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electronic MUSICIAN

2007 Frankfurt Musikmesse/Pro Light+Sound Report:

April 17, 2007

With nearly 2,500 companies showing their wares in 15 exhibition halls, the Musikmesse/Pro Light+Sound tradeshow in Frankfurt, Germany is an event not to be missed. The annual 4-day event, held this year from March 28th through the 31st, offers a chance to see and hear a wide range of new products, from musical instruments and pro audio to DJ gear and lighting. Although the show is only two months after Winter NAMM, many manufacturers—particularly European ones—save a few announcements for this event, especially if an item wasn't ready for an Anaheim launch.

Unlike the major trade shows in the US, the last day of Musikmesse is open to the public, making it feel as if all of Europe is attending (or at least 108,000 of them). Overall, the show provides sensory overload from the moment you enter, thanks not only to the high-volume demos and the astounding number of new products, but with the help of the delicious German sausages and beer in the outer courtyard (where it is blissfully quiet). To save you from the Musikmesse vertigo that many of us get, here are some highlights from the show.

Akai demonstrated the MPK 49, a USB MIDI keyboard controller with 12 MPC-style pads, 8 knobs, 8 sliders, transport buttons, and a built-in sequencer. The semi-weighted keyboard offers Aftertouch, and the pads sense Velocity and pressure.

AKG showed the Perception 150, a small diaphragm condenser mic. The first front-address mic in the Perception series, the 150 has a cardioid pattern, a 10 dB pad, and it can handle SPLs up to 145 dB. 

Alesis announced the iMultiMix 8 USB (Mac/Win; $449), which lets you mix to stereo WAV files (16-bit/44.1 kHz) directly to your iPod. The iMultiMix 8 USB includes a dock that supports second through fifth generation iPods. The mixer has eight analog inputs (four of which are phantom powered mic preamps), two instrument inputs, digital effects, and 3-band EQ on each channel. Steinberg Cubase LE is included.

Arturia unveiled the Origin Keyboard synth, which adds a 5-octave keyboard, ribbon controller, and modulation and pitch-bend wheels to the Origin desktop unit that was announced at Winter NAMM. The main control panel swivels flat across the keyboard for storage. The Origin instruments feature TigerSHARC DSP processors and are designed to let you use four patches from several of the company's soft synths, each with 32-note polyphony. Although the retail prices are yet to be determined, both items will hit the streets near the end of the year. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for other new developments from Arturia: they have more surprises in store for us in 2007!

BIAS demonstrated Peak Pro 6 (Mac; $599). The update features a redesign of the GUI and enhancements to the playlist, including new cross fades and the ability to tweak volume envelopes. Other interesting features include Pitch Envelope, Convolve Envelope, Perpetual Looper, and Vbox Link. The new version will ship this summer, and a variety of upgrade paths are available.

John Bowen Synth Design introduced the Solaris keyboard synthesizer, which offers an array of sound generators (analog-modeling, wavetable, and sample playback, among others) and a number of popular filter types. A pair of vector-synthesis mixers, a host of envelopes and LFOs, an effects section, and a button and knob filled front panel complete the scene. October is the target date for release. Although there is no definitive word on the price, I was told it will be in area of $3,500. Based on what I heard at the show, this could be a formidable synthesizer once it hits the streets.

Centrance showed me the MicPort 24/96, a small device that turns any mic into a USB mic. The MicPort 24/96 plugs directly into your microphone and offers 48V phantom power and a built-in no-latency headphone output, as well as controls for mic gain and playback level. A 16-bit, 48 kHz version is also in the works. 

Chandler/EMI introduced a pair of interesting new hardware units based on vintage designs found at Abbey Road Studios. The TG12413 Zener Limiter ($5,000) is a stereo dynamics processor with three compression modes, an impedance switch, a side-chain filter, and a subtle overdrive function. The TG12345 Curve Bender ($5,000) is a stereo 4-band EQ with highpass and lowpass shelving, a hold function, a stepped gain control (±10 dB), and a germanium-based line driver that you can use with the EQ circuit bypassed. Note that you'll have to throw in an additional $160 for a power supply for each unit.

Crane Song announced that it will soon ship the Egret ($4,500), an 8-channel A/D converter and stereo line mixer. The device offers AES/EBU, ADAT, and S/MUX digital inputs; eight TRS analog inputs; eight balanced direct outputs; a stereo bus output; and cue send and returns. The Egret is scheduled for release in July.

