Five days before Christmas? Yes, that’s when I usually begin my holiday shopping. This year’s music technology has brought plenty for us materialist musicians to adore. There are some great gifts to give the budding musicians in your life — or to buy for yourself if the various December holidays didn’t give you what you want. So, in that spirit, here are the favorite choices from the CDM staff.
Big winners on all our lists: delicious hardware from Moog, Nintendo, and Apple. (Boy, there’s a list of three beloved brands!)
Warning: This list of toys has not been tested on any realistic budget. Nor do we have any idea how to wrap most of this stuff. I sure hope Santa Claus is real.
Moog Little Phatty
Because its little and it sounds phat Seriously, its a Moog for the masses and anything that introduces the digital generation to the joys of analog circuitry is worth celebrating, cringe-inducing name and all.
Korg Kaoss Pad 3
There’s still room for hardware effects, especially when they come with this much visceral control.
Hofner Icon B violin bass
A real Hofner Beatle bass for under five bills! Let’s hear it for Chinese manufacturing.
NI Absynth 4
Still the elixir of choice for evolving soundscapes, now with a more streamlined workflow, and even more insane envelope control.
It scratches if you so much as look at it the wrong way but Apple’s cheapest notebook packs power previously reserved for high-end desktops into a computer capable of running every music program on every platform. Combine your purchase with a copy of Parallels and you can switch effortlessly between Logic and Sonar without even having to reboot.
Jomox M-Resonator Analog Filtermachine ($249)
The Resonator Neuronium’s seriously affordable little brother. The Neuronium is a $3495 neural synthesizer that I once described as “a robot ant playing the best of Tangerine Dream through your starship’s hyperspace drive.” Don’t have three and a half grand burning a hole in your pocket? Well, the M-Resonator is a filter box based on the same concept. It includes a differential envelope follower and the filters are “made from discreet parts and form a 24 pole lowpass filter transistor cascade.” The result is pure analog chaos.
eowave Sci-Fi Bug ($249)
Eowave is a tiny French company that makes wonderfully weird audio toys. Their Bug lineup includes four clever little boxes, but my favorite is this little 12 dB/oct stereo filter that’s driven by an 8-step analog sequencer. Perfect for mangling loops and resonating the daylights out of boring old softsynth parts.
The Future Retro Revolution ($699)
The Revolution is an honest-to-goodness monophonic analog synthesizer with a nifty 256 pattern sequencer. It includes sixteen preset 24-bit digital effects and bears more than a passing resemblance to a deep dish pizza sitting in a box. But that could just be because I skipped lunch…
These are all available from Analogue Haven, which explains why my wife doesn’t let me visit Pomona.
W. Brent Latta
Mac Pro “The Works”
Sure, my dual G5 does what I need and that’s why I haven’t replaced it. But boy, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to shave a few precious seconds (or minutes! ) off of my Logic LSO load times? Or maybe load up a full orchestra on a single machine, without having it choke due to lack of RAM?
Red Type B Microphone
Affordable, extensible, and sexy. Need we say more?
Nintendo Wii ($249)
Aside from the great game playing options, it looks like there will be some really fun musical applications for this little machine!
US$Whatever the Ebay Scalpers are asking.
Sound Devices 744T
Well out of my price range, but this thing is the field-recordists DREAM! One look at the specs and you’ll see why there’s no other portable recorder on the market.
Moog Little Phatty
A tribute to an industry great, and an amazingly fun little machine with HUGE potential.
I have a strong feeling my colleagues here have put stuff they want on their list — as well they should! But having used a lot of gear this year, I think I’ll turn first to items I’d buy someone else. And yeah, my list is the longest — sorry!
For anyone who doesn’t have Ableton Live:
Okay, I guess you know what this one will be. Live 6 was, for my own music making, the most important software release of the year. Racks finally make it easy to build performable sets of instruments and effects without a lot of work, complete with an absurdly easy split / cross-fade / switch / layer interface. I’ve seen a lot of musicians get started with Live and find it a revelation.
