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Report from Frankfurt Musikmesse 2005

May 13, 2005
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Although the weather in Frankfurt, Germany alternated between grey skies and bright sunshine, this year's Musikmesse Pro Light+Sound had a positive vibe throughout. Musikmesse is massive, filling 14 convention halls and covering everything from acoustic instruments to concert lighting. In fact, the venue is so large that shuttle service is provided to get attendees from one end to the other.

The technology halls are where the action is for software musical instruments and recording gear, and many of the booths have musicians demonstrating the latest products. (If you have an aversion to high volume, don't even think about venturing into the electric guitar and bass hall!)

Among the musical highlights was a solo theremin demonstration at the Moog booth by Lydia Kavina. Over the din from the show floor, Ms Kavina expertly performed an a cappella version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, as well as several works over backing tracks, including a piece by Vivaldi, some jazz standards, and even a surf tune. For the latter piece, she ran her Etherwave Pro through a DigiTech stompbox.

The most talked about news of the show was the announcement of M-Audio Pro Tools M-Powered (Mac/Win; $349), a version of Pro Tools software that runs on selected M-Audio interfaces. According to the company, sessions created with Pro Tools M-Powered software will open on Digidesign Pro Tools TDM and LE systems. The supported M-Audio peripherals include the Audiophile 2496 interface, the FireWire 1814 interface, and the Ozonic keyboard controller/interface. Pro Tools M-Powered supports 32 simultaneous tracks of 16- or 24-bit digital audio, 256 MIDI tracks, and ReWire. Sampling rates up to 96 kHz are also supported. The software comes bundled with 30 DigiRack and Bomb Factory plug-ins, and two stand-alone plug-in bundles, Producer Factory and Producer Factory Pro, will be available separately.

Another welcome announcement at the show came from Berlin-based Digital Musician.net.The company demonstrated Digital Musician Link (Mac/Win), a VST 2.0 software plug-in that allows for real-time online audio and MIDI collaboration. Digital Musician.net plans to charge 10 Euros a month for the service, and it hopes to go live in August, 2005.

The World of Software.

BIAS announced Peak Pro 5 (Mac; $599) and the Peak Pro XT 5 bundle (Mac; $1,199). Among its many new features, Peak Pro 5 offers built-in Redbook CD-burning capabilities, AU support in Vbox, support for VST and AU instruments, and the ability to record 10 GB files. Peak Pro XT 5 includes a variety of plug-ins including SuperFreq paragraphic EQ, GateEx, Reveal, PitchCraft, Sqweez-3 and Sqweez-5 multiband linear-phase compressor/limiters, the Repli-Q EQ matching plug-in, as well as SoundSoap and SoundSoap Pro.

Native Instruments unveiled three new products. The biggest news was the announcement of Reaktor 5 (Mac/Win), featuring Core Technology, which lets you program at a deeper level and build your own modules. The update also includes an interface makeover, multi-breakpoint envelopes, and plenty of new modules. NI also announced three amp-modeling plug-ins ($79 each; $199 bundled), based on the technology in Guitar Rig. As the product names suggest-Twang Combo, AC Box Combo, and Plexi Combo-each plug-in focuses on a particular amplifier, offering a simple, no-nonsense interface. The Synthetic Drums 2 library (Mac/Win; $119), for Battery 2 and Kontakt, was also announced.

Camel Audio showed two of its latest software releases. CamelPhat3 (Mac/Win; $85) is a multi-effects plug-in (VST/AU) that includes assignable LFOs, an envelope follower, filtering, distortion, a randomization feature, and an X/Y control surface for real-time parameter manipulation. Camel Space (Mac/Win; $85), which also includes an x/y controller, features a 128-step Trance Gate sequencer (with a programmable envelope for each step), a panner, a flanger, a reverb, and a stereo delay. The two plug-ins are available bundled together as PhatSpace ($149).

Arturia officially unveiled Brass (Mac/Win), which it is developing in partnership with IRCAM. The plug-in physically models the sound of the trumpet, the trombone, and the saxophone, and it lets you specify the material of the modeled instrument, determine the attributes of mutes and "human" performance interaction, and place the instrument in a 3-dimensional space.

