Audio recording has become increasingly accessible since the introduction of personal computers and the internet. Yet, when it comes to the biggest names (and biggest money) in the audio industry, professional studios and high-end studio consoles are still the way things are done.
A beautifully performed, recorded and mixed studio recording is a piece of history. To achieve the best quality recordings, many professionals rely on their studio mixing/recording consoles.
With the information discerned thus far, it makes sense that there are plenty of console manufacturers on the market today and, unfortunately, many that have folded as recording from home becomes more and more feasible. In this article, we'll discuss the top studio console brands still active today to give you a good sense of who the big players are.
The Top 10 Best Studio Recording/Mixing Console Brands Are:
- Solid State Logic
- AMS Neve
- Rupert Neve Designs
- Wunder Audio
Of course, any “best of” list is subjective by nature. There are plenty of high-end console manufacturers in the world. I've done my best to make this as objective as possible. I've included not only my own bias but also the opinions of others (in real life; in online forums, and by which brands are found in professional studios).
We’ll get into each of these brands in greater detail to explain why they made this list. I’ll also include examples of consoles from each of the brands along with a link to their official websites and info on the companies' histories.
Solid State Logic
Solid State Logic is synonymous with high-end studio consoles and has been since the late 70s, developing its reputation as one of the greatest studio console brands ever.
With a keen eye for detail, the expert team at SSL continued to manufacture and design amazing studio consoles, sourcing the highest quality components possible. Pristine audio, clean yet function workflow, dependability and responsiveness are all certain characteristics of these studio consoles.
SSL boards are found in professional studios around the world and are cherished by the engineers and musicians who have the opportunity to work with them.
AMS Neve, which started out as Neve Electronics, is another brand that immediately comes to mind when thinking of the world's best studio consoles. In fact, the company's original founder, Rupert Neve, is credited as a pioneer of “modern” recording consoles. Though Rupert left the company in 1975 and the ownership of the brand has changed several times (becoming AMS Neve in 1985), this brand of studio consoles remains one of the best in the world.
AMS Neve draws from a rich history of analog and digital electrical design to produce perfect consoles. Superior sound quality, workflow ergonomics, outstanding longevity and powerful performance are all built into each and every one of the many AMS Neve studio consoles.
The company is lead by dedicated engineers with a mission to provide the best possible sound for more discerning creative professionals in the world. Recognized by many as one of the best to do it, I'd say AMS Neve continues to succeed in this mission.
Rupert Neve Designs
Rupert Neve Designs is a completely different company from AMS Neve though both were founded by the same man and both produce world-class recording studio consoles.
With some of the world's most brilliant engineers, Rupert Neve Designs crafts excellent consoles (among other products) based on proven classic design concepts and modern innovations. High-quality components, including custom-designed transformers, are part of these superior designs.
With such an immense amount of experience and design philosophy to draw from, it's no wonder RND consoles are among the best in the world.
Before we move on, I'd like to add a bit more information concerning the legendary career of Mr. Rupert Neve.
As we previously mentioned, Neve began producing high-end recording consoles with the Neve Electronics company, which was sold to Siemens and became AMS Neve. He also, as we've just discussed, founded Rupert Neve Designs which also produces high-end studio consoles.
Rupert Neve also played a major role in developing the high-end Focusrite Console (he founded Focusrite) and in helping with the excellent console designs of Amek. Focusrite no longer produces consoles and Amek is no longer in business, though if they had continued with console design, they'd likely be on this list!
Rupert has done plenty more in the audio industry worth mentioning, though I'll stop it here to keep with the theme of this article.
In the early days of modern studio consoles, API (Automated Processes Incorporated) was the go-to company for American-made consoles and recording equipment and the only big-name competition for the English brands.
To this day, API is a legendary company with beautiful mixing consoles in studios around the world. This manufacturer has been consistent in creating professional audio equipment of the greatest possible quality, pushing the boundaries of audio technology whilst doing so. This unwavering dedication can be heard, seen and felt in all API consoles.