For the power musician: Reaktor 5
There have been lots of fantastic instruments, effects, sequencers, beatboxes, and soundmakers this year, in software and hardware form. But I have to recommend Reaktor, because it’s the one tool that you can use to build your own, by customizing a deep set of instruments/effects (with more from the rich user community online), or from scratch using various levels of building blocks. This version of Reaktor easily qualifies as a desert island product, especially with the just-released Intel Mac version. A desert island with a MacBook and a copy of Reaktor? Yeah, I could survive.
For PC lovers in need of an upgrade: Cakewalk SONAR Power Studio 250/660
Most audio interfaces bundle a grab bag of software, but Cakewalk’s Power Studio bundles feature the full Studio Edition of SONAR, my favorite sequencer on Windows bar-none, pre-configured for an excellent USB or FireWire interface made by Edirol. This would make a great gift for a Windows-loving musician ready to get into some serious recording; I’d opt for the USB-powered 250 model so you can play and record on the go with a laptop without a power dongle, or the FireWire 660 for someone who wants to record more channels at home. Just got mine, and will travel with it over the holidays to get some music making done.
For your DJ nephew/niece/cousin: M-Audio Torq MixLab ($129)
Finally, an affordable gift that will make just about anyone happy. Your novice wannabe DJ nephew can have a blast getting started spinning tunes with the included Torq software. Your guru VJ niece gets a terrific control surface with a crossfader. Yeah, we’ve heard readers gripe about “wannabe DJs”. Get over it: this thing is fun, and there’s nothing stopping you from using the controller to make original music or VJ. Everyone wins.
For your software-loving keyboardist: Novation ReMote SL
I won’t say too much about the SL, as I think that thanks to major improvements over the course of the year, the SL will be among my technologies of 2006. Suffice to say, this dreamy controller keyboard will integrate perfectly with software. It may not make any sound itself, but coupled with software it’s the dream synth that does everything.
And for me …
This has to be damned near the perfect mobile machine. Mac and Windows support finally frees you from OS angst. The magnetic power connector, case design, glossy screen, redesigned keyboard, and integrated camera really are better than competing hardware in this form factor from Dell, Lenovo, Sony, and others. No FireWire 800, and no high-end graphics card — but I say save your money and swap in a big, fast hard drive and load it up with RAM instead. I can’t think of a better no-hassle mobile music machine, and I want one badly. Black, please — in honor of my beloved old PowerBook G3.
I may be a computer and synth lover, but I like the feel of a piano, and even though I want to use it to control software instruments, Yamaha and others call this category “digital piano.” The CP33 finally hits the sweet spot: it’s luggable at 39 lbs., but it plays like instruments weighing 20 lbs. — and costing $1000 and up — more.
Nintendo DS Lite
I love the chiptune music making on the Game Boy, but I’m ready for a twist — wireless interaction with computers, and a super-bright, super-pretty portable game system that plays some truly brilliant game designs. Mix gaming and on-the-go music creation. And to go with it …
This hardware for the Nintendo DS is a hacker’s dream: USB connectivity, plug-and-play homebrew development and compatibility, and media storage. Launching wireless-savvy DS games and trackers? Priceless. Wish-list indeed, as this model keeps selling out. No worries: I’m sure it’ll come in time for my birthday on January 13.
And, darnit, I sure want a Moog, too. The Little Phatty looks lovely, but I’m still partial to the higher-end Voyager, and its compact companion, the Rack Mount Edition. Maybe someone out there has a major wedding anniversary or something and can blow the holiday budget. (Get one for each of you!)
Moog Theremin Kit
Fortunately, you don’t have to spend near this much to get a great Moog. Bob Moog’s favorite instrument, much as he loved the keyboards, remained the Theremin. The kit looks like endless fun: assemble the instrument (as you should, in the Theremin tradition — it’s how Moog himself got started), finish the wood, and then follow the instructional tapes to try to learn how to play (the hard bit). Theremin remains one of the most expressive instruments ever powered by electricity.