27th February 2018
Bucking trends in politics, the Winter NAMM Show feels more and more cosmopolitan every year, as greater numbers of international distributors are using NAMM as the place they look for new products to market into their respective countries. This year there were over 115,000 registrants, more than 7,000 brands represented. It feels like NAMM has relaxed their restrictions on the public attendance a bit as well. It was great to see so many people in attendance.
The biggest change was the addition of ACC North, an entirely new building, with two separate floors. This served to spread things out, and many different instrument categories were grouped together sometimes in unexpected ways.
The most difficult thing was adjusting to the new path between meetings because many of the booths were not where you would find them in years past. It was hard to plan the show in a linear fashion. In addition there were often lines to get into the halls unless you knew about the super secret sky-way between them.
And speaking of the TEC Awards, KVR partner SoundToys won the TEC award for their EchoBoy delay plug-in. It has been on the market for a number of years, and a personal favorite. Really worth checking out.
One company that successfully focuses on both Pro Audio and MI is Presonus. Their booth was packed with new products like the EarMix 16M ($399) monitor mixer that can control their new Studio Series III ($1099-$2999) of live mixer consoles that inter-connect with other Presonus devices using Audio Video Bridging (AVB). AVB is an IEEE standard that allows audio over Ethernet using standard Ethernet hardware, and has special benefits in networked live performance environments, unlike the Dante enabled products (Tascam, Focusrite, etc.), which require a chip at either end of the Ethernet connection. The AVB protocol Presonus is using is blessed by Apple, which is kind of important, and is already supported by other MI companies like MOTU.
IK Multimedia had a succession of artists performing with their products. A couple of the highlights were the wizard himself, Jordan Rudess, who is mentioned in every KVR NAMM report because he is an amazing combination of instrumental craft and tech savvy. He was demonstrating the diverse set of modeled analog synth sounds that IK's Syntronik produces.
At another time guitarist Greg Koch was demonstrating the new iRig Stomp I/O ($299), USB foot controller, which was a personal showstopper. This is IK's 3rd generation of foot controller for AmpliTube, and they have been listening. The construction is solid. In addition to an assignable footpedal and switches, there is a guitar/mic Neutrik input (48V Phantom power), a balanced stereo out, two external pedal inputs, and MIDI in and out. There's even a nifty bracket to attach a tablet onto the unit, and a power output to charge it.
They also announced the new AmpliTube Leslie ($149) plug-in available in the IK Custom Shop.
They are not alone in the world of guitar plug-ins of course. Waves was showing the new Bass Slapper plug-in, which is a sample library of all manner of slapped bass sounds (duh), and (drum roll...) their new PRS SuperModels plug-in (Price TBD).
There's a bit of irony here. It's a full circle from their earliest guitar plug-in utilized an I/O box that was branded by PRS.
Ilio - Deskew, Spectrasonics, Synthogy...
At the Ilio booth, Deskew was showcasing the latest version 2.0 of Gig Performer ($149). The new version has an innovative feature called Rackspaces, which allows Gig Performer to load dozens of plug-ins simultaneously, with customizable and MIDI-learnable controls. A user can create multiple Rackspaces within a song and switch between them instantly with zero glitches. Gig Performer can control multiple instruments, layer sounds and employ authentic effects easily, with little power usage, on both Mac and Windows computers.
There was good news for electronica performers in the Spectrasonics part of the Ilio booth. They were demoing the new standalone versions of Omnisphere 2, Trilian, and Stylus RMX. And the amazing Mike Garson was demoing Ivory.
Software.NAMM - FabFilter, Antares, Zynaptiq, NUGEN Audio, Best Service, Roland, Bitwig, ...
Software.NAMM has become an institution at the NAMM show, which is a great thing for software developers. However, it was hard to tell where it started and ended this year. The participants were spread out around the edges of the new Hall, and we missed the sofas...
Netherlands based FabFilter was demoing their newly updated Pro-L 2 limiter ($199) plug-in. The new version doubles the number of algorithms, true peak limiting, linear-phase oversampling, professional dithering and noise shaping and surround support (up to Dolby Atmos 7.1.2) and intelligent channel linking, Pro-L has been a very popular solution for mixing and mastering jobs for many years now. And their countrymen and women skate pretty fast too.
