Frankfurt's Musikmesse/Prolight+Sound has developed into the premier international marketplace for music, DJ and lighting gear, with this year attracting 93,000 visitors from 100 countries. Coming on the heels of NAMM and NSCA—and a week before NAB—one might assume that the gargantuan (14-exhibit hall!) convention might lose some of its attraction as a launch pad for new gear, but as in years past, we found no shortage of cool product debuts—from fun musical toys to high-end pro gear. Newcomers attending Musikmesse can easily become awestruck by the show’s sheer size, which—combined with the Prolight+Sound expo held next door—offer more than 2,500 exhibitors hawking new sounds and technologies. The combined event is something like attending Winter NAMM, ETS-LDI, AES, DJ Expo, NSCA and more—all squeezed into four exhausting days.
Yet even with the show's immense scale (with nearly twice as many booths as NAMM), Musikmesse is surprisingly manageable to attend from a logistics standpoint, and the show's organizers put in extra effort to make for a pleasant Messe. For example, your show badge also grants free access to Frankfurt's excellent public transit system, and an S-Bahn (subway) station is conveniently located in the center of the fairgrounds. ("Messe" is the German word for "fair.") Also, many of the halls are stacked above one another, so your next appointment may just be an escalator ride away. Additionally, the facility has free shuttle buses within the fairgrounds that run about every 90 seconds, taking showgoers on a route that loops between the halls, so getting from Halle #1 to Halle #9 takes no more than a few minutes.
The vibe at this year's show was surprisingly upbeat. Attendance increased somewhat over last year's figures, and just about everyone I spoke to said the right people were here. The U.S. dollar's weak showing against the Euro (about 40 percent down, compared to four years ago) has definitely put a crunch on European manufacturers, most of whom are struggling to avoid raising retail prices in the U.S. At the same time, this exchange rate imbalance has provided U.S. companies with an economic edge in the European market. As a result, U.S.-based manufacturers—ranging from Harman, Telex, Loud Technologies, Peavey/Crest, Numark/Alesis, Digidesign, M-Audio, MOTU, Cakewalk, ART and Meyer Sound, to smaller companies such as Event, PreSonus, Groove Tubes, KRK, Audix and Universal Audio—all reported brisk business.
Overall, the joint was packed, attendees (mostly dealers and distributors) were spending and everybody was in a good mood. If you've never attended a European show, you should know that there's a bar (and occasional complete lounge) built into nearly every booth. German beer is very good and Messe-style is a very civilized way of doing business. Now you know the real reason why it's hard to make it through all of those halls in a couple days.
DIGITAL AUDIO WORKSTATIONS
The big buzz at Musikmesse was the joint announcement by Digidesign (www.digidesign.com) and M-Audio (www.m-audio.com) about Pro Tools M-Powered, a new cross-platform (Mac/PC) version of Pro Tools that runs on select M-Audio hardware. The $349 software is similar to the familiar Pro Tools LE, but lacks certain features such as SMPTE timecode support. However, this powerhouse package includes 30 plug-ins and Digi Command|8 controller support, and sessions created on the software can be imported directly into Pro Tools TDM and LE systems, making it ideal for interstudio collaborations.
Having purchased the company back from Mackie, Soundscape (www.sydec.be) has opened a U.S. office in Florida (954/572-6391) and previewed Editor Version 5. Adding the ability to play/record native (PC-based) tracks, V. 5 will be offered as an update to all Soundscape 32 and Red users later in the year. Also new are a full line of 24-bit/96kHz interfaces supporting 24 to 64 simultaneous I/O channels in various formats—analog, TDIF, ADAT, AES and/or MADI—two new hardware controllers and a remote 8-channel mic preamp.
RME (dist. by www.synthax.com) unveiled some serious pro I/O solutions. Its AES-32 puts 32 channels of 24-bit/192kHz AES (plus MIDI and timecode/MADI options) into a PCI card, with an optional rack breakout box with XLR (AES) jacks, as well as Tascam and Yamaha pin-outs on 25-pin D-subs. The ADI-642 handles multichannel MADI/AES conversions at up to 192 kHz, and the ADI-192 DD is a 192kHz-capable, 8-channel format/sample rate converter with ADAT/AES/TDIF ports.
TerraTec Producer's (www.terratecproducer.com) Phase X24 FW is a 24-bit/192kHz FireWire recording interface featuring two SPL-designed preamps (hi-Z/line/mic with phantom power), 1/4-inch insert jacks, four TRS outputs, optical I/O (AC-3, DTS and S/PDIF), MIDI I/O and headphone monitoring in a compact chassis.
