Music Thing: Novation's ultra-cheap synth/soundcard/interface

Each week Tom Whitwell of Music Thing highlights the best of the new music gear that's coming out, as well as noteworthy vintage equipment:

Wait! Come back! Stop scrolling! Why should you read about a boring-looking grey synthesizer? I'll tell you why. This week, music geeks have been talking about two things. The first is the Bleep Labs Thingamagoop, the tiny, cute, handmade-in-America noise box with a strobing LED tentacle and surprisingly reasonable $100 price tag. The Thingamagoop represents one end of what's interesting in music gear at the moment -- fun, handmade, not necessarily very practical analog gear put together in garages by Make magazine readers.

Then there's this grey plastic synth. It's Novation's new Xio, which represents the other big thing happening in music gear: astonishing value for money. This thing is a USB audio interface, with phantom power and a pre-amp, so you can record using real professional microphones. It's a MIDI controller for racks and soft-synths, with a cool touchpad and joystick and lots of knobs. It's a nice-feeling (if short) semi-weighted keyboard (there's also a 49-key version). And, it's a real stand-alone analog-modelling synth, which you can tweak in your deckchair while it runs off 6 AA batteries. The Xio costs £229 (Maybe $350-$399 retail), significantly cheaper than it's nearest rival, the 3 year-old MicroKorg, which has mini keys and no controller or USB audio features. It's amazing.

Chinese manufacturing and cheap DSP chips have revolutionised the music gear business. Sure, this stuff doesn't have much soul, and it probably won't be collectable in 20 years, but it's making the average dorm-room studio a far more exciting place to be. Anyway, you can always invest the change in a small family of Thingamagoops.