MusicTech Awards 2022: Essential Award
Two must-have plugin instruments and a time-saving mobile app.
We’re thrilled to grant this year’s Essential Award to Cherry Audio’s Elka-X. This virtual instrument emulates a rare piece of music history and, for a low price, adds an essential dose of old-school cool to your tracks.
Countless MusicTech readers have expressed their adoration for the Elka-X plugin, citing its low price, awesome sound and meticulous reproduction skill.
The Elka-X is an emulation of the Elka Synthex, a rare Italian synthesizer created in the early 1980s by designer Mario Maggi in collaboration with music instrument manufacturer Elka. Sadly, the synth didn’t get the attention it deserved in the 1980s, due to poor market positioning – Elka had long been associated only with organs, and struggled to make its shiny new synth known to buyers. The extortionate price tag didn’t help either. There was another problem: Yamaha. In 1983, the Japanese company’s DX7 swept up any synth stragglers and began dominating the market.
Today, an original Elka Synthex will set you back about $15,000 (£13,000), making it near unattainable. Cherry Audio’s Elka-X, however, costs a fraction of that. For ($39) £33, the Elka-X plugin will give you the feel and unique sound of the vintage unit, as well as additional contemporary features. It’s suitable for a wide range of genres and its interface encourages experimentation, making it an asset to any producer.
In our August review of the Elka-X plugin, we said: “You probably didn’t know you needed a Synthex in your collection, but once you try the Elka-X, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without one.
“The Elka-X’s sonic capabilities are a bag of surprises. While it clearly has a 1980s feel, it’s definitely different from the sound of Oberheim synths and Sequential’s Prophet series.
“The dual-layer, multi-timbral and polyphonic design coupled with the effects, arpeggiation, modulation and sequencing that work independently on both layers make for a seriously dynamic-sounding instrument that excels with melodies, sequences and deep, rich sounds. They sparkle with life, and it’s not just the sequences.”
Spitfire Audio LABS
If you’ve not already got a Spitfire Audio LABS instrument, we urge you to hop over to the brand’s webpage and have a browse. The British company’s LABS range is constantly being updated and is, remarkably, completely free. Hosted in a bespoke plugin wrapper, these virtual instruments are often created from unused samples on major product launches or are just smaller projects that the Spitfire team decide to undertake.
This year, the LABS range was expanded by a host of new, unexpected additions made either with rare instruments or simply sounds or vocals recorded in unusual ways and from unique places. Tape Piano, for example, was a hit: “A modern upright piano processed with vintage tape machines for that coveted lo-fi piano sound”. A recent one, Gaelic Voices, was made up of traditional Gaelic singers recorded inside the ruins of a 1960s seminary.
If you’re looking to add shudderingly realistic textures to your tracks, LABS is a must.
The Koala sampler app, developed by Elf Audio, is an awesome iOS and Android app for beatmakers wanting to sample, sequence and perform tracks. You can record up to 64 sounds or import sounds via MP3, WAV and even MOV files. It’s easy to export your tracks or loops as Ableton Live project files, or export as high-quality WAV files. There’s also a keyboard mode, so samples can be played on its chromatic nine keys.
In June, Koala received a new feature, Split Stems, which skyrocketed the app to must-have status for beatmakers. It instantly separates a sample’s elements into bass, drums, vocals and ‘other’, and then these can be pitched down, chopped up, panned or even undergo processing through a host of built-in effects.
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