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Report from Winter NAMM 2004

1/28/2004

Standing in the shadows of Disneyland is the Anaheim Convention Center, home of the Winter NAMM show. This year’s show, which took place from January 15-18, was a pretty typical NAMM experience. Musical instrument and gear manufacturers showed off their latest wares, while music-store buyers, the press, and a gaggle of music celebs cruised the floor, looking for cool new gear and schmoozing up a storm.

From a business standpoint, the unofficial take on this year’s show was that it was a busy and successful one. For recording musicians, there were plenty of interesting new products of many varieties, but computer-related products—such as soft-instruments, effects plug-ins, sounds, and audio interfaces—were particularly prevalent. Here are some of the highlights from the show, arranged by category.

Software and Sounds

Apple announced a complete revamping of the Emagic Logic line of digital audio sequencers. There will now be only two titles in the line: Logic Pro 6 ($999), which bundles Logic Platinum with the Emagic’s full line of plug-ins and software instruments; and Logic Express ($299). The latter offers less features than its big brother, but still provides plenty of functionality. The Apple booth was also packed for its demos of Garage Band, the new, budget-priced music production program. Garage Band is part of Apple’s new iLife ’04 suite ($49) that the company announced at the recent MacWorld Expo in San Francisco.

ARTURIA MiniMoog V

Arturia will be releasing a new soft synth, MiniMoog V ($199), which offers a complete emulation of the classic MiniMoog synth. You get features from the original such as voltage-controlled oscillators, a 24 dB-per-octave resonant filter, an external audio input, and two ADSR Envelope Generators. Arturia has also added some features of its own including a Modulation Matrix, a tempo-synchonizable LFO and arpeggiator, and chorus and delay effects. Arturia also announced the release of Storm 3.0 ($149), the virtual studio program. New features will include an unlimited number instruments and effects (limited only by processor power), an audio/MIDI sequencer, new mixing features, a piano-roll display, a new GM sound module and more. Storm 3.0 will ship in March.

The big news at BIAS is the soon-to-be-introduced Peak 4.1 ($499 for the full version, upgrade price varies depending on the version you own). The 2-track editor for Mac OS X will incorporate Roxio’s Jam software for CD burning, and SFX Machine LT, a “light” version of the sound design/effects plug-in.

Big Fish Audio introduced the new ignition v.i. series of 8-track, REX 2 player plug-ins from eLab. Three titles are scheduled: Obsession ($299.95), aimed at Hip-Hop, R&B, and pop producers; Foundation ($299.95), aimed at Old-School Hip Hop and R&B producers; and Perfection ($299.95), aimed at House producers. The players are plug-ins for Audio Units and VSTi, and will run on Mac OS X and Windows XP. All three collections come on DVD, include 3 GB of loops and samples, and are scheduled to ship in the second quarter of 2004.

Celemony Software announced Melodyne uno ($150), a light version of its Melodyne pitch-and time-shifting software. Melodyne uno—which runs on both the Windows XP and Mac OS X platforms—is designed as a mono audio-editing tool that you can use to alter pitch and timing. It runs as a VST, Audio Unit, RTAS, or Direct X plug-in, or through ReWire. Melodyne uno is scheduled to ship in April.

Cycling ’74 was showing new versions of M (v 2.6), its intelligent composition and performance software, and the plug-in bundle Pluggo (v. 3.1). The latter now supports VST, Audio Units, and RTAS. The company also unveiled a new suite of plug-ins called the Mode Bundle ($199). It contains three virtual synths: Poly, Mono, and Bang; and two effects plug-ins: Spin and Wash.

Discrete Drums had a couple cool new sound sets on display. Earthbeat ($189), is a collection of world-music percussion loops that’s due out in mid-February. Discrete Percussion: The Eric Darken Collection ($99), is a collection of unusual—but heavily grooving—percussion loops, and is due out in late February. It features such instruments as the attaché case latch, the laundry basket, and the shower curtain.

People who visited the Ilio booth were raving about Ivory ($349), a grand-piano virtual instrument from Synthogy. Ivory is compatible with AU, RTAS, and VST 2.0 (Windows support is slated for later this year.), and comes with more than 20 GB of piano sounds including a German Steinway D 9' Concert Grand, a Bösendorfer 290, an Imperial Grand, and a Yamaha C7 Grand. Ivory’s sample-playback engine offers 32-bit playback and built-in effects such as chorus, “real ambience,” and EQ.

One could say that Digidesign dropped a bit of a “bombshell” at the show, when it announced that it had purchased the assets of Bomb Factory Digital, a developer of Pro Tools plug-ins that specialized in emulations of classic signal processing gear. According to Digi’