Mixdown’s Picks: Gear of the Year

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Mixdown’s Picks: Gear of the Year

Words by Mixdown Staff

Putting 2022 in the rearview mirror, but not these awesome releases!

With the end of the year drawing ever so near, we felt it prudent to wrap up the whirlwind that has been 2022 with a little rundown of some of our favoured pieces of gear to be released, and there’s been some seriously tasty stuff indeed despite the component shortages!

To celebrate 2022 and turn in the new year, we’ve selected our Gear of the Year (GOTY) from interfaces to guitars to plugins to microphones, and everything in between!

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

SSL 12

Kicking off our GOTY is Solid State Logic. When a pedigree brand such as SSL release a 12 in / 8 out compact desktop style audio interface, heads are bound to turn, and they surely did this year with the SSL 12. Packed full of SSL character, style and vibe, SSL 12’s character is certainly derivative of its smaller siblings with SSL 2 and 2+, but with eons more connectivity and flexibility – purpose built for modern production workflow.

Four SSL mic preamps (two can be used as instrument inputs) – each including switchable 4K legacy analogue colour enhancement plus ADAT expandability (of up to eight additional digital audio inputs) provides a wealth of inputs flexibility, and four line-level outputs provides plenty of I/O. The included SSL Production Pack is jammed full of inspiring software, and being SSL 360° enabled provides the convenience of setting up headphone mixes and more with incredible speed.

It’s SSL on your desktop, say no more.

By Andy Lloyd-Russell

Oberheim OB-X8

For years, many a synth nerd has bemoaned the lack of contemporary flagship analog synthesisers that combined the most revered features of vintage synths while utilising modern technology where it wouldn’t compromise the final sound. The Oberheim OB-X8 is a premium eight-voice analog synthesizer that delivers not just a faithful recreation of one iconic Oberheim from the ’80s but three.

Using discrete analog components, the character of the OB-X, OB-8, and OB-Xa have been reanimated and users get the luxury of mixing and matching the sonic differences to taste. Beyond bringing the sound of the 1980s back to life, the OB-X8 features a high-pass, band-pass, and notch modes for the OB-X filter, velocity sensitivity and aftertouch modulation among other enhancements. The OB-X8 is the premier analog synthesiser on the market today, brought to you by Tom Oberheim himself in collaboration with the team at Sequential. Now who do I speak to about selling a kidney to get my hands on one?

By Dan Nicholls

Fender American Vintage II 1960 Precision Bass

Fender doesn’t shy away from modern instrument design, but it seems there will always be demand for their vintage designs. The American Vintage II series brings back painstakingly accurate recreations of specific model years from Fender’s illustrious history, and the 1960 P-Bass is one of the stars of the range.

It’s all here: the Strat-style headstock, the comfort contours, the pickguard-mounted electronics, the four-saddle bridge, and all rendered faithfully to the original instruments. There are more feature-packed P-Basses on the market and some of them might suit certain players a lot better than a vintage-style bass with a big round fingerboard radius and a glossy neck finish, but if you’re going for that original vibe, nothing else will get you this close.

By Peter Hodgson

Baby Audio IHNY-2

Parallel processing is a super popular way to compress and level out a signal, and while the send > receive > effect > return process is fairly easy to do in most DAWs, when you’re creating and chasing that sound, you usually don’t even have that time to waste.

Baby Audio create a suite of plugins for super practical and utility uses, and the Baby Audio IHNY-2 is a punchy parallel compressor with seemingly one simple control. Parallel compression is used to beef up signals while retaining the dynamic and transient of the original signal by having a heavily compressed signal blended with the original signal for the best of both worlds. The IHNY-2 (taking it’s name from Parallel Compression a.k.a. New York Compression) features a toggle for you to shift the compressed signal between wet, dry, min and max, allowing for maximum compression set to 100% wet, and anything below that with one fell swoop.

By Lewis Noke Edwards

Warm Audio Centavo

We’ve gotten a bit more in depth in our review of the Warm Audio range of pedals, with a focus on their Centavo in particular, but this one really is a winner. Warm know how to put together a product that pushes limits while paying homage to the sounds that’ve inspired us to play and Warm to create.