Elysia, makers of the Alpha Channel compressor, has introduced the Mpressor ($4,500), a stereo compressor designed for recording and offering settings for extreme dynamics control. The device has balanced analog I/O, sidechain I/O, and includes the Autofast function, the AntiLog release feature, and the Max Reduction function.

Eowave showed the Eobody 2 analog sensor-to-MIDI system, which now uses a USB cable to connect the hardware box to a computer, and RJ45 cables to connect the main box to the 8-input breakout boxes. The updated Eobody increases the sensor system's resolution to 12 bits and offers lower latency times. A collection of new sensors are also in the works. Eowave says the Eobody 2 will be priced about the same as the original Eobody.

Newly launched Equator Audio Research announced its line of Q Series powered coaxial reference monitors. Available with 10-, 12-, and 15-inch low-frequency drivers, the monitors include software for tuning the system to your room and offer Secondary Reflection Correction, which compensates for gear such as consoles and computer monitors, according to the manufacturer. The main monitor connects to your computer via USB, and CAT5 connections are used between monitors. The company says that the Q line is designed to give you accurate playback, no matter what the room conditions, with high SPL capabilities when needed. The pair of Q12s I heard weighed 60 lbs a piece and sounded very good.

Focusrite announced a version 2.0 software update for its Liquid Mix DSP host. The update, which is a free download, adds a 1-band EQ sidechain to the compressor and ensures that the hardware unit will track changes made in the software's user interface. In addition, the buffer size is now user variable.

Icon, a new company based in Madison, WI, offers a wide range of Asian-made products, from mics, mixers, and monitors to interfaces and keyboard controllers. Of note are the FireXon 4-in/4-out FireWire interface, the FireMix FireWire mixer and MIDI controller, and the Virtual series of keyboard controllers with moving faders.

IK Multimedia introduced a pair of interesting new sample-based instruments at the show. SampleTron is focused on tape-replay instruments, such as the Mellotron and Chamberlin. However, it also includes sounds from more obscure (and non-tape-based) instruments such as the Optigan and the Stylophone. SampleMoog, as you would expect, features instruments from the Moog legacy, but goes beyond covering the old standards by including the Sonic 6, the Liberation, two version of the Taurus pedals, and even the company's theremin.

JazzMutant unveiled Dexter, a Lemur-like control surface that comes with preset templates for the majority of digital audio workstations. Surprisingly, it is expected to be priced slightly higher than the EM Editors' Choice Award winning Lemur. Dexter is expected to be shipping by June.

Novation showed the Nio 2|4, a USB-powered tabletop interface offering two simultaneous inputs (chosen from pairs of XLR, ¼-inch, or RCA jacks), four RCA outputs, MIDI I/O, an onboard multi-effects processor, and dual headphone outputs. The prototype of the small and portable device had a solid, heavy duty feel about it.

Native Instruments announced Kore 2 (due in June), which includes a redesigned interface/controller, a library of 500 KoreSounds, and the ability to have eight variations of a sound and morph between them. The company also made a number of Traktor 3-related announcements: the Traktor Tutorial DVD ($44) offers three hours of high-resolution video instruction and accompanying files; the Traktor Scratch certification program ensures that certain mixers are fully operational with Traktor Scratch; the Traktor Ready program certifies that specific DJ controllers are fully compatible with Traktor; and Traktor 3 LE will be included with a number of DJ products.

Peter Tools says it will release a Mac OS X version of Hammer this summer. Hammer is an application that lets you run audio into Propellerhead Reason.

Prism Sound has released Orpheus (approx $5,000), a FireWire interface with eight analog inputs and outputs, as well as S/PDIF and Toslink digital ports, for a total of 18 I/O channels. The interface features four digitally controlled mic preamps, two instrument inputs, two headphone outputs, and an application (Mac/Win) for routing signals and controlling the built-in mixer. ASIO, WDM, and Core Audio drivers are supported, as well as 5.1 and 7.1 surround capabilities.

Roland and Boss had a couple of nice surprises at the show. The HD-1 is a compact, budget-priced V-drum kit with seven pads that are attached to a single vertical stand. The pair of support legs each have a pedal built in. Also on view was the SonicCell, a 128-voice synth module and USB audio interface. The device supports WAV, AIF, and MP3 audio files, and it plays Standard MIDI Files.

