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New Romantics

Leader By Sam Inglis
Published October 2020

Romance isn't a concept often associated with music technology, but it definitely has a role to play. Only a true romantic could think about opening a high-end studio in today's climate, yet new studios continue to be built. Nostalgia keeps us buying Minimoog clones and U47 copies, and what is nostalgia if not a romantic perspective on the past?

Sam Inglis, SOS Editor In Chief.Photo: JG HardingOne of the best things about our business, though, is that it's not only artists and producers and engineers who are romantics. The manufacturers who keep our studios stocked with gear are romantics too, and they're passionate about designing new and ever-better hardware and software.

If you want proof of this, consider the role of the 'flagship' product. A synthesizer that fills a room and costs more than a house is unlikely to recoup its development costs, but that never stopped Yamaha making the mighty GX-1. Likewise, Sony's DRE-S777, the first real-time convolution reverb, was an extraordinary achievement, but not one destined to populate bedroom studios throughout the land.

The rewards for innovation sometimes justify the risks. SSL's pioneering work on automation led to their mixers becoming de rigeur in '80s studios. Yamaha's willingness to take a punt on John Chowning's research produced the DX7, the instrument that defined that decade. Yet for every success there have been countless failures, and as technology matures, the risk-reward equation grows ever harder to solve.

Flagship products are the purest expression of the romantic spirit that drives innovation in music technology.

Nevertheless, manufacturers are still putting heart and soul into developing flagship products. Things most of us will only ever gaze on with covetous eyes, and never cart home from the shops. Things that boldly go where rival manufacturers fear to tread. Things that can be justified to the bean-counters only on the promise that their technology can be spun off into more affordable mass-market derivatives. Things that, ultimately, exist because their designers want strongly enough for them to exist.

Reviewed exclusively in this issue of Sound On Sound, Arturia's PolyBrute is a fantastic example of a flagship instrument. I doubt I'll ever own one, and it would be wasted beneath my clumsy hands anyway. But that doesn't stop me wanting one. It doesn't stop my breath being taken away when I think about what goes into making one. The PolyBrute is a product that could only be produced by designers who are at the top of their game technically, masters of both analogue and digital audio. But it's also a product that could only be produced by designers who truly, deeply love the synthesizer as a musical instrument.

This isn't only true of the PolyBrute, either. All sorts of manufacturers see value in realising their vision of the ultimate synth, console, microphone, loudspeaker or software package. Flagship products are the purest expression of the romantic spirit that drives innovation in music technology. And that is a big part of what makes our industry special.

Sam Inglis Editor In Chief

Published October 2020