Despite the show's glitz and packed aisles of music wannabes, NAMM has always been a fairly conservative organization. Yet the annual winter convention's overall makeup has changed significantly of late. Sure, there are still rows of pianos, strings, brass and woodwinds — but most of those instruments displayed were from companies with unfamiliar names and origins a half-world away from Elkhart, Ind. Many of the crammed booths were offering demos of the latest software rather than autographs of famed endorsers.
Sure, the show still features Fender, Gibson, Peavey, Ludwig, Marshall, Selmer, Baldwin and Yamaha, but when one thinks of NAMM, exhibitors such as Avalon, Manley, Millennia and Neumann don't immediately come to mind. This time, even Solid State Logic made the trip to NAMM, drawing crowds with its AWS 900 console and a new series of rack processing.
With 1,462 exhibitors showing music and audio gear, there was plenty to see, and here are some highlights. Ironically, one of the buzzwords at this NAMM show was neither M.I.- nor pro audio — oriented at all; it was podcasting.
Apple's (www.apple.com) much-touted GarageBand 3 provides looping, virtual instruments and multitrack audio. Offered free with new Macs or for $79 with the iLife '06 bundle, GarageBand 3 now includes a video track for scoring iMovie projects and podcast production capability, with audio recording, pointers to chapter artwork, hotlinks and the ability to interview several guests simultaneously. Also provided is a library of 200 podcast sounds, including radio-type stingers, sound effects and jingle-length production music.
Several companies showed USB peripheral/front ends for notebook DAW or podcasting, including Alesis (www.alesis.com), which is shipping its IO|2 USB portable 2-channel, 24-bit/48kHz USB interface with two phantom-powered mic preamps, two line/instrument ins, insert points, MIDI I/O, 1/4-inch main outs, headphone out and S/PDIF I/O. Retail: $299, with Cubase LE.
The podcast mic crowd was not ignored. USB mics were displayed by BLUE and Samson, but RØDE (www.rodemic.com) wowed us with its Podcaster, a large end-address, USB-powered design that's somewhat RE-20 — looking and tailored for voice, with an “on” LED, shockmount and table-mount arm.
Version 6 of Sony's (www.sonymediasoftware.com) ACID Pro graduates the program to full-fledged DAW status, with multitrack recording of audio. Other new features include unlimited audio files per track, automatic crossfades between those files, punch-in loop recording for multiple takes of audio or MIDI and much more, including a version of Native Instruments' Kompakt with a 2GB sound library.
MOTU's (www.motu.com) Digital Performer 5 includes six soft instruments, waveform editor updates, clip-based automation and more. We also checked out MOTU's Ethno Instrument, offering loops and instrument sounds from all over the world, authentic and corrected tuning, disk streaming and more. And Ethno's onscreen spinning globe wins the “coolest interface” award.
Celemony's (www.celemony.com) Melodyne already lets users edit monophonic audio as if it were MIDI data; now, the new Melodyne 3 Studio works on polyphonic material, as well.
MusicXPC (www.musicxpc.com) showed versatile, slick-looking PC laptops for music/audio production, including the Professional M3. featuring a 15.4-inch WXGA TFT screen, 533MHz FSB, 512MB RAM, Intel Pentium M 1.73 GHz, 80GB HD, DVD±RW, FireWire, USB 2 and Gigabit LAN.
PreSonus (www.presonus.com) did some more-for-less magic with its new FireStudio and FaderPort modules. FireStudio has an 18-in/18-out FireWire recording interface with eight mic preamps, MIDI I/O, S/PDIF I/O, word clock, eight channels of 96k ADAT (dual SMUX) I/O, 36×18 DSP matrix routing mixer and a surround-capable desktop monitor controller. FaderPort offers a motorized 100mm fader, transport control and a footswitch jack, and it's compatible with any Mac/Windows-based recording software.
Promising to be your everything box, Open Labs' (www.openlabs.com) Miko is a hybrid unit with a built-in DAW that can record up to 64 tracks while running more than 200 plug-ins. A 24-bit/96kHz audio section features two phantom-powered mic ins, DVD/CD burner, twin headphone outs and two additional line inputs. The keyboard features up to 500-note polyphony, while the 37-note controller offers mappable knobs, faders and a 15-inch color LCD touchscreen. All of this can be viewed on a dual-component VGA section providing higher-than-HD resolution.
INSTRUMENTS — VIRTUAL AND MORE
Native Instruments (www.native-instruments.com) blew away showgoers with KORE, a revolutionary, new “Universal Sound Platform” hardware interface that acts as a stand-alone instrument host and plug-in with every major sequencer. KORE is designed to reduce your CPU load while providing instant access to all libraries and instruments. KORE reaches beyond the studio with tons of features for live performance, like easy recall of sophisticated layer and split configurations and on-the-fly scene and sound set switching. The technology will be released later this year.
