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29th Annual Dealers’ Choice Awards

Christian Wissmuller • ArchivesAwardsDealer's Choice AwardsDealers' Choice AwardsDecember 2021December 2021 • December 13, 2021

Product of the Year: Allen & Heath Avantis

With a fourth consecutive lap around the winner’s circle for Allen & Heath’s wildly popular mixers, it’s looking more and more like a decisive stranglehold in this most sought-after DCA category. Drawing upon horsepower provided by the XCVI Core (25 billion operations per second), developed by Allen & Heath using next-gen FPGA, Avantis delivers 64 full processing inputs and 12 stereo FX returns, 42 bus with configurable mix architecture, a nearly limitless mix headroom courtesy of a 96bit accumulator, variable bit depth, and unbeaten latency (.7ms) – all at a price-point well below most of the competition. Whether serving as the sound reinforcement backbone of major live performing acts, network television broadcasts, theater productions around the globe, or the local high school, Allen & Heath’s Avantis is the go-to product for many industry professionals. Mid-2021 saw the release of Avantis firmware V1.1, a major upgrade featuring Avantis Director software, new dPack processors, and workflow improvements. To borrow a phrase from the company, itself: with all these features at a reasonable retail price and boasting impeccable build quality, the Allen & Heath Avantis truly does represent “a small step to a giant leap.”


Accessory Line of the Year: Gator Cases

It takes a lot to unseat a long-running winner in any category, but Gator had the goods (literally!) to do so in 2021 and MI retailers handed the company a decisive win in this crowded group. In addition to offering what you’d likely expect – cases, stands, pedalboards, power supplies, and the like – Gator has also emerged as a pioneer in the development of face masks and instrument bell covers, allowing both student musicians and professional performers to continue to hone and share their craft during these challenging times.


Acoustic Guitar of the Year: Martin D-35

Versatile, powerful, gorgeous – the classic Martin D-35 took home top honors this year as “Acoustic Guitar of the Year,” according to MI retailers who took part in the 2021 DCA voting. The iconic Dreadnaught shape, expressive East Indian rosewood, Sitka spruce, and antique white binding combine to make this looker an icon (Hey, are you going to take issue with Johnny Cash’s guitar of choice?), plus the quarter-inch straight bracing gives the D-35 balance and potency that owners of other acoustic six-strings can only dream of.


Acoustic Piano Line of the Year: Steinway & Sons

Once more, retailers singled out what is, for many, the only high-end piano brand worth discussing. While the flagship Steinway line gets the majority of the spotlight, the company also offers the popular Boston and Essex lines, providing lower-cost options for discerning customers.


Amplifier of the Year: Fender

Another repeat winner, as we noted last year, “Fender amps are tough to beat.” While you can’t go wrong with the classics – Princeton, ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb, Twin, Hot Rod Deluxe, Blues Junior IV, et cetera – FMIC also produces impressively cutting-edge models such as the Mustang LT-25, Mustang Micro (what a fantastic headphone amp!), Acoustasonic, and others that appeal to players of all experience levels and budgets.


Band & Orchestra Line of the Year: 
Buffet Crampon

With an impressive line of finely crafted clarinets (global market leader in the production of clarinets of the Boehm system), saxophones, oboes, bassoon, and English horn, as well as a highly regarded selection of accessories, it’s no surprise that Buffet Crampon walked away with a commanding win in this group. Add to that a number of other sought-after brands that exist under the “Buffet Crampon umbrella” – Verne Q. Powell, Besson, and Rigoutat, to name just a few – and it becomes even more clear why this brand was the top B&O vote-getter in 2021.


DJ Line of the Year: Pioneer DJ

“DJ Line of the Year” is consistently an extremely tight race and 2021 was no exception. In the end, though, Pioneer DJ’s extensive line of popular mixers, decks, all-in-one consoles, software controllers, effects, headphones, and accessories tipped the scales in the brand’s favor. In particular, retailers pointed to recent introductions such as the XDJ-RX3 and DJM-S11 as resonating with end-users.


Electric Bass of the Year: Fender Player Series

About six years ago, we started seeing some major shakeups at Fender. Gone was the long-running American Standard Series in favor of the newly minted American Professional and, a couple years later, we all said via con Dios to what had been “Mexican Standards” and greeted the Player Series. While these instruments represent the “entry point” to the Fender brand, they are no cheap-o “beginner” instruments. Fender Player Series basses connect with less experienced (or well-heeled) players, sure, but these are quality products that also tick the boxes for pros seeking a solid backup model, modders who want a good starting point to jump off from, or anyone interested in expanding their sonic palette by adding another killer axe to the arsenal.


