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electronic MUSICIAN

Indy Summertime: Summer NAMM 2005

By Geary Yelton | August 11, 2005

From Friday morning until Sunday afternoon, July 22 through 24, thousands of musicians invaded the city of Indianapolis for NAMM Summer Session 2005. Store and studio owners, instrument manufacturers, software developers, audio engineers, and players of every ilk converged on the Indiana Convention Center and RCA Dome for three days of new gear, live music, and camaraderie.

This year marks the first time in over a decade that Summer NAMM has occurred somewhere other than Nashville. Many potential exhibitors and visitors were skeptical about attendance, and their hesitation about participating became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just over 20,000 registrants signed up, down more than 3,000 from the previous summer. Several exhibitors that usually take lots of floor space-Korg and Yamaha among them-were nowhere to be found. Though attendance was down, most who were there said that business was good: exhibitors took plenty of orders and reported a good return on their investment.

The overall atmosphere was more relaxed and more slowly paced than usual, leaving attendees with additional time for leisurely conversation, for attending demos and lectures, and for catching up with friends. Although the show floor wasn't crowded, the level of noise might have been at an all-time high. The decibel police were nowhere to been seen, and guitarists loudly competed with drummers for attention. Fortunately, EM's centrally located booth was situated directly across from a sound-absorbing wall.

The city of Indianapolis was a gracious host, with plenty of good music, good food, and a beautiful downtown area, thanks to a $4.5 billion renovation over the past ten years. Concurrent with NAMM was the Midwest Music Summit 2005, a regional showcase event featuring dozens of emerging artists and thousands of wanna-bes and recording industry types. For one bright and shining weekend, Indianapolis became the center of the universe for musicians and audio professionals.

HOT FLASHES

One of the most exciting products at NAMM combines hardware and software components. Waves demonstrated GTR (Guitar Tool Rack, Mac/Win, $600 native, $1,200 TDM), one of the most realistic guitar-amp emulations I've heard. The software comprises Amp, which models amps, cabinets, and mics; Stomp, which simulates an assortment of stompboxes; and Tuner, which provides alternate tunings instantly. GTR also includes a single-input guitar interface with a unbalanced TS output and an balanced XLR output. Designed in collaboration with guitar maker Paul Reed Smith, the interface is a DI box with impedance-matching circuitry that responds to your playing much like a real guitar amp.

Just like last summer, Ableton stirred things up with a new version of its flagship software. Live 5 (Mac/Win, $499) has lots of new MIDI features, new effects, automatic tempo-matching, plug-in delay compensation, and best of all, Live Clips. Live Clips let you save and retrieve sequences, instruments, effects, and other data in portable chunks that work a lot like Apple Loops. Live 5 is a $119 upgrade for most Live 4 users, and it's shipping now.

Three diminutive stereo field recorders from M-Audio and Sony made big impressions on anyone who saw them. The MicroTrack 24/96 ($499, shipping soon), from M-Audio, is a sleek handheld device smaller than an iPod, yet it has a multitude of audio ins and outs, USB 2.0, and stereo mic preamps with 48V phantom power. The MicroTrack records linear 24-bit, 96 kHz WAV files as well as MP3s to a CompactFlash card or microdrive.

Sony surprised everyone with the new Hi-MD format, which records 94 minutes of uncompressed 16-bit, 44.1 kHz audio (or as much as 34 hours with ATRAC compression) on a single 1 GB high-density MiniDisc. The MZ-M10 ($329) and MZ-M100 ($439) Hi-MD stereo recorders each include audio-editing software, a long-life rechargeable battery, and an ECM-DS70P stereo electret condenser mic.

More big news: Tascam has unbundled its premium convolution reverb from GigaStudio 3. GigaPulse VST (Win, $299) is a plug-in that works with any VST host on the PC. It supplies dozens of sampled acoustic spaces and allows you to create your own impulse responses. GigaPulse lets you model microphones and move your sound source to any of 18 locations within a sampled room.

One of the coolest multimedia tools on display was from Edirol. The Motion Dive .Tokyo Performance Package (Mac/Win, available by year's end for $575) incorporates a V-Link-compatible video controller and video-mixing software. The combination lets you import video clips and digital images and then switch and fade between them, adding visual effects in real time to create video remix performances.

Another eye-catching device was the Boss RT-20 ($299, shipping in October), from Roland. This COSM-based stompbox is a rotary sound processor with twin footpedals and a spinning visual display that I can only describe as a tiny psychedelic light show. The RT-20 gives you a simulated Leslie cabinet with independent control over acceleration and deceleration of the horn and bass rotors.

Although it isn't aimed directly at musicians, everyone was talking about the iDJ ($399), an Apple iPod mixer from Numark. It has docking stations and large transport buttons for two iPods alongside controls to mix and fade between them. Designed for mobile DJs, it has 3-band EQ as well as mic, line, and phono inputs.

