The SOS editors take you through their favourite hardware and software of the last 12 months.
We were lucky enough to have a Moog DFAM in the SOS office for about six weeks, and every time I fired it up it surprised me with some new and unexpected sound. Electronic percussion can be a bit predictable these days, no doubt because of the ubiquity of certain Roland drum machines. I like the heft and thump of an 808 kick as much as the next man, but the DFAM, despite being by no means a conventional drum machine, seemed a return to the broad percussive horizons of early electronic music, where almost any sound could be co‑opted into a rhythm. It's like having the '60s Radiophonic Workshop trapped in a box on your desk, but with a fraction of the guilt. I'm not sure I can find the adjectives to describe the sorts of noises that emanated from the DFAM, but they were always unexpected, sometimes frightening and always delightful unless, as some colleagues will confirm, you're trying to proof read in the same room. David Glasper
Rather than model the sound of analogue effects and processors, Acustica literally sample them. While that may sound simple, it's taken time to refine the technology — but Acustica's latest Acqua plug‑ins (recently updated to the Core 13 engine) really do strike a judicious balance between this technology's unparalleled sound quality, efficient use of computer resources, and ease of use. It's probably no coincidence that computing power is finally catching up with the demands of this technology! Matt Houghton
Sound Devices have thoughtfully reworked their revered location recorders for musicians, and the result is astonishingly good: a high‑quality, robust, convenient, great‑sounding, portable, and oh‑so elegant series of multitrack recorders. Matt Houghton
I love using computers for recording and don't harbour any wistful nostalgia for working with consoles, but my favourite products of this year have been a pair of hardware mixers and recorders. Zoom have brilliantly reinvented the idea of the all‑round digital multitracker for the computer age. They've understood that these devices can no longer provide cost‑effective alternatives for mixing and editing recorded sound, so they've focused on introducing the elements that are missing from ordinary computer‑based setups: immediacy, portability and simplicity. The L‑12 and L‑20 are complete, all‑in‑one packages that integrate multitrack recording, live sound mixing, cue mixing, computer interfacing and headphone distribution in a single box, making them equally useful on stage, in the rehearsal room and in the studio. Sam Inglis
Loop‑based performances can be quite samey: four bars of beatboxing, a melodica solo, some rapping, a shaker, some vocals, some harmonies, more vocals, a crescendo of vocals... And stop (add delay tails to taste). But ZenAudio's ALK2 live‑looping software enables you to do so much more! The ability to plan arrangements (including soft‑synths and effects, as well as pre‑recorded sections) in advance means there's less need for tap‑dancing, but you can still improvise: if you suspect the melodica bit won't go down too well with the crowd in front of you, you can skip it; or if you spot a drum circle on the other side of the festival field, you could decide to milk your djembe solo for a few hours.
For anything like this much flexibility in hardware, you'd need at least a couple of sync'ed looper pedals, each with a mic plugged in (and woe betide you if you forget which mic is which). It's wise to be cautious of using a laptop and USB hub as the foundation for a live performance, but being able to pre‑arrange your instrument switching and leave sections looping means you may never need to put hand to mouse during your show. Chris Korff
I've persisted with recording tube amps and real guitar speakers well into the era when the best digital alternatives sound seriously good, because I still felt I perceived a qualitative sonic difference. From the moment I first pushed up a fader on an OX channel and A/B'ed it against a miked speaker, however, I felt a significant new benchmark had been achieved. The OX lets me use all my familiar and much‑loved tube amps, whilst giving me access to a wider range of mics and cabinets than I can keep in my studio, plus the ability to record 'loud' tube amps silently whenever I wish. If I felt it was in any way a compromise I wouldn't be using it — but I haven't actually miked a real speaker for guitar recording since having it. Dave Lockwood
Soundtheory Gullfoss' "intelligent automatic equaliser" plug‑in removes masking and unwanted resonances from signals — equally effectively on both individual sounds and mixes. I'm normally hugely skeptical of such automatic 'fixes', but I've been fascinated by Gullfoss' ability to sort out problem bits of spectrum better than I can. The interface is brilliantly simple, with just Tame, conforming the signal to a more 'ideal' version of itself, and Recover, to tackle masking, as the two main parameters. It achieves what it does without messing with the dynamics, so it works very well alongside other processes. Genius! Dave Lockwood
What I want of a mic preamp is 'wire with gain' — sonic transparency, ultra‑low noise, plenty of clean gain, and a simple set of controls. Most that offer all this are prohibitively expensive, so the surprisingly affordable Camden 500 was a revelation. This superbly clean and quiet preamp offers almost 70dB of gain, can handle instrument and line inputs, and has all the standard facilities such as polarity reversal, high‑pass filter, and phantom power. A rotary gain switch avoids the all‑too‑common gain‑bunching, and the ingenious Mojo facility allows you to dial in different tonal characters. If I had to use just one mic preamp evermore, I'd be quite happy for this to be it! Hugh Robjohns
Mention SSL and most think of mixing consoles, bus compressors, and 'Superanalogue' preamps. So their Fusion, with eight separate stereo signal processing tools that have been expertly honed to introduce 'analogue colour' during mixdown and/or mastering, came as a big surprise. An adjustable high‑pass filter is followed by a 'vintage drive' harmonics generator, a sublime two‑band EQ, an HF compressor, a stereo‑width processor, a switchable output transformer, and a configurable insert point, with left‑right or Mid‑Sides modes, but the impressive ensemble adds up to so much more than these processors on their own. The user interface is gloriously simple and understated, too. It really is a very classy sound‑polishing box. Hugh Robjohns
Neumann's free Recording Tools App for iOS and Android makes life so much easier that I wonder how I coped without it! It's immensely useful in visualising how the polar pattern, mic spacing, mutual angle, and stereo recording angles interact with each other. For example, if I choose to space the mics a little more to capture a more spacious sound, how much will that reduce the stereo acceptance angle, forcing me to move the mics farther back for the same image width? This app lays it all out in front of you, in a wonderfully intuitive way. And once the mics are positioned, it will help you establish the correct gain structure through the preamp and converter for any source SPL, mic sensitivity, and desired digital peak level. Utterly brilliant! Hugh Robjohns
Though it's only mono, this inexpensive pedal covers most of the ground trodden by the high‑end reverb pedals, including a smooth shimmer effect, reverbs with delay, modulated reverb, different spaces and numerous other 'trick' effects that scratch my ambient itch. Stick a slow‑attack pedal (such as a Boss Slow Gear) in front and you can luxuriate in ambient washes. You'll need the cheat sheet on hand to tell you what the secondary knob functions do, but at the price it's brilliant. Paul White
These budget monitors are the result of some very well thought‑out engineering that means the necessary compromises have minimal impact on performance. The cabinets have a shaped port to minimise port noise, and as the bass/mid driver is very substantial it doesn't sound stressed. I found them detailed and comfortable to listen to — I'd expected them to be about twice the price! Paul White
Sub51 Sound Design produce some great sample‑based instruments for various formats, but their CC06 really impressed. Back in the day, I'd happily have dropped my Roland TR‑606 into a car crusher to shut it up, but Sub51's tasteful use of processing and effects has breathed new life into it. This very inexpensive Kontakt instrument boasts a full set of panel controls, Komplete Kontrol mapping and some very usable MIDI loops. Paul White