1/25/2014 9:07 AM
In terms of the number of interesting new releases, the 2014 NAMM show has been the most action-packed in recent memory. The variety of new products at last year's show signaled that our industry was upbeat about the future, but at this year's show there has been the feeling of downright exuberance as manufacturer's have inundated us with exciting new products.
At lot of the talk at the show has been about Roland's Aira line of instruments, which they've only hinted at so far in several teaser videos. On Friday, they took the Electronic Musician editors behind the curtain to show us the goods, and we were mightily impressed by the sound, industrial design, and build quality of the gear. Roland will unveil the first part of the line in mid-February and will probably release another couple of teasers leading up to the launch. In the meantime, we can't wait to get the gear into our studios for review.
Another fun item we've been geeking out over is the Arturia BeatStep, a portable knob-and-pad controller offering USB MIDI, CV, and Gate connectivity that provides an alternative the KMI QuNexus. Aggressively priced at $99, BeatStep has a 16-step sequencer built-in, and 16 Velocity- and Pressure-sensitive pads. And in conjunction with the Apple Camera Connection Kit, it'll work with the iPad. Arturia also unveiled Spark 2, which looks very promising.
And speaking of the iPad, Focusrite's new iTrack Dock is the talk of the show. Supporting iPads with Lightning connectors, the unit acts as a dual-channel 24-bit/96kHz interface with two mic preamps, a USB MIDI port, an instrument input for guitars, and, of course, support for Core Audio apps.
Nearby we ran across the Nord Lead A1, a 24-voice, 4-part multitimbral 49-note keyboard synth. Using an engine that specializes in analog modeling, Nord's sound design team came up with a powerful set of presets that shows off a lot of what the synth can do, and the front-panel controls made it fairly easy to tweak the sounds to our own tastes. The filters offer a lot of excitement, and the effects sounded great despite the din of the noisy show floor. Sadly, they wouldn't let us take this one home with us…
While we're on the subject of keyboards, Korg showed a few notable products. First, for you analog fans, the company is offering the MS-20 Kit ($1,399), which is a full-size instrument (using 1/4" patch cables) that basically snaps and screws together: No soldering required. I was told it would take an hour or two to assemble. That should be fun even for the DIY noob. The kit is a limited edition of 1,000 units, so if you're interested, you'd better snap one up before they're gone.
Korg also let us try their new RK-100S keytar, which has a lightweight wooden body and a built-in microKORG XL+ engine. Be sure to check out their new Kross workstation, which is both portable and powerful, and the new line of Taktile USB keyboard controllers with integrated KAOSS-style touch pad. The Triton Taktile keyboards, which feature 512 built-in Triton programs, are particularly appealing if you're a fan of those legacy sounds.
The category of studio monitors has lots of action this year, with the new Tannoy Reveal series being a standout for the desktop. The powered speakers come with 4", 5", and 8" woofers and are priced between $139 and $179. And they sounded punchy and clear even as they competed with noise from nearby booths.
Samson also showed some very good sounding—and affordable ($199-$249)—powered monitors for the studio. The Resolv RXA reference monitors have ribbon tweeters and are available with 5" and 6" woofers, putting out 70 and 100 watts, respectively.
Line 6 unveiled its Amplifi 75 and Amplifi 150, DSP-enhanced guitar amps that can also be used as a full-range stereo playback system with Bluetooth connectivity. And, as you would probably expect, there's an iOS controller app and cloud-delivery integration. Yeah, Line 6 and innovation go together like chocolate and peanut butter. No wonder Yamaha snatched them up.
And be sure to check out the new Universal Audio Apollo Twin, the company's new desktop, Thunderbolt interface that features two of the company's new Unison, hybrid mic preamps that can be used to recreate class mic-pre timbres. The Apollo Twin, of course, features UAD-2 DSP and can be purchased in Solo (one SHARC chip) or Duo (two chip) configurations.
—Gino Robair, Technical Editor