Mixdown’s Instrument Gear Guide – Part Two

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Mixdown’s Instrument Gear Guide – Part Two

Words by Mixdown Staff

Our picks for all the best synths and other gear to get these holidays

It’s that time of year already, where did the year go? We say that every year don’t we, but it’s suddenly the festive season once again, and if you’re anything like us here at Mixdown, there’s a good chance that you’re probably incredibly disorganised.

To prevent you from having to endure the agony of Michael Bublé churning out another frostbitten rendition of a Christmas carol down the aisles of your local department store, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide of all the hottest gear to keep your eyes peeled for.

If you’re planning to make these holidays one to remember, there’s nothing that beats the experience of receiving a brand new instrument. Whether you’re after a synth, keyboard controller, saxophone, or even something totally different, we’ve put together a guide to all the best musical instruments to consider in-store or online this month – dive in!

If you’re interested in any of these products, enquire to the respective distributor for more information!

Peterson StroboStomp LE

Distributed By: Amber Technology | RRP: $339

Recommended For: Stringed instrument gurus, pitch perfect fanatics, strobe enthusiasts, tuna fish

Features: With one of the largest displays on any stompbox tuner available today, Peterson’s StroboStomp LE offers something particularly special with this 75th anniversary Limited Edition version of their iconic StroboStomp range. Boasting 10 display colours, 100% pop-less True Bypass and buffered output modes of operation, as well as numerous other customisable features, Peterson offers a truly professional and unique tuning experience with incredible accuracy (true Strobe 0.1 cent accuracy to be precise). 

A standard 85mA current draw allows additional pedals to be powered from the StroboStomp LE and with an array of Sweetened Tuning included as standard, allows for numerous stringed instruments to be quickly and easily tuned up, specific to that instrument or type of tuning, no more guesswork required. What’s more, custom colours can be assigned to different tunings so visual distinction can be made between various tunings. A transposition range of -6 to +5 makes a wide range of instrument tunings (or drop tunings) all too easy. The StroboStomp LE’s frequency response range goes far beyond those of other tuners on the market and the stainless steel construction, solid 1/4” input and output connectors, and micro USB connector makes for a worthy companion for the most demanding playing conditions. 

Overall: Those wanting to step up their tuning game need look no further. A true icon of tuners, this limited edition anniversary StroboStomp LE is impressive, sporting all the Peterson bells and whistles. 

Find out more!

Gravity Picks Coloured Gold Series

Distributed By: EGM Distribution | RRP: $11.95

Recommended For: Players looking for a new sound, recording studios, makers, creators, and sound designers.

Features: Gravity Picks are just one of a handful of makers who focus their energy on making plectrums. We all use them, but often take for granted how the feel, texture, grip, and material affect our playing and sound. The Coloured Gold Series from Gravity Picks are Gravity’s top selling Gold Series material, now available to custom order in different thicknesses and colours.

Available with Mega Grip, Wave, or Standard grips, you won’t lose your Gravity Pick on a dark stage, and if none of those take your fancy, custom grips are available as well for your grip to be as complex or simple as you need it to be.

Overall: Gravity Picks remind us what an important part of our sound it is to strike the string in different ways with different materials. The tone of the pick is warm but articulate, bringing forward some of the punch and clarity that we lose when using the wrong pick. String noise is minimal, and the picks feel solid and the edges don’t wear like some with constant chugging.

Sonics aside, the texture, feel, and grip of the picks is great and what’s more, they’re available in custom designs if need be. You can order custom colours to match or offset your style, with colours ranging from Purple to Seafoam or a more subdued Grey. Often (literally) a throwaway item, Gravity Picks bring tone back into the hands of the player.

Find out more!

D’Andrea USA Ace Vintage Reissue Straps

Distributed By: EGM Distribution | RRP: $72.99

Recommended For: Guitar players, bass players, friends of bass players, family of guitar players, friends of… you get it.

Features: Looking for an easy gift for a musician? Straps never go astray, least of all a great looking one. The right strap can really compliment a nice guitar, and D’Andrea makes some of the best in the biz. The Ace Vintage Reissue straps feature embroidered finishes, leather ends and a stitched vinyl interior for supreme control. They’re 2” wide with adjustable length.

