First things first, we would be crazy not to mention a new feature on the KVR site. It's called My KVR and it is available for free for anyone that has a KVR account (also free). It allows people to manage their plug-ins on whatever hardware they use them on. You enter a snapshot of your setup once and My KVR will track your updates for you.
It's pretty cool, especially if you have a lot of plug-ins and you use more than one computing device.
It's in active development at the moment with more features and refinements to come very soon. Try it out and let us know what features you'd like to see.
OK, enough shameless huckstering...
There was a time when MacWorld was exciting for people interested in music software products and the exhibiting companies included Adobe, Avid, and MOTU, etc. There was even a Guitar Center booth. With Apple now competing directly with products from these companies and many others, and NAMM and CES competing for their attention in the same two week period, MacWorld has gotten a lot smaller. It doesn't help that Apple doesn't endorse the show with their own booth. Despite all this, this year's was better attended than last year and thankfully there was more than just iPad and iPhone cases to look at!
For example, there was the iAudiointerface2 ($399) from Studio Six Digital, which is a high quality Audio Interface for iOS devices. They spared no expense for the A/D and the included software is designed for audio spectrum analysis among other things.
Another couple of cool products are the i-FlashDrive and the Hyperjuice external battery. The i-FlashDrive has an iOS digital port on one end and a USB connector on the other, with internal flash memory. They offer 8, 16, 32GB capacities. You can connect the device to a computer and move data onto it and then move or stream the contents to your iOS device. Really useful if you want to carry more than 64GB of data with iPad without taking a computer.
The 60Wh battery ($169.95) promises up to 20 hours for a laptop or up to 24 hours for an iOS device. Nice for the long trips when you can't get to the airport early enough to grab a power outlet at your gate.
My first NAMM Show was in 1980 and at the time it was the only way a small company could make a splash with all the press and retailers in the same place at the same time. Things have changed. With easy access to product information on the Internet NAMM seems to be more about relationships than product pitches these days. If a company makes a true "retail ready" product (Defined as a product that can be described in 10 words or less) a show like NAMM is a must. For everyone else it's a great chance to see friends from all corners of the music industry and meet new ones.
The Software area is contracting in Hall A
Most software applications by their nature are not easy to describe in 10 words, and given the rate that audio software is being discounted by Apple it shouldn't be surprising that it is less relevant in the retail channel. Some of the companies not at NAMM included Ableton, Native Instruments, East West, FXpansion, Toontrack, XLN Audio, and several others of note. These companies are either deep into creating new products or have decided that the costs of attendance are greater than the benefits. All the companies listed above do a good job of communicating with their customers, so keeping their powder dry seems like a good strategy. Spectrasonics did not have their own booth, which was a shame because they do such impressive demos. Instead they were part of the Ilio booth, along with Vienna, Applied Acoustics, and others. Also in the Ilio booth was Synthogy. Fellow MI-lifer Jerry Kovarsky was demonstrating the American Concert D ($199), which is sampled from a 1951 New York Steinway model D. The 4th product in the Ivory II line will be available in 2012.
Moving to Windows...
One company that WAS there and did have a major announcement was MOTU and (in less than 10 words) "Performer now runs on Windows." They will make a lot of existing customers happy with the fact that Digital Performer 8 is also running in 64-bits. Up to now they have been the only major DAW that only runs on the Mac (We don't count Logic, because it was on the PC before Emagic was acquired by Apple). They had one of the better demo presentations of the show with a guitar player demonstrating a bunch of the new plug-ins, which can be easily switched on and off from an external controller. They were also showing their 4pre ($449) and 896mk3 ($995) interfaces and MachFive 3. The typical Windows customer is different from a Mac customer, but DP has been a very strong brand for about 25 years and Windows support means that it can be run on the less expensive PC hardware.
...and moving to the Mac
Going the other OS direction, Cakewalk was showing the latest version of Z3TA+ 2 ($99) in the Roland booth. It's one of my favorite softsynths on the Receptor. It has been around for years as a Windows-only product. They are promising a Mac version some time soon. Better late than never...
In case you missed the banners on KVR, Universal Audio has made a big splash with their entry into the I/O market with Apollo. Apollo is an audio interface with Sharq DSPs inside. The onboard processing allows for recording through UAD-2 Powered Plug-Ins — with nearly instant sub-2ms latency.
Apollo is a natural step for UA and there is a lot to like about this product. It comes in two models; one with 2 Sharqs ($1,999) and the other with 4 ($2,499). Apollo also offers compatibility with Intel's new Thunderbolt technology, as found on the newest iMacs, MacBook Pros, and MacBook Airs. It will be available via a user-installable Thunderbolt Option Card that will be sold separately. They are expecting Apollo to ship in Q1 this year.
UA also announced Sonnox plug-ins will soon be available on the UAD platform. Good news for UAD customers.