At the Garritan booth, I was treated to a enthusiastic demonstration of the Solo Stradivari Violin modeling instrument. When its played by someone familiar with violin performance technique, the instrument is very convincing. The Solo Stradivari Violin is a product worth keeping an eye on. The company also announced that it is preparing an impulse library called Real Spaces, which will feature a variety of acoustic environments, with about a dozen mic positions in each.

PeterTools, makers of the ReWire-enabled MIDI-processor software Liveset, was showing Hammer (Win). Due for release in June, Hammer lets you send audio into Propellerhead Reason using the ReBirth input machine.

Swar Systems announced that its software instrument collections now supports both VST and AU plug-in formats. It also showed its latest soundset, Volume South 1, which focuses on instruments from the South Indian Carnatic tradition.

It's not often that you see cool freeware at a major tradeshow, but Airy showed the Plasq Musolomo 1.1 (Mac; free), an AU sample and loop player designed for use with a keyboard controller (to get you away from relying on your computer, mouse, and ASCII keys). Musolomo includes time stretching, pitch change, tape-style effects, reverb, a freeze function, and a turntable-like "scratching" interface. Like its namesake, the Lomo camera, it's got a certain lo-fi charm.

Applied Acoustics Systems demonstrated its String Studio VS-1 Virtual String Synthesizer. The modeling instrument offers plucked, bowed, and hammered string sounds, as well as a host of effects.

TerraTec Producer unveiled the Waldorf-inspired Komplexor (Win), a VSTi that can import MicroQ sounds. The synth features three oscillators, two multi-mode filters, four 6-stage envelopes, three LFOs, and an audio input with a vocoder. MIDI control, automation, and a handful of effects are also included.

The Hardware Jungle

Looking to fill needs of personal studios everywhere, Genelec announced the 8020A powered monitor, a diminutive speaker with a 4-inch low-frequency driver and 3/4-inch high-frequency driver. The 8020A, which is 20 percent smaller than the 8030A, is designed for use in surround applications. Despite it's small size, the 8020A puts out a big sound. To complete the system, Genelec is offering the 7050B, a 70W subwoofer with an 8-inch speaker.

Røde unveiled the D-PowerPlug, a phantom-powered extension for dynamic mics, available as an external XLR adapter or PC-board retrofit. The boost in gain provided by the D-PowerPlug allows you to use up to 100 meters of cable with a dynamic mic without signal degradation.

In its race to release 300 products in two years, Behringer announced nearly a dozen new items at the show. Topping the list is the Mini-series of effects, which includes a mic/instrument preamp, a compressor, a 4-channel stereo headphone amp, a 9-band graphic EQ, a monitor matrix mixer, a beat counter with phono preamps, and a multi-effects unit. Behringer also showed the MS20 and MS40 digital monitors; a WAV/MP3 player with a mixer and two scratch wheels called the B-Control DeeJay BCD 2000; and the B-control Nano BCN44, a MIDI controller with four rotary encoders that can be powered by batteries.

TerraTec Producer unveiled the Phase X24 FW (Mac/Win), a FireWire interface with two phantom-powered combo analog inputs (mic, line, and high-impedance), four analog outputs, digital I/O, MIDI I/O, and insert jacks. The Phase X24 supports 24-bit, 192-kHz audio.

The company also showed the Axon AX 100 mk II, an updated version of its guitar-to-MIDI-controller, which comes with a computer-based editor (Win), various hardware improvements, and a new GM/XG-compatible sound board with 500 sounds (including 10 drum kits and a sound effects kit).

SMProAudio offered the MC04 ($299)ribbon microphone and the XP-202 interface. The XP-202, which comes bundled with BIAS SoundSoap SE, can be installed in a PC and powered by USB. An RIAA EQ circuit is included for use with turntables.

Neumann introduced its first dynamic mic, the BCM 705. The Sennheiser-designed capsule, which is housed in a broadcast-style enclosure resembling the BCM 104, has a supercardioid pattern and a frequency range of 20 Hz to 20 kHz.