Overall: There’s something about photos of legends like Jimmy Page, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, or Jimi Hendrix with guitars strung across their shoulders. Their style and presence is undeniable, and these three, as well as any others can be seen with classic embroidered designs on their straps that D’Andrea goes to great lengths to reproduce and pay tribute to. The designs can be as simple as you like with the Big Sky or Summer of ‘69, or make a statement with the Peace & Dove.

The straps are comfortable, and the well-made leather ends ensure they won’t be slipping off your strap buttons. The straps themselves are slim with a thin design, but the extra layer of padding beneath the embroidery really does make a difference, being comfortable for hours at a time.

D’Andrea makes a huge range of straps in different styles, designs, lengths, and widths, but the Ace Vintage Reissue are some of the best looking, that’s for sure. A great gift to yourself or others!

Find out more!

Fender Amperstand Guitar Cradle

Distributed By: Fender Music Australia | Price: $35

Recommended For: Stringed instrument players using any sort of amp.

Features: The Amperstand is both a great play on words and the accessory you never knew you needed. Gone are the days of risking a guitar slipping when leaned against an amp, taping your picks to a mic stand or amplifier head, or losing the end of your cable behind the bustling backline of a small venue.

The Fender Amperstand is a simple rubber bowl with an indented crescent designed to cradle your guitar’s neck when the Amperstand is sat on top of your amp. With the Amperstand are both a shallow indent to store your picks, and a cable holder, ensuring nothing moves between soundcheck and that first count in.

Overall: The Amperstand is a great gift for a guitar player, ensuring they always have a lead and some picks around the house, and can quickly set their guitar down for a quick break or more permanently, the rubber cradle firmly gripping your guitar’s neck and preventing those strap buttons or glossy finishes from sliding on a hardwood floor or carpet.

It’s the little things that make music more enjoyable, and the Amperstand is a little luxury that everyone can find a use for, whether you’re giggin’ to thousands, taking a break between recorded takes, or noodling on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Find out more!

Arturia MiniFreak

Distributed By: CMI Music & Audio | Enquire for pricing

Recommended For: Synth lords, oscillating wizards, noise freaks.

Features: In classic Arturia style, the MiniFreak Spontaneous algorithmic synthesiser is something rather weird and wonderful. Its bold design and rich-sound scaping palette allow users to explore and refine the strangest of timbres with its powerful two engines, six voices and its (behemoth) 22 oscillator modes. Cleverly blending the beauty of the analogue and digital worlds, MiniFreak is near boundless in its expression, ranging from FM to Virtual Analogue and much, much more – create luscious pads, blistering leads, crunchy sawtooth sonic mayhem, or spooky vowel-like voices. Aside from lush oscillators and LFOs, MiniFreak packs in a glorious polyphonic analogue filter with HPF, BPF, and LPF types available, as well as a cycling envelope for unique modulation shaping and a packed to the brim sequencer and arpeggiator for creative stepped and rhythmic possibilities. To top off the insanity of MiniFreak, three stereo FX engines can be called up, with a massive range of flavours to choose from – deep modulation, trippy delay, and reverb, pulverising distortion and bit-crushing as well as EQ and compression. Every possibility is covered to allow one’s inner freak to shine bright.  

Overall: MiniFreak continues on from where the famed MicroFreak left off – taking sonic possibilities to a whole new level of potential exploration. The depth of the engines and detail of the voicing and effects are inspired, sure to leave users getting lost in their own creative dreamscapes. 

Find out more!

Numark Mixstream Pro

Distributed By: Electric Factory | RRP: $1,199

Recommended For: Budding to experienced DJs, producers, small club venues.

Features: With the sheer power and ease of use all-in-one DJ controllers are able to pack into one conveniently sized package, it’s no wonder many DJs are making the jump away from the formats of old. The Numark Mixstream Pro is a fine example of such a commanding device, with a wealth of input flexibility, deluxe screen size and built-in wi-fi for easy, onboard streaming access make this portable DJ controller very alluring indeed – to DJs both experienced and those on the way up. The intuitive touchscreen workflow makes navigation a breeze, saving those valuable seconds during a set, while the overall quality, feel, layout, and tactility of the Mixstream Pro with its 6” scratch wheels make for a very satisfying overall experience, both hands on and when diving deep through the touch screen. If the audio side of things wasn’t enough, the Mixstream Pro also has full DMX functionality, allowing for the control of DMX-equipped light, a true house party workhorse.

