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2003 NAMM Show Report

January 24, 2003
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This year's Winter NAMM show, held January 16 through 19 at theAnaheim Convention Center, was more bustling than last year's event, interms of both attendees and new products. Celebrity sightings includedfilm composer Jeff Rona; bassists Bootsy Collins, Will Lee, GeneSimmons, and Lee Sklar; guitarists Carlos Santana, Buckethead, EddieVan Halen, Dimebag Darrel, Paul Stanley, Steve Vai, and Skunk Baxter;drummers Bernard Purdie, Jim Chapin, and Adrian Young; and SesameStreet's Elmo. Of course it wouldn't be a NAMM show without seeing BobMoog, Roger Linn, and Dave Smith, all of whom continue to releaseinnovative products.

There were plenty of star-studded performances. The evening withElton John, however, included cameo appearances by Ray Charles, MichaelMcDonald, Randy Newman, Take 6, Rufus Wainwright, Bruce Hornsby, Jewel,Norah Jones, Brian Wilson, Diana Krall, and Vanessa Carleton.

But most of us were at the show to see new gear, and the EM editorswere not disappointed. Here is just a small sampling of the new wareswe discovered at NAMM. We'll provide more information on these andother new products in upcoming EM "What's New" columns and in eMusician Xtra, ouronline newsletter.

One of the most talked about items at the show was the Open Labs OpenSyntheKo, which marries a Windows-based Pentium 4 computer, a pianokeyboard, and four control modules (the version on display included anASCII keyboard, a module of knobs, and a module of sliders). OpenSynthoffers a frightening amount of expandability, and a number of thirdparties are interested in creating custom modules for the system. We'llbe keeping an eye on this one.

Alesis showed anumber of new items at the show. The Ion is a 49-key analog-modelingsynth that offers 8-voice polyphony (three oscillators and twomultimode filters per voice), a vocoder, and effects. The ProActive 5.1System is a complete surround monitoring system for the personalstudio. It comes with a digital decoder and digital and analog I/O andis priced under $500. The ProLinear 720DSP active studio referencemonitor includes a serial interface that allows you to use a computerto control up to 16 monitors. The monitors have a built-in digitalcrossover and parametric EQ, so you can tweak the sound of the monitorto fit the monitoring environment.

Apogeeunveiled its Mini-DAC, a 2-channel, 24-bit/192 kHz-ready D/A converterthat has a USB port, XLR analog output jacks, and AES/EBU and S/PDIFinputs. Apogee also showed Big Ben, a 1U, standalone word-clockingdevice that offers word-clock/video input, six word-clock outputs,AES/EBU and S/PDIF I/O.

Audio-Technica introduced the AT3060, aphantom-powered tube microphone at a very low price point. Thelarge-diaphragm AT3060 has a cardioid pattern and a frequency responseof 50 Hz to 16 kHz; it can handle sound-pressure levels up to 134dB.

Audix showedthe Micros, a line of small condenser microphones for use in tightplaces. The M2145 is a cardioid mic with a short body and a frequencyresponse of 80 Hz to 20 kHz. (A hypercardioid version, the M1245-hc, isalso available.) The M1290 has a longer body, a wider frequencyresponse (40 Hz to 20 kHz), and is available in hypercardioid and omniversions. The M1245 and M1290 can handle SPLs greater than 140 dB, andeach mic requires a mini-XLR adapter cable, which is included.

Blue Microphones introduced the Ball,the first phantom-powered (48V) dynamic microphone. The attractive,softball-shaped mic has a cardioid pattern, a frequency response of 35Hz to 16 kHz, and a maximum SPL rating of 146 dB. Blue says thatphantom power allows the Ball to maintain a constant resistance load,which results in a smooth and open sound.

Cakewalkdemonstrated its Project5 (Win) workstation, which lets you combineaudio, MIDI, and virtual instruments in a single user-friendlyenvironment. Project5 comes with the PSYN analog-style synth, theDS-864 sampler, the nPluse drum synthesizer, and the P-SEQ patternsequencer. The application supports DXi and VSTi, is ReWire friendly,integrates directly into Cakewalk's Sonar, and is WDM, MME, and ASIOcompatible.

It was exciting to finally see and hear Creamware's Noah at thisyear's show. The 2U device offers synth modeling, effects processing, aUSB interface, and a convenient software editor for Windows (a Macversion is on the way). Noah includes six instruments: Minimax,Creamware's virtual Minimoog; a reproduction of the Sequential CircuitsPro-One; the B-2003 drawbar organ; the Vectron Player, modeled afterthe Sequential Circuits Prophet VS; Lightwave, a wavetable synth; andSix-String, a plucked-string modeling module.

Cycling '74demonstrated its loop-based performance tool called radiaL (Mac). Theinterface includes a circular display for each loop, a matrix mixer,and a screen that lets you independently change the pitch and speed ofa loop. You can view the waveform of your loop while performingtempo-based manipulations on it. RadiaL is shipping for Mac OS 9, butregistered users will get a free upgrade to the OS X version.

Event unveiledplenty of new monitors, including the Tuned Reference 8XL biampeddirect-field monitor system and powered and unpowered versions of theStudio Precision 8 monitors. The Studio Precision 8s, the higher-endsystem, sounded great on the show floor.

