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Music Thing: Ultra high-end audio gear

Ryan Block, @ryan

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:

Maybe it’s just me. Sometimes it’s not about how the gear sounds, but how it looks. And the best looking stuff tends to be the stuff that you really don’t need and definitely can’t afford. Most really high-end studio gear comes in anonymous rack boxes with a just a couple of knobs and a VU meter. But once in a while, someone will come up with something so weird-looking that it’s geek love at first sight.

Last week Dolby (remember them?) announced their new Dolby Lake Processor. I’ve only a very hazy idea of what it actually does (it controls the signals going to different loudspeakers at concerts, and has an Ethernet port) but it looks great – four circular vacuum fluorescent displays, each surrounded by buttons, and the whole thing controlled by a separate wireless tablet.

Previous industrial design outliers included the incredible-looking Aaton Cantar X. It’s the mother of all field recorders – a £10,000 black box covered in waterproof faders, machined aluminium shuttle wheels and more circular displays.

And back in 1997, the slightly eccentric German audio company Quantec (their remote control system was called the Zombie Commander) made a digital reverb unit called the Yardstick. The front panel was deeply engraved, bright blue anodized aluminium, with two pyramid-shaped up/down buttons and one an enormous conical control knob made of textured aluminium, coloured indigo. If Willy Wonka made high-end audio gear, this is what it would look like.

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