1/28/2014 12:21 AM
Each of Electronic Musician
's editors have attended over 15 winter NAMM conventions, and we all agreed that this was one of the most exhausting shows we've been to. An astounding number of press releases filled our inboxes early in the week, and we came across even more new products as we ran around the show floor. There were few booth spaces unfilled in the entire Anaheim convention center, and the ambient noise level was higher than we've heard in quite some time. All of this points to an industry that can see a market recovery on the way and is hoping to be in the right place at the right time with new and innovative products. A particularly satisfying trend is the continued growth in boutique gear, whether it's software products, stompbox effects, synth modules, or the weird and wonderful range of DSP-driven hardware. This explosion of 1- and 2-person operations is clearly an extension of the DIY/Maker scene, and it is injecting much needed new blood into the NAMM show. The analog craze has even caught the attention of Forbes magazine, in a feature
that hit the Web a week before the show opened.
Moreover, the surprising success boutique manufacturers have had in the last decade has not gone unnoticed by the established MI manufacturers, who themselves are designing products that sport a boutique vibe. Korg has stayed far ahead of its contemporaries by recognizing early on that there was a robust market for inexpensive, well-made analog synthesizers: Since introducing the Monotron four years ago, the company has successfully built a line of hard-to-resist instruments, including design help with the littleBits battery-operated modular synth that snaps together with magnets. By unveiling an MS-20 kit last week, which snaps and screws together, and then announcing that it is a limited edition item, Korg is aiming squarely at the DIY newbie, as well as the collectors who regards such items as more of an investment than a practical instrument.
More importantly, it shows that the company is paying attention to a growing segment of the population that doesn't just want "virtual" or "modeled," but also wants "tangible" and "real." In my opinion, that's where much of the future is headed in terms of young buyers as they mature and eventually make enough money to build their own studios in the not-too-distant-future.
While you're arguing over whether there really is a market for analog/tube/tape/discrete-component products that is big enough to sustain a traditional business model in the long term, consider that today's 20- and 30-somethings are extremely savvy about gear—what it can do, how it works, and how it's made. Via YouTube, they've seen what Dave Pensado does when mixing, how ribbon mics are made, how to build a Hackintosh computer, how to jailbreak an iPhone, and so
on. Young people are learning how to code, how to solder, and how to modify and personalize their own instruments and recording gear. So while there will always be a market for cheaply made, me-too products, I see a very keen interest in sound quality and build quality among younger musicians and engineers: I know something's up when an 18-year-old student of mine asks me detailed questions about the new Unison mic preamp technology that
Universal Audio is using in its Apollo Twin interface.
So, what's new already?
The most interesting thing about this year's NAMM show was the range of unconventional products mixed in with mainstream gear, all of which actually fills a need. Unlike trade shows in recent memory, there were few maintenance upgrades or feature-bloat nonsense. I kept running across products that made me think, "Yeah, I could use that!"
In addition to the great stuff mentioned in the previous (1/25/14) blog, the products that really caught my attention are the iZotope BreakTweaker beat generation software, the QSC TouchMix digital mixer, the Waves Abbey Road Reel ADT plug-in that simulates artificial double-tracking, the Elektron Analog Rytm 8-voice analog drum mac
hine, the Apogee
Mic 96K, BitWig Studio
DAW software, Sony Creative Software Sound Forge 2
for the Mac, and Electro-Voice
's new line of ETX portable powered loudspeakers with DSP.
For multichannel I/O that is fully Thunderbolt ready, the MOTU 828x is worth your attention. The other features in this interface are well known and well-respected: here you have an update that is priced competitively while providing a solid feature set for anyone upgrading their computer system. (It also has Hi-Speed USB 2 connectivity if you're on the fence about when you'll upgrade your computer.)
Looking for a new piano library? I heard a beta version of the Garritan Abbey Road Studio CFX Concert Grand piano and was floored by its sound quality. And it will be remarkably affordable.
Audio-Technica has revamped its M-series headphone line in a very significant way, and even the low-cost cans sound great—perfect for your tracking studio! However, you should definitely check out its wireless guitar system, the System 10 Stompbox. The receiver, housed in a floor pedal, can keep track of up to eight different transmitters.
In the modular synth category, keep an eye on Make Noise (Teleplexer, Erbe-Verb), The Harvestman (Polivoks modules), WMD, STG, TipTop, Future Retro, and Verbos Electronics.
And, finally, there is the Manley Core reference channel strip, which includes a tube mic preamp and compressor as well as a built-in limiter. It ain't cheap, but it will outlive you. That's more than you can say about your next computer.
Now if you will excuse me, I have to figure out which of the products on this list will get reviewed by the lucky writers at Electronic Musician magazine in the next few months. Stay tuned! —Gino Robair, Technical Editor