1/31/2013 4:12 PM
days of NAMM with virtually no sunshine. Really. So, it was up to the
manufacturers to spread some light, and while with a few crucial
exceptions, this show was not about revolutionary concepts, some trends
came into sharp focus. Here are the top 10 trends I saw, and there were
quite a few products to back them up.
Live performance takes center stage.
From PreSonus's big splash with their StudioLive Active Integration
series powered speakers, all the Mackie DLMs being used in various
booths, Electro-Voice's ZLX active speakers, and new digital mixers for
live performance from Soundcraft, Behringer, and PreSonus, live
performance products were huge. Well, not so huge, actually; a lot of
them were pretty compact. But you know what we mean. (And given all the
subs, sometimes NAMM looked like a scene from The Hunt for Red October.)
It's not just about iPads controlling things, but products like Alto
Professional's Stealth system—a transmitter/receiver combo that can turn
up to eight speakers into wireless extensions of your sound system.
Furthermore, in the plethora of wireless mics and guitar boxes, Shure's
GLX-D series stood out: the receiver for their guitar wireless fits
right into your pedalboard, and even includes a tuner. About the only
wired things were the showgoers pounding on the local Starbucks,
Earthgrounds, and Java City “designer coffee” stands.
Smaller, lighter, kinder to your wallet.
Yamaha's MX49 and MX61 keyboards exemplified this trend, by essentially
offering a mini-Motif in a lightweight, highly portable package that
also serves as a MIDI/audio interface and control surface. And talks to
iOS devices. Also, M-Audio's Axiom AIR 25 controller, and Akai's MAX 25,
put a ton of capabilities into compact enclosures that host 25 keys,
pads, and other hands-on, touchy-feely goodies. While these
smaller/lighter products don't roll up into a ball and fit in your
pocket (yet), someone's probably working on that now.
Speakers are waking up. Traditionally,
the most boring part of your studio is just there to move air in the
hopes that it will sound somewhat like real music. But the times are
changing; after the March of the Near-Field Monitors, JBL has introduced
the full-size M2 speaker system. It sounds wonderful, and reminds us
just how good big speakers can sound. The new Sceptre models from
PreSonus are extremely cool too, Eve Audio continues to develop the
ribbon tweeter, and ADAM is bringing their speakers to a new audience
with a lower price point.
iPads continue to play pet brain.
It seems just about everything either runs on an iPad, can be
controlled by an iPad, or uses an iPad to expand existing capabilities.
As to how companies are coping with having a bunch of 30-pin products in
their warehouse after Apple said “it's not 30-pin anymore, it's
Lightning” . . . well, let's not go there, okay?
Direct from manufacturer hits hardware.
First it was software: “buy from our online shop,” neatly bypassing the
issue of distributor and retailer markups, as well as fighting for
shelf space. But now, it's starting to hit hardware, too. Monoprice is
selling (mostly) Chinese gear direct at basically distributor cost, and
the quality seems to be on a part with similar gear selling through
stores. Sub-$100 guitars that are set up individually? Retailers, the
issue isn't just Amazon any more.
Insanely low pricing.
Case in point: Peavey's Vypyr VIP-2. This amp has separate modeling
options for electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and bass, along with a ton
of effects, a pricey user interface with a ton of LEDs, and kickass
tone. When I asked the price, I was told “around $200.” That's a joke,
right? So what's the real price? “Around $200. Well, maybe it will be
$230.” Seriously. Anyone who doesn't think Peavey is a technology
company hasn't made it past the 70s.
It's not just about keyboards any more; Numark's Orbit was one of those
“you have to see it to believe it” kind of products. While marketed to
DJs, its MIDI-based universality, tiny size, build-in accelerometer, and
light show-vibe switches not only make it a killer live performance
controller but a great wireless remote for the studio. And let's not
forget Ableton's Push, which crosses over the line from controller to a
true (and enticing) musical instrument, or the continuing evolution of
the YouRock MIDI guitar disguised as something that looks like a game
controller. And touch screens? Look no further than Slate Pro Audio's
MTI, or Cakewalk Sonar X2 running on Windows 8.
Analog guitar stompboxes rule.
Multieffects haven't exactly gone away, and products like the Axe FX,
Variax HD (sweet), and Kemper Profiling amp are proving that high-tech
and guitars are forming an ever-closer relationship. But go to Hall E,
or even the main halls, and whether you're checking out Boss boxes or
Tech 21's version of reality, analog electronics remains king of the
The flu. Either you got it
before you went and didn't go, got it at the show, or ended up after the
show tired, exhausted, ears ringing, and in pain—and it was even worse
if you had the flu on top of it. Come to think of it, you should
probably wash your hands after reading this article. Just sayin.'