I’d like to thank the Academy . . . Yes, it’s that time of year when the entire global music press put their heads together to pick their favorite products. It’s a bit like an Editor’s Choice, only with all the editors. The results sometimes lack nuance, and I wouldn’t take them as product advice, but they’re always interesting. See the complete results, but here are some of the categories we care about:
Pricey keys: All-stops-pulled beats out economy-sized in the keyboard and synth category. The Clavia Nord Stage, packed with synth capabilities (see Keyboard’s review), beat out the Roland RD-700SX and Kawai MP8. That makes some sense, as the Clavia has the longest feature list, but unless you’re a diehard Nord lover I think the Roland and Kawai are more likely what you’d take onstage with you, with an arguably better feel at a fraction of the price.
As for the Korg OASYS, well, that’s a ten-ton gorilla that deserves to win. Kong might have lost at the Oscars, but the OASYS is rightfully a synth for the ages.
Year of the emulated soft synth? Here’s the one that’s a bit more confusing: both the G-force Minimonsta and the Arturia Prophet V were nominated in the soft synth category, and the Arturia beat out one of the most impressive soft synths ever, Native’s Reaktor 5. “Too hip for the room” is the phrase that comes to mind: Reaktor’s new low-level Core modular sound engine and ground-breaking new synths are a category all their own, but maybe they’re a little too deep . . . Arturia’s melding of old and new in the Prophet V is at least interesting.
Digital beats vintage: Vintage emulation might have been winning out, but real analog and analog-style synthesis, in the form of the Dave Smith Poly Evolver and the Korg Radias, respectively, couldn’t outshine the software integration of the Access Virus TI. Hang on, I lost my train of thought, because I’d love to have a studio with all three. (The Moog would have won handily had it not been introduced at Messe; it’s a sure win next year.)
Digidesign sweep: Digi won recording software (Pro Tools 7), mixing desk (ICON), and via M-Audio, recording hardware (Project mix I/O). Recording software is basically a popularity contest, since the market is split between Digi and Everybody Else (Logic and Nuendo were nominated in this case). But the ICON is an impressive win, beating out the SSL and Neve. I think the purists got their vote split.
Ableton forever: Hint to anyone hoping to win a DJ software award: forget it. Ableton Live manages to sweep every award, in every outlet, in this category, period. Too bad there’s not a “laptop performance” category, but then, that wouldn’t have much suspense, either.
Predictable winners: Gigastudio, Vienna Symphonic Library, Native Instruments Guitar Rig 2, Genelec 8050A nearfield monitors . . . yeah, not so surprising, as these are all top-class competitors in their fields. (Though I think Kontakt is by far the more innovative sampler than Gigastudio in that category, even if that gets me in trouble with the Tascam lovers.)
A few surprises: What’s that? The Korg KAOSS Pad Entrancer VJ effects unit in the DJ category? Go, VJ superstars! (Maybe we’re onto something on CDM.) And is that the affordable Rode NT-2A ($400 for a great condenser) in the mic category?
An old favorite, reborn: Mackie mixers have long been beloved as the Everyman’s mixer. Now, they’re finally computer-savvy, with the Onyx. So it was nice to see this line win as the project studio mixing desk.
The impulse buy: Roland’s Handsonic, mystifying even the folks at Roland, I think, is a cult hit. These bongo-like digital controllers are loved by serious drummers, practicing drummers, and non-drummers alike: quality, fun hardware. And they’re a fun way of triggering software, too. The updated model has a bunch of extras; I might have to pick one up myself.