To round off 2015, we take a look back at the overall trends in production and DJ tech this year.
When we looked back at 2014’s big gear trends this time last year, we were excited about the Roland AIRA range, the Eurorack revival and the widespread resurgence of interest in analogue hardware. The overall trends were similar in 2015, but there have been enough interesting developments to keep us all excited.
The vintage revival continues
Roland, who released the first few instalments in their vintage-inspired AIRA range back in 2014, surprised us with the release of the Boutique series in September. With virtual analogue recreations of the Juno-106, Jupiter-8 and JX-3P, the Boutique series is one of the more intriguing instalments in the ongoing story of manufacturers reviving old product lines, whether as like-for-like reissues or new models ‘inspired by’ past glories.
Is it a bad thing? Not necessarily. A lot of the results are exciting, even if the overall approach is inherently retrogressive. It’s hard to begrudge Roland, for example, making the sound of the Jupiter-8 (which will set you back a few thousand pounds for an original) more affordable and accessible via the £299 JP-08 module. But at the same time we’re in danger of heading in a direction where manufacturers are scared to design new products because they know they’d be better off rehashing old favourites.
We’re expecting more of the same approach at the forthcoming NAMM trade show, with vintage classics being revived and rebooted, but we’re also hoping to see similar attention paid to more forward-thinking designs. In the same way as soft synths like Future Audio Workshop’s Circle2 proved this year that it’s still possible to find innovative approached to plugins, we’d like to see some hardware synths that really push the envelope in 2016.
DAWs: minor updates are the new major updates
After a slightly lacklustre year for software in 2014, the last 12 months saw significant upgrades to some of our favourite DAWs. The irony is that the ones we were most excited about were considered incremental updates by their developers.
Logic Pro typically works on a slower development cycle than most DAWs, but Apple quietly kept the software up to date with the release of version 10.1 in January and 10.2 in August. Both were free updates, but taken as a whole they represent a big addition to Logic’s offering. Independent developer Camel Audio announced that they would no longer be supporting their hugely popular Alchemy plugin back in January and it was later revealed that the company had been acquired by Apple, so it only came as a small surprise that one of the biggest new features of Logic 10.2 was the Alchemy synth, effectively a new Logic-specific version of the plugin.
Two notable Ableton Live updates came this year, with version 9.2 in June and then the larger version 9.5 update coming in November. The latter was a big deal for a free update, with an improved Simpler device, new filter modes, better metering and waveform displays, plus clever wireless syncing in the form of Link. 9.5 was certainly a significant update, but the last full version update to Live itself was back in March 2013. We’d be very surprised if Live 10 doesn’t appear in 2016.
Ableton’s Push instrument was also updated, with the original version having been on sale for nearly two years. Push 2 is more about evolution than revolution, but was notable for the fact that Ableton ended their partnership with Akai (who produced the original Push), choosing instead to develop the second-generation unit in house. We were hugely impressed with the associated trade-in offer, through which users could receive a discount on the new model, with their returned Push 1 units being refurbished and donated to educational programmes. A great move on Ableton’s part.
Grooveboxes and hardware sequencers
One trend we didn’t expect this year was a resurgence of interest in grooveboxes. The success of Novation’s new Circuit and the interest in Korg’s new versions of the Electribe show that there’s still life in the groovebox concept, which looked like it might be heading for extinction in the face of software options and mobile apps (after all, when Korg offer an iOS version of the last-generation Electribe, it would be tempting to think that the shelf life of the hardware itself is limited).
The interest in grooveboxes tied in nicely with the trend for hardware sequencers. Built-in sequencers are essential to any groovebox, but we’ve also seen them in more simple synths and drum machines like the Korg Volca series, Roland’s AIRAs and Arturia’s synths. The standalone hardware sequencer trend has been bubbling under for a few years with products like the Arturia BeatStep, but it developed further this year with the BeatStep Pro and Korg’s SQ-1. We’d expect to see even more hardware sequencers hit the market over the coming year as more people realise how intuitive and effective they are for electronic music.
In the arena of digital DJing, the usual suspects continued the evolution of their product ranges, with Pioneer launching their Rekordbox DJ software and Native Instruments pushing the Stems format with the release of the Kontrol D2. All-in-one controllers also developed nicely, with the release of the Kontrol S5 and Pioneer’s XDJ-RX, but we were probably most interested in seeing the impact of Pioneer’s XDJ range. The CD-less XDJ-1000 had just been released when we wrote last year’s tech round-up and the 1000 didn’t make much of an impact on club setups in 2015, but it still generated a lot of interest among home users, the real target market. The introduction of the XDJ-700 late this year expands the product range downwards, which we’re pleased to see. The XDJ range probably isn’t expected to replace CDJs just yet, but it offers a more affordable option for DJs’ practice setups.
The other DJ release which really impressed us this year was the Rane MP2015 rotary mixer, announced back in January. Developed in conjunction with DJs including Derrick Carter, Gerd Janson, Ben UFO and Dixon, the MP2015 blends new and old tech in a really effective way, with top sound quality, the flexibility of a modern mixer and a lot of the character of iconic Urei and Bozak designs. It’s a great alternative to the popular Pioneer and Allen & Heath models. DJ mixer design isn’t an area where you want to see manufacturers reinvent the wheel, but it’s nice to see there’s still work being done to refine and improve such fundamental tools.