. The synth incorporates a complex arpeggiator with 10 modes and a four-octave range, as well as a built-in delay effect and five instant performance modulations (Dive, Scoop, Vibrato, Wah and Tremolo) allowing musicians as limited as myself to give Giorgio Moroder a run for his money.
Gig Gear Two Hand Touch
Gig Gear’s latest offering is its Two Hand Touch Harness. This innovative wearable case frees up both hands while holding an iPad or Android tablet in the optimum mixing/working position, making portable touch-screen devices faster, more ergonomic and more efficient.
Many of today’s console manufacturers have applications that excel at providing remote mixing capabilities on an iPad, making it easy to make system and/or mix adjustments anywhere in the venue. The majority of these applications incorporate multi-touch features that can only be optimized if both hands are available to simultaneously touch the tablet’s screen. That typically isn’t the case if you are walking around a venue. The Two Hand Touch secures your iPad to your chest, allowing it to be folded up out of the way when not in use—so firstly, it is always with you, and secondly, when it is in use, it leaves both hands free to interface with the applications necessary during live production.
The Two Hand Touch is offered in two sizes—the Two Hand Touch 9 and the Two Hand Touch 12 ($49 and $59 respectively). The two models are designed to perfectly fit the standard iPad 9.7-inch model and the larger iPad Pro 12.9-inch size. The harness includes multiple elastic bands in various configurations so the case can hold multiple tablet and phone sizes. I have both 9.7 and 12.9-inch iPads, so I bought the larger version of the harness as it can perfectly hold both of my tablets. When not in use, the case flattens up against the harness. This not only keeps it out of the way, but also ensures it is always easily accessible. Built into the front of the case are several pouches that can easily accommodate frequently used tools, pens, microphones, gaff tape, cables, radios and so on.
While I’m no stranger to utilizing my iPad to assist with live mixing, the Two Hand Touch has made it easier than ever. Being able to simultaneously have both hands on the iPad’s surface drastically improves workflow, and keeping the iPad on my body ensures that I’m not going to have to run back to front of house to grab when I need it.
Not only is the device great for engineers, it is also a godsend for stage managers, production managers or any other show personnel who spends the majority of their time running around but needs to make sure they have immediate access to Showflo or another event software package.
KB Covers Keyboard
KB Covers’ custom keyboard covers and keyboards are fantastic holiday gift options. The covers, which are priced so reasonably that it’s affordable to buy several, are manufactured for all major DAW, photography and video editing software applications and are sized to fit all current and recent Apple keyboards and Mac laptops.
They have a dual purpose. First, they make it easy to see all of the primary commands and shortcuts for a specific application, and second, they protect your keyboard from spills. They are so comfortable to use that I actually keep one on regardless of whether I’m using a DAW or not. Like most music pros, I routinely switch between DAWs, so I love having separate keyboard covers for Pro Tools, Studio One and Cubase.
The company’s custom keyboards are also fantastic. I’ve been using the PC version of the backlit Cubase Keyboard along with my Sweetwater PC and it’s been fantastic. As with the keyboard covers, the keyboard provides immediate access to every Cubase shortcut in a color-coded layout.
Focusrite Clarett 2Pre USB Interface
Music makers regularly ask me to recommend a portable interface that will provide portable, professional quality performance without breaking the bank. Focusrite’s Clarett 2Pre USB interface clocks in at just under $400 and is a perfect option. The 10-in (2 analog and 8 digital), 4-out interface provides fantastic conversion along with two quality mic preamps in a portable box. Also included are MIDI-In and -Out ports.
The interface includes USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB Type A cables, ensuring compatibility with both current and older PC and Mac computers. Software bundled with the interface includes Ableton Live Lite, XLN Audio Addictive Keys, Focusrite Red Plug-In Suite, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, 2GB of Focusrite Drum Tracks and 2GB of Loopmasters sample libraries. Product registration provides the user with a Focusrite Plug-In Collective membership, providing access to bimonthly deals, discounts, and giveaways from a variety of software manufacturers.
The 2Pre USB has impressive build-quality, utilizing more metal (an attractive brushed metal, to be exact) than plastic, and quality components throughout.
I’ve recorded a wide variety of instruments and vocals throughout my review process and have continually been impressed with the box’s performance. The preamps are extremely clean and uncolored, resulting in a smooth, natural sound. The preamp’s Air feature adds an analog emulation of the classic Focusrite ISA preamp, resulting in a more colored yet extremely musical performance. In almost every instance, I prefer the preamp with the Air circuit engaged.
I utilized the 2Pre USB with an older MacBook Pro (from 2008!) and a newer model and both worked perfectly. The interface is driverless, so it works out of the box, but the included Focusrite Control software is necessary to optimize the operation.
Ultimate Ears UE Cable
UE’s entire IEM line has been updated with the new IPX Connection System that, along with the SuperBax cable type, is more reliable and strong enough to hold more than twelve pounds, but is still more flexible than its predecessor. The cable system actually improves the sound quality as well.