Eventideannounced the Clockworks Legacy plug-in collection for the DigidesignPro Tools HD. Clockworks Legacy includes five reproductions of classicEventide effects: the H910 (its first harmonizer), H949 (a so-calleddeglitched pitch changer), Instant Phaser (a swept filter bank with twooutputs that are 180 degrees out of phase from one another), InstantFlanger (an analog flanger), and Omnipressor (which offered compressionand expansion simultaneously).

Focusrite displayed the ISA 428 PrePack, which puts four Rupert Neve-designed Focusrite ISA-series micpreamps in a single device. Each of the transformer-based preampsoffers switchable impedance, DI inputs, a Soft Limiter circuit, phasebutton, phantom power, inserts, and metering. The ISA 428 can beordered with an optional 8-channel 192 kHz A/D converter.

Gmedia Music showed the Oddity, a VSTireproduction of the ARP Odyssey duophonic synth. Developed with Ohm Force, the plug-inoffers two syncable oscillators, white and pink noise, monophonic orduophonic modes, and host-syncable LFO. The company is also working onAU, MAS, and RTAS versions of the instrument.

Moog Musicannounced the VX-35 Voyager CV Expander module. The VX-351 attaches tothe minimoog Voyager keyboard synth via a multipin cable to increasethe user's CV connectivity.

MOTU unveiled itssoftware sampler plug-in, MachFive, which is dual-platform (Mac/Win)and will be available for MAS, RTAS, VST, AU, HTDM, and DXi. Thecompany says that MachFive will import files in WAV, Acid, AIFF, SDII,REX, Akai, Kurzweil, SampleCell, EXS24, HALion, Roland, Em-u, Giga, andCreamware formats. Whew! It will also offer support for sample rates upto 192 kHz and the ability to import and playback multichannel samplesin surround.

Novation unveiled a few tasty goodies aswell. The V-station is a virtual analog VST synth plug-in (Mac/Win),based on the company's K-Station synth, that offers eight voices perinstance. Novation also announced the KS Rack, a rackmountable (andtable-top) version of the KS-4/KS-5 family of polyphonic synths; andReMOTE 25, a battery-powered MIDI controller with USB connectivity thatcan be used to control Mac- and Windows-based digital-audiosequencers.

Ohm Forceintroduced Quad Frohmage, a virtual multiband filter with four modulesthat offer delay, distortion, and a number of routing features. Thefilter can be modulated using LFOs, the envelope follower, or theXADSR. The plug-in is available for VST, RTAS, MAS, and DirectX and ina standalone variety.

PropellerheadSoftware announced two items. The Reload utility program for Mac OSX and Windows XP allows Reason and ReCycle users to load Akai S1000 andS3000 sounds into its NNXT, NN-19, and Redrum products. In addition,Digidesign plans to add Rewire2 support to the entire Pro Tools productline sometime during the last part of 2003, which will make it possiblefor Reason and Pro Tools to work together seamlessly.

Roland showed a number of excellent newproducts. The V-synth gathers many of Roland's proprietary technologies(for example, VariPhrase and COSM) into one keyboard instrument. Theinstrument's TimeTrip pad was a showstopper, and EM will be checking itout in greater depth very soon. Roland also showed the Fantom-S andFantom-S88 workstations, which add sampling and other new features tothis popular product; VariOS combines a 1U DSP module with a softwarecomplement that can be used for audio manipulation or phrase playback;the SPD-S is an electronic drum pad that offers 9 zones and the abilityto sample.

Tascam showed the CD-GT1, a rehearsal-CDplayer aimed at guitarists. The CD-GT1 offers a 1/4-inch, low-impedanceinput and controls that let you change pitch and tempoindependently.

Yamaha unveiledits O1V96 digital mixing console, which offers 24 inputs; a resolutionof 24-bit, 96 kHz; internal effects such as EQ, delay, gating, andcompression; and surround panning capabilities. The 01V96 can also beused with DAWs, such as Steinberg Nuendo and Digidesign Pro Tools.Yamaha also showed the Motif-Rack, a 1U synth with 128-note polyphony,a host of effects, and digital I/O that includes a built-in USBinterface.

Zvex, a companythat specializes in innovative boutique stomp boxes, released the NanoHead under its new ZVex Amps line. The Nano Headis a diminutive tube guitar amp, approximately the size of a pack ofcards, that you can plug directly into your speaker cabinet. It sportsa pair of tiny tubes but offers a very big sound.

Here are a few quick notes on other interesting products that caughtour attention:
AppliedAcoustics Systems has released a Mac OS X 10.2 version of TassmamSound Synthesis Studio 3.0.

Arturia showedits still-unnamed virtual analog-modular-synth plug-in, which resemblesthe classic Moog modular instruments of the '60s. The synth offers nineoscillators, two LFOs, a number of filter choices, and very flexiblerouting. The plug-in will be available in VSTi, DXi, MAS, RTAS, andHTDM varieties.

Bag End showed the M6 NearField Monitor, which offers a 6-inch low-frequency driver and 1-inchsoft-dome neodymium tweeter.

Little Labsannounced that it will offer the IBP Junior Analog Phase AlignmentTool, a less expensive, "basic" version of the original IBP.

T-rex Engineering from Denmark debuted a number ofinteresting new stompboxes: Replica, a digital delay; Alberta, whichoffers overdrive based on the Ibanez TS-808; Tremster, a tremolo andvibrato effect; and Betavibe, which offers a rotating-speakereffect.

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