Hands-On Review:High-Performance Equipment For Audio Professionals
This article is packed with insider’s information about popular gear used in music production environments and professional recording studios today. It details the histories behind leading brands and how their audio equipment has influenced top industry professionals. The majority of the products listed below are available here at Musician’s Friend.
In addition to an incredibly wide selection of audio equipment, customers will find informative resources including in-depth buying guides, tech tips, hands-on product reviews, articles from respected music industry professionals, interviews with well-known artists, and over 450,000 customer-written product reviews and ratings.
Pioneers of A.R.T. (Accelerating Ribbon Technology), ADAM was the first company to incorporate a folded ribbon tweeter into speaker design, providing the smooth high-frequency response and excellent transient response that have given ribbon mics their legendary status in music recording. Almost immediately after their introduction, ADAM’s dual 10" S3a and more affordable ADAM P33A-A powered midfield monitors found homes in world-class studios such as Abbey Road’s Studio 3. Their award-winning ADAM A7 Powered Studio Monitor and A5 Active Studio Multimedia Monitor retain the superior sound quality that ADAM is known for at a price accessible to home studios everywhere.
Nothing embodies the L.A. sound and vibe like A-Designs Audio, whose mission is boutique audio made affordable. You’ll find A-Designs Audio products such as the Pacifica preamp in constant use by world-class engineer-producers such as Ted Perlman (Chicago, Bob Dylan), Ronan Chris Murphy (King Crimson, Terry Bozzio), and Tony Sheppard (Madonna, Kenny Loggins). Other A-Designs gear such as the Hammer EQ and REDDI tube DI have won the hearts of luminaries such as Dylan Dresdow (Black-Eyed Peas, Michael Jackson) and world-class bassist Reggie Hamilton, who relies solely on REDDI for his studio sound. Visit Harmony Central Video Library for interviews with A-Designs engineers and producers Dylan Dresdow and Ronan Chris Murphy in which they discuss their preferred music gear.
Apogee was founded in 1985 and initially made its name designing filters that solved many of the early problems associated with digital audio. Today, Apogee converters and related technologies are regarded as the reference standard in the audio industry. Products such as the award-winning AD-8000 and Apogee Trak2 Mic Preamp have become the benchmark by which digital audio conversion is judged. A new generation of Apogee products such as the Rosetta Series and X-Series converters, Big Ben, the Symphony System, the Apogee Ensemble FireWire Digital Interface, and Apogee Duet Firewire Interface promise to further advance the art of digital audio.
While Audient is fairly new on the scene, the company’s founders have quite a respectable pedigree. Cofounder David Dearden was involved in building custom consoles and private studios for John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Chris Squire of Yes. In 1997, he joined with Gareth Davies of Soundcraft to form Audient. Typ
ified by performance rivaling much more expensive gear, Dearden designs Audient products, such as the Audient ASP008 8-Channel Preamp to provide the most transparent sound possible, in keeping with Dearden’s philosophy that "color" can be added later, but never removed. Notable Audient users include Pete Townshend’s Eel Pie Recording and Abbey Road Studios, which recently added the Audient ASP510 Surround Sound Controller.
Wynton R. Morro founded Avalon with the desire to bring the art of music recording closer to the essence of the original performance. Avalon’s pure Class A recording systems provide the world’s leading engineers, producers, and musicians with state-of-the-art electronics designed especially for high-fidelity music and sound recording. You’ll find gear such as the Avalon VT-737SP Direct Recording Channel and Avalon VT-747SP Stereo Compressor and EQ in use by artists such as AC/DC, Paul McCartney, John Mayer, Christina Aguilera, The Rolling Stones, and Crystal Method. Recording studios using Avalon Designs gear include Abbey Road and Paisley Park as well as mastering studios such as The Lodge.
Founded in 1995 by Skipper Wise and Martins Saulespurens, Blue has grown from a desire to create a few hand-built mics for fellow musicians into a unique, multifaceted audio company with a prestigious line of award-winning microphones and accessories. Blue Microphones continues to grow and lead the way with cutting-edge design and technological innovation in the field of recording. Known for their incredible sound and unique shapes, Blue offers mics for all users, ranging from the affordable Blue Snowflake USB Microphone for Podcasters and computer-based recording to the flagship Bottle Condenser Microphone and its interchangeable capsules, which give you a mic locker full of coveted mics in one.
