Mixdown's Christmas Gift Guide: Studio Gear

The Ultimate Gifts For Producers

It's the most wonderful time of the year, and we couldn't be happier about it. But between listening to Christmas songs on repeat and trying to perfect our festive decorations, it's not always easy to make time to find a gift for the musicians in our lives. For those who don't want to see their Christmas cheer ruined searching for the perfect present in a crowd of shoppers on Christmas Eve, we've got you covered. Our Christmas Gift Guide is bursting with gear that we're sure your music mates will love, and this page is especially for anyone in need of studio gear.

iRig Pro Duo Studio Suite

DISTRIBUTED BY: Sound & Music

EXPECT TO PAY: $599

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Those recording at home who need something portable and easy to use.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

The hardware is studio-quality and transparent, and AmpliTube 4 is one of the best amp-modelling plugins in the biz. Miroslav Philharmonik 2 CE is based on the industry-standard orchestra sound library, and SampleTank is loaded with great sounds. T-RackS Deluxe will aid your recordings all the way from songwriting demo to audience-ready product.

USABILITY:

In terms of physical setup, it’s simply a matter of plug-and-play. As far as software user interfaces, each of the included apps are designed to be very usable on the surface but with plenty of editing power under the hood if you wish to dig deeper. AmpliTube in particular will have you creating new virtual guitar rigs until you’re blue in the face.

CONSTRUCTION:

IK Multimedia knows that a lot of their gear will be taken on the road or shoved into backpacks for use in hotel rooms, airports, tour buses or anywhere inspiration strikes, so everything is nicely knock-proof.

OVERALL:

If an iRig Keys portable keyboard was included too, this would be the ultimate easy recording kit. But as-is it’s still packed with unlimited musical possibilities.

 

PreSonus Eris 3.5 Active Studio Monitors

DISTRIBUTED BY: Link Audio

EXPECT TO PAY: $169

RECOMMENDED FOR:

As any compact home studio usually suffers from a lack of space, these monitor speakers are ideal given that they are not only compact, but have been designed specifically to work within confined spaces.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

With a simple two-band EQ, there’s not a lot of control over the sound, but there doesn’t need to be. For their size, the Eris 3.5 monitors sound fantastic. Ideal for compact home studios, monitoring on the go, or just as a pair of speakers for enjoying music while you work at your computer.

USABILITY:  

With RCA and TRS connections all supplied on the rear of one speaker, there are plenty of options on the rear panel for connection with whatever devices you are mixing from in your home studio.

CONSTRUCTION:

The Eris monitors are all built just like these ones, just in different sizes. They are a really solid block that seems to be filled with a good deal of heat sink weight. The smooth front porting and gentle contours make for a pleasing design for the tough case.

OVERALL:

PreSonus are doing really great things with monitoring and amplification at the moment. Although these are essentially the new babies in the range, they still have some good points and will find plenty of locations in which they will work well.

 

PreSonus AudioBox 96 Studio Bundle

DISTRIBUTED BY: Link Audio

EXPECT TO PAY: $299

RECOMMENDED FOR:

This is the perfect gift idea for someone wanting to start home recording. It has just about everything you need to match up with a computer and get recording right away.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

The A/D converters on the AudioBox USB 96 are excellent quality for the price point. Matched up with the M7 condenser microphone, you’re able to capture rich vocal and instrument sounds. It works great for guitar, percussion and a host of other applications too.

USABILITY:  

Bundled with PreSonus’ HD7 headphones for monitoring, you can record, overdub and mix your music all from the gear included in the box. This comes with the Studio One 3 Artist software that has a host of extra plugin effects and instruments.

CONSTRUCTION:

Like all the models in the AudioBox range, this is a solid hardware interface. It’s built into a sturdy metal chassis and is fitted with quality A/D converters. The microphone and headphones are well built too, certainly tough enough for a home studio setup.

OVERALL:

This bundle represents great value for anyone looking to start out recording at home. It comes complete with microphone, cable, headphones, interface and software.

 

Blue Microphones Snowball Studio

DISTRIBUTED BY: Amber Technology

EXPECT TO PAY: $199

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Vocalists, voiceover artists and podcasters.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

The large diaphragm capsule sounds great with very little room noise captured when using the cardioid and pad option. This makes it ideal for those working in less than ideal acoustics.

USABILITY:

Designed with podcasting, webcam, vocal and instrumental use in mind, the Snowball Studio is ready to be used on your desktop without the need for additional cables or stands. It comes with a nifty little tripod stand that looks just as cool as the microphone itself, and is set up in a matter of moments with just a USB cable needed to power the device and send audio to your computer. A switch on the rear of the unit allows three choices, combining polar pattern and input level, allowing you to choose between cardioid, omni, or cardioid pattern with a 10dB pad applied. For vocals, instrument and interview use, this just about covers anything you need.