At the Focusrite booth, I got a glimpse at the Saffire (Mac/Win) FireWire interface. The interface offers four inputs (two analog, two digital), seven analog outputs, S/PDIF I/O, MIDI I/O, two FireWire ports, and two front-panel headphone outputs. The analog inputs include two XLR jacks with Focusrite preamps and two 1/4-inch jacks for line- and instrument-level signals. The bundled software includes compression, EQ, and amp modeling plug-ins as well as a configuration application.

Also showing at the booth was the Novation ReMote LE (Mac/Win), a 25-key USB MIDI keyboard controller with an x/y touchpad and 2-dimensional pitch and modulation controller. The keyboard is due to ship in May.

As always, the biggest indoor crowds could be found in front of the TC Electronic booth, where guitarists were demonstrating the new G-System floorboard guitar multi-effects pedal. The G-System can load nine effects simultaneously, and it includes USB connectivity, four mono effects loops, an insert point for preamps, and four DC outputs to power your stompboxes. Speaking of stompboxes, TC Electronic went retro and released the VPD1, an analog pedal with separate drive and boost sections that resembles it earliest products. The company also announced the PowerCore PCI mkII, which puts four 150 MHz chips on a short PCI card. The card is bundled with 14 PowerCore (VST/AU) plug-ins.

One of the biggest surprises of the show was the modular MIDI controller system from Mawzer. The company offers eight modules, including rotary encoders, faders, buttons, and a touch pad. The modules are configured within a special road case that has 32 slots, and the system supports USB, MTC, and MIDI clock.

RME introduced the HDSP Multiface II, which offers 36 channels of 24-bit, 96 kHz audio. The improvements include 10 dB better signal-to-noise ratio, lower total harmonic distortion, better signal-to-noise in the headphone outputs (as well as the addition of a headphone volume control), and more space between the rear-panel TRS jacks in order to accommodate Neutrik cables.

Analog Tendencies

The first stop at Musikmesse for fans of analog synthesizers is the Superbooth, organized by Andreas Schneider of SchneidersBuero. The booth features the wares of nearly a dozen small manufacturers, often with the instrument designers in attendance.

The biggest stall in the Superbooth is Doepfer, which offers both analog and digital gear. The centerpiece of the booth was the enormous and fully populated "super suitcase," which houses the equivalent of 12 Euro racks of modules. The rack's power supplies can be configured to meet your needs, and if you can get by with fewer supplies, the overall weight of the rack will be lighter. It almost goes without saying that a super suitcase full of modules is an impressive sight and is capable of some amazing sounds.

Doepfer also showed its d3 modular MIDI organ controller system, which includes a keyboard manual, a drawbar controller, and a pedal board. Designed for use with Native Instruments B4 and other virtual drawbar organs, you can configure the d3 system into a 2-manual instrument with drawbars and pedals, or any other combination to suit your needs.

The long-awaited (and enormous) Macbeth M5 semi-modular synth made an appearance in the Superbooth. Although the design and colors are reminiscent of the ARP 2600, the M5 has a sound that is as big and weighty as the instrument itself. Its palette of timbres ranges from bold and cutting to soft and smooth. The synth includes, among other things, three VCOs, two filters, and, most notably, a dual-LFO configuration similar to the Moog Sonic Six, which allows you to set up unusual and complex modulations fairly quickly. The long sliders and chubby knobs are perfect for synthesists with big fingers, and there are plenty of 1/4-inch patch points available. The M5 will cost around $4,000 in the US, so put your name on the list and start saving up.

A surprise entry into the crowded modular-synth field is the German-made Curetronic.de system. The multicolored modules appearing at the show are 6U in height, but the company plans to make a 5U version that will be compatible with Synthesis Technology MOTM and Synthesizers.com systems. Curetronic has a full range of basic modules, including a Quad VC LFO and Quint LFO. Hopefully, someone in the US will distribute this line of modules.

Other Superbooth finds worth noting are the Event Processor, Event Processor Plus, and Event Processor Timer by MIDI Solutions and the Chippmann Ebb und Flut analog dual multimode filter module.

For more Musikmesse highlights, visit Mix magazine online.

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