If you’re a fan of the Abbey Road/EMI sound – the gear used on numerous famous recordings from Abbey Road studios, such as the Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side
Of The Moon – look into putting some Chandler Limited gear into your rack. Chandler isn’t just offering reissues; it’s remaking the vintage gear from original design notes and circuit-board drawings provided by Abbey Road and EMI to ensure extreme authenticity. When it comes to adding character to guitar tracks, multi-platinum producer-engineers, such as hard rock/heavy metal icon Michael Wagener turn to Chandler’s TG-2 Abbey Road Special Edition mic preamp and Germanium Preamp/DI.
Geoff Daking started his career as a drummer for the ’60s psychedelic rock band The Blues Magoos before moving to the other side of the glass as an in-demand engineer. He later became a hugely successful manufacturer of preamps, limiters, and consoles. Following in the tradition of the great console manufacturers such as Neve and API, Daking has created an exemplary line of studio products including the Daking Mic-Pre/4 Band EQ and FET Compressor Limiter used by Grammy winners Joe Chiccarelli, Ted Perlman, and many more.
The name Drawmer is synonymous with professional signal processing in recording studios, broadcast, and live sound reinforcement environments. Founded in 1982 by Ivor Drawmer, whose passion was designing audio circuits, Drawmer revolutionized gating by introducing the world’s first "frequency conscious" noise gate, the DS201 Dual Noise Gate. In 1984 Drawmer released the Drawmer 1960 Mic Pre-Amp/Vacuum Tube Compressor, the first self-contained front end, assuring a
high-quality signal path with a distinctive sound. Continuing its tradition of innovation, Drawmer’s latest design is the Signature Series S3 Stereo Three-Band Tube Compressor that offers previously unattainable control over each band, providing precise spectral balancing.
D.W. Fearn is considered by many to be the ultimate tube guru (and he’s got the beard to prove it). Words such as "best" and "finest" are often used in professional reviews of D
.W. Fearn products. It’s all because of Fearn’s design philosophy: no compromise in sonic quality, reliability, or ruggedness is permitted. All over the globe, Fearn gear such as the D.W. Fearn VT-2 tube preamp, VT-4 EQ, and VT-7 stereo compressor are in daily use in the world’s best studios as well as in home project studios, helping top recording artists achieve the best possible sound.
Inventor David E. Blackmer founded dbx in 1971 with the goal "To get closer to the realism of a live performance." The Blackmer VCA (voltage controlled amplifier) and RMS detector changed the world of audio, yielding the dbx noise reduction systems, dbx compressors, and the dbx subsonic synthesizer. Though David Blackmer is no longer with us, his legacy lives on. dbx gear such as the dbx 160A Compressor/Limiter are used at the highest levels of recording and live sound reinforcement. But dbx also aims its expertise at the working musician with products such as the DriveRack PX Powered Speaker Optimizer, dbx dB10 Passive DI Box, and the dbx dB12 Active DI Boxes.
Earthworks, founded by the brilliant inventor and founder of dbx, David E. Blackmer, is focused on inventing new technologies for microphones, preamplifiers, and monitor speakers. Blackmer’s spirit of innovation is embodied in new Earthworks products such as the KickPad pad/EQ processor that provides "instant kick drum sound." Press reviews of Earthworks products are always superlative, but even more exciting are the excellent results people achieve when using Earthworks equipment. An example is drummer Jeff Campitelli, who is using Earthworks DK/25L DrumKit mic system on the Joe Satriani summer tour.
Empirical Labs was started in 1988 and functioned mainly as a recording studio and electronics consulting firm. The founder, Dave Derr, was also employed at the time by Eventide as an audio engineer and was one of the core designers of their legendary H3000. EL’s first product, the EL8 Distressor immediately took the recording industry by storm and rarely has a record has been made without it since. Refusing to rest on their laurels and in keeping with their mission to make products that work a little easier, a little better, a lot longer, and are fun to use, Empirical Labs recently introduced the unique 500 Series compatible DerrEsser de-esser and the ELQ Lil FrEQ Equalizer.
Originally founded by Rob and Scott Silfvast, Euphonix built its first digitally controlled analog audio mixing console in a garage in Palo Alto, California. In 1990 they introduced the Crescendo, which featured a digital control surface and remotely housed analog electronics. The Crescendo was a totally new design concept that allowed mix engineers to work in the "sweet spot" and achieved some of the best audio specifications ever seen. After 20 years of innovative products, Euphonix prides itself on a client list that includes some of the top studios in the world. But now, through their Artist Series control surfaces, the Euphonix MC Control and Euphonix MC Mix, Euphonix technology is finally available to home recordists as well.