With simple aesthetics and even simpler controls, the Centavo is a transparent overdrive designed to add rich harmonics to your playing to help grit and earworms shine through the mix. The Centavo has three knobs for gain, treble, and output, with a MOD switch on the top for additional bass depending on your guitar and amp combinations. The gain control offers really pleasing and amp-like harmonics, while the output is a whole lot of super clean gain to clip the input of your amp if needed!

By Lewis Noke Edwards

Neumann NDH 30 headphones

The pursuit of sonic accuracy is an almost limitless and often maddening experience that has sent many a would-be producer off the proverbial deep end. German icons Neumann created the NDH 30 as a means of providing their world-class studio reference setup available anywhere via this portable headphone solution.

The NDH30s are an open back design with durable spring steel and aluminium construction and 38mm transducers working as acoustic dipoles to achieve an uncoloured signal, perfect for mixing and mastering. Beyond music and audio production, their precise stereo image makes them adept for VR sound design, gaming, and film applications. Designed to be comfortable for long days in the studio, NDH30s deliver incredible precision for any professional needing clinical accuracy in a mobile monitoring solution.

By Dan Nicholls

sE DynaCaster

sE Electronics certainly do a fine job of releasing exciting and pioneering mics, and the DynaCaster absolutely falls in this category. Built like a tank, with a superbly flat and neutral sound, (especially when compared to a lot of other dynamic mics), the DynaCaster is a big hit! Its versatility alone is worth its (very humble) price of admission, and with that in mind, its name is a little deceiving, as this thing is suited to numerous recording tasks, certainly not just for broadcast or podcasting.

The built-in EQ curves provide a wealth of tonal shaping without needing to reach for additional processing – with low cut and shelving options, as well as two high shelf options, and the included DYNAMITE preamp provides +30dB of transparent gain for use with any audio interface or external mic pre. Sure to compete with many other industry-favoured microphones costing considerably more – the DynaCaster is a welcomed newcomer with a lot on offer.

By Andy Lloyd-Russell

Yamaha Revstar RSP02T

Yamaha’s Revstar is a uniquely adaptable platform, blending modern construction techniques with a sleek look that feels both classic and new. It’s unlike any other guitar out there, and as soon as you latch on to one feature like, say, the horns that are vaguely SG-reminiscent, you spot another that you realise gives the guitar its own identity. And that means you can approach the Revstar with no preconceived notions about what you’re supposed to play on it.

The RSP02T features P90-style single coil pickups for a grittier, more brash tone compared to the humbucker-loaded models. This allows the Revstar to breathe more, making it perfectly suited to alternative, country, and blues styles but also giving it an impressive amount of cut and bite for punk and stoner metal. But it also has the playability and uniqueness to follow you as you invent new genres.

By Peter Hodgson

Neumann KH150

The rather humble yet rather popular family of studio monitors from Neumann have a new member – the KH150. Delivering world class performance, this enormously powerful yet compact studio monitor comes with an arsenal of DSP power at its core, allowing for room-adaptive calibration via Neumann’s innovative MA 1 Automatic Monitor Alignment system. A gorgeously linear frequency response of 39Hz to 21kHz (±3dB) and astoundingly high SPL performance of 118.6dB SPL @ 1m make for a wildly versatile studio monitor, wonderfully versed for tracking and mixing of all genres of music, but also perfectly suited for multi channel setups and broadcast suites. Its 6.5” woofer delivers 145W of power and 100W for its 1” tweeter.

Neumann have spared no expense with the KH150, introducing patent pending amplifier technology which delivers incredible Class-D power efficiency without sacrificing performance. New, exciting and world class – from one of the most distinguished names in audio.

By Andy Lloyd-Russell

Yamaha MODX+

Yamaha MODX+ offers all the sophisticated functionality of the flagship MONTAGE in a more compact and affordable package. A 16-track multitrack sequencer with multitimbral patches and FX, rhythms, and samples. Put simply, the MODX+ has everything a gigging keyboardist could ever need: incredibly realistic acoustic emulation, sound layering, FM synthesis, and dynamic FX to add the finishing touch. The FM-X synthesis is the latest and most complex incarnation of the iconic DX line of synthesisers from the 1980s, offering eight operators and 88 algorithms! It also features seven different operator waveform shapes to expand the scope and ease of FM sound design.

