The Sonic Joy Awards 2009

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2009 in a few words? A cool year for sound-design tools, as well as for reverbs. Hardware outboard emulations never sounded so good (unfortunately prices in most cases have considerably gone up), and performing tools got better, smaller and more affordable.
Here below you’ll find our picks of the year, but let me just tell you that this time we’ve even more Sonic Joy goodies to share with you. We’ve asked Andreas Schneider (the man behind Schneiders Buero, one of the most famous analogue instruments stores of the whole planet) to tell us about his favorite 2009 toys. You’ll find his choices here.

P.s: needless to say, but our Sonic Joy Awards cannot and do not want to be an “ultimate, ultra-comprehensive list”. I’m sure there’s better stuff around, that we had no time/chance to test. That’s what comments are for, just let us know!

Workstation

Symbolic Sound Pacarana and Paca
Hollywood’s favorite sound-design tool gets faster (meaning more suitable to real time processing), more compact and (just a bit) cheaper. Pacarana and Paca, made to be used with the Kyma sound design environment, are still the wet dream of many producers. Given technology now is cheaper than ever, I’d love to see a much more affordable (sort of nano) version. It would be fun to see more users and more Kyma around.

Controller

Native Instruments Maschine
Much more than a pure controller. Well designed, nice tactile feedback, and now even more effective, thanks to the latest software update. Maschine is a must for computer-based beatmakers.

Novation Launchpad
Grid-controller for the masses. The Launchpad is a perfect match for Live, and a cheap way (thanks to some smart hackers) to play with those monome apps you’ve ever wanted to try.

Akai LPK 25 and LPD8
It can’t get any better than this. Two very cheap, USB powered, small-sized but definitely usable controllers, that users can bring anywhere they need. Korg got the idea first, but Akai did the right thing with the LPK 25 and the LPD8.

Application

Celemony Melodyne Editor
Thanks to its DNA technology, Melodyne Editor is one of the few revolutionary software of these years. Now the challenge is making something really creative with it.

Ableton Live 8/MaxforLive
This year Ableton has been active on many fronts: a new Live version, new partnerships with hardware companies (Akai, Novation), and the long-awaited add-on, MaxforLive, developed with Cycling ’74. Ok, we’re still waiting for some of the announced new Live 8 features (like Share), but this is a major upgrade worth getting. Its integration with MaxforLive makes it a must for those seriously into sound-processing.

Apple Logic Studio 9
Evolution without revolution, but the new audio tweaking features alone make it really worthwile. Still the best all-in-one music producing bundle for Mac users, given its price/features/performance ratio (see our Logic 9 review).

U&I Metasynth 5
Metasynth gets many new features and stability improvements. An eclectic sound-design tool, still in a class of its own. I’d love to see a different GUI/workflow approach on it, it would make life easier to new users. Just be warned: once you start learning a few of its tricks, Metasynth can be addictive (your friends and your partner could hate it!).

Software fx

Audio Damage Eos
2009 saw the revenge of the algorithmic reverbs with several cool new releases (going approx. from 50$ to 1.500$!). We could have easily said Lexicon, but we decided to go with Audio Damage’s Eos because it has the best quality/design/cpu-performance/price ratio of the whole bunch. And, at the end of day, supporting smaller companies makes you feel better (p.s: Eos is a must for those into ambient music!).

Elysia mpressor
One of the most original compressors of our times, faithfully modeled and ready to be used on multiple tracks on your DAW. The mpressor can be an excellent all-round compressor, but to me it really shines on more experimental tasks, thanks to its unique controls.

Softube Tube-Tech CL1B
Until a few months ago available only to Powercore and PT users, the Tube-tech CL1B emulation by Softube is now a native plug-in too. Low cpu usage, easy to set, and (like his hardware counterpart) lovely on bass, vocals, and many other sources.

Spl TwinTube
We love saturation and we love gear that doesn’t need thousand knobs to sound good. This plug-in, modeled after the TwinTube processor of SPL’s RackPack modular, is clearly a winner (as with other Spl plug-ins, the code has been written by those wizards at Brainworx). TwinTube works great on many sources (try it for example on your drum-machine tracks, and report back). Just don’t overdo it!

IK Amplitube Fender
A great sounding package, with an impressive Twin emulation, at a very fair price. Keyboard players should try this, too (see our Amplitube Fender review)!

Hardware fx

Eventide Pitchfactor
A taste of Eventide’s harmonic magic in a stompbox. Once you get Pitchfactor, there’s a good chance you’ll start lusting for one of their top models soon.

Software instrument

Camel Audio Alchemy
Otherwordly sounds: this is what we love about sample manipulation synthesizers like Alchemy (actually I don’t know why developers even bother putting traditional emulation presets into them!). Alchemy is one of the few music tools that can give a sound to words like dreams, flow, liquid, abstract. Deep but rewarding.

U-he Ace
Urs Heckmann is known to be a workaholic. Last year he released a 2.5 update for Zebra (still one of the best virtual synth on the market), a solid fx bundle (Uhbik) with a great value-for-money (the latest addition, Uhbik-G, has made it much more inviting) and started working on a new project: a modular software synth. Ace is a small but powerful synth and a sort of preview of what we should expect from his forthcoming bigger brother, Berlin Modular. If you like analog-like sounds and patching cords, this one’s for you.

Hardware instruments

Korg Wavedrum WD-X
If you’re tired of making beats on some small pads (or, even worse, on a keyboard), try getting a proper instrument like this. Much more affordable than the original discontinued model, and worth getting even if you’re a traditional acoustic percussionist (see our Korg Wavedrum review).

Sample library

Tonehammer Waterphone, Propanium, Rust vol.2
This is one of the few (rare) cases where listening to some (incredibly good) audio demos and getting the feedbacks of some trusted friends is enough for us to assign an award. Yes, three titles instead of one here (and we could have probably added more!). We meant this as a tribute to one of the most creative companies around. Tonehammer’s list of products is impressive, and they seem to be on a roll, given the quantity and the quality of their releases. If you like peculiar and unique instruments, that can instantly give a cinematic touch to your compositions, run to Tonehammer’s website and check out their demos (and freebies!).

Toontrack Electronic EZX
Well, it’s only available to EZDrummers and SD users, but it’s really worth it. Featuring classic, circuit bent and resampled electronic drum sounds, lots of different kits, an integrated fx section, Ezx Electronic is a highly usable and quite original library (see our EZDrummer and Electronic EZX review).

Bolder Sounds Hammered Dulcimer Trilogy
It’s a revised version of a library released a few years ago, and now it’s even better than before, thanks to the new Kontakt scripts. Three models (Cimbalom, Concert Grand and Hammered Dulcimer) with a rich and fascinating “ancient” vibe. Unless you are the lucky owner of one of those beauties, get a copy of this library (see also our interview with Bolder Sounds)!

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