Eventide had its start in a small New York studio. Cofounder Steve Katz asked cofounder Richard Factor to build a tape search unit. Another cofounder, Orville Greene, the owner of the studio, financed the initial unit. It was an immediate success, allowing Katz to engineer records solo. In 1970 Tony Agnello joined Eventide to work on the famous H910 Harmonizer that put Eventide on the audio industry map. Shortly thereafter, the H949 model Harmonizer introduced pitch change capability for doubling vocals along with other effects. Since then, Eventide processors such as the H8000FW Ultra-Harmonizer and Eclipse Multi Effects Processor have shaped the sounds of countless hits as well as the sound of guitars for virtuosos Steve Vai and Paul Simon. The lush Eventide sound is also available in plug-in form—the Anthology Collection for Pro Tools and stompboxes for guitarists, such as the TimeFactor Twin Delay.
In 1985 Beatles producer George Martin commissioned Mr. Rupert Neve to build a no-compromise mic preamp and EQ. This first product to launch Focusrite, the ISA 110 module, is still in use today. However, under extreme pressure to build consoles, Focusrite collapsed under the financial strain. Mr. Phil Dudderidge bought the assets of Focusrite Ltd including the Focusrite Range designed prior to 1989. Along with the ISA One Mic Preamp and DI Box that features the classic preamplifier topology from the original ISA 110 module, Focusrite has since added other units to the range such as the acclaimed Red 8 preamp, LIQUID4PRE 4-channel modeling preamp, and Saffire Pro 40 FireWire interface.
Since 1982 George Massenburg Labs has proudly borne the name of the man who invented parametric EQ. Massenburg’s unique perspective as not only an equipment designer, but also a Grammy-winning engineer-producer with over 200 record albums to his credit, has enabled him to design industry-leading equipment found in top recording and mastering studios the world over. George Massenburg’s engineering and producing credits include Billy Joel, Kenny Loggins, Journey, James Taylor, Randy Newman, Lyle Lovett, Aaron Neville, Little Feat, Toto, The Dixie Chicks, and Linda Ronstadt. Current products from Massenburg include the GML 2032 Mic Pre and Parametric EQ.
Audio engineer/designer Michael Grace originally began building custom audio products for a small, devout following of recording engineers and artists in 1990. Before long, the word had spread about Michael’s custom microphone preamplifier designs that were said to outperform anything else then commercially available. Based on an increasing demand, Grace Design was founded in 1994 with the mission to provide audio professionals with the finest tools imaginable. Grace Design products have evolved into a definitive collection of microphone preamplifier configurations and other unique professional audio products including the Grace Designs m101 Microphone Preamp that brings Grace’s transparency and beautifully focused sound to home studios; the Grace Designs Lunatec V3 Mic Preamp, for high-quality mobile recording, the m904 stereo monitor controller, and the Grace m902 reference headphone monitor.
If anyone could rival Doug Fearn as ultimate tube guru, it would be Aspen Pittman, author of The Tube Amp Book and founder of Groove Tubes. With a 40-year history in the music business, Aspen started out on the sales floor of Guitar Center in 1967 and founded Groove Tubes in 1978. Though Fender acquired Groove Tubes, Pittman says that he will still be involved with the company and that GT’s audio catalog of products will remain as well. Pittman also announced that the Groove Tubes SuPRE Microphone Preamplifier was just nominated for yet another TEC Award. Other award-winning Groove Tubes products include the highly acclaimed all-tube GT VIPRE and amazing Glory Comp compressor.
With the introduction of the world's first digital processor in 1971, Lexicon became the world leader in digital audio. Since that time, Lexicon has continuously introduced groundbreaking technology to the audio industry. Today, Lexicon processing is heard on over 80% of all recordings—broadcast, film soundtracks, and music alike. This year, Lexicon celebrates its 35th anniversary. For thirty-five years, Lexicon has had a dramatic impact upon the professional audio industry with products such as the PCM 96 Reverb and Effects Processor and PCM 91 digital reverb processor, as well as the home studio with the I-ONIX FireWire audio interface.