API has a wonderful line of superb studio consoles to choose from, having something for everyone. From each component to the console as a whole, API ensures nothing but the best for its deeply-valued customers.
Trident Audio Developments has been one of the forerunners in studio console design since they release the legendary A-Range console in 1971. This was the first console from Trident and proved that the brand knew how to produce top-level studio equipment.
Today, Trident is one of the most well-respected console manufacturers in the world and is nearly always brought up alongside SSL, Neve and API in discussing the best studio consoles in the world.
Over the years, Trident has brought many highly impressive consoles to market including the first digitally-controlled analog console with the Di-An in 1986. Today, the company has several superb options ready for order along with plenty of models (new and old) in studios around the world.
The company's dedication to providing professionals with the best of the best is obvious when using, or simply listening to, a Trident console.
The foundation for the Series ATB Consoles by Toft Audio Designs (founded within PMI Audio Group in 2001) comes from a long history based on Trident Audio Developments that Malcolm helped in making (since 1967). PMI now owns both Toft Audio Designs and Trident.
With these 5 brands (and the 3 “bonus” brands of Focusrite, Amek and Toft), we could easily end the article having covered the best of the best. That being said, let's have a look at 5 more excellent brands to give you more information!
Helios is another world-class console manufacturer but isn't as famous as the aforementioned brands. Among professionals, though, Helios is a respected manufacturer of custom-made studio consoles.
I contemplated leaving this brand out for two reasons: it only deals in custom designs and its founder, Dick Swettenham, has passed away. However, the Helios trademark has been acquired by a new company (Helios Professional Audio Limited) that intends to continue producing Helios-inspired consoles for professionals around the world. On top of that, the boards sound and work so well that it would difficult to leave them out of a top 10.
Notable Consoles: N/A (custom-made)
The first time I had heard about Wunder Audio, it was about their clones of legendary vintage microphones. Little did I know, at the time, that Wunder Audio also produced some of the world's best studio consoles.
Wunder's obsession with vintage sound colours their products with a wonderful warmth, even when the company sources the best modern components around. This can be heard in their consoles.
The Wunderbar, which is the company's studio console, comes in a variety of starting points in which buyers can customize further to their ideal liking.
The company blends superior performance, technology, and perfectly-crafted form factors into industry-leading consoles that push toward absolute perfection in recording.
• Wunderbar (all custom-made)
Daking is a company focused in the production of high-end outboard gear for the professional and “pro-sumer” markets. They pride themselves on designs that utilize the best components, both new and old, and the best modern production techniques to offer the best value products possible.
In addition to the superb outboard gear, Daking is known for making world-class consoles. Its consoles utilize the best console technologies including Class A circuits, discrete amplifiers and high-end transformers to produce boards that outperform the competition in sound quality and longevity.
These consoles are built to order, allowing customers to customize their Daking to fit their studio requirements.
• Console MkII
Neotek is a division of the Chicago-based Sytek Audio Systems. Sytek produces professional microphone preamps and other outboard gear and Neotek is the brand of consoles.
Since the 1970s, Neotek has been developing and manufacturing high-end studio consoles for the professional market. Though the brand never reached the fame of SSL or API, the consoles are certainly among the best and some models are still in production today.
For those that have heard them, Neotek consoles sound amazing. For those that have used them, they are super user-friendly. Though not as common as the others brands, these consoles are certainly deserving of a mention on this list.
Let's end this top 10 with another superb English console manufacture.
Audient was founded by David Dearden and Gareth Davies, who had previously founded DDA (a respected, but now-defunct console manufacturer). The duo started Audient with the goal of designing a great-sounding, affordable and efficient analog console in a time where digital consoles were taking over (1997).
Sticking to their guns, Audient has become one of the best brands in the world, delivering innovative products to the professional audio industry. Chief amongst these products are the superb analog consoles.
The company draws on its impressive experience along with its forward-thinking team of engineers in order to bring some of the best studio consoles to the modern market.
These world-class modular consoles offer outstanding audio quality at relatively affordable prices and have been welcomed in professional and home studios around the world.
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