A vintage year for non-vintage gear
It’s always fun looking back over the past year and revisiting some of the exciting nuggets of musical innovation we’ve been offered over the past 12 months. And there has been some great gear for musicians to get stuck into too. For guitarists, the drive has been to shrink and simplify your rigs, via ever smaller nano pedals and micro amps. It’s also been a great year for home or bedroom players, with some genuinely interesting new products released which aim squarely at the musician who just wants to play at home but doesn’t want to compromise on quality and decent tones.
For studio heads, we’ve seen big releases from the likes of Native Instruments which have delivered cutting edge technology and and functionality. Meanwhile drummers have been provided with a way of dipping their toes into the world of electronic drums thanks to a big new launch from Roland, as well as the welcome return of a much loved (but now rebooted) old range.
So, without further ado, we’ll take a look at some of what we felt was among the best gear of 2014.
Native Instruments dropped not one, but two amazing new products towards the end of the year. First off, the latest iteration of it’s colossal Komplete package of effects, instruments and plugins launched, providing the most comprehensive toolkit any studio could ever want or need. We take a look at it in more detail here but, safe to say, it is a monster package with something for every type of musician or producer.
The welcome surprise came though with the release of Komplete’s accompanying dedicated MIDI controllers, Kontrol S. Thanks to a new piece of librarian software which shipped with Komplete, users could now scroll through the entire Komplete library using only the controller, with each and every plugin then automapping its settings and parameters onto a series of knobs on the controller. In reality it is incredible to use and truly makes you feel in command (or Kontrol) or a complete studio with just a few scrolls and clicks. It also features attractive backlit keys, which can be programmed simply to help you compose using different keys or scales. It’s not inexpensive, we should point that out, but it is a truly wonderful piece of engineering which will have a huge impact on your playing and production for years to come.
At the other end of the price and size scale is the natty little Fly 3 micro amp from Blackstar. Blackstar has done a terrific job of shrinking down elements of its acclaimed ID-Core series, including effects and different drive types, and putting it into a box so small you could easily sit on it and not realise it’s there. The most crucial part of any amp is how it sounds though, and the tone these things put out is quite superb. And, for a shade under £50, you’d be mad not to try one.
While the TR-8, and other AIRA models, were announced in 2013 to much fanfare, it’s only during 2014 that people were really able to get their hands on them. Once they started getting out into the real world, they started really flying off the shelves. For good reason too. The TR-8 in particular perfectly melded together the best of old-school beat programming with forward-thinking modern features like USB connectivity and connectivity with the other units in the range. A real return to form for one of the most venerable ranges in music history.
Slightly from left-field, this odd looking marriage between Ibanez and Korg effectively took a pretty basic Ibanez RG-style guitar and added in a Korg Kaoss Pad. And yes, it is as bonkers as you’d imagine.
Admittedly, it’s not going to be your go-to guitar for the next 30 years, but nor is it meant to be. It’s meant to be a new and novel way to experiment and see where your imagination takes you. And, for that, we love it.
Roland has long been the flagship name in electronic drums, thanks to a long history of releasing quality products aimed at the semi-pro and pro markets. Their V-Drum technology is among the most advanced in the world, and it is where most electronic drummers aspire to be when they are able to afford it.
Roland noticed this aspiration, and wanted to do something to bridge that gap and get more people using its gear. Enter the TD-1, which brought pro-level quality and features and entry-level prices. The TD-1 found fans in the shape of beginners and accomplished players alike, lowering the traditional barriers to entry with electronic drumming (i.e. the price/quality ratio) and make it a real candidate for second/home kit.
Finally, we have the Line 6 Sonic Port VX. 2014 saw a real glut of new and interesting ways in which to connect your instruments to tablet devices, but the Sonic Port VX was the pick of the bunch. Acting as not only a high-quality audio interface, but also a decent quality multi-directional condenser microphone, the VX brought genuinely solid audio quality to a portable recording arena, not to mention its accompanying iOS app which offered a range of extremely usable tones for use on the go. For what you get for the price, it’s also extremely good value and built like the proverbial brick outhouse.