Native Instruments KORE—an instrument host and a plug-in
Three years ago, the Vienna Symphonic Library (dist. by Ilio, www.ilio.com) redefined the art of sample libraries. Now, Vienna Instruments, VSL's new virtual instrument (in stand-alone and VST and AudioUnits plug-in formats for Mac and PC), blends easy-to-use software with a vast array of samples. In a single preset, the software automatically summons from hundreds of articulations as the notes are played. The Symphonic Cube has 10 sample-based instruments — all of the Pro Edition and Horizon Series — some 800,000 samples (550 GB) with trills, arpeggios, performance nuances, harmonics and more.
The big news at Digidesign (www.digidesign.com) is the Digidesign Advanced Instrument Research group, which is focused on creating virtual instruments for Pro Tools. Two VIs were released at the show: Xpand!™ is a free multi-synthesis sound factory workstation plug-in; and Hybrid is a high-definition synthesizer plug-in. The company also announced the purchase of Trillium Lane Labs' plug-in assets.
E-mu Emulator X2 software sampler for PC
E-mu's (www.emu.com) Emulator X2 software sampler for PC includes SynthSwipe™ automated sampling, TwistaLoop™ nondestructive manipulation, Morph Filter Designer, advanced LFO/envelope/arpeggiator programming, a convolution DSP tool, real-time control of multiple loop points, REX2 and MP3 import, and more. X2 builds on E-mu's 24-bit/192kHz sound engine and patented pitch interpolation, and runs stand-alone or as a VST instrument. It ships in May for $299/street, including a 2-in/2-out USB MIDI interface and 3 GB of sounds.
Rapture from Cakewalk (www.cakewalk.com) is a wavetable PC software synth equivalent to hardware synths such as the Access Virus or Nord Lead. The $249 app is targeted toward dance and electronica production.
Mac users note: Tascam (www.tascam.com) will release two new virtual instruments using GigaStudio technology to be available on the Mac later this year. The first two instruments — GVI, a sampler that can open existing Giga libaries, but with fewer editing features than the flagship; and GigaViolin, a dedicated violin instrument — will be released initially as VSTi and RTAS plug-ins for the PC.
The wonder guitar debut from Terratec (www.terratec.com) is the AXON AX 100 MKII, an amazingly fast guitar-to-MIDI controller with 500 internal sounds, 12 play area zones, arpeggiator, automatic pick position recognition and more.
The Synful (www.synful.com) Orchestra for Mac or PC is an AudioUnits/VST/DXI plug-in featuring some of the most realistic samples you'll hear coming out of a computer. Its Reconstructive Phrase Modeling uses a database of recorded phrases that are spliced together and resynthesized using additive synthesis, making the plug a veritable DSP and memory sipper.
MONITORING THE MONITORS
Blue Sky (www.bluesky.com) used the nearby Disney production studios to demo its Blue Sky SAT 12/Sub 15 studio monitors. This three-way, tri-amplified (500 watts in each) mid-field design packed crisp highs (-3 dB at 30 kHz), thundering lows (-3 dB at 20 Hz with sub) and superb transient response in a system that's not for the faint of heart.
M-Audio (www.m-audio.com) stepped out of the usual low-price box, releasing the EX66 monitor ($699 each). The tall, slender, powered units feature analog or digital inputs, onboard DSP, titanium HF drivers and twin 6-inch woofers. Tannoy (www.tannoyna.com) showed a DSP version of its Precision Series monitors called the Precision iDP. Looking much the same as the original but with much more inside the box, the new speakers feature networking intelligence, Class-D digital amps, AES/EBU inputs and support for setups up to 5.3. And JBL (www.jblpro.com) showed network software for controlling its LSR4300 speakers directly from your Mac OS X desktop.
SSL G-Equalizer, part of the Waves SSL 4000 collection
Waves (www.waves.com) and Universal Audio (www.uaudio.com) created quite a buzz at the show with their respective manufacturer-authorized plug-in versions of SSL and Neve hardware. Waves' SSL 4000 Collection includes three modeled plug-ins: the SSL G-Master Bus Compressor, SSL E-Channel and SSL G-Equalizer. The trio is based on the renowned sound of the SL 4000 G center-section compressor, Black Knob EQ and dynamics section featuring a soft-knee compressor/limiter and expander/gate. Universal Audio and Neve announced a strategic software alliance to create UAD-1 DSP plug-in emulations of Neve's processors, starting with the 1073.
Cycling '74 (www.cycling74.com) rocked the surround world with the release of two plug-ins. Octirama is a multiband surround compressor for TDM featuring up to five bands of compression, five in-band peak limiters, band mixing and a final peak limiter. UpMix is a surround processing and upmixing software package for VST and RTAS on both Mac OS and Windows. The plug-in offers an easy way to move mono or stereo files into an immersive surround environment for film, DVD, HD broadcast and music surround formats.