Antares Auto-Tune Pro has a new face, and an old sound. In addition to a new, streamlined interface for improved workflow and support for ARA, Auto-Tune Pro has brought back the legendary Auto-Tune 5 sound. It also includes a new "Auto-Key" plug-in that can detect a song's key and automatically set the right controls in Auto-Tune Pro. It was also nice to see former Opcode colleague Kord Taylor, personal assurance that the company is headed in the right direction.
Zynaptiq was showing Orange Vocoder IV (Price TBD). The original version goes back to 1998 when it was developed by Prosoniq. Among other things, version IV features a streamlined multi-view UI, expanded Vocoder section including 22 unique algorithms, and a new voice pitch quantization module with pitch-bend and glide controlled via MIDI.
NUGEN Audio was showing an updated version of MasterCheck Pro ($199) dynamics / mastering plug-in. The new codecs in version 1.5 now support Apple's Advance Audio Coding (AAC) for those that want to master for iTunes among other things.
Best Service as there showing their new The Orchestra (399 EUR) and previews of Eduardo Tarilonte's new Celtic Era library (Price TBD). He keeps finding interesting, but slightly fantastical things to sample, and as a master of performance key switching his demo was great. And, they were handing out useful drink coasters...
Roland's booth was a little hard to find and their media pack didn't have a lot of information in it. They are promoting the Roland Cloud. For those that prefer to rent their software to buying it. At $19.95 per month it's not inexpensive.
One of the few companies that was still in a location close to last year's was UVI. They were showing their new Meteor swell and impact designer for creating rich and immersive cinematic sound effects. It's got an interesting interstellar GUI, and is sure to useful for film and games designers. And they were passing out useful hoodies...
Bitwig was demonstrating Bitwig 2.3 ($399), one of the few DAWs that runs natively on Mac, Windows, and Linux. They were late to market compared to the most popular DAWs on the market, but they're moving as fast, or faster than any of them.
Over in the guitar area...
Are you a musician or a furniture mover?
For those of you that are getting tired of moving heavy equipment to a gig you might consider the Quilter Labs line of solid-state amps. The new Overdrive 200 ($549) corrals 200 watts into a small 4-pound half rack package. There are 2 channels, with gain controls, bass, mid, and treble, and a master output. In addition to input the front panel has and FX send and return, a channel switch and headphone out.
Busker's take note...
If you play in the subway, or anywhere else that doesn't have an easily accessible power outlet, Fishman has a new amp for you. The Loudbox Mini Charge ($499) is a 60-watt amp that runs on a rechargeable battery. It weighs 21 lb, has both guitar and mic inputs and built in reverb and chorus. All you need is a guitar, microphone, and a hat. Talent helps too, of course.
Line6 announced that the Helix has been modeled as a native plug-in. Helix Native ($399) is designed to deliver tone of their award-winning HX Modeling technology in a plug-in, featuring recreations of vintage and modern amplifiers, speaker cabinets, microphones, and effects. And preset compatibility across the entire Helix family allows Helix hardware users to bring studio-created sounds to the stage by simply transferring their plug-in presets to their Helix hardware units. The plug-in's GUI is very similar to the Helix hardware's software editor, and Helix hardware owners can buy the native plug-in at a deep discount.
Arturia, Universal Audio, Polyverse, ...
Arturia was showing their recently updated V Collection 6 ($499) of virtual instruments. It's great to see their continued commitment to what got them on the map in the first place, but what is truly amazing is how successful they have been making hardware. The latest example is the MiniBrute 2S ($649), which can't help remind one of the Dave Smith/Roger Linn Tempest. The difference is the connectivity to the modular world. Just about every important parameter can control, or be controlled in a modular system.
