The bittersweet process of lusting after inanimate music related objects you can’t afford showed no sign of going out of fashion this year. While the world of DJ equipment stayed largely static, and let's face it, it is going to be hard to knock iconic stapes like the Pioneer CDJ, Technics 1210 and Sennheiser HD25s off their perch, the world of synthesis continued to expand. Of course, if you're a modular freak, you can always rely on the modular cottage industry of envelope pushers to come up with a steady stream of ear twisters bedecked with fabulously daft titles like ‘Crazy Chicken Favourite Avocado Toast.’ Synthesisers however have lagged behind, content to plough ahead with the hardware classic revivalist boom, repackaging familiar ideas like FM or classics like the Prophet 600, but maybe with a USB port in a unit half the size. But there’s been shining lights. In 2023 game changers like the ‘Nina’ or ‘Osmose’ have offered genuinely new ways of twisting the space on its head. And with new machines, inevitably comes new music. Let's see where all these innovations take us in 2024. The game is still very much afoot! For now, here’s a rundown of the best music tech released in 2023.
1 MELBOURNE INSTRUMENTS ‘NINA’
Motorised pots on a synth? Yes, you have stepped onto the Star Ship Enterprise for a studio sesh. This monster desktop synth is the debut machine from an exciting new player and features cutting-edge moves across the board: discrete circuitry, hybrid analogue/digital oscillators, amongst many other head turners. But the headline stealer is still the pots whizzing around to reflect your presets which blows our mind every time we see it.
2 ABLETON ‘PUSH 3’ AND ABLETON ‘LIVE 12’
LiveLive has done well to survive the hardware revolution. Push 3 with its built in soundcard and ability to separate Live from the computer is creating all sorts of difficult conversations for owners of DAW-in-a-box devices such as the Octatrack. Push 3 wants to be the hub of your hardware studio as well as a standalone production machine, while Live itself is beta testing version 12, another update to retain the crown of electronic music’s most popular DAW.
3 EXPRESSIVE E ‘OSMOSE’
Thanks to synthesis, we’ve already blown the doors off the possibilities for sound in recent years. How we play those sounds has quietly emerged as another new frontier courtesy of MPE MIDI keyboards like Roli’s Seaboard. The Osmose takes things to another level on a hardware synth all playable by a weighted keyboard with unprecedented levels of aftertouch and side-to-side movement of each key
4 INTELLIJEL ‘CASCADIA’
East Coast meets West Coast on this first foray for Intellijel into the world of semi-modular ‘Easel’ style devices. Already a much revered staple of the Eurorack world, its arrival created much excitement amongst modular and synth lovers alike. The way it combines Buchla-style modular with more West Coast Moog-derived approaches is a thing of much sonic beauty.
5 PIONEER DJ ‘DDJ-FLX10
Serato’s recent stem mixing functionality brought a much-needed injection of excitement to the otherwise stagnant DJ controller market. Allowing you to split tracks into drums, bass, melody and vocals on the fly across four decks, the Rane Four controller was a gamechanger albeit one for those tied to the Serato platform. Pioneers’s Rekordbox toting devotees can now join in the fun with this device that incorporates both Serato and Rekordbox with all the usual features to be expected at this price point.
6 YAMAHA ‘YH-WL500’
Commuters might be all over wireless cans but in studios, the latency involved doesn't fill producers with confidence. Step forward Yamaha to present these wireless, mixing standard headphones that beg to differ. Less than four milliseconds of latency? No tripping over your headphone cable and pulling your studio down in the process? Yes, please.
7 POLYEND ‘TRACKER MINI’
If you’re used to the horizontal world of DAW production, the vertical approach of this very ’90s-tastic technology can seem otherworldly. The Mini however is a snug fit once you get the knack. More a DAW in a box than a Groovebox, it takes aim at Elektron’s Digitakt with stereo sampling, a 12 track audio interface and a microphone included, even if it doesn’t feel quite as durable.
8 NEUMANN ‘KH120 II’
A top-tier titan returns with a modern day rerub. Monitors that can tune themselves to your room are an exciting new trend and Neumann added this functionality to their much-loved 120s — active speakers designed with the small studio in mind, with great bass response and less distortion
9 GAMECHANGER ‘MOTOR SYNTH MKII’
You already have to thank drone motors for one synth in this list (the Nina’s pots use drone technology). Here’s another! The Motor Synth is so bonkers it sounds like something imagined for a Steampunk sci-fi film. Instead of oscillators, behold sound creating motors! Drone motors move so fast if tracked with magnets, the sound created can reach impressive audio rates, and thankfully Gamechanger’s tuition for a lightbulb moment has led to this wonderfully dirty sounding synth. It’s not for everyone. But then again, that’s what people said about the 303.
10 SHURE ‘SM7DB’
Livestreamers, podcasters or vocalists, this one’s for you. A solid, legendary dynamic mic now with a built in preamp means one less thing to buy and an extra 28db of gain for boosting quiet vocals if your audio interface can’t help. A cardioid pattern isolates your voice from background noise.
Gavin Herlihy is a producer, mix engeineer and music tech writer, follow him on Instagram