Gear Of The Year: Best outboard gear of 2019
It’s time to reveal the finest hardware outboard gear of 2019.
WINNER: Black Lion Audio Seventeen
When it comes to classic studio outboard like 1176, there have been plenty of remakes and clones over recent years. This versatile solid-state compressor/limiters can be used for everything from unobtrusive levelling of vocals and bass to dramatic dynamic compression. Black Lion Audio’s Seventeen is in no way a clone of it though, more of a reimagining. As we found out in our recent interview, this company produces unique twists on original gear, so Seventeen has all the original 1176 features, but adds new features, including a range of filters that can further sculpt the sound. It is, as the company says “the Black Lion spin on what the ’76 should have been”.
Seventeen is a single-channel (mono) FET compressor that features flexible input/output configurations and a wet/dry mix control for New York-style parallel -compression techniques to be performed. The extra filters include a five-position sidechain high-pass filter, a low-pass filter and high-pass filter on the processed signal.
In his tests John Pickford put Seventeen through a range of studio tasks. It made vocal tracks sound fuller and richer and found that Seventeen has bags of character. On drums John noted: “I’m able to create a multitude of kit sounds, ranging from tight and punchy at moderate compression settings to explosive, surging and pumping effects.”
From smooth levelling to producing wild, explosive sounds Seventeen is a fantastic advancement of the original 1176 and a very worthy winner of MusicTech‘s Best Outboard gear. As JP concluded: “This is hands-down the best 1176-style compressor I’ve used to date. Purists may scoff at features not part of the original UREI design, but this is a turbo-charged version for the 21st century. Anyone looking for a fully featured single-channel compressor to create almost any type of dynamics control from subtle to severe should put the Seventeen right at the top of their audition list.”
Highly commended: Cranborne Audio Camden 500 Series
British company Cranborne Audio is relatively new but already making a splash with some great products and richly-deserved awards. The Camden 500 is a 500-series microphone preamplifier offering both a transparent mic gain and two types of ‘Mojo’, which aim to emulate the sound of the colourful, vintage consoles. John Pickford tried both modes in a wide variety of recording situations and found it exceptional in all of them “Camden is a fabulous microphone preamplifier,” he said. “I would be raving about it at twice the price, but as it is, it’s practically a gift. I would have no hesitation using the clean signal path to make highly critical, natural-sounding recordings and, as you may have gathered, the Mojo controls offer a whole world of sonic enhancement.”
Thermionic Culture The Kite
Thermionic Culture’s The Kite is aimed squarely at stereo sources. It can be used to process single-channel sources, of course, but it can’t be used to simultaneously process two separate mono sources. The Kite is built to Thermionic Culture’s usual high standard, being weighty and nicely finished in the company’s traditional black. A transformer-balanced version in a purple finish is available as a special order, though in stock form, The Kite has ‘semi floating’ XLR inputs and unbalanced outputs. There is a quality and vibe with valve equipment that cannot be achieved with solid-state products, and The Kite is a perfect example. if your mix is great to start with, The Kite will really make it fly.
Warm Audio WA273-EQ
A 2U 19-inch rackmount unit, the WA273-EQ certainly looks the part, with those instantly recognisable Neve-style pots and a similar layout to the currently available 1073 SPX.
The WA273-EQ is an excellent all-round microphone preamplifier with a sublime equaliser. It does possess a healthy dose of the classic 1073 sound beloved of engineers for decades. 1073 style EQ is a wonderful thing and this aspect of the unit’s performance is faultless.
OTO Machines BOUM
BOUM, from France’s OTO Machines, is a hardware compressor/saturator/filter (or ‘analogue stereo warming unit’ as described on the company’s website) that appears to have something to offer producers of all types.
Even the most diehard software-based musician can use some hardware glitz, whether it’s adding something that software doesn’t do so well, or bringing the enjoyment that comes from physical controls. If you want to subtly boost entire mixes or individual tracks, or just smash them all into fuzz, BOUM is your new best friend.
Check out all the Gear Of The Year 2019 categories here.