After eight years in Silicon Valley, John and Cynthia La Grou founded Millennia Media. John began working around Northern California as a classical music recording engineer in 1991. Realizing that the available recording equipment was limiting his ability to achieve great sonic results, John set out to design a mic preamp that could deliver a much higher degree of transparent acoustic reproduction. His first handbuilt "living room" design won against nine professional preamps in a shootout held by Home and Studio Recording magazine Since then, Millennia has delivered over 35,000 channels of HV-3 mic preamps. The company’s product line has expanded to include the unique tube/solid state Millennia STT-1 Origin and Millennia TD-1 Half Rack recording channels.
Founded in 1928 by innovator Georg Neumann, it’s hard to imagine a professional audio studio without a Neumann microphone. Many products introduced by the company have become icons of professional audio, such as the U 87, KLM 184 and the newly reinvented Neumann TLM 67, based on the classic U 67. In addition to countless audio engineers who use Neumann in the studio, users include world-famous musicians such as the Beatles, Natalie Cole, Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, and Beyoncé. Even small home studio owners who’ve dreamed of having "a real Neumann" can do so with the more affordable, award-winning Neumann TLM 103.
Royer Labs was formed in 1998 to bring David Royer’s unique, modern ribbon microphone designs to the world. This new generation of ribbon microphones proved to be perfectly timed with digital recording’s rise in popularity as engineers rediscovered their warmth, analog feel, and smooth sound. From their introduction, the Royer R-121 and SF-12 quickly captured the hearts and ears of world-class engineers and producers. David’s visionary designs continue today with "firsts" like the phantom-poweredR-122 and tube R-122V ribbon mics. Today, Royers are found in studios and on live stages around the world.
Rupert Neve Designs:
Though Rupert Neve Designs is a relatively new enterprise, it’s based on Mr. Rupert Neve’s 80 years in the audio industry. A legend in the pro audio industry, he was the third person to receive a Lifetime Achievement Technical GRAMMY, was named man of the century by Studio Sound Magazine in 1999, and was selected by his peers as the number one audio personality of the 20th century. He built the world’s first commercial transistor console for Phillips Recording Studios, London, and in 1970 designed the 1073, the world’s most famous and desirable preamp. His designs remain the most copied in the industry in both hardware and software. In 2005, Mr. Neve opened the door to his legendary sound with thePortico series, that includes the 5012 Duo Mic Preamp, 5015 Mic Pre/Compressor Module, 5031 Mic Pre/Equalizer, and the 5042 Tape Emulator.
Solid State Logic:
Founded in 1969, Solid State Logic, or SSL, is the world’s leading manufacturer of large-format consoles. SSL recording consoles are the
first choice of leading producers and are found in the most prestigious recording studios around the world. Recently, SSL redefined itself as a major player in the home studio world with the X-Rack family of scalable modular studio systems, which includes the highly affordable desktop X-Rack Mynx. It uses the same circuits and components as SSL’s high-end analogue consoles. The X-Rack Channel EQ module features identical DC-coupled processing as the legendary XL 9000 K Series console; the X-Rack Stereo Bus Compressor is the center console stereo bus compressor of the SL 4000, the world’s most successful studio production console; Duende puts the power of SSL’s digital consoles inside your DAW; and the Alpha Link I/O offers 24 channels of SSL-quality AD/DA conversion at an incredible price point.
Summit Audio’s journey began in 1979 with their foray into the world of audio engineering, which resulted in the TLA-100, the first product manufactured by Summit Audio in 1985. This quickly evolved into the iconic TLA-100A, which has imprinted its sonic signature on countless songs and albums. From the timeless classic TLA-100A to the cutting-edge MPE-200 co-designed with Mr. Rupert Neve, Summit has consistently provided the audio engineering world with great-sounding, solidly built, long-lasting, high-quality gear. And with products such as the tube/solid state 2BA-221 Mic & Line Module, TLA-50 Tube Leveling Amp, and TD-100 Tube DI, home studio owners can enjoy Summit Audio performance at very affordable prices.
Brothers Kim and John Rishøj founded TC Electronic in 1976. For several years they made guitar effects pedals before moving into the rackmounted product area. From the outset, TC Electronic pioneered new technologies to become a world leader in digital effects processing. An estimated 90% of professional recordings worldwide have experienced some form of TC processing. TC users include top artists, world-class recording and video post-production studios, radio, television, and the most prestigious concert halls. TC Electronics digital effects processors include the innovative Finalizer 96K, 1U mastering solution, the M-4000 Stereo Reverb, and the radical FireWorX multi effects processor. Plus, TC ports some of its best effects algorithms to the PowerCore X8 DSP rackmount processor for DAW users.
