We all have essential instruments, effects and tools that have become a staple in our setup. The versatility they bring to our creative process is unquestionably invaluable. The Essential Award is for the product that we think, if it’s not already, should exist in your workflow.
An essential item might be a handy app, a software plugin, a secret sauce mastering tool or a serious piece of sturdy studio ware. Koala, a Roland SP-style app built for iOS and Android by Elf Audio, for example, is a must-have if you’re into sample chopping. This year, it added a superb stem separation tool. Cherry Audio’s Elka-X plugin, meanwhile, provides a rare dose of warm Elka Synthex magic for a slither of the price. Spitfire Audio’s free LABS plugin is practically vital for any DAW too, offering an ever-updating arsenal of software instruments, introducing this year some quirky instruments such as a foghorn made in 1905.
Cherry Audio Elka-X
Cherry Audio’s Elka-X recreates a forgotten gem: the Italian Elka Synthex, which was created in the early 1980s by designer Mario Maggi in collaboration with Elka. At the time, the synth – as impressive as it was – failed to achieve acclaim due to its price point and the brand’s market position. While a physical Elka Synthex will set you back $15,000 today, Cherry Audio’s fantastic emulation comes in at a mere $59.
In our review, we said: “The Elka-X’s sonic capabilities are a bag of surprises. While it clearly has an 80s feel, it’s definitely different from the sound of Oberheim synths and Sequential’s Prophet series from the same era.…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.”
Read our full review here.
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.
Read our full review here.
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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