Overall: The quality, feel, and overall presentation of the Mixstream Pro leaves other lower spec’d controllers in the dust – this is just a cut above the rest in terms of quality and performance. From the platters to EQ and FX buttons and knobs, and of course the touch screen, the Mixstream Pro provides the goods. And for those enjoying the luxuries of Philips Hue Smart Home, this powerful controller interacts with this too.

Find out more!

Nektar Impact LX Mini

Distributed By: Sound and Music | Price: $269.99

Recommended For: MIDI masterminds, production novices.

Features: Packed with tactility and an intuitive layout, the Nektar Impact LX Mini is a MIDI controller keyboard with a lot on offer. 25 velocity-sensitive mini-keys with a choice of four velocity curves make tailoring the feel of the Impact LX Mini’s keyboard easy, and the dedicated octave buttons quickly expand the range of the keyboard, whilst the joystick boasts four modulation controls in one. When used with a DAW, the Impact LX Mini’s seven transport buttons spring into action, and as all buttons are MIDI-assignable, using the shift button doubles the number of assignments, and with Nektar DAW integration, up to 21 pre-mapped assignments can be made. 

Each of the Instrument, Internal and Arp/Repeat mode buttons instantly assign the panel to corresponding features, with the Instrument Mode button allowing the LX Mini to feel and operate like a hardware synth with its assignable buttons. Part 2 is a unique feature of the Impact LX Mini and allows users to, for example, momentarily jump up an octave and play a lead line while still retaining a bass part held down by the first layer. The eight velocity-sensitive pads round out the Impact LX Mini’s feature set.

Overall: A great option for those just getting into the world of MIDI controllers and DAW-based production and workflow. The tactile and easy to navigate layout makes for quick learning and encourages on the fly creative flare.

Find out more!

Novation Circuit Rhythm

Distributed By: Focusrite Australia | Enquire for pricing

Recommended For: ITB composers, sample-based production types, beatmakers.

Features: With the Circuit Rhythm, recording samples to hardware is easy. Its pad based workflow is fast and flexible while noticeably missing a screen which has become commonplace on hardware samplers, in turn making for a much more tactile and intuitive user experience. With 10 knobs along the top allowing for plenty of tweakability of all the important parameters – volume, tune, filters, and distortion just to name a few, the Circuit Rhythm’s layout is equal parts controller and sample/sequencer. There’s a bunch of easy to implement effects as well on the sampler including lo-fi tape, beat repeat, delay, reverb, and sidechain available on every channel along with a master compressor.

You can change up your beats in other ways too, like utilising the probability and pattern mutate features. Connectivity wise, there’s MIDI in, out and thru for connecting to hardware synths and the like, two inputs for sampling, two 1/4″ outputs and a headphone jack for making music late at night and on the go. There’s a MicroSD for saving samples and projects to and can connect to both Mac and Windows via USB-C to utilise their Novation Components software. This software allows you to load and backup packs, samples, projects, and grid FX.

Overall: All in all, the Circuit Rhythm is a superb, small form factor, standalone sampler that allows you to chop up and make beats, with an easy to use interface that lends itself to boundless creativity.

Find out more!

Alesis Harmony 61 Pro

Distributed By: Electric Factory | RRP: $399 

Recommended For: Keyboard enthusiasts, beginner Beethoven’s

Features: True to the Alesis aesthetic, the Harmony 61 Pro packs a lot of features into one package – with 61 touch-sensitive keys, a mammoth sound library, and all the bells and whistles for hands-,on creative control, including pitch-bend wheel, X/Y performance touch pad and DJ-style effects providing all the vibe! Aside from the wealth of sounds (580 to be precise), the Harmony 61 Pro also packs some rather inspiring additional modes, expanding the possibilities of creative expression. The DJ-style Mix Mode packs 30 unique styles, with 5 sections each, and the build-in sampler allows for creating fun and interesting arrangements on the fly – being able to take instruments in and out while playing, the ultimate composition companion! What’s more, the built-in microphone allows for sampling of one’s own sounds for further creative expression. Those wanting more practice tools, 177 built-in songs are provided with step-up lesson functionality, and being able to record performances to the SD input allows for even further possibilities. An abundance of onboard FX including reverbs, modulation, and slicer effects help create further depth and expression to users sounds and can be heard through the powerful 30-watt inbuilt stereo speaker system, headphones in or out to an external sound system via the 1/4” output. There isn’t much the Harmony 61 Pro doesn’t cover for the price. 