CONSTRUCTION:

Whilst very sturdy, I wasn’t a fan of the plastic housing.

OVERALL:

If you want a simple solution for recording acoustic guitar and vocals - as well as a host of other instruments - this can do the job. It also makes your voice recordings for video and podcasts sound unbelievably good. Why let the world listen to you with poor audio quality? If you want to be heard, be heard well.

 

Steinberg UR22mkII Audio Interface


DISTRIBUTED BY: Yamaha Music Australia

EXPECT TO PAY: $399

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Anyone wanting to record music onto a computer.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

The two microphone preamps sound great, and the ability to run a guitar direct into one of the inputs is a bonus. But, the real key is the fact that this offers 192kHz sampling rate when recording. It isn’t easy to find an interface in this price range that offers this sort of quality.

 

USABILITY:

Possibly the simplest and easiest device ever released by Steinberg. It integrates perfectly with the included Cubase AI software, and takes very little effort to get it installed and ready to record. It will work with a range of instruments, including keyboards and guitars, and works with just about any microphone given that it supplies phantom power.

 

CONSTRUCTION:  

The tough casing that protects the inner workings of the UR22 has been well thought out.

 

OVERALL:

With two microphone preamps, MIDI in and out as well as headphone monitoring, there is pretty much everything you need for home recording on the unit itself and everything you need to mix and master your music within the software.

 

ADK Studio-Hamburg Mk8 Condenser Microphone

DISTRIBUTED BY: Studio Connections

EXPECT TO PAY: $499
 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Suited for specific vocal sounds such as jazz singers and crooners as well as reed instruments.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

The mellow richness of the Hamburg Mk8 complements any sort of nasal sound such as woodwind instruments, or certain vocals.

USABILITY:  

This is a microphone that can deliver excellent results when placement and setup are done right. Like any condenser, it needs the right space and proximity. Being of the tonal quality that it is, you need to take more care to ensure the room is well treated for recording.

CONSTRUCTION:  

There is nothing that one could complain about with any ADK microphone. These are a stunning build quality. They are not just a mass produced solution, but rather a crafted audio tool.

OVERALL:

If you’re looking for a ‘darker’ sounding microphone that can tackle some very challenging voicing and instrumentation, this is certainly a valuable addition to any microphone collection. Put this one on my Christmas list, I will certainly find plenty of good use for it.

 

ADK Studio THOR Condenser Microphone

DISTRIBUTED BY: Studio Connections

EXPECT TO PAY: $599

RECOMMENDED FOR:

This microphone is ideal for a range of applications where high sound pressure levels are unavoidable. Designed for challenging sound sources and recording direct into digital interfaces, THOR is a modern studio microphone for most setups.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

Capable of SPLs up to 150dB, this microphone can be pushed where others simply would not be able to operate. Guitar cabinet applications instantly come to mind, as do cymbals and floor toms. The THOR delivers in rich sound and fast transient attack when put up to the challenge.

USABILITY:  

Being designed for modern digital recording, this microphone has a very low noise floor. Combined with the fact it’s suited to a high SPL sound source, you’re able to get very clean recordings.

CONSTRUCTION:

This has a stunning build quality.

OVERALL:

This microphone is a beast. It will handle just about anything you want to throw at it and deliver a clear, concise audio capture. It may not be the all-rounder some of you are looking for, but it will certainly come in handy more often than not.

 

sE Electronics X1 S Condenser Microphone Studio Bundle

DISTRIBUTED BY: Sound & Music

EXPECT TO PAY: $429

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Ideal for home studios when a high quality vocal sound is wanted, but the space might not be ideal.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

This is a great sounding microphone that punches well above its weight. Big vocals, tight guitar sounds and bright percussion are just some of the options the X1 S caters for. The RF-X Reflexion Filter cleans up the sound by isolating the microphone from unwanted reflections within your room.

USABILITY:  

With the sE Electronics X1 S condenser microphone, a proven quality microphone, combined with their RF-X, along with a pop filter, microphone cable and suspension mount, this represents a complete vocal audio capture setup. Both the microphone cradle and the RF-X mount together so that only one stand is required for the setup.

CONSTRUCTION:  

Everything that sE Electronics makes, even when targeting a certain price point, is always better than expected. These are very well built microphones and whilst the RF-X may be a cheaper construction to its larger counterparts, it is still more than sturdy and up to the task.

OVERALL:

A fantastic option to get you started with home vocal tracking.