Electric Guitar of the Year: Gibson Les Paul Special Tribute

In case there had been any question (there really hadn’t been), with this DCA win for “Electric Guitar of the Year,” it’s official: Gibson’s back! Since the fall of 2018, the storied brand has aggressively embraced a commitment to quality control and a renewed enthusiasm for working hand-in-hand with dealers. Retailers have taken note and, this year, singled out the Les Paul Special Tribute as being top of the class in its category. With a classic silhouette, four elegant finishes, growling P-90s or rich open-coil humbuckers, a rounded profile maple neck (speedy!), and rosewood fingerboard – and an impressive MRSP ($999) – it’s no surprise this gorgeous gal walked away with the trophy.


Home Digital Keyboard of the Year: Casio PX-S Series

A clean and stylish design, a rich and versatile sound library, Bluetooth® connectivity, use with the Chordana Play for Piano app, and other popular features, it’s easy to see why MI dealers rallied behind Casio’s impressive PX-S Series. But the voters weren’t done with handing out accolades to the brand…


Pro Digital Keyboard Line of the Year: Casio Privia Series

2021 was a big year for Casio, with retailers stepping up in record numbers to sing the brand’s praises in the Dealers’ Choice Awards voting. From “world’s slimmest” 88-key digital keyboards (PX-S3100 and PX-S1100) to more traditional consoles (PX-870 and PX-770) and beyond, the Privia Series truly offers something for every performer. Need a touch panel? The PX-560’s got you covered. How about 370 tones, including Hex Layer Sounds? Casio’s PX-5S can provide in that department. Traditionally, “Pro Digital Keyboard Line of the Year” is hotly contested, but the Casio Privia Series was absolutely the clear winner this year.


Lighting Line of the Year: Chauvet DJ

This 2021 win means that Chauvet DJ is only one year away from a solid decade of dominance in this category. While the world of live performance and entertainment still struggles to navigate an ever-changing landscape of partial lockdowns, attendance restrictions, and mandates, the folks at Chauvet DJ continue to provide unique and creative solutions that are helping to keep the lights on – literally! – at venues of all sizes across the nation and the globe.


Microphone Line of the Year: Shure

You’ll find SM57s and SM58s on pretty much every stage and in nearly every recording studio in the world. Back in the middle of the last century, the Unidyne series defined an entire generation – both sonically and visually – while, more recently, the MV7 is one of the go-to pieces of gear for nearly everyone who hosts a podcast. “Microphone Line of the Year” is a competitive field, to be sure, but nobody’s surprised whenever Shure gets the nod from DCA voters.


Percussion Line of the Year: DW

In what’s looking more and more like an authoritative streak, DW once again wins in this competitive category for the third year in a row. Interestingly, their closest competition in the 2021 Dealers’ Choice Awards voting was Gretsch Drums – also within the larger “Drum Workshop family.” It sure seems like they’re doing something right over in Oxnard, California. Heck, it’s certainly no coincidence that the likes of Dave Grohl, Chad Smith, and Sheila E. have embraced the DW brand. We’ll have to wait until next year to see if anyone has the goods to unseat the reigning champion, or whether DW lands in the winner’s circle once again in 2022.


Print Music Publisher of the Year: Hal Leonard

What’s there to say (or write) that hasn’t already been said/written? Seriously – help a brother out, here. I’ve been cobbling together similar “blurbs” about this company winning “Print Music Publisher of the Year” for 20(!) years now and, I gotta be honest: I’m running out of synonyms and (vaguely) creative re-wordings. In addition to fielding a staggeringly huge library of print titles, Hal Leonard also embraces streaming, digital books, interactive learning tools, and more. As they’re the only brand to win this category in the entire history of the Dealers’ Choice Awards, it’d be easy to become cynical or even bored by yet another victory lap – except they’re so obviously deserving. Congrats once again, Hal Leonard.


Recording Product Line of the Year: PreSonus

While the big news, of late, has been the announcement that Fender would be acquiring PreSonus Audio Electronics, the “other” big news is that PreSonus is once again a DCA winner. Offerings such as the Quantum 2626 provide superior sound, unmatched speed, and unmatched round-trip latency (<1 ms) of any available audio interface, while products such as the Revelator USB microphone provide intuitive, professional solutions for the burgeoning livestreaming/podcasting market.


Sound Reinforcement Line of the Year: QSC

Live performance and entertainment may not have rebounded quite to the degree that many had hoped in 2021, but this past year unquestionably represented an improved landscape for those endeavors. While booking agents, club managers, touring acts, and fans wrestled with changing realities and restrictions from region to region, QSC was there to provide some consistency amidst the chaos. With battle-tested loudspeakers, power amps, digital mixers, signal processors, software, and more, the brand sets the bar for empowering in-person audio experiences.

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