Initially Telefunken was a distributor that placed its badge on mics by Neumann and later AKG. Today, the original Telefunken Ela M 250 and 251 are still highly sought after and in use, though relatively few exist. In 2000 Toni Roger Fishman acquired the Telefunken logo and brand name to provide restoration service and build reproductions of vintage Telefunken microphones. In 2003 Telefunken|USA won a TEC Award for their exact reproduction of the original Ela M 250 / 251. Telefunken|USA has since received several TEC Awards nominations including one for the AK47 Studio Condenser Microphone. Not just adhering to the past, Telefunken USA has also developed new designs such as the Dynamic M 80 Handheld Vocal Microphone.
Founded by Tony Larking, who previously restored vintage Neve and Trident consoles for resale, TL Audio began manufacturing audio products in 1990, after Larking was introduced to David Kempson, a leading designer at Neve. As the demand for affordable new tube processors grew, TL introduced the EQ-1 Dual Valve Equalizer, now the Classic EQ-2. It offered reliable, flexible, great-sounding tube processing within the budget of most studios. Next came the famous TL C-1 Dual Valve Compressor, which shot to stardom as the mixdown compressor on Alanis Morissette’s multi-platinum Jagged Little Pill. Answering the need for even more affordable tube processing for home studios, TL introduced theIvory Series in 1998. The Ivory 5051 Tube Voice Processor has become the company’s bestselling product to date.
Toft Audio Designs:
Toft Audio Designs, though relatively new, has a highly respectable pedigree that dates back to Trident studios in London, where Malcolm Toft, founder of Toft Audio Designs, served as studio manager and recording engineer with credits including the Beatles’ Hey Jude, David Bowie’s Space Oddity, and James Taylor’s first album. His experience as an engineer is reflected in his designs, the most famous of which is the Trident Series 80 consoles that Malcolm designed in the ’70s that are still being used to make hits today. Toft has taken the classic sound, revered EQ, and functionality of the Trident 80 Series console and adapted it to modern DAW recording. The result is the ATB ATB 16A, ATB 24A Mixing Console, and ATB 32A analog mixing consoles, which offer incredible value to those looking for professional console performance but don’t have five figures to spend.
TRUE Systems is dedicated to providing the highest quality tools for the audio professional and enthusiast by offering products with exceptional sonic performance, superior value, and unique productivity features. Its founder, Tim Spencer, is no stranger to high-performance audio. He was responsible for the design and development of various amplifier products as well as A-D/D-A conversion for Burr Brown, makers of the highest performance DACs found in professional digital audio processors and consoles. Designed to provide detailed, transparent sonic performance, TRUE Systems products such as the Precision 8, P-SOLO Mic Preamp, and high-gain P-SOLO Ribbon Mic Preamp provide complete high-quality input systems for DAWs and live sound. True Systems customers include Sony Classical Recording, Lincoln Center, Skywalker Studios, and Warner Bros.
For over 20 years, TUBE-TECH has been one of the most prominent names in all-tube signal processing equipment. You’ll find their gear in the best recording and mastering studios around
the world. The company’s founder, John Petersen, is an electrical engineer who was factory trained at Solid State Logic, EMT, Studer, Sony, and Neumann. As demand for vintage tube gear grew in the early ’80s Peterson, under the name of TUBE-TECH, responded with the PE-1A—now the PE-1C—an all-tube equalizer based on the legendary Pultec EQP 1A. TUBE-TECH continues to design and manufacture a number of innovative all-tube outboard processors including the MP 1A preamp and the CL-1B compressor, a product that is found in the racks of pro audio legends such as Grammy award winners Al Schmitt, Joe Chiccarelli, and many more.
Founded in the 1950s by Bill Putnam Sr., the grandfather of modern recording (if anyone deserves the title, it’s Bill), UA was a natural extension of his unparalleled success as a recording engineer, studio designer, and inventor. Putnam was a favorite engineer of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and many other music icons of the time. Putnam s
tarted three audio manufacturing companies during his career, Universal Audio, Studio Electronics, and UREI. All three built products that remain widely used decades after their introduction, including the ubiquitous LA-2A and1176. In 1999 Bill Jr. and James Putnam relaunched Universal Audio. Now recognized as the leaders of vintage audio DSP modeling with the UAD-2 Quad Omni multicore powered plug-in card, as well as true analog classics, such as the LA-610 MkII Tube Channel and 1176LN Limiting Amplifier, Universal Audio is winning the hearts and ears of producers and engineers worldwide.