Muse Research (www.museresearch.com), maker of the Receptor hardware VST plug-in player, showed new plug-ins including Ivory, BDF 1.5, B4II, Lounge Lizard 3, dfh Superior, Ultra Analog, String Studio and Sonik Synth 2. The company also demonstrated its UniWire technology, which lets users seamlessly integrate Receptor into a host computer environment via Ethernet.
Peak users, get ready: Initially part of the flagship Peak Pro XT 5, BIAS' (www.bias-inc.com) Master Perfection Suite of six processing plug-ins will ship this month. The suite includes Repli-Q spectral matching, PitchCraft pitch correction/manipulation, Reveal analysis, Sqweez-3 and -5 multiband dynamic processing, SuperFreq parametric EQ and the GateEx gate/expander.
Plenty of plug-in debuts at McDSP (www.mcdsp.com): The Revolver convolution reverb ($495) offers complete impulse response shaping, dedicated and routable EQ, two synchable delay lines and specialized stereo imaging, with hundreds of presets and tools to shoot your own spaces and gear. Want “tape tone”? An LE version of Analog Channel LE is only $199. The Project Studio bundle includes Revolver LE, FilterBank LE, CompressorBank LE, Chrome Tone LE and Synthesizer One LE for $495.
The Drumagog (www.drumagog.com) drum replacer plug-in was turning heads with its simple and effective method for replacing any drum sound with a .WAV, .AIFF, SDII or GIG-compatible sample. It features auto sample-rate conversion, an extensive onboard sample library and compatibility with Pro Tools, Logic or Digital Performer.
Seven-time Grammy Award — winner Roger Nichols packaged his studio wizardry into TDM plug-ins. New from Roger Nichols Digital (www.rndigital.com) are The Bitchin-izer (for punching up stereo mixes), The Level-izer compressor (for adding power and punch), The Limit-izer (offering maximum headroom without clipping) and The Equal-izer, a smooth multiband EQ. First shipments are slated for Q2, with pricing TBA.
The H7600 stereo processor from Eventide (www.eventide.com) offers 1,000 preset algorithms and a 174-second sampler. The library of signature Eventide effects is supported by a box featuring AES/EBU, S/PDIF and word clock digital I/O; two channels of analog I/O via XLR; and two channels of ¼-inch inputs for instrument connection.
Germany's Brainworx (www.brainworx.com) showed a mastering hardware box and plug-in that featured multimode operation. It offers a traditional L/R 5-band EQ and an M/S mode, letting users process the center and sides separately.
Dangerous Music's (www.dangerousmusic.com) Modular Monitor Controller adapts for stereo or surround via specialized modules and features a stepped-attenuator volume control, four input sources, three speaker outputs, programmable input gain/output level offsets, assignable sub output, mute/solo functions and a stereo cue system with power amp.
Some new mics offered a refreshing change from the prevailing “mine's just like yours” design school. UK-based Sontronics (www.sontronics.com) showed a line of studio mics — both condenser and the new Sigma active ribbon model — with looks that harken to an earlier era. Lauten Audio (www.lautenaudio.com) debuted Horizon — its cardioid tube mic, featuring an NOS military-grade tube, large-diaphragm capsule — and Oceanus, a dual-tube multipattern condenser. Our “I should a thought of this first” award went to MXL's (www.mxlmics.com) V67i, a $199 cardioid condenser with back-to-back 1-inch capsules (voiced “warm” and “bright”), with a switch between the two, putting two completely different mic sounds in one body.
LIVE SOUND HITS
Peavey (www.peavey.com) joins the line array club with its VersArray series. Model 112 combines a 12-inch Black Widow woofer and a HF waveguide with twin 4.75-inch ribbon tweeters. Two subs (single- and double-18) are optional, as are a variety of versatile mounting and flying options. QSC's bi/tri-ampable ILA line array pairs dual 8-inch neodymium drivers (one for lower mids, one as woofer) with two compression drivers on a diffraction waveguide for 140-degree coverage. A companion sub is optional, and all include flying hardware.
Bag End (www.bagend.com) now offers powered versions of its entire line, using onboard Minima One modules that deliver 1,000W (into 4 ohms) from a 6-pound chassis. A-Line (www.a-lineacoustics.com) selected Bang & Olufsen's ICEpower digital amplifier modules for its AL10 Series line array, subARRAY woofers and uSonq monitors. The ICEpower units weigh less than 10 pounds, and include onboard DSP for setting crossover points, limiting and EQ.
NAMM spotlighted consoles for mid-sized venues. Mackie (www.mackie.com) expanded its Onyx Series with the 24/32-channel Onyx 24.4 ($1,849) and the $2,599 model 32.4. Both offer balanced signal paths, 4-band EQ, six aux sends, 6×2 matrix and a stereo comp/limiter section based on THAT's 4301 chip. Crest's (www.crestaudio.com) 8-bus HP-W is available in 28/36/44-mono input frames, with four stereo channels, eight Automix™ channels, 10 aux sends, 4-band EQ, 2-channel matrix, talkback/monitor section and eight scene mutes.
Offered in 16- to 56-channel versions, GL2800 from Allen & Heath (www.allen-heath.com) is a front-of-house/monitor board with eight groups, L/R/M outs, 10 auxes, 12×4 matrix and mute groups. In monitor mode, 14 stage mixes and an engineer's monitor wedge mix can be created, while ambience for IEM mixes can be added via mic cross-patching into the matrix. Designed for FOH, Soundcraft's (www.soundcraft.com) 8-bus Live 8 is from the Spirit 8 lineage. With 16 to 40 mono input frames ($3,199 to $6,199) available — plus two stereo channels and eight stereo returns — Live 8 can put 60 inputs in a compact chassis
Dolby Lake Processor brings Dolby into the SR world.
Dolby in your FOH racks? Unveiled at a pre-NAMM event, the Dolby (www.dolby.com/livesound) Lake Processor combines Dolby and Lake Technology technologies. The DLP has loudspeaker management/EQ functionality, global software control (via computer or wireless tablet), RMS and instantaneous-attack peak limiting and up to eight channels of Lake Mesa EQ or up to 4×12 channels of Lake loudspeaker processing. Its four-portal interface creates the coolest-looking rackmount box we've ever seen.
NAMM offered some hip new stage monitoring solutions. Sensaphonics Hearing Conservation's (www.sensaphonics.com) 3-D Active Ambient in-ear system features a precision-equalized mic within each custom-molded silicone earpiece, letting artists add the ambient feed to the monitor mix to taste. Westone (www.westone.com) showed an IEM system with ear-level ambient mics combined with programmable DSP for personalizing mixes with 6-band parametric EQ and multiband compression. It's compatible with most IEM systems and existing custom earpieces. TC Helicon's (www.tc-helicon.com) VoiceSolo is a line of compact, cast-aluminum monitors designed to mount on mic stands/booms. The range comprises the $275 passive VSM-200P, the active 150-watt VSM-200 ($420) and the $560 active VSM-300, with the latter adding connectivity and personal mix controls.
NAMM had lots of other neat toys that we'll cover in future issues. Meanwhile, Summer NAMM moves to Austin from July 14 to 16, 2006. See y'all there!
HITS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
Ampeg (www.ampeg.com) showed the SVT-VR, a re-issue of its beloved SVT bass amp, but the studio crowd should check out the SVT-DI studio tube direct box ($429) and the SVT-MP tube mic/preamp/DI ($529). If these sound half as good as they look, this may be the birth of a new studio classic.
Avlex' (www.avlex.com) Pink Lady puts a phantom-powered pink/white-noise generator into a tiny tube with XLR out. It's perfect for your gig bag and is $60.
Hosa's (www.hosatech.com) PWC-400 line has 14-gauge, 3-prong Edison-to-IEC AC power cables in 15/25/50-foot lengths — ideal for flown or tripod-mounted powered speakers or monitors. You need these!
EZQuest's (www.ezq.com) slick Studio Rack 8 holds eight removable drives that can be used as individual drives, mirrored drives or as a RAID. Drives can be removed from your rack and used as desktop devices without the need for a base station.
Korg had a slew of new keyboards (see ‘em at www.korg.com), but we flipped over its padKONTROL, with 16 trigger pads and wide range of MIDI control possibilities. It also has a KAOSS-type X/Y touchpad, two assignable knobs, onboard Mac or PC MIDI/USB interfacing, 250 MB of drum kit plug-in sounds and more. Yeah!
The mPATHX' (www.mpathx.com) SmartRack eliminates the need for AC/DC wall warts and uses patent-pending technology to reduce heat, weight and noise. Users program the different voltages required by various M.I. and pro audio devices in/outside the rack. MSRP: $250 to $300.
Tronical's PowerTune ($800) is an electromechanical system that automatically tunes your guitar at the press of a knob. The modular system is retrofitted to your guitar, and allows dozens of instant tuning settings such as perfect tuning, alternate tunings, etc. Check out the video at www.synthax.com, because you have to see it to believe it.
Our Top 10 Coolest Picks (Listed Alphabetically)
Cycling '74 UpMix
Dangerous Modular Monitor Controller
E-mu Emulator X2
MOTU Digital Performer 5
Native Instruments KORE
Sony ACID Pro
VSL Vienna Instruments
Waves SSL Plug-Ins