Top 10 Trends at NAMM 2013
BY CRAIG ANDERTON
Four 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.)
Wireless everything. 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.
Cool controllers. 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 stompbox hill.
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.'