There’s also a modulation matrix, motion sequencing, an envelope follower, and an advanced arpeggiator. Workstations are often overlooked by synthesists, but there’s a lot to get excited about with the MODX+. If you’re a touring musician, its application as a portable DAW with an incredibly vast array of quality sounds make it a great choice.

By Dan Nicholls

Sound Particles Density

It’s difficult to achieve larger-than-life sounds in an arrangement or mix, as the randomness of real sounds, slight variations in pitch, panning, and space are what gives sounds their weight and mass. What’s more – it’s almost impossible to replicate this seemingly random set of minor adjustments that make something sound big and wide, but Sound Particles have thought this one through.

Density from Sound Particles aims to lift this burden from us, producing a plugin that uses a lot of this seemingly random information to adjust the output in a very easy-to-use interface. Density can make single instruments feel massive, or small crowds feel like raucous, writhing masses of adoring fans if needed. Minor pitch adjustments, delays, and panning accurately replicate the imperfection of a real ensemble, giving us the size, space, and weight of a larger-than-life sound.

By Lewis Noke Edwards

Lewitt LCT 1040

Whilst most tube condenser microphones settle for a dedicated power supply with variable polar pattern adjustment, Lewitt have a different approach that puts their prized LCT 1040 microphone system into a league of its own making. This incredibly unique and exceedingly versatile tube condenser mic is suited to a wide range of sound sources.

With four all-analogue tube characteristics available from Clear, Warm, Dark, and Saturated, dialling just the desired amount of tube flavour is a little too easy, or, if tube isn’t the vibe, seamlessly blend in the FET circuit, of course! The detachable remote control keeps a seamless workflow at the centre point of the design, with variable high pass filters, attenuation, circuit blend knob, and seamless polar pattern control, while the PSU block takes care of connectivity – with separate MIX and FET XLR outputs if required. In distinctive Lewitt style, the LCT 1040 comes with a surfeit of purposeful and well thought out accessories. A true studio workhorse.

By Andy Lloyd-Russell

Fender MonoNeon Jazz Bass V

When Fender makes a signature guitar or bass model these days, you’re not just getting a unique finish on an otherwise stock instrument: you’re getting a new creation from the bottom up. So it is with the MonoNeon Jazz Bass V, which is much more than just a five-string Jazz Bass in fluro yellow and orange for everyone’s favourite neon-draped funky bass virtuoso.

It’s a bespoke pro instrument with a pair of growly custom humbucking pickups, a unique neck profile, carefully curated electronics – heck, it even comes with a sock to drape over the headstock just like MonoNeon does. This is a bass designed to sound as loud as it looks, and to be comfortable and playable for long shows.

By Peter Hodgson

Pioneer DJ DDJ-FLX4

Building on the extremely popular DDJ-400, the Pioneer DDJ-FLX4 offers a compact, entry-level two-channel DJ controller at a budget price point. The FLX4 boasts several improvements over the DDJ-400, most notably in the form of connectivity and compatibility. Deciding which DJ controller to buy (and subsequently which software to be married to) can be a daunting prospect for budding DJs. The FLX4 works with both rekordbox or Serato, giving users the option of trying both to determine which system suits them best. Compatible with PC, Mac, iPad or android tablet and even smartphones!

Coming early 2023, you’ll be able to connect to the controller using Bluetooth or USB making house parties and bush doofs easier than ever. It’s truly the dawn of a new age, with Smart CFX offering an FX chain with a single turn of a knob and Smart Faders adjusting EQ and volume to a new BPM matched track. There’s also a microphone input if you want to sing, rap, or talk over your mixes, making the FLX4 perfect for streamers, selectors, and producers alike. Pioneer DJ are synonymous with quality DJ products and the FLX4 is sure to be a hit for newcomers to the decks.

By Dan Nicholls

UDO Super 6

The first thing you’ll notice about the UDO Super 6 is its aesthetic design which somehow perfectly marries the vintage heyday of synthesisers with the present. It’s a hybrid twelve-voice synthesiser using FPGA digital oscillators with analog SEM filters and the resulting sound is cinematic, lush, and dreamy. Users have the option of switching to binaural mode, which reduces the polyphony to six voices but separated into alternate sides of the stereo signal to add dimension and an inspiring imbalance to your patches.

