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NAMM 2015: Welcoming Back the Masses

NAMM 2015: Welcoming Back the Masses

First, the good news... NAMM traffic was higher than in the last couple of years, as was the general energy at the show. In fact there was so much interesting stuff that it took twice as long to get this show report out.

Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim

Over the last few years there has been resurgence of analog synthesizers on the market, but this year will likely be the year it becomes mainstream again. There were announcements from Korg (Arp Odyssey), Dave Smith Instruments, and Marion Systems (Tom Oberheim). A reflection of this trend was Friday's Championship Breakfast, which featured the above mentioned Tom Oberheim and Dave Smith discussing it.

More on this later.

He's baack...

Omnisphere 2

One of the most exciting software announcement was (trumpet fanfare!!) Omnisphere 2. Rumors of Eric Persing's retirement have been completely voided. The new version will ship at the end of April. The upgrade won't be cheap ($199-$249 depending on your commitment to their other products), but with a bunch of new features (like being able to open your own audio file within Omnisphere), and enough new presets to bring the count to 10,000, there's a lot of value.

Bonzo lives...

Spitfire Audio hosted a press conference to announce their new The Grange Drum Library for Kontakt featuring the charismatic Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), who was worth the price of admission by himself. Headley Grange is best known as the recording location for Led Zeppelin albums (and lots of others as well) and the earthshaking John Bonham drum sound. It is now a private residence and nobody had recorded there at 40 years until it was opened for the folks at Spitfire. The energetic Smith was clearly happy about the opportunity he had to record there, and the results they got. The library, which also features the work of drummers Roger Taylor (Queen), and Andy Gangadeen (Massive Attack), is available now for 149 quid.

Advance keyboard running with Akai speakers, and black Apple thingie

InMusic

Akai Pro unveiled their new Advance Keyboard Series, of smarter than average controller keyboards. They are available in 25-, 49-, and 61-key sizes, and are powered by AIR's new Virtual Instrument Player (VIP) software application that is designed so that a VSTi library can be controlled in one application. We'll see how well they manage third party plug-ins. It's a bit like herding cats...

They were also showing the AIR Plug-ins, the marketing of which originated from Avid, so the level of quality is high, and the Akai is investing in the maintenance and development of new features inside of the InMusic family of companies.

PSP L'otary

Moving air with software

PSPaudioware has released PSP L'otory (intro price $69), which is an emulation of the historic Leslie 122 and 147. According to founder Antoni Ozynski it's the most difficult plug-in they have attempted to date because of the complexities emulating the classic Leslie movement of air. Of course it responds to MIDI controllers to add that whoosh. They even carefully emulated the horn slowing down. That's commitment...

Members only...

The software membership model has now officially entered the realm of music software. Three companies have announced subscription models including Avid (Pro Tools), Cakewalk (Sonar) and Steven Slate (Virtual Analog Studio). The subscription model announcements actually overshadowed the fact that all three companies had new versions of their applications.

Pro Tools First

Pro Tools First

The Avid Booth was so crowded that NAMM security people were assigned to keep people from collecting in front their booth. You have to admire the risk that Avid is taking with Pro Tools First (Price: um... er... Free!!). It looks a lot like Pro Tools, because it is... It's designed to accommodate the mobile artists by saving and managing sessions securely in the cloud, enabled by the Avid MediaCentral Platform. When changes are made, the project syncs with the cloud as soon as it's saved. It will allow saving of up to three projects in the cloud for free.

Some will say that it's the second time around for the idea (think Rocket Networks), but now there's enough bandwidth to actually pull this off, so it would make sense to keep an eye on this trend over the next year. Finally, the fact that the, guitarist for the band Megadeth was demonstrating in the Avid booth means something. Conservative thrash metal guitar-players use computers too.

Mike Greene with The Ladies...

In the Realivox booth Mike Greene was demonstrating his Blue ($149) and The Ladies ($395) libraries for Kontakt. It makes for a cool demo to see him enter spectator's names and have them immediately sung back. Not so cool that the booth didn't need a fire extinguisher nearby however...

MOTU keeps churning

The folks in the MOTU booth (which rather impressively has maintained the same central location and booth size for as long as I can remember) were demonstrating Digital Performer and MachFive 3, along with their new hardware, the 16A ($1,995) and 112D ($1.495) Thunderbolt-equipped digital audio interface, router, format converter and mixers. They have made a serious commitment to the Audio Video Bridging (AVB) standard, which makes sense considering how many film composing houses are using DP.

BeatHawk from UVI

UVI was showing their new iOS production studio, BeatHawk ($4.99). With it users can create beats, sample, pitch and time stretch, layer melodies, mix, arrange, and export full songs, stems and MIDI. It turns an iPad into something resembling an MPC. There is a large library of sounds and instruments that comes with it, which is what you would expect from UVI. Users can play BeatHawk from external keyboards, sequence from a desktop DAW, wirelessly sync multiple iPad sessions or export 24-bit audio.

Arturia

Arturia was showing two new hardware products: BeatStep Pro ($249) controller/sequencer, a more feature laden version of their older BeatStep, and (drum roll please) AudioFuse ($599) a new audio interface. It's a bit surprising that a company would want to enter the audio interface market in 2015, so I asked about it. They said that they have been working with high quality audio hardware for several years now, and this felt like a natural step for them. Fortunately they are still doing software too, as evidenced by the recent release of the Matrix-12 V ($199), which is included in the recent V Collection ($399) release. They have expanded their commitment to the NAMM channel by recently hiring industry veteran Ralph Goldheim to run their US operation.

