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While few will reminisce about 2020 with great fondness, one positive to come from this year is an overwhelming amount of new tools for tinkering in the studio. From pedals built in collaboration between companies to synthesizers that revive classic designs, this is the gear that got our customers through the past 365 days.
There are no two ways about it, Joel Korte is doing genius-level work at Chase Bliss Audio. His Mood micro looper delay (built in collaboration with Old Blood Noise Endeavors and Drolo FX) was one of the most hyped pedals of 2019 and made Dustin McLaughlin's top ten list of releases last year. The love continues on in 2020 as the pedal tops our list of best sellers. This is the perfect tool for ambient music-making and creating one-of-a-kind sounds that are here today and gone tomorrow.
The PDF-2 Parametric Distortion Pedal (the older brother of the PDF-1), has a permanent home on the pedalboards of Josh Homme, Nick Valensi, and several other heavy hitters. The PDF-2 builds on everything that makes the PDF-1 great with a reduced noise floor, adjustable gain knob and dual foot-switch for clean and dirty channels. The expression input control accepts wah, phaser, and other tonal shifts seamlessly. It’s rugged, versatile, and possibly one of the most well-balanced distortion pedals boasting EQ and Boost features.
The Meris Mercury 7 is the pedalboard-friendly brethren of the Meris Mercury7 500 Series module for studio use. Very few reverb pedals offer the same depth of control over reflections, pitch, frequency response and decay. After connecting an expression pedal, the space-age possibilities become even more exciting, depending on which of the Pitch Vector options are chosen. This pitch setting can be mixed to taste. On top of everything, the Modulation knob offers a varying degree of control over an advanced LFO engine. The Meris Mercury 7 is highly musical and offers a fun blend of parameters to tune to perfection.
Vongon got its start by making a MIDI controller that could save presets on the beloved Moog 104-M analog delay. Since then, this Oakland, CA-based company has come out with its first proper effect pedal and they went hard. The Paragraphs is a resonant low pass filter and waveform generator. It has a beautiful sounding preamp, which can be as clean or fuzzy as you want. MIDI and CV round it out to make one of the most impressive pedals we’ve seen from a new company in years.
How often do you come across a pedal with motorized faders? Thank Chase Bliss for making a pedal that adjusts itself as you cycle through up to 30 presets and 10 banks instantaneously. The Chase Bliss Automatone is a preamp that adds loads of tonal character, edge, and thickness to anything that passes through it. It takes the grit of a Bensen preamp pedal and pushes your tone to the edge. The mid controls can be adjusted to a particular area of the midrange, and blended into the mix. Best of all, it’s built like a tank.
Honorable Mentions: Strymon Iridium, Electro Harmonix MEL9, Chase Bliss Audio Blooper, Meris Hedra and Universal Audio OX.
The Moog Subharmonicon is a semi-modular polyrhythmic analog synthesizer that employs a 6-tone sound engine and multi-layered clock generator to explore the musical relationships between subharmonics and polyrhythms. It shadows the walk and talk of a 70s-era step sequencer to create complex rhythmic patterns that morph over time. It’s perfectly suited to integrate with other Moog modules or third-party Eurorack systems.
The name “Mellotron” doesn’t need much of an introduction, but the compact version of its iconic tonal palette gets a lot of attention. The Mellotron Micro is the ideal size for smaller production setups or live rigs. It shares most of the primary features of the full-size version and a collection of 100 24-bit uncompressed sounds sourced from original tape libraries.
The Make Noise 0-Coast pulls inspiration from classic synth design concepts but doesn’t require patch cables to take advantage of everything it has to offer. It can perform alongside your MIDI controller of choice or without MIDI altogether. Both workflows produce interesting results that remain musical, or untamed if you choose to let it off the leash.
The Moog Matriarch might be the most exciting semi-modular analog synthesizer to grace the market in the past year. Moog applies its traditional architecture and design to a synthesizer that does a little bit of everything extremely well. The patching capability is extensive enough to satisfy synth virtuosos, yet it remains straightforward enough for newer synth users to get their feet wet. The 49-key layout and overall size make it the perfect fit for a variety of setups.
Few hybrid synthesizers pack so many creative options like the Arturia Microfreak. It commands a wavetable, digital oscillators, analog filters, a poly-aftertouch keyboard, an innovative sequencer, and up to 4 recordable automations in one small unit that takes up barely any desk space. It’s a great budget-friendly synth for beginners as well as experienced synth users who want to switch things up and experience something a little different.
Honorable Mentions: Behringer Poly D, Korg Minilogue XD, Moog Mother-32, Yamaha Reface CS, and Sequential Prophet Rev2.
Best Selling Modular Synth of 2020: Make Noise MATHS, Intellijel Quad VCA, Mutable Instruments Plaits, Make Noise Morphagene, Noise Engineering Basimilus Iteritas Alter and Erica Synths Black Hole DSP2.
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