As this dreadful year comes to an end, it’s time to look back. Which studio gear has tickled our fancy? Are there any compressors, EQs or preamps that came out in 2020 and have what it takes to become classics? Let’s look back at a year that was … difficult, to put it mildly.
Unlike software companies, who, for the most part, were able to switch to teleworking with minimal interruptions, hardware manufacturers rely on hands-on factory work, a steady supply of parts and physical shipments of their products to us, the customers. There’s no doubt that they were (and continue to be) hit hard by the pandemic, due to supply chain issues, factory closures and the cancellation of nearly all trade shows except NAMM, which are important networking and demo opportunities for hardware people.
So let’s take a look at the outboard gear that did come out this year. Not surprisingly, there were hardly any new releases at all during the second half of the year. But let’s start at the beginning.
Warm Audio Bus-Comp
2020 was only a couple of days old when Warm Audio announced the Bus-Comp, a 2-channel replica of the famed SSL bus compressor. The quintessential ‘glue compressor’ has been cloned many times, but Warm Audio managed to do it for under 700 bucks. They’ve also added a couple of Cinemag transformers, which you can drive even without the compressor engaged.
The Warm Audio Bus-Comp is available from Thomann* for £649 / €698.
The Winter NAMM Show was the only one of the traditional industry gatherings that narrowly escaped the virus this year (it’s been cancelled for 2021, though). At the show, WesAudio unveiled its vision of a modern VCA bus compressor. Not only does the ngBusComp have all the essential features of a modern mastering compressor (stereo and M/S modes, relative channel linking, parallel compression, and then some). It pairs with a plug-in that lets you control and save all of its settings in your DAW. The audio is processed in the analog realm, with the added convenience of digital control.
You can get the WesAudio ngBusComp from Thomann* for £2999 / €3248.
AMS Neve AMS RMX16
This year’s NAMM also brought us AMS Neve’s 500-series reissue of the classic RMX16 digital reverb of the 1980s. One of the first digital reverberators, the RMX16 helped to define the sound of an era. Now you can have it in your lunchbox! The reissue contains all nine original algorithms and nine aftermarket programs (the latter of which were only available via the remote control).
The AMS Neve AMS RMX16 is available from Thomann* for £1355 / €1495.
Drawmer brought the 1970 2-channel compressor and preamp to this year’s NAMM Show in January. The successor of the 1960 offers two channels of preamps by THAT corporation with 66 dB of gain, separate mic, line and instrument inputs and ‘Big’ and ‘Air’ modes. The compressor section can be used as two mono tracking compressors or one stereo bus compressor.
The Drawmer 1970 is available from Thomann* for £1069 / €1199.
The award for the most likable audio startup this year must surely go to Tierra Audio, who first presented its eco-friendly range of analog audio gear at NAMM. A Kickstarter campaign followed in the summer. As of now, the range comprises a couple of preamps, two compressors (FET and VCA), an EQ and a summing mixer, all with wooden front panels and high-quality components. The gear is hand-made in Spain and shipped in sustainable Paulownia wood packaging. For each unit sold, Tierra Audio has pledged to plant a tree. Oh, and they sound very nice, too!
You can find a selection of Tierra Audio gear at Thomann*.
Black Lion Audio Bluey Limiter
For this clone of a one-of-a-kind 1176 compressor, Black Lion Audio teamed up with Chris Lord-Alge, whose modified, ’golden’ blue stripe 1176 served as the blueprint for the Bluey. According to BLA and CLA, the original unit was fixed using substitute components when original parts became unavailable, which gave it the special ‘mojo’. Now you can own a replica of this special compressor.
The Black Lion Audio Bluey Limiter is available from Thomann* for £899 / €975.
AMS Neve 8424
AMS Neve has been busy this year. In addition to the RMX16 and 1073 OPX, the company unveiled the 8424 analog mixing console. Designed to bring the 80 series sound to modern hybrid studios, the 8424 offers 24 channel faders and four groups. The dual-input channel strips let you switch between recording and mixing inputs without patching. The 8424 also offers dual 1073 preamps and two slots for 500-series modules, so you can build your favorite processing chain right into the mixer.
The AMS Neve 8424 is available from Thomann* for £21,890 / €23,555.
Heritage Audio HA-81A
The Heritage Audio HA-81A channel strip combines clones of two beloved Neve designs in a 1U rack mount unit: a 73-style preamp and an 81-style equalizer. The discrete Class-A preamp delivers 80 dB of gain and features Carnhill and St. Ives input and output transformers. Next is a 4-band EQ, whose high and low bands can be switched from bell to shelf. The two mid bands offer a Hi-Q mode and a total of 30 frequency selections.
The Heritage Audio HA-81A is available from Thomann* for £1085 / €1169.
Neumann V 402
Neumann played the teaser game last summer, slowly revealing its newest product in several enigmatic videos. Audio interface, monitor controller, preamp – we were left in the dark for a couple of weeks. It finally became clear that the iconic microphone brand was in fact working on a preamp, the dual-channel V 402. Apart from the integrated headphone amp for monitoring, its feature set is no-frills: Microphone and instrument inputs, phantom power, 20 dB PAD, low cut, phase switch. Its price, however, is right up there with the best of the best, which means that Neumann must feel pretty confident about its first preamp.
The Neumann V 402 is available from Thomann* for £2399 / €2580.
Rupert Neve Designs 5254 Dual Diode Bridge Compressor
The Rupert Neve Designs 5254 Dual Diode Bridge Compressor packs two channels of classic Neve 2254-style compression into a compact 1U chassis. The unified timing control offers six settings for various applications. Together with the FAST button, this gives you twelve different timing constants. The 5254 also offers internal parallel processing, a sweepable sidechain high pass filter and external sidechain inputs.
You can get the Rupert Neve Designs 5254 Dual Diode Bridge Compressor at Thomann* for £3333 / €3690.
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