SOFTWARE and SOUNDWARE

Summer NAMM is seldom a showcase for software introductions, and the pickings were slimmer than usual this year. Nonetheless, some pretty significant products were announced. Cakewalk has upgraded both versions of Home Studio and made them part of its Sonar product line. Sonar Home Studio 4 (Win, $149) and Sonar Home Studio XL (Win, $229) add so many new features that they might compete with high-end sequencers at a fraction of the cost. Each features 64 audio tracks and unlimited MIDI tracks; 24-bit, 192 kHz audio support; track presets for easy setup; enhanced looping tools; CD burning; and a large collection of Acid loops. The XL version adds Reverb XL, two PowerFX content CDs, and three new virtual instruments.

After years of effort, Sonic Implants has finished its Complete Symphonic Collection ($2,995), exclusively for Tascam GigaStudio 3 (Win). It encompasses all four volumes in the series: Symphonic Strings Collection, Brass Collection, Woodwinds Collection, and Percussion Collection. Featuring recordings of instruments played by members of the Boston Pops and Ballet orchestras, the sample library makes good use of GigaStudio's Dynamic Expression and Portamento Reshaping filters to enhance realism. The collection also includes GigaPulse impulse responses created by Larry Seyer.

Native Instruments was demonstrating an early version of Akoustik Piano (Mac/Win, $349, scheduled for September release). This virtual instrument furnishes samples from four pianos-a Steinway D, a Bechstein D 280, a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial, and a Steingraeber Model 130 upright-as well as four sampled rooms, 3-band EQ, a metronome, a MIDI player, and a MIDI recorder. Equally impressive was Kontakt Experience (Mac/Win, $119, shipping soon), a collection of 128 instruments that take advantage of features found only in Kontakt 2. Over 900 MB of samples fuel instruments ranging from vocalized timbres to loops and arpeggios. Also included are ten new modules for Kontakt Script Processor (KSP).

M-Audio has begun distributing TimewARP 2600 ($249), a software emulation of the classic ARP 2600 analog synthesizer. It now runs standalone and supports VST and Audio Units plug-in formats in addition to RTAS. M-Audio also introduced three new families of ProSessions soundware, all of which are now available. ProSessions Premium Instruments ($99 each), created in collaboration with Sonic Reality and Sonic Implants, are a series of five multi-format collections that currently include grand piano, acoustic guitar, vintage keyboards, electric pianos, and studio drums. ProSessions 24 ($49 each) are 24-bit sample discs produced with the cooperation of recording artists, beginning with three new volumes. ProSessions Producer discs feature samples taken from Sonic Implants' Giga libraries and formatted for EXS24, HALion, Kontakt, MachFive, and Reason. In addition to Orchestral Brass and Orchestral Strings ($119 each), the current titles are Heavy Guitars, Afro-Cuban Percussion, and Electric Bass Vol. 1-Rock ($99 each).

Software developer IK Multimedia is still hard at work on programs it announced at Winter NAMM. Slated for imminent release is Miroslav Philharmonic ($599, $299 for SampleTank 2 users), derived from what was once the most expensive orchestral sample library you could buy. Based on SampleTank 2's architecture, this plug-in combines the 16-bit Miroslav Orchestral and Choir collections into a 7 GB virtual instrument that supports Audio Units, DXi, RTAS, and VST formats.

Peterson, longtime maker of strobe tuners for stage and studio, is now making StroboSoft, a virtual tuner for Windows. It comes in two versions: Standard ($49), with accuracy to 1/10 of a cent, and Deluxe ($79), with additional features such as programmable user presets, an oscilloscope, and a spectrum analyzer. A Mac version should be shipping soon.

Sony was showing its Oxford plug-ins for Digidesign Pro Tools and TC Electronics PowerCore. The newest is Oxford Limiter (Mac/Win, $295, available now) in TDM and RTAS formats. It offers variable-depth noise shaping, an Enhance control to maximize punch, five selectable types of 16- and 24-bit dithering, and full metering functions.

The Garritan booth stayed quite busy throughout the show, with ongoing demonstrations of current and forthcoming products. Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO) was running on a Muse Research Receptor, but the big news was that Make Music is bundling GPO with Finale 2006 (Mac/Win, $600; upgrades available). Plans are also underway for bundling GPO with other music notation programs. Jazz and Big Band Collection ($259), first announced at Winter NAMM, is expected to be the next Garritan product ready for prime time. Tascam announced Nomad Factory Essential Studio Suite (Mac/Win), a collection of nine plug-ins that support Audio Units, HTDM, RTAS, and VST. Essential Channel, Essential Graphic EQ, Loudness Maximizer, Multiband Loudness Maximizer, Essential Compressor, Multiband Compressor, Essential Gate/Expander, Tube/Tape Warmer, and Retrovox are all included.

