2017 saw a number of innovations in terms of how musicians interact with both standalone hardware and computers. While there’s been far too much cool new gear to compile in one place (especially once you start counting Eurorack modules and mobile apps), we’ve put together a sampling of some of the year’s most significant hardware releases.
Also worth noting: as we roll into the season of rampant, unfettered consumerism, keep in mind that the most valuable resources for creating music are time and energy. Amassing more and more gear can often be a black hole for creativity, so spend your money (and energy) carefully.
With Elektron’s distinctive design sensibilities and approach to sequencing, the Digitakt somehow feels like far more than its objectively accurate description as a “sampler” might seem to imply. Triggering and sequencing is managed with two rows of plastic buttons that are less drum pad, more vintage computer keyboard, letting users dive deep into sampled audio in a way that feels fresh and exciting. The Digitakt is Elektron’s most affordable groovebox to date, and one of the most exciting new developments in the world of sampling.
One of Novation’s most ambitious products to date, the Peak is arguably the most high-end desktop synth the British company has ever developed. A polyphonic, analog-digital hybrid, it sounds lush and feels great to play—42 control knobs are designed for tweaking the shapes of its three oscillators, two LFOs, onboard reverb, delay, arpeggiator, and much more.
Expressive E Touché
Touché feels like some sort of unholy combination of an effects pedal, a Kaoss Pad, a mod wheel and a finger board, but the result is somehow incredibly elegant and usable. It features a wooden, touch-sensitive surface mounted on a springy, playable platform, letting you manipulate both hardware and software instruments over USB, MIDI, or CV. It’s incredibly unique and fun to play, bringing a new layer of dimension to the realtime manipulation of audio.
Native Instruments has created its finest Maschine controller ever, cramming in many of the features from the larger Maschine Studio and cheaper Maschine Jam into a portable, all-in-one production box that’s even cleaner and more intuitive than ever before. With two color screens, improved pad sensitivity, a built-in audio interface, and workflow improvements galore, it’s the best Maschine product to date.
Roland TR-08 and TR-09
Roland continues to dip into its past, and managed to hit those rusty old nails rather squarely on their heads with its new renditions of the classic 808 and 909 drum machines. Both just get things right, preserving the sound, workflow, and aesthetics of the original machines into smaller and more affordable renditions. The additions are few but effective—features such as a compressor on the kicks and snares, and 16 sub-steps for each step of the sequencer for more intricate drum programming.
Bastl Instruments softPop, a weirdo, feedback-y slider-based, patchable synthesizer.
Polyend Perc Pro, a series of electroacoustic drum modules that let you trigger acoustic drums (or any other surface) via programmed MIDI.
Sixty Four Pixels CV.OCD, a handy utility box which translates MIDI data into CV to get your computer and modular speaking the same language.
Dato DUO, a synthesizer toy for two, combining two sides for sequencing and modulating its gritty-sounding synthesizer. Exceptionally playful, designed for kids and adults alike.
We’d also be remiss if we failed to mention a handful of impressive new Eurorack modules, including Synthesis Technology’s E352 oscillator (a combination of the Cloud Generator and the E350 Morphing Terrarium), Intellijel’s Plonk (a physical modeling synthesizer), Make Noise’s Morphagene (a complex tape and microsound music sampling module), Eventide EuroDDL (beastly delay module), and Expert Sleepers’ ES-8 (a 12-in, 16-out, DC-coupled interface to pipe CV and audio between your computer and modular).