Similar to the vintage Rolands its design is reminiscent of, the Super 6 operates almost entirely within the sonic sweet spot, meaning it’s hard to make it sound bad. It offers immediacy with its distinct absense of a screen and a knob per function tactile experience and its distinct sound is well on its way to being a modern classic.

By Dan Nicholls

Strymon V2 Lex Rotary

Strymon’s Next Gen range created a lot of hype industry wide, and for good reason. Strymon pedals alone are a stellar example of modern technology being harnessed to offer ultimate control over classic and vintage sounds, but the Next Gen range adds MIDI integration, USB, and TRS expression. 

One special pedal in the range is the Lex, a rotary effect pedal with options for mic placement, horn level, and rotary speed for that unique, modulation rotary effect. The Lex is particularly a vintage sounding pedal, offering the drive and fatness often associated with bulky Leslie cabinets, but with other options like Speed, Wet/Dry mix, Fast/Slow toggle and Ramp speed, which controls how quickly the rotary effect speeds up and slows down when using the dedicated toggle or an expression pedal. What’s more, you’ve got stereo input and output available for maximum width.

By Lewis Noke Edwards

Red Sound Elis.8

Okay, so you have your digital processor for your onstage guitar tones and it sounds absolutely killer through the PA system, but you’re missing the pants-flappingly tactile sensation of a raging speaker cabinet next to the drum kit. Red Sound’s Elis.8 is an active monitor with a flat response and 180W RMS of ear-bashing power specifically designed for guitar processors, and two of them can be daisy-chained in stereo if you wish to really supercharge your rig.

It gets super loud while remaining crystal clear, and the cabinet design can be kicked back, wedge-style, if you wish to place it in front of you like a floor monitor rather than in the backline. It’s also very robust and yet not terribly heavy, which is great news for those who went digital to lighten the strain of load-in.

By Peter Hodgson

Sequential Prophet Rev2

The Sequential Prophet Rev2 is the inspired second revision of its classic Prophet ’08, and continues to be the people’s choice when it comes to a professional workhorse synthesiser. All the modern comforts of sound design wrapped up in a sleek design that begs to be played. Its deep engine rewards any user that invests time in sonic exploration, from the easily assignable mod matrix to the four LFOs, you’re not going to get bored anytime soon!

The quality of the interface makes exploring the depths of the Rev2 a tactile pleasure and the key bed offers the perfect amount of springy resistance. Combining the reliability of DCOs with bitimbral patches, the Rev2 seems destined for touring musicians that need uncompromising versatility both in the studio and on the stage. It’s no secret why the Rev2 has been a best seller for a few years now!

By Dan Nicholls

Universal Audio Volt 476P

Universal Audio’s Volt family entry-level interfaces has certainly caused a stir since their release, and this year’s latest addition to the fam – the Volt 476P is no exception. Being the most feature packed of the bunch, the 476P provides stacks of I/O for its humble size, with four mic preamps, dedicated monitor outputs, four additional line-level outputs, MIDI connectivity and two headphone outs. Never being ones for delivering vanilla flavoured anything, each mic pre has switchable vintage styled modelling, providing some tasty tonal shape and subtle harmonics, plus each channel has switchable genuine analogue 1176 styled compressors included, with three different modes to choose from.

Being able to commit to sounds like this from a desktop-sized interface is pretty awesome and, I’d say this would be suited to not just those who are a little more old school in their production approach, but could well encourage younger musicians and producers to be a little more decisive in their workflow.

By Andy Lloyd-Russell

PRS Pedals Wind Through the Trees

There’s not much better than a flanger on a guitar or bass, the only thing maybe being two flangers! PRS dropped a new range of pedals earlier this year, the behemoth Wind Through the Trees really catching our eye.

Wind Through the Trees is a dual analogue flanger, designed to make the modulating effect clash with each other in the best way. Controlled mostly by a mix knob that toggles between LFO 1 and LFO 2, the Wind Through the Trees features independent Manual (delay that creates the flanging effect), Depth, and Rate controls for each LFO so yo can shape them separately, then blend them together for a unique sound. There’s a dry/wet blend for your tone after the flange sound itself has been concocted, with a high boost and regeneration control, looping he effect back on itself.