The MasterWriter booth was also a busy one, with Barry DeVorzon doing continual demonstrations of his program MasterWriter (Mac/Win, $289). Although he didn't make any official announcements, he did mention in conversation that a future version would be full of features designed to enhance creative writing and would target journalists as well as songwriters.

HARDWARE HEAVEN

More than anything else, Summer NAMM is a show that focuses on music and audio hardware. Roland has taken the SP-303 sampler and added more of everything to create the SP-404 ($449, slated for September release): more memory, more voices, more controls, more effects, and a much more up-to-date appearance. It has a CompactFlash slot and a built-in mic, and it can run on battery power. For practicing drummers, Roland's RMP-5 Rhythm Coach ($279, due in October) is a major step up from the RMP-3. In addition to all the RMP-3's features, the RMP-5 supplies 54 onboard sounds, advanced training modes, and a variety of metronome patterns. A dual-trigger input lets you add optional kick and cymbal pads to your practice setup; you can even work on perfecting your double-kick technique.

Hidden from most of the floor traffic, Line 6 had an out-of-the-way room set up with its new 5-string Variax Bass 705 ($1,399 black, $1,499 sunburst) and Strat-style Variax 600 guitar ($1,119) with a tremolo bridge for anyone who wanted to don headphones and play. The previously announced Variax Workbench ($139) was also on hand, providing software for designing your own hybrid guitar models and transferring them to a Variax.

Just next door, Waves had its new APA32 ($1,600) and APA44-M ($2,400) on display. These outboard DSP accelerators connect to your computer through Ethernet and can run several simultaneous copies of some of Waves' most power-hungry plug-ins.

Some impressive mics and preamps were on display in the ADK booth. The AP-1 ($1,199) is a unique open-architecture mic preamp with sockets that allow you to interchange op amps and input transformers from different manufacturers for different applications. Two new mics from ADK are the Vienna Edition ($595) and the Hamburg Edition ($595). Both are large-diaphragm cardioid models best suited for recording vocals.

Tascam has added a CD burner to its affordable digital PortaStudio to create the DP-01FX/CD ($799). This tabletop 8-channel multitrack recorder features internal reverb and effects and supports MIDI Time Code synchronization.

Alesis made a good showing at NAMM with several new hardware products. The company has expanded its line of portable USB/MIDI keyboard controllers with the Photon X49, a 49-note model that has all the features of the X25 as well as DAW transport controls, nine assignable sliders, and a ten-button keypad for entering parameter values. The USB-powered io|2 is a stereo audio and MIDI interface that supports 24-bit, 96 kHz audio. It has two XLR mic inputs with 48V phantom power, two balanced line inputs, and inserts on each channel. Alesis also debuted two powered studio monitors, the M1 Active 520 and the M1 Active 620. The 520 has a 5-inch woofer and is rated at 75W, and the 620 has a 6.5-inch woofer and is rated at 100W. Each has a 1-inch tweeter, a 1-inch-thick baffle, three EQ switches, and a low-frequency density switch for adjusting to the environment.

PreSonus announced that its long-awaited ADL600 ($2,295) will be shipping in August. This top-shelf, hand-built, 2-channel, Class A mic preamp was designed by Anthony DeMaria and contains three military-grade vacuum tubes, switched attenuators, and analog VU meters. PreSonus also showed the BlueTube DP ($229, shipping now), a 2-channel mic and instrument preamp for the rest of us. Each channel has a solid-state preamplifier and a tube preamplifier stage for optimum versatility.

Designed for mobile recording, the Fast Track Pro ($249, shipping in August) is a 24-bit, 44.1 kHz audio/MIDI interface from M-Audio. Two mic and instrument preamps are on Neutrik connectors with independent gain controls and TRS inserts. Also onboard are four unbalanced RCA outputs, S/PDIF I/O, and a 1/4-inch headphone jack with its own volume control. The JamLab ($79.95, now shipping) is M-Audio's new USB audio interface specifically for guitarists. It comes bundled with DSound GT Player Express (Mac/Win), which delivers amp simulation, a selection of virtual effects, and an audio player that handles MP3, WAV, and AAC files and includes 160 MB of ProSessions drum loops. M-Audio also showed the new BX5a ($399/pair), a near-field studio reference monitor with a Kevlar woofer, a silk tweeter, and a new cabinet design.

Radial Engineering showed its new Studio Guitar Interface (SGI, $199), making it possible for a guitarist to play and monitor his or her performance in the control room with the amplifier as far as 500 feet away. The system comprises a pair of modules, the SGI TX for transmission and the SGI RX for reception, connected by balanced studio wiring. Radial also showed the mono ProDI ($99) and the stereo ProD2 ($149). Both are passive direct boxes with custom isolation transformers that minimize noise and phase distortion.