Butch Vig Signature Vocal Processor

Butch

Vocals in, Garbage out...

Butch Vig (Garbage, Nirvana, etc.) was at the Waves Booth. They were demonstrating the new Butch Vig signature vocal processor, the GUI of which should win an award for creativity. (I'm thinking Hugo meets Dark City). Given Butch's ears, and Waves' experience it will likely sound as good as it looks.

Important Updates

UA and iZotope have been listening to their customers. There was no new hardware from Universal Audio, but rather a significant update to the UAD Software that runs their UAD and Apollo platforms. Despite the amazing sound there have a few things about that made the UAD software a bit cumbersome to use. In at least one of their user's minds they have addressed all of the important ones. Apollo Expanded now makes it easier to integrate several Apollo devices into one. I/O and DSP are shared in one expandable (up to 6 devices) system. The update will be available free for Apollo owners in early March.

iZotope was showing Ozone 6 ($249), the widely used audio repair software RX 4 ($299), and an important upgrade to Iris, their visual instrument that needs to be seen to be heard.

Rob Papen showing RAW talent

RAW energy

The award for loudest booth goes to Rob Papen this year. He was demonstrating his new RAW ($179 - available now) distortion synthesizer at a booth he was sharing with Muse Research and Development, who were demonstrating a Receptor QU4TTRO running Rob's eXplorer bundle. RAW is designed for DubStep and Drum and Bass fans. Using it you can distort sound in many, many, many, ways.

Not far away from Rob, IK Multimedia was showing their new iRig Field mic ($99.99) as well as iRig for the Android platform. What's clever about the iRig Field is that the mic can swivel so a stereo field an be maintained whether the iOS devise is upright or on its side. They believe they have solved the latency issues with Android by putting enough DSP in the iRig hardware to bypass the offending parts of the mobile OS. The company has said that they will publish an iRig SDK for people that wish to support the Android platform.

CME CEO and CMO

Orange is the new red...

Jordan Rudess, the new Chief Music Officer at CME, was tearing it up in the CME booth (and lots of other places too) demonstrating his Jordantron ($9.99) iOS app with CME's new XKey 37 ($99) mobile USB keyboard. It's a nice brushed aluminum package that's lighter than an iPad.

It's not particularly important, but CME color schemes have gone from bright red to bright orange...

I am Curious (why so much...?) Yellow

And speaking of color, it was hard not to be partially blinded as you passed the Output Sounds booth, as everything was yellow. They were showing their REV library for Kontakt, which focuses on sound designed created by reversing audio files.

Bringing back the classics...

The analog theme was pervasive throughout. Tom Oberheim, who has marketed his SEM modules for a few years now, was showing his new 2-Voice Pro ($3495). And speaking of 2-voice synths, Korg has brought back the ARP Odyssey ($999) 40 years after David Friend's original design first became available. Dave Smith Instruments was demonstrating the Prophet 6 with a 100% analog signal path, and another entry into the modular market, the DSM02. They were also showing an update to the Tempest Software. Version 1.4 adds adds number of new features including longer sequence patterns and an arpeggiator. Dave Smith has also managed to re-acquire the name Sequential Circuits, the name of his first company. Now, if only Tom Oberheim could get his name back...

Roger Linn and Eric Persing: Two of the best product designers in the industry

New concepts

Roger Linn is now shipping the LinnStrument ($1,499). It's a highly expressive USB MIDI controller that needs to be experienced to be completely understood. Check out the videos at Roger's site. Another cool (and courageous) product from a guy who has already been responsible for critical music instrument innovations like the Linn Drum and MPC.

Hall E - "Burning NAMM"

I have to admit to being surprised by the growth in modular analog products. I started using synthesizers when the Oberheim OBX, Roland, and Yamaha digital synthesizers appeared, so I missed much of the joy of patching everything together with cables, and not being able to save the sounds without writing everything out in detail. But, now in 2015 there's something about this classic way of doing things that has attracted a lot of musicians and sound designers.

Pittsburgh Modular
Foundation 3.1 and 3.1+

A lot of product developers too, and there were many of them in Hall E. Some of the noticeable ones were Pittsburgh Modular, who were showing their new Foundation 3.1 and System 10.1 synthesizers. This was not their first NAMM, and judging by the hoarseness in owner Steve Nicol's voice they had a steady stream of heavy traffic.

There's still hope for people who really need their computers to be part of the equation....

Expert Sleepers

Also showing was Expert Sleepers who make a business out of helping people like me with various ways to interface our computers with modular systems, For example the ES-1 can convert audio into CVs for their modular systems, and the ES-2 can capture the audio back into the computer using their Silent Way Plug-in. Pretty cool...

These are just a couple of the companies exhibiting modular devices. Hall E has become a lot more interesting and it's kind of ironic that there were so many analog companies mixed in with guitar products and woodworking machines.

And now the bad news...

Actually, there wasn't any, unless you read some of the signs outside the venue. Retail is still a challenge for software, and that won't change. As bandwidth increases it will be even easier to for customers to buy software applications and digital content online, but that doesn't mean that a show like is not relevant to the market. All the retailers, press, potential OEMs, and an occasional high profile user are all under one roof for a few days.

There were more software companies with booths at NAMM than in the last few years, and the huge growth in the modular world opens up a bunch of possibility for small companies. As someone who has attended many NAMM Shows, I can say this was a good one for all the participants.

Oh yea, and there are young performers as well...

Makin' beats

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