Overall: A feature-packed keyboard covering all the sounds and creative tools one could possibly need in a keyboard in this range. Perfect for beginner players through to the more experienced keyboardist. 

Find out more!

Chambord CAS-50 Alto Sax

Distributed By: KJ Music | Price: $1,995

Recommended For: Intermediate saxophone players, experienced players looking to make the move to alto.

Features: The Alto Sax is an important part of an orchestra, the richer timbre filling in the middle ground between the high-pitched tenor horns and big, boomy, bombastic low end instrumental like tubas. The Chambord CAS-50 Alto Saxophone with High F# offers a superior range from low, brooding notes to dynamic, emotive highs.

The Chambord CAS-50 Alto Saxophone, finished in classy Cognac, is a great option for someone looking to upgrade their alto sax. The bigger bell across the whole Chambord CAS-50 provides a louder tone with more resonance and harmonic information for impact and balance in all the right areas. The CAS-50 is made of brass, features a ribbed construction, double arms on bell keys, and Pisoni HT Pads for precise intonation.

Overall: Chambord CAS-50 Alto Sax would be a welcome gift for someone looking to take their playing to the next level. It’s a great step up from entry level saxophones, and would see a player being able to push their limits thanks to better construction, and a more refined design for pitch perfect playing.

Mother of Pearl buttons are a welcome addition as they provide a great look but a smooth touch for the player. The CAS-50 is available in a few different finishes depending on your preference, most of the CAS-50s featuring a beautiful engraved design to cap it all off.

Find out more!

Chateau Valencay CAS-22 Alto Sax

Distributed by: KJ Music | Price: $1,595

Recommended For: Beginner to intermediate saxophonists and students.

Features: The perfect introductory sax, the Valencay CAS-22 Alto boasts a ribbed construction which heightens the overall strength of the saxophone making it ideal for the daily haul from locker to school bag.

Visually, it boasts a striking gold lacquer finish providing that classic brass look, an engraved bell and body with the Chateau logo featuring on the bell, and mother of pearl finger buttons to avoid your fingers heating up while playing as some plastic finger buttons will do. 

Internally the sax boasts the super-reliable Pisoni pro pads to prevent air leakage, and Italian blued steel springs to ensure attentive response. This alto sax is in the key of Eb and features a high F# to extend the player’s range meaning even more versatility in the hand.

Like Chateau’s equally cool Chenonceau Alto, the Valencay CAS-22 also comes with a zippered backpack case, mouthpiece, cap, and ligature to attach the reed to the mouthpiece.

Overall: This saxophone will be a great gift for intermediate saxophonists or music students looking to be introduced to the wonderfully slick instrument. Its playing features instils reliability to those looking to take the next step in their sax playing, while ultimately acting as the perfect introduction with its durability and strength with the playing quality a bonus. 

If your child thinks they want to learn a different instrument to be ‘cooler’, just get them to check out saxophonists in any jazz ensemble, the coolest cat there!

Find out more!

Mapex Mars Maple and Mars Birch

Distributed By: Electric Factory | RRP: From $999

Recommended For: The drummer’s drummer, studio or live player, backline hire

Features: Having continually defined the benchmark of what a mid-range kit should offer, the updated Mapex Mars series once again sets the standard of a world class mid-range kit, with both 100% 7-ply European maple and 100% 6-ply birch offerings within the ever-popular Mars range. As expected, the proprietary Mapex SONIClear-bearing edges come as standard, increasing head and shell contact for clear and defined tone and allowing for a wide tuning range. The tom holders are also equipped with the SONIClear suspension system, providing maximum sustain and projection. With gorgeous lacquer finishes on the Maple and four new sparkle-wrapped finishes for the Birch versions, these freshly updated finishes are sure to entice even the most discerning of drum fanatics. Coming in a variety of configurations and sizes, both the Mars Maple and Birch comfortably cover the requirements of any user, whether it be for studio or live, from jazz to rock or metal. 

Overall: An impressive mid-tier option with superb shell quality, construction, and tone. Packed full of Mapex character and features, the updated Mars Maple and Birch kits are certainly worthy of any player, whether it be for touring, sitting in the studio or anywhere in between. As with anything Mapex, one can expect reliability and quality – a gift worth its salt in any discerning drummer’s eyes. 

Find out more!

Check out print edition #324 for our full gift guide!