Universal Audio was showing their latest products, and there is a lot of focus on guitar players. The Arrow is a smaller version of the Apollo Dual. Their new plug-ins include the Dytronics CS-5 Tri-Stereo Chorus ($199). It models the 3‑channel hardware favored by '80s L.A. session players like Michael Landau, Steve Lukather, and Dann Huff. It's another UAD platform plug-in developed by Softube, and it's designed to give the user all the depth of the original's three independent bucket‑brigade delay lines, along with new "plug‑in‑only" features.
Polyverse was showing several very cool plug-ins that are based on their ability to calculate pitch transitions extremely fast with a unique variable smoothing algorithm. Gatekeeper ($49) is a volume modulator capable of sample-fast transitions that allows for drastic gating and sequencing while keeping the output smooth and Manipulator ($149) is their unique approach to the vocoder.
For the family that synthesizes together...
BlipBlox ($159) is a synthesizer intended for musically curious kids, ages 3 on up. It was designed by Axel Hartmann, who has designed user interfaces for professional music products like Muse Research Receptor and Elektron.
The BlipBlox has a little sequencer to drive a built-in drum machine and its oscillator schemes. These are modified with a low-pass filter, envelope generators and LFOs. Dotted lines indicate signal and control flow in the most basic way.
The winner for the coolest product of the show was from Joué, a small company in Bordeaux France. The Joué Board is a customizable MIDI controller surface. The basic form is a compact USB enabled pressure sensor with wood binding that looks ever so slightly like a small Linnstrument. Depending on your needs you can overlay different surfaces on the sensor. The communication between the surface and the sensor is smart enough to know which surface you have chosen and reconfigure the software editor accordingly. It is even MPE compliant. The price is customizable too. The board is $399 EUR. The surfaces range from 19EUR to 29 EUR. The board plus all the available surfaces together is 499 EUR. Totally awesome.
Speaking of MPE and awesome; the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) has finally blessed MPE, as an extension to the MIDI specification. It's been several years, but good news for companies that have already committed to it, like ROLI, Roger Linn Designs, Apple, and the above mentioned Bitwig and Joué.
In among the PLEK machines, boutique metal amps, and ukuleles, were some real gems this year...
High quality Stomp box effects company Strymon has entered the modular market with the Magneto Eurorack module ($599), an innovative stereo multi-head tape delay sound source and processor. There's the expected amount of I/O and it also functions as a looper, phrase sampler, vintage spring reverb unit, phase-aligned clock multiplier, oscillator, sub-oscillator... You get the idea. They have the tech and they did their homework.
The most Eco friendly product of the show
For those of us that enjoy building models there's the Kami-Oto ($27) cardboard MIDI controller from Yudo. Seriously! You construct it yourself from the provided pieces (even glue) and place it on top of an Apple Magic QWERTY keyboard. A product for your inner hobbyist. In case you're interested they are running a Kickstarter campaign. They plan to offer a new self-contained controller that is velocity sensitive.
Start with this, and...
...with skills and crayons you end up with this
One of the TEC tracks was Bob Moog: Insights into an Innovator, a fascinating 2-part series by Michelle Moog-Koassa, about the life of her father Robert Moog. The presentation included personal and professional pictures and Michelle successfully infused her father's professional engineering chops with his creativity, and sharing nature, a big reason why the category got off the ground so quickly.
The WIMN event featured the singers with the B-52s and a special performance by Melissa Etheridge. The plan was to honor Pat Benatar as well, but sadly she came down with the flu and was a no-show.
Another missing face was NAMM veteran Tony Agnello. There was good reason for that as he and his partner Richard Factor were in New York City collecting Eventide's Technical Grammy for 2018. In fact, the Eventide DDL 1745 was inducted into the TEC Hall of Fame. A nice acknowledgement of the many innovations this company has contributed to the music recording industry over more than 40 years. From the Instant Phaser and 1745 Digital Delay Line, to the very cool H9 ($499) multi-effect stomp box, and the innovative and diverse Anthology XI ($1799) suite of software plug-ins.
There were some companies missing in action for various reasons. Missing for example, were Dave Smith Instruments, Moog Music, ROLI, and even Gibson.
The Sights of NAMM...
Melissa Etheridge - Credit Kevin Graft
Command Sisters - Credit Sherry Rayn Barnett
KVR Audio, Inc.