Yes, it's the best of the rest in 2022! In all seriousness, this is the go-to studio gear of the year - the unsung studio heroes. Crucial bits and pieces we all use but that often do not get a fair share of the limelight.
Our shortlist of new products covered multiple price points, representing a variety of cornerstone production gear. Your votes have been counted, and we've put together a list of your top ten pieces of essential studio kit, from mixers to microphones to loopers and effects units.
1. SSL BiG SiX
This year's winner is the SSL BiG SiX, a desktop mixer from the legendary Solid State Logic that promises to bring the classic studio-grade SSL sound to your home studio.
The BiG SiX expands the capabilities of its little brother, the SiX, by packing in four mic pres, four stereo inputs, 3 band E-Series EQ on every channel, dual independent headphone outs and much more. The bus compression on SSL's classic consoles is widely believed to be second to none, and the BiG SiX captures this through its G Series Bus Compressor, which uses the very same circuit topology as the SL 4000 G-Series console's original design.
This full-featured powerhouse of a mixer is equipped with an audio interface with 16 high-quality A/D and D/A converters that make it a no-brainer for those looking to expand their home recording set-up, or handle in-the-box processing.
The M 90 Pro is a versatile, large-diaphragm condenser microphone that can cover a wide variety of applications in the studio, without emptying your wallet. The genius of the M 90 Pro is its one-size-fits all approach: it's capable of handling anything from vocals to drums to electric guitar with aplomb.
The microphone boasts an ultra-low self-noise level of 5.6db, a number more typically seen on high-priced models, making it highly suitable for anyone looking to record delicate acoustic instruments or create precise, detailed recordings of quiet sound sources.
Vocalists and podcasters, take note - the M 90 is equipped with a dual-layer pop filter within its onboard grill, removing the need to buy one of these alongside your microphone.
Teenage Engineering's products typically invite effusive praise, raised eyebrows and all-out criticism in equal measure, and the TX-6 is no exception. This bite-sized mixer is either an engineering marvel or an overpriced mistake, depending on who you ask.
One thing's for sure, though, and that's that the TX-6 is a beautiful piece of kit that looks and feels incredible in the palm of your hand. This super-flexible six-channel mixer is equipped with a ton of features that you won't see on many other similar units, including channel and master effects, a built-in tuner and a bi-directional filter.
The TX can double as an audio interface, and it's capable of recording directly to a USB drive, or sending and receiving MIDI data via Bluetooth. There's even a basic drum machine and synth engine onboard - imagine that.
Austrian Audio purports to deliver the best of two worlds with its OD505 vocal mic: the sensitivity of a condenser microphone with the performance of a dynamic capsule. It seems like you believe it's succeeded, having voted this puppy in at number four.
Could this handheld dynamic mic represent a challenge to the enduringly popular Shure SM58? We thought so, praising its healthy output level and an impressive range of features that includes an innovative built-in pop filter, the 3D Pop Noise Diffuser, and the inclusion of a rear-facing second capsule placed directly behind the first and connected in reverse polarity, in order to cancel out handling noise.
We welcomed the OD505's sleek and robust design, too, singling out its black and red finish as a classy touch of individuality.
Boss' OG RC-505 tabletop Loop Station is a ubiquitous piece of kit that's sat at the centre of many musician and producer's set-ups over the past decade, making it all the more exciting when the manufacturer announced the release of a second version this year.
The RC-505 MKII clearly didn't disappoint, coming in at number five in our top ten. The MKII's charmingly playful '90-esque design belies its pro-level capabilities, equipped as it is with a raft of updated features and performance-related tweaks that expand the possibilities of the original significantly.
Five stereo tracks, input FX and Track FX sections, a considerable onboard effects selection and a vast internal memory make this an essential option for beatboxers, vocalists and multi-instrumentalists. Those who like to jam would do well to consider the RC-505.
Sennheiser's HD 400 Pro headphones ticked all sorts of boxes for us this year - and for you, it seems, as well. Simple, no-nonsense aesthetics? Check. Plush, velour-upholstered ear cups? Check? Padded headband for maximum comfort? Check.
But where they really shone - and where they should be shining - is the sound quality. We found the HD 400 Pros to deliver a degree of clarity, detail and transparency that makes them ideal for music production and audio engineering, while offering enough character and richness to render them suitable for home listening, too.
How did they do it? Sennheiser will point to the cans' impressive frequency response (6Hz to 38kHz) and a newly redesigned 120 Ohm transducer installed in each ear cup, which packs low-end punch while mitigating distortion. They're open-backed, too, which'll avoid the muddy bass frequencies that closed-backed cans sometimes produce.
Roland's AIRA Compact series was one of this year's biggest surprises, as the Japanese manufacturer unveiled three budget-friendly music-making boxes that looked set to rival the Korg Volca range as cute but powerful sub-$200 instruments.
Your pick of the trio is the E-4 Voice Tweaker, a vocal effects processor that delivers plenty of bang for the buck in terms of sonic manipulation. This little number offers live pitch-shifting, formant-shifting, and harmony generation, making it a tantalisingly powerful machine for the price.
That's not all - the E4 contains a rudimentary looper, glitch effects and onboard reverb, rendering it even more useful for live performance and pitch-shifted jam sessions.
8. Tascam Mixcast 4
Did you know that each minute, two new podcast episodes are uploaded to the internet? With all that recording going on, the market for audio equipment aimed specifically at podcasters is growing just as fast, and one of the best bits of kit we've seen come out of this explosion is the Tascam Mixcast 4.
Building on Tascam's rep as a maker of quality home studio recording equipment, the Mixcast contains pretty much everything you'd need to put together a podcast episode or delve into the world of content creation.
When it comes to IO, we've got 14 inputs and four low-noise mic preamps, four headphone amps, two outputs and Bluetooth audio input. The Mixcast can be used standalone, in conjunction with your DAW (it doubles as an audio interface) or with the bundled Podcast Editor software.
9. Røde NTH-100
Rode's NTH-100 headphones are a joy to wear. Why no other headphone manufacturer has thought to produce cups shaped like the profile of the human ear, we don't know, but Rode has, and it works.
Comfort levels are maxed out, and ear cups are made even more luxurious by the coating of soft Alcantara and memory foam in all the right places.
Ear-pleasing comfiness aside, they're also exceedingly decent headphones, testing well in every studio scenarios and demonstrating a sound quality that we're more accustomed to experiencing on $500+ models. At this price, they're the best closed-back over-ears we've come across this year.
When we tested it earlier this year, we found that PreSonus' Revelator microphone wasn't just another USB condenser mic, but a whole lot more - and it seems like you agree, having voted the Revelator in at number ten.
The biggest revelation for us was the built-in DSP, that provides analogue-modelled processing with the same Fat Channel gate, compressor and EQ that Presonus offer with their StudioLive mixers. Presets are stored within the mic itself, making it easy to pack it up and access your chosen sound elsewhere.
PreSonus is a name recognised for its software as well as hardware, and the microphone comes with with its powerful Studio One Artist DAW plus Ableton's Live Lite, both part of a bundle worth $1,000. Consequently, this makes the Revelator one of the best budget USB microphones we've discovered this year.