I’ve been fanatical about the sound of my UE Reference Remasterd IEMs since their release a few years back, so I was excited to get a second set of the monitors with the upgraded cables to compare the sonic differences. I was pleased to find that the difference between them is substantial and is equally apparent when monitoring through high-end Grace or Benchmark headphone amps as it is when listening through an iPod or iPhone. The new cables improve the low-frequency clarity and provide a slightly smoother top end. The connector between the IEM and cable has also been upgraded, drastically improving durability. The upgraded cable and connector is standard on all new UE IEMs or is available as a $300 upgrade to current owners. There is also a $400 for the SuperBax/Bluetooth cable combo upgrade, which is worth a look. The upgrade requires the owner to return his/her current IEMs to the UE headquarters and can be coordinated at pro.ultimateears.com/ipx-upgrade.html.
It’s also worth noting that Ultimate Ears added two new impressive IEM models this year, each at a different price point—the Ultimate Ears LIVE ($2,199) and the Ultimate Ears 6 PRO ($699).
PreSonus released the original and arguably revolutionary FaderPort over a decade ago. It was a fantastic product; I have two engineer friends who actually mounted the box that housed a single touch-sensitive fader into their console to simplify its access. PreSonus has now updated the surface (still called the FaderPort) and it’s better than ever—and with a price tag of only $199, it’s quite the bargain.
As with the original FaderPort, the new model incorporates a 100 mm touch-sensitive moving fader, but the new FaderPort has improved integration with other DAWs. By holding a specific button while powering up, the fader can be automatically configured to work with Studio One, Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Cubase or Ableton Live. With the exception of Ableton Live, I’ve used it with each of the DAWs and it works perfectly.
The new FaderPort also adds several new features, with the most impressive being the session navigator that provides significant functionality, including pan, scroll, nudge regions, drop markers, and link adjacent channels. All of the standard transport controls are also incorporated, including play/pause, stop, return to zero, record, cycle, fast-forward and rewind, as is the ability to solo, mute, record arm and change the automation mode of the selected channel. A footswitch input allows the user to easily punch in and out of record while playing. As an added bonus, the FaderPort includes the Artist version of the powerful PreSonus Studio One DAW.
IK Multimedia iRig Keys I/O 25
The IK Multimedia iRig Keys I/O 25 is a 25 full-size key, portable, affordable ($199) keyboard controller that includes a built-in audio interface. The keyboard is also available in a 49-note version ($299). The low-profile MIDI controller includes eight multicolored, LED-lit, velocity-sensitive pads for rhythm input, along with several buttons, knobs and sliders for virtual instrument and DAW control. While the Mac/PC/iOS compatible keyboard is bus powered, it can alternatively be used as a standalone device by utilizing battery or AC power. Line, instrument or mic input is via a combo input jack. The phantom power-equipped, Class-A mic pre sounds surprisingly good. The device supports 24-bit audio up to 96 kHz and includes balanced stereo and headphone outputs. Over the past several weeks, I used it to record vocals and guitars to both a Mac and an iPad, and have had impressive results in every instance. The iRig Key I/O 25 can effectively act as a studio’s core, easily providing a path to walk a song from creation to completion.
The iRig Keys I/O 25 is Apple-certified MFi hardware (Made for iPhone and iPad), so it works right out of the box with every Lightning port-equipped iOS devices. The keyboard includes a Lightning cable for iOS connection and a USB cable for Mac and PC computer connection. The keyboard works flawlessly with most popular DAWs. Bundled with the keyboard are Ableton Live 9 Lite, IK's SampleTank 3 sound and groove workstation, T-RackS 4 Deluxe mix and mastering suite, and the Pro-V vintage synthesizer.
Sonic Presence VR15-USB Spatial Mic
Giving you the perfect excuse for late gift giving, the Sonic Presence VR15-USB Spatial Mic is an extremely mobile microphone that makes it simple to capture extremely high-quality stereo recordings directly to an iOS or Android device or directly to a computer. Shipping in early 2019, the $150 VR15 is designed to be worn on your ears. It’s made of a malleable material so it can easily be shaped to comfortably fit anyone’s ears. The waterproof, shockproof mic is comfortable, easy to slip on and off, and very discrete. The mic terminates into a USB Type-A connector, so recording to an iOS or Android device requires an adapter. The microphone’s sound quality is simply stunning. I’ve used it to capture everything from a noisy downtown street to a violin playing in a living room and have had stunning results in each instance.
The mic boasts a 110 dB dynamic range, and while it supports recording up to 24-bit, 96 kHz, the bit depth and sample rate are limited by some applications. The VR15 owners manual does an excellent job providing the positives and negatives of most major iOS applications, including record quality, ease of use, metering and so forth.
In addition to the VR15-USB, there are two other variations of the mic. The VR15-GP is designed to be used with GoPro cameras and includes a 10-pin mini USB connector. The VR15-XLR is equipped with XLR connectors, making it compatible with any standard phantom power-equipped mic pre. I’ve been so thrilled with the results I’ve achieved using the USB version along with my phone that I can’t wait to utilize the XLR version in the studio. Having the conductor wear a set while conducting a string section or having the drummer wear a set during a tracking session—I think both will yield exciting results.