 

Apogee Element 24

DISTRIBUTED BY: Sound Distribution

EXPECT TO PAY: $839                                                                                    

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Element 24 is perfect for the independent musician recording with one or two inputs at a time who wants the best possible sound quality, lowest latency and high quality performance.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

This ten in/12 out Thunderbolt Audio I/O box offers AD/DA conversion up to 192kHz/24-bit, with two analogue inputs with world-class mic preamps. As such it doesn’t have any sound of its own but is designed to stay faithful to the sound of whatever you’re plugging into it. It supports eight channels of ADAT input at 44.1-48kHz, four of SMUX at 88.2-96kHz and two of S/PDIF at up to 192kHz, and the same in output.

USABILITY:

All hardware parameters are controlled via the Apogee Control Software for Mac, including input gain, output level and low latency monitoring. Basically if it’s a control that is normally represented by a knob on a conventional interface, on Element 24 it’s controlled via software. This is pretty handy when you think about it, because you don’t have to leave your onscreen environment to go tweak an input gain level.

CONSTRUCTION:

This tiny unit is quite roadworthy and very carefully laid out. The front panel has only two combi jacks (XLR Mic/Line Hi-Z), a 1/4” stereo headphone out and a Status LED. Around the back you’ll find the main stereo outs, optical in and outs, word clock in and out and the Thunderbolt jack. It’s all extremely idiot-proof.

OVERALL:

It looks as simple as it gets but it sounds great and gives you a wealth of signal routing options - and is rack-mountable too.

 

Apogee MiC 96k

DISTRIBUTED BY: Sound Distribution

EXPECT TO PAY: $329

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Those recording at home looking for a great-quality mic specifically designed for the digital environment.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

MiC 96k is a studio-quality condenser microphone which follows on from the MiC, the first such device to make a direct digital connection to iPad, iPhone and Mac. The 96k version is capable of higher resolution (96kHz, obviously) and is very low noise. It’s a great multi-purpose mic that will be equally at home on guitars, vocals or whatever else you throw at it.

USABILITY:

A side-mounted gain control gives you easy access to input level adjustment, and a multicolour status LED lets you know when you’re pushing the mic too far. It comes with Lightning and USB cables for hooking into your gear of choice, and it comes with a table-top stand and a mic stand adaptor.

CONSTRUCTION:

All-metal construction means this mic feels pretty damn unbreakable, and the table-top stand feels plenty sturdy. I wouldn’t swing it around by the cord onstage like Roger Daltrey though, but then again, if you’re not Roger Daltrey you’re not really allowed to do that move anyway.

OVERALL:

A simple and effective method for getting audio from the real world into your recording software. It’s not designed to be an entire studios’ worth of mics but it does the job well despite - or perhaps because of - its simplicity.

 

Apogee Pro Tools Duet Interface

DISTRIBUTED BY: Sound Distribution

EXPECT TO PAY: $1095

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Professional recording engineers using Windows who’ve been dying to use Apogee hardware.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

With Win­dows users now invited to take advan­tage of the power of the Apogee Duet, the Avid bun­dle is sure to get a few eye­brows ris­ing. There has been lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion in the high end two-channel inter­face mar­ket for Win­dows users recently. Avid real­ised this to be the case and wanted to offer a high qual­ity inter­face to work with their soft­ware plat­form.

USABILITY:

This is a really sleek lit­tle inter­face. Built into a cas­ing that is about the size of many inter­face remote con­trols, you get max­i­mum qual­ity from min­i­mum desk space. A sin­gle rotary encoder that dou­bles as a but­ton is all that adorns the top panel, with the inputs and out­puts com­ing from a rear mounted break­out cable. Two XLR/TRS com­bi­na­tion ins and two TRS outs keep it nice and sim­ple. A head­phone out­put on the front of the unit allows for easy mon­i­tor­ing with­out tan­gling your cables. 

CONSTRUCTION:

Sleek, compact and classy. Spot on.

OVERALL:

For those of you look­ing for a sim­ple and com­pact front end device for Pro Tools, this new release from Avid is cer­tainly worth look­ing into. This almost reminds me of the orig­i­nal Mbox pack­age from years back, but with a greater focus on AD qual­ity so that you get the most from your software.

 

Focusrite Scarlett Solo Studio

DISTRIBUTED BY: Innovative Music Australia

EXPECT TO PAY: $369

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Musicians looking for a compact and easy way to record at home.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

Focusrite have taken their most compact interface and bundled it with a selection of tools to get you started right out of the box. Along with the included hardware, there is a wide range of software added to enable you to record, mix and produce the music you want. In fact, the software suite is one of the more impressive out there as far as bundles go.

USABILITY:

The Scarlett Solo interface offers two inputs: one XLR microphone input and another 6.5mm jack instrument input. The bundle also includes a Focusrite CM25 MKII condenser microphone, clip and cable packaged along with a pair of Focusrite over-ear headphones for monitoring and overdubbing use.

CONSTRUCTION:

Great build quality to match the great sound.

OVERALL:

The bundle brings together everything you need except perhaps a microphone stand and a little talent. Add those to the mix and you’re ready to record.

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