We're talking about the likes of monitors, mixers and microphones - studio essentials that can make or break the quality of your final mix. Naturally, 2020 has been awash with new products of this ilk, and we asked you to tell us what you think is the very best of them...
1. IK Multimedia iLoud MTM
Flushed with the resounding success of the iLoud Micro, IK Multimedia has gone all-in with its sound reproduction efforts with the iLoud MTM – a new design offering a totally neutral monitoring solution.
The iLoud MTM is a compact, active monitor, built of injection-moulded plastic. It measures 264x160x130mm and weights just 2.5kg. The ‘MTM’ of its designation refers to the D’Appolito configuration – in this case that positions a 1” back-chamber loaded tweeter (T) between a pair of 3.5” mid-range (M) woofers, plus a bass reflex port hidden around the back.
You can choose from three calibration settings: flat, custom, and desktop, which is a fixed filter to compensate for the standing surface. This custom setting is created via the incredibly effective iLoud-optimised version of IK’s proprietary ARC calibration system. This is built into the speakers themselves, with the measurement mic is included, and will compensate your room's acoustics by internally adjusting the frequency response.
The iLoud MTM is a remarkable feat of audio engineering in bringing such a surgical level of detail - and a brutally honest sound - to such a small format. It makes an ideal choice for those with crowded desks, and those who want to dive deeper into their mix.
2. Tascam Model 12
Labelled an ‘integrated production suite’, the Model 12 is a downsized counterpart to last year’s Model 16 and 24 devices, sporting the same faux-wood look and a layout that pays homage to the classic PortaStudios of the past.
It’s essentially a 10-input mixer with integrated 12-track digital recorder and 12-in, 10-out audio interface. Input wise, there are six mono channels, each equipped with one of Tascam’s Ultra-HDDA preamps, plus two stereo channels, the latter of which includes both mini-jack and Bluetooth inputs for the connection of smartphones or tablets.
All things considered, the Model 12 looks is a nicely flexible package for musicians looking to balance on-the-go recording with small studio or live applications.
3. Røde NT-USB Mini
In current times, podcasting and video casting are more popular than ever, and so the call for good quality, good looking mics for these applications is on the rise.
The NT-USB Mini is a compact cardioid USB condenser with tabletop stand, headphone output, integrated zero latency monitoring and 1-in, 2-out USB interfacing (24-bit 48kHz).
As you would expect from Røde, build quality is impressive. But the mic design also manages to be both stylish and functional.
With pretty good plosive handling, the NT-USB Mini is ideal for capturing speech, as you’d hope. It's an excellent compact USB mic for podcasting and beyond.
4. Kali Audio IN-8
The first thing you notice about the IN-8s is the physical ‘size’ of the sound. These are big monitors so in a small-to-mid-sized space they not only pack a punch power-wise but also dimension-wise. It’s like a wall of sound enveloping you in the most intoxicating way. But after that initial impact, it’s the detail that shines through.
On our trusted (that is professionally mixed) tracks, we could enjoy the layers of bass being distinguished where necessary (rather than muddied up which you find on cheaper speakers).
Their girth, power and physical size will be too much for many small studios (also consider the Kali Audio Lone Pines, which boast much of the tech in a smaller package), but for anyone else, with a space less limited than their funds, we can think of no better speakers for this kind of money. Quite simply: extraordinary.
5. PreSonus StudioLive AR8c
The AR8c is the smallest and most affordable of PreSonus’s highly-regarded StudioLive mixers. Pitched as a do-it-all device for small-scale live performance, studio use and podcasters, the AR8c combines an eight-track analogue mixer with a USB-C audio interface, onboard recorder and built-in effects.
Despite a few compromises, the AR8c crams a lot of flexibility into a neat, well-designed mixer. If you can live without faders and tolerate the middle-of-the-road effects, there’s a lot of flexibility here, and in a conveniently small and affordable package.
6. Korg SoundLink MW-2408
Any musician with an interest in mixing tech will know Greg Mackie’s name, and the fact that he and the equally notable, former Trident designer Peter Watts have had input into Korg’s latest consoles was always guaranteed to turn heads.
There are two models in the range, the 24-input MW-2408, on review here, and the MW-1608, which has an identical feature set but reduces the total input count to 16.
From a musician’s perspective – in particular an electronic/studio musician – there is a lot to like here. The MW-2408 looks great, with a smart ‘pro’ aesthetic and solid build quality. In sound and functionality terms, the analogue channel strips are good to work with, too.
If you can live with the lack of digital I/O, this is an excellent mixer with lots of features that musicians will love.
7. Audeze LCD-1
Headphones that cross into the audiophile realm - at least at this price point - sometimes tend to flatter the music a little and artificially boost certain mid-range frequencies. The LCD-1s seem very trustworthy though, and strike us as a good option for mixing sessions.
In fact, these are some of the best headphones we've used at this price point. There’s a huge amount of detail in the sound, and plenty of power, too. The only real downside are the leakiness of their open-backed design, which limits their use away from the studio somewhat.
For studio musicians on the hunt for trustworthy, quality headphones below the £500 mark, though, there are few options better than these.
8. Sontronics Podcast Pro
Sontronics’ Podcast Pro is a dynamic mic with a super-cardioid pickup pattern designed specifically with podcasters and home broadcasters in mind. With a stylish, slightly vintage-inspired design, it's certainly one of the best looking mics we’ve seen in this area of the market.
It’s available both in black and a striking metallic red and – being superficial for a moment - for those capturing themselves on video, a large part of its appeal will be this visual aesthetic, which certainly lives up to the ‘Pro’ name, even though the price is pleasantly affordable.
While spoken word is clearly the primary concern here, the Podcast Pro does a solid job at all-round home studio duties too. We had good results sampling found sounds and recording simple guitar parts. It’s not the crispest, top-end friendly mic, but there’s certainly versatility here, which means that the Podcast Pro punches well above the asking price.