Table of Contents
We’ve rounded up a selection of customs builds and limited-edition electronics to help sharpen up your musical game, whether you’re a seasoned professional, occasional dabbler or someone who appreciates elegant design.
Ten tech delights for music makers
Erica Synths X Richie Hawtin Bullfrog
A collaboration between electronic artist Richie Hawtin, aka Plastikman, and Latvian instrument maker Erica Synths. Bullfrog is pitched at those starting out in the rich world of synthesis (a bit like Moog’s Sound Studio), allowing for the straightforward construction of sound and signal modules, connected with patch cables or the device’s bespoke voice cards. This way, novices can work out the building blocks of sound design.
Erica Synths X Richie Hawtin Bullfrog, price tbc, bullfrog.ericasynths.lv
Fender Shields Blender pedal
Fender has launched its first ever signature fuzz pedal, and the collaboration is a welcome swerve to the leftfield. The Fender Shields Blender is a collaboration between the iconic American manufacturer and Kevin Shields, guitarist and frontman with My Bloody Valentine. The pedal takes the original 1970s design and adds a few subversive circuits that’ll help you replicate the sounds – if not the style – of the famously reclusive and innovative Irish musician.
Fender Shields Blender Limited Edition, £449, Fender.com
Critter and Guitari 5 Moons Looper
Deceptively simple yet with limitless depth, Critter and Guitari’s 5 Moons multitrack recorder appears to be crafted from a solid block of wood. Controls are kept to a bare minimum whilst labelling is non-existent; this is an instrument designed to be learned and used intuitively, not by digging through a manual (all the instruments you need are printed on the back panel). Samples can be looped, layered and bounced together, effectively creating an infinite number of tracks and endless ways of experimenting.
Critter and Guitari 5 Moons, $325.00, CritterandGuitari.com
Polyend Tracker Mini
Polish boutique brand Polyend specialises in giving new life and form to sequencers and grooveboxes. Piotr Raczyński’s company has now released a new, compact version, of its esoteric Tracker. A hardware iteration of one of the earliest forms of music sequencing software, the Tracker Mini cuts the form factor down into a handheld device. Tracker Mini is a step sequencer, with notes and performance information entered sequentially and scrolling down the screen as a song is played. With onboard synthesizers, sampler and editor, along with controls to perform, mix and master tracks, the device is a true pocket studio.
Polyend Tracker Mini, $699, Polyend.com
Kiviak Instruments WoFI Sampling Keyboard
Another intriguing compact instrument that signals the ongoing blend of playful, toy-like aesthetics with serious studio quality credentials, Kiviak’s forthcoming WoFI is a sampling keyboard designed for sound design on the go. WiFi connectivity lets you import samples – or record them via the line-in or onboard microphone – and then mangle and manipulate them using built-in effects, modulation and low-fi re-sampling.
Kiviak Instruments WoFI, price tbc, Kiviak-Instruments.com
Endlesss Beat Machine
Endlesss’s Beat Machine is the ultimate studio toy, a full-scale arcade machine that houses a sophisticated set of beat-making software. All this functionality could probably be crammed into a more portable, table-top device, but the Beat Machine makes the most of its form factor with a retro joystick and buttons, as well as a large 24” touchscreen, onboard speaker system and plenty of connectivity. The company is using the device to promote its collaborative music software, also called Endlesss, and imagines it’ll be renting out Beat Machines for events and to creators. If you have the right spot for such a hulking device, 25 hand-made Beat Machines are now available to pre-order.
Endlesss Beat Machine, $9,999, Discover.Endless.fm
Akai MPC X Special Edition
Akai’s MPC series provides a more conventional beat-making experience. The first MPC (Music Production Centre), the MPC60, was launched in 1988, a collaboration between the electronics specialist and Roger Linn, the American engineer and pioneering inventor of the sampling drum machine. Akai Professional is now a subset of inMusic, the vast American conglomerate that owns a significant chunk of the pro music equipment market. This MPC X Special Edition is perhaps the ultimate standalone music workstation, with a workflow familiar to thousands of performers and producers. Boosted memory, a huge collection of plugin instruments and those iconic sample pads, make this a worthy celebration of 25 years of this influential instrument, found at the heart of many hip-hop productions.
Akai MPC X Special Edition, £2,049.99, AkaiPro.com
Sonicware ELZ_1 PLAY
Japanese manufacturer Sonicware have upgraded the ELZ_1 synth with a new version, the ELZ_1 PLAY. Packing a sophisticated feature set into a small form, with buttons, knobs and a user interface that brings to mind the work of Teenage Engineering, the PLAY version incorporates a four-track looper and a drum engine for the first time. Essentially the personal passion project of Sonicware’s founder, Dr. Yu Endo, the ELZ_1 PLAY is available in a strictly limited edition run for now.
Sonicware ELZ_1 PLAY, $599, Dr.YuEndo.jp
UNO Synth Pro X
Another update, this time from IK Multimedia. The company’s successful UNO Synth range is now enhanced with the flagship UNO Synth Pro X, an analogue synthesizer designed for inveterate knob twiddlers. An editor is also provided that allows you to program the synth just like a virtual instrument, before taking it out for performance.
UNO Synth Pro X, €499, IKMultimedia.com
Teenage Engineering Field Series
Finally, an appreciation for Teenage Engineering’s newly completed Field series of instruments and accessories. Meticulously designed and constructed, with price-tags to match, the full set consists of the classic OP-1 synthesizer (now in the enhanced ‘Field’ version), the TX-6 Mixer, TP-7 Audio Recorder and the CM-15 Microphone. As a portable sketchpad for capturing ideas, the series is unequalled, with the three new accessories garnering a cult following before they’ve even officially been released.
Teenage Engineering OP-1 Field (£1,799), TX-6 Mixer (£1,049), TP-7 Audio Recorder (£1,299), CM-15 Microphone (£1,049), Teenage.Engineering