All the pedals in the PRS range are handmade in America, with through-hole-mounted and soldered components, and true bypass through and through.

By Lewis Noke Edwards

Lunacy Audio Cube

Immersive audio is an increasingly popular concept in music and film. At a super high level, immersive or 3D audio processes sound so it can not only move from left to right, but behind us and in front of us. It does this by using EQ to mimic the subtle treble rolloff caused by sound hitting the helix of our ear, and delays caused by the echoes of sounds that are in a room with us, but not directly within earshot.

Lunacy Audio Cube takes all this and packs into one simple-to-use interface, designed for sound design to be taken to the next level with unique panning, spatial effects, and movement. The Audio Cube is a simple to use interface that breathes new life into otherwise basic samples, sounds, and textures of your track. It can really elevate an arrangement with its ability to easily bring sounds to life.

By Lewis Noke Edwards

Sterling Cutlass CT50HSS

Ernie Ball Music Man has historical links to Leo Fender and you can definitely see his influence in the design of the Cutlass model, a double-cutaway bolt-on instrument with a two-point fulcrum tremolo and a definite California vibe. The more affordable, licensed Sterling By Music man version is a deceptively modern-feeling guitar in some ways, with a neck that feels more 2022 than 1954.

Its carefully voiced HSS pickup layout provides glassy cleans and gritty dirt, and the slightly oversized headstock stands out from most of the Music Man range as a fun little visual quirk (while also providing extra mass at this crucial location). But the colours feel straight out of a 1950s kitchen catalogue for a little extra charm.

By Peter Hodgson

ADAM Audio A44H

There have been numerous new and exciting studio monitor releases this year, but fair to say ADAM Audio have been at the forefront of new studio monitor introductions in 2022. Their new A Series family of monitors have brought with them some fantastic integrated technology, classic ADAM performance and reliability, as well as a couple of new designs that are sure to find themselves in a wide variety of production spaces.

The A44H enjoys that definitive ADAM Audio innovation in its design, with an elegant yet practical super low profile (ideal for many multi channel configurations), with its two-way design, which sports two 4” woofers and the covered German handmade Precision X-ART tweeter. The impressive frequency response of 46Hz – 45kHz @ -6dB provides deep bass and archetypal ADAM Audio crystal clear top end, with a very revealing and honest response. A wildly versatile studio monitor, indeed.

By Andy Lloyd-Russell

Audio-Technica AT2040

The saturation of the products in the podcasting, content creator, and streaming spaces is sort of ridiculous, but thankfully there are a handful of items that really do deliver in performance. Elegant and robust with classic Audio-Technica styling and reliability, the AT2040 is a fantastic entry-level dynamic microphone ideally designed for podcasters and alike.

Its hypercardioid polar pattern is maximised for tight and focused voice isolation – ideal for the voluminous bunch recording in less than ideal environments. The internal shock mount and pop filter add to the AT2040 reliable performance, with clear articulation and clarity at its core. With not only the practical side of its design being a cut above, the AT2040 looks gorgeous, ideal for video shoots and recordings where aesthetic is integral. Smooth, natural sound with and low noise performance is the aim of the game here, and the AT2040 certainly delivers at a price suited for the most modest of budgets.

By Andy Lloyd-Russell

Maxon OD808X

Where is the line between overdrive and distortion? The answer is, ‘somewhere on the Gain control of the Maxon OD808X Overdrive Extreme’. The starting point for this pedal is the iconic ‘808’ overdrive circuit developed by Maxon decades ago, and while that pedal is frequently used to goose an already dirty amp into glorious chug or to add a little sparkle and warmth to a clean sound, some players find it just a little underpowered for use on its own as a primary overdrive/distortion pedal.

That’s why the OD808X has a few circuit tweaks to bring its available gain and high frequency content up to a more aggressive level. And on top of that, it also has an extra 5dB of volume boost compared to a regular OD808. It’s still definitely an 808 but it’s angrier, it’s louder, it’s ruder, and it wants to fight.

By Peter Hodgson

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