Cakewalk Project5 Version 2
A stunningly powerful tool for real-time music looping/sequencing/arranging, Cakewalk's (www.cakewalk.com) Project5 V. 2 is now enhanced with the muscle of a full-on recording/editing DAW. Add in its pro-quality synths, loops, samplers, drums and the Roland Groove Engine™, and V. 2 is nothing short of a bargain. Reaktor 5 from Native Instruments (www.nativeinstruments.com) takes the concept of virtual instruments and sound design to a higher plateau, fusing synthesis, sampling and effects via new Reaktor Core Technology, opening a near-unlimited range of custom modules (oscillators, filters, delays, EQs, etc.). Yeah!
TC Electronic PowerCore PCI mkII
As if 1.5 million samples in its holdings weren't enough, the Opus 2 from Vienna Symphonic Library (www.vsl.co.at) adds 9.3 GB of orchestral articulations, strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion and more in EXS24, Giga, HALion and Kontakt formats. And Swar Systems expands its sampled Indian instruments and loops with a new collection of Carnatic (south Indian) sounds, all in VSTi and AudioUnits formats. Hear them at www.swarsystems.com and spice up your productions!
Offering the same edge as the PowerCore FireWire rack, TC Electronic's (www.tcelectronic.com) PowerCore PCI mkII packs four 150MHz DSP chips onto a short-length PCI card for a VST, RTAS (via FXpansion's VST-to-RTAS adapter) or AudioUnits-compatible audio system. The card includes 14 plug-ins and runs all current and future PowerCore plugs.
CONSOLES: ANALOG AND DIGITAL
Lawo (www.lawo.ca) demoed new software for its MC2 66 compact broadcast/production console. The update adds a new, easy-to-use bus assign page and a slick sequence automation page that makes cue management a breeze and is ideal for theater snapshot tweaking, even during a show. SPL's (www.spl-usa.com) DMC (dual-channel mastering console) is a compact mastering mixer with the same superhigh-performance, 120-volt rails as its acclaimed MMC1 and MMC2 cousins, but in a stereo version. Alto (www.altoproaudio.com) showed its L Series of recording/live analog mixers, which feature an assignable USB port that can be set to either the main or sub 1/2 outputs for recording or routed to the main mix or channels 15/16 for playback. Clever!
On the live side is the first suite of plug-ins designed for Digidesign's VENUE console: Drawmer's (www.drawmer.com) TourBuss is a collection of dynamics (gate/compressor/limiter/expander) and HP/LP filters for live TDM applications. A different "plug-in" was DiGiCo's (www.digiconsoles.com) D-Tube, a hardware 8-channel tube mic preamp module that works with any of its digital mixers.
Universal Audio LA-3A
Universal Audio (www.uaudio.com) reissued the LA-3A, a clone of UREI's classic 1969 solid-state opto-compressor, but now with an IEC power cord, XLR I/O and a switch for the popular "gain-mod" option. Waves (www.waves.com) previewed MaxxBCL, a 2U box that combines MaxxBass, L2 Ultramaximizer limiting and Renaissance compression for the ultimate in "mo bottom" bass enhancement for live, studio, post, broadcast or mastering. I finally got to hear Empirical Labs’ (www.empiricallabs.com) Lil FrEQ, a monster that will destroy the way you think about EQ. This single-channel unit has two shelving bands, tunable low cut, four parametric bands, dynamic EQ for de-essing and direct box input—all noiseless and distortion free. Best of all, its smooth processing is absolutely addictive. Sweet!
For an MI show, Musikmesse showed a lot of serious pro studio monitors. The Active Linear Phase (ALP) 5 bi-amplified monitor from Event Electronics (www.event1.com) features a 1-inch dome HF mounted in an elliptical waveguide for a wide sweet spot, paired with a 5.25-inch, rubber surround/polypropylene cone woofer. Response is stated as 53 to 20k Hz, and onboard amps provide max SPLs of 105 dB.
Focal (www.wavedistribution.com) debuted the Twin 6 Be, with two 6.5-inch LF/MF drivers (with 150W amps on each) and a 100W amp pushing a TBEPRO inverted beryllium dome tweeter. Response is 40 to 40k Hz, with tri-amplification yielding 115dB SPLs from its 19.7x9.8x13.4-inch, 31-pound cabinet. A more compact design, Focal's two-way Solo 6 Be pairs a 6.5-inch woofer and inverted beryllium tweeter with 250W (total) of bi-amplification, providing a 40 to 40k Hz response.