Synth manufacturer Novation launched three new keyboard controllers. Scheduled for delivery by October, the ReMote LE is a downscaled version of the company's ReMote series. Available in 25-, 49-, and 61-note models, it features an x-y touchpad, a joystick for pitch bend and modulation, dedicated transport controls, and storage for 16 software templates. Novation's synth plug-in Bass Station will be bundled with the ReMote LE.

eBlitz Audio Labs, boasting an exhibit that exceeded the convention center's height restrictions, displayed a new line of instrument cases by Body Glove. The company has applied its experience manufacturing wetsuits, personal floatation devices, and snorkeling gear to making soft-but-durable cases for keyboard and guitar.

Several companies were demonstrating their products on computers made by Rain Recording. Rain targets musicians and audio professionals with its line of Windows PCs. The Element is a desktop model, and the LiveBook is a notebook model; both are priced at $2,295 and up. The company also makes two FireWire/USB hard drives, the StormDrive 300 GB ($499) and the StormDrive Pocket 100 GB ($549).

EFFECTS ADDICTION

New effects processors are never in short supply at Summer NAMM, and this year was certainly no exception. DigiTech has added the GNX3000 ($599, shipping now) to its line of guitar workstations. It furnishes 57 effects and can handle as many as 11 of them simultaneously. It models dozens of amps, cabinets, and stompboxes ranging from Ampeg SVT and Arbiter Fuzz Face to Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier and Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive. The GNX3000 comes with X-Edit editor/librarian software and Pro Tracks Plus recording software. DigiTech also showed off the JamMan ($449), a stompbox version of the classic rackmount Lexicon effect on the same name. The JamMan has a maximum 6.5 hours of sampling time, CompactFlash storage, USB connectivity, and all the functionality you need to record, overdub, and manipulate loops and phrases. DigiTech's new stompbox Black-13, produced with Anthrax and S.O.D. guitarist Scott Ian, gives electric guitars a heavy-metal edge.

Way back in the corner of the main hall, Moog Music unveiled its Moogerfooger MF-104Z ($729, available in September). The MF-104Z is an analog delay processor that updates Moog's original MF-104 that was introduced in 2000. Like all Moogerfoogers, the MF-104Z can be rackmounted or placed on the floor or tabletop. It offers delay times from 50 to 1,000 ms. The Moog product that drew the most attention, however, was the Minimoog Voyager Rackmount Edition ($2,195), which debuted at Winter NAMM.

TC Electronic was demonstrating its top-of-the-line guitar processor, the G-System ($2,245, shipping now). The floor-mount G-System lets you combine as many as eight simultaneous effects and save them to a single preset. Eighteen chrome footswitches give you control of 25 effects and four external effects loops.

Not to be outdone, TC-Helicon showed off its flagship vocal-modeling processor VoicePro ($3,495, shipping now). But the best surprise was the announcement of free downloadable software editors (Mac/Win, available in August) for the VoicePro, VoiceWorks, VoiceLive, and VoiceOne 2.0 processors. The programs will run standalone and as VST plug-ins and will communicate with the hardware units through MIDI.

Guitar-maker Fender was there with another surprise: the resurrection of the Fender Blender ($199, shipping soon). The legendary octave and fuzz pedal, produced from 1968 until 1977, has been reissued with a few minor improvements that include a bypass circuit and a durable aluminum case.

Stalwart stompbox maker Electro-Harmonix was there with a host of effects pedals. A sophisticated-looking processor called the Flanger Hoax ($298, shipping in September) was somewhat shrouded in mystery. Details were sketchy and no one was demonstrating it, but at least it looked cool. The English Muff'n ($298, shipping) contains two 12AY7 vacuum tubes and attempts to re-create the sound of a cranked-up Marshall stack from the 1960s.

Zoom announced a slew of new effects pedals for guitar and bass (prices and estimated ship dates were unavailable). The A2 and A2.1u are a pair of processors for acoustic guitar. The A2 offers guitar-body modeling, feedback suppression, and a choice of 6-band EQ or 2-band parametric EQ, and the A2.1u adds an expression pedal and USB. Likewise, the B2 and B2.1u offer amp and cabinet modeling, stompbox modeling, three synth sounds, and EQ for bassists. The G7.1ut Guitar Effects Console supplies a programmable tube preamp with six footswitches and an expression pedal. The G9.2tt adds a second tube and a second expression pedal. Zoom's prototype drum machine/loop recorder/effects processor, the Streetboxx SB-246, promises 13 touch-sensitive pads, 25 basses, 70 drum kits, 100 patterns, and 500 sounds that load instantly.

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