Boss showed the ME-20 and ME-20B multi-effects pedals for guitar and bass, respectively. But my favorite Boss item of the show was the RE-20, a dual-pedal recreation of the Roland Space Echo. Even over headphones, and with the din of demos in the background, I was transported back decades as I played a Fender Strat through the RE-20. You can expect to hear more about these products at the 2007 Summer NAMM show.

SPL and Tonehunter have teamed up to create Transducer Model 2601 ($1,500), an analog speaker simulator for guitar that supports amps up to 200W. The front panel includes switches for selecting an open or closed speaker cabinet, a simulated dynamic or condenser mic, as well as speaker voicing and mic distance. The rear panel has a mic preamp output, a pair of line outputs, and a speaker-thru jack that lets you send a signal back into your speaker cabinet.

Steinberg is shipping Sequel (Mac/Win; $99), an entry level sequencer with recording and editing capabilities that comes with 3.5 GB of sample and loop content. The application includes a live-performance mode.

TC Electronic announced over a dozen new products. The coolest is the Konnekt Live ($795), an audio interface designed for use with laptops that includes all the features and DSP effects of the Konnekt 24D, as well as a phono input and RIAA EQ curves, and the new ResFilter plug-in. The C400XL ($395) is a dual stereo compressor with analog and digital I/O. The Nova Delay ($345) and Nova Reverb ($345) are feature-rich, pedal-based, digital stereo effects.

The VoiceTone Correct ($345) and VoiceTone Create ($345) are pedals designed for the stage with vocalists in mind. VoiceTone Correct offers pitch correction and multi-effects, while VoiceTone Create gives you a collection of preset effects combinations that are designed for ease of use. And if you're an acoustic guitarist that plays live, check out G-Natural ($995), a multi-effects processor designed for use with acoustic string instruments.

Ultimate Sound Bank demonstrated Beat Inc. ($399), a sample player with an MPC-style interface. The application includes a waveform editor, as well as construction kits and one shots.

Yellow Tools announced that it will release Independence 1.5 as a free update to registered users. (The boxed version will ship in April.) In addition, Yellow Tools will soon release the Independence Free player, which will include some content but won't require a dongle to use.

Super Duper!

It wouldn't be Musikmesse without the Superbooth. Sponsored by Berlin-based distributor Schneiders Buero, the Superbooth is a treasure trove of boutique electronic music gear, and it always provides a few surprises.


For example, Schneiders Buero introduced the Steckbox, a passive 8x8 analog patching system in a grid format (similar to the one on the EMS Synthi and VCS3) that uses resistor pins to make connections. Some of the pins will include buttons, knobs, light sensors, and other interesting controls. The company hopes to release it in September, 2007.

Another welcome surprise is that Manfred Fricke Berlin (MFB) has introduced a series of inexpensive, but very useful, synth modules in the EuroRack format. These include the Seq-1 Drum Sequencer, three percussion modules that recreate drums and cymbals, the Triple DCO Osc-01, and the VD-01 Videoscope for routing your synth output to a television monitor for viewing. I was told these modules would be priced aggressively.

I was given a preview of the new TiefenRausch (approximately 700 Euro) desktop analog synth module. The instrument offers a standard 2-VCO synth voice, with an LFO, a pair of envelopes, a VCA, and a 24 dB filter. The module sounded great and packed a punch. Units should be available this summer.

I was also shown a rough prototype of the Reeph Audio VC DSP module called VCP-1. It will offer effects such as voltage controllable delay and reverb. Keep an eye out for this one.

And of course Doepfer had a number of new items. Flanked by four of its Monster Cases were prototypes of the 4-octave CV/Gate keyboard and the 2-octave Touch Sensor keyboard, the latter of which has some issues that need to be ironed out. (Although, personally, I like the erratic behavior of the current version, because of its circuit-bent quality). On the module front, I got a tour of the A-111-2 Dynamic VCO, which offers a number of interesting nomalled as well as inter-patching features, and the A-188-2 Tapped BBD module: even with just a single sawtooth signal going into it, the A-188-2 knocked my socks off. DIYers will want to check out Doepfer's kits for building customized EuroRack cases and power supplies.

For those of us on this side of the pond, it's a safe bet that Analogue Haven will be carrying many of the European-designed items shown in the Superbooth, so watch its Website for details.

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