Although not slated for official release until this month's AES Barcelona, I had a backroom peak and listen to Genelec's (www.genelec.com) 8020A, the company's smallest speaker to date. Combining a 4-inch bass driver with a 3/4-inch tweeter loaded into a Directivity Controlled Waveguide, response is 66 to 20k Hz (±2.5 dB), with dual 20W amps for treble and bass pushing 105dB peak SPLs. The 10-inch cabinets include Iso-Pod stand for aiming the speakers while decoupling them from the surface where they sit. A companion 7050B subwoofer extends the LF response down to 25 Hz, with its 8-inch woofer, 70W amp and patented Laminar Spiral Enclosure, and it includes bass management for 2.1 or 5.1 applications.
KS Digital ADM Zero
The high end just got higher with the KS Digital (www.ks-audio.de) ADM Zero studio monitors, which come in at a lofty $49,000/pair. The powered three-way system borrows a page from KS’ ADM 1 and ADM 2 studio monitors. The ADM Zero uses the KS Digital FIRTEC technology, boasting an uncolored response across the full frequency spectrum. Digital processing and a newly designed cylindrical waveguide offer linearity in both phase response and in amplitude. The 10-inch bass, 8-inch mid and 1-inch tweeter is powered by two 600W amps, and comes with AD/DA converters, digital crossover and optional PC software to remotely adjust various parameters for room equalization. Awesome!
Tannoy's (www.tannoy.com) new Precision (passive) and Precision D (active) monitors use the company’s Dual Concentric Constant Directivity drive unit, which comprises a cone LF/MF driver and a 1-inch titanium dome tweeter positioned on the back of the woofer for true point-source playback. Additionally, there is a 1-inch titanium dome SuperTweeter™ that extends the monitor’s bandwidth to 51 kHz. Both active and passive models are available with 6- and 8-inch woofers.
Tannoy Reveal 66D
Tannoy’s second-generation Reveal Series monitors are now available in active, passive and S/PDIF digital configurations. The bi-amped Reveal 5A ($399 each) has a 5-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter, for a 65 to 30k Hz response. The passive (Reveal 6, $229 each; and Reveal 66, $339 each) and digital (Reveal 6D, $629 each; and Reveal 66D, $799 each) models are available with single or dual 6-inch LF/MF drive units sporting a SuperTweeter for response to 51 kHz. The digital line also includes Reveal 8D ($799), an 8-inch woofer version. Optional Activ-Assist software can help Reveal D users set the speaker equalization to compensate for room acoustics. The program measures the characteristics of the monitor as compared to an anechoic free-space reference and recommends from more than 2,000 DIP switch combinations for the best possible response. The software, supplied with a pre-calibrated mic, requires a Windows or Mac computer with a soundcard.
Neumann BCM 705
The BCM 705 from Neumann (www.neumannusa.com) is its first dynamic mic. This $799 supercardioid model is designed for broadcast and voice-over work, but would be equally at home on close-in vocals in the project or pro studio. A hypercardioid FET condenser for handheld vocals, the $149 Groove Tubes (www.groovetubes.com) GT Convertible features a removable ball windscreen that converts the mic for instrument miking use. Now distributing BLUE Microphones, Electro-Voice (www.electrovoice.com) debuted two models produced exclusively for Electro-Voice. The E-V/BLUE Cardinal (condenser) and Raven (dynamic) are front-address, cardioid models for vocal or instrument miking and feature a two-way integrated swivel mount for positioning ease.
Electro-Voice/BLUE Microphones Cardinal
Microtech-Gefell (www.microtechgefell.de) expanded its line of excellent measurement mics—insiders know how good these really are. The MV230 Digital/MK221 package combines a 1/2-inch capsule condenser mic with onboard 24-bit A/D converter and AES43/AES3 output with a pocket-sized adapter providing USB for interfacing with laptops for field measurements. Also new is the M950, a wide-cardioid version of MG's popular studio condensers with 7dBA self-noise and the same pricing as the M930.
A zusatzgerät that anyone could use, RØDE's (www.rodemic.com) D-PowerPlug is a phantom-powerable, instrumentation-grade circuit that boosts a dynamic mic signal to a high-level, balanced line output that drives 100-meter cable runs without loss or signal degradation. It's available as an external XLR adapter that plugs into any mic or as a tiny PC board with attached XLR connector for retrofit into many standard dynamics.
Start packing your lederhosen now, because Musikmesse/Prolight+Sound returns to everyone's favorite German city next year, from March 29 to April 1, 2006. Auf wiedersehen, Messe!