Rob Papen has a well-deserved reputation for making innovative products over the last few years. This year is no different. He was showing Blade ($139) a virtual synthesizer that uses "harmolator" synthesis to generate sound, and scare away aliens and vampires.
Blade will be available in late February or early March with an introductory price of $119 for the first month.
AAX to grind...
Avid was there in force. They are pleased to report that many of their active plug-in developers have committed to releasing AAX plug-ins in the coming months. Avid hosted a Development Partners Conference the day after NAMM to guide existing and prospective developers through the AAX re-architecture process. More information about developing plug-ins in the AAX format can be found here.
Waves was showing V9 of their plug-ins, as well as some new products. They have decided to move forward without the iLok, which is a big surprise for many. It was a joy to see the 64-bit version. Many Logic users are now a little closer to getting rid of Logic's buggy 32-bit Bridge. We couldn't find much info about it on the Waves website, but V9 is estimated to be available in Q1. Pant... pant...
The world of iOS expands...
As expected there were lots of iOS products. Alesis has a bunch of clever iPod hardware. Last year they showed I/O Dock. This year they went further with AmpDock for guitar processing and DM Dock for drums. Just slide your iPad in and you're good to go.
IK Multimedia has accelerated their push into iOS. This year's entries included: iRig Pre ($39.99 - available in early Q2), a high-quality microphone preamp designed specifically for iOS devices, iRig MIX ($99.99 available - February 2012), a mixing solution for solo musicians or small ensembles that use one or more iOS devices to play live, and iRig Stomp ($59.99 - available in Q2), which allows a guitar player to control their iOS devices with a footswitch. All the hardware products come bundled with various iOS software apps from IK's growing library of products.
Proving that music retail is still important for technology products Presonus had a huge presence at the show and their demos clogged the aisles. In the category of really useful iOS products they announced Q-Mix for the StudioLive mixers. With Q-Mix up to 10 musicians can simultaneously control their StudioLive monitor mixes using an iPhone or iPod touch. And rather than letting a guitar player screw up the monitor balance, QMix allows the FOH engineer set permissions so that each device on the network only controls a specified mix. That's pretty nifty.
Totally random picture that has nothing to do with technology...
Of course there had to be a gator in the Gator Cases booth on the first day of the show. It's remarkable how calm these prehistoric creatures can be, even when surrounded by other dinosaurs. Animal rights activists will be happy to know that the second day there were animal control officers in the booth, and no gator.
Software company making more hardware...
And speaking of dinosaurs Arturia was showing a cool little hardware analog synth called the MiniBrute ($549). It reminds me of the Roland SH-101 that I owned during the PreMIDIzoic Era. Hard to tell in the middle of a trade show, but it sounded pretty good and it was fun to program. It has a 2-octave keyboard and features the classic Steiner-Parker Multimode filter as well as some other bells and whistles. It's in an attractive and sturdy package making it clear that Arturia is in the hardware market for the long haul.
...and hardware companies making more hardware and some cool software as well.
Eventide was showing their native plug-ins along with the latest in their stomp box series, Space ($499 - on the wish list). The native plug-ins include; Omnipressor ($149), 2016 Stereo Room, Reverb 2016 ($199), and SST-282 Space Station ($499). Eventide has made a number of important hardware effects processing products over the years as well as some useful navaids for your airplane.
Muse Research & Development had a couple of announcements worth noting. MuseOS 2.0 (Upgrade Price TBA) is a major GUI facelift that borrows heavily from the MuseBox and introduces the SoundFinder technology for organizing and navigating presets to the Receptor. It is currently shipping on Receptor Pro and Pro Max. The other announcement is the Receptor VIP ($1,599 - Available in March), priced to compete for live rack real estate. It will ship with MuseOS 2.0 and MuseBox-like front panel functionality.
Line 6 made a splash with the Stagescape M20d ($2799.99). It's a 20-input mixer with lots of onboard DSP intended for live sound. It's impressive for its specs and compact package, but the really cool thing is paradigm-shifting user interface, which takes the form of a stage with performers on a touchscreen that can be accessed remotely from an iPad app. It's a bold move even for a company that we have come to expect this kind of thing from. It will be interesting to see how easily people will adapt to a different way of working.
The Tempest was being demoed in the Dave Smith Instruments booth. It's been out for a few months now and the response has been tremendous. The product is like an MPC brought into the millennium. The sounds are cool and the UI is intuitive and fun.
Hall E is the place when one can usually find interesting new products. In among the many many Ukulele stands we found Misa Digital, an Australian company that makes the Kitara. It's an innovative guitar-oriented controller with an internal Linux-based OS. The cool thing about it is that it can track left hand gestures on its fretboard in a true guitar-like way.
The amazing demo was being done by a Berklee student using the racks in Ableton Live. There's two models. One has a touch panels and a synth engine onboard ($1,499) and the other is a MIDI controller ($399 - available in May).
This is their second show for the product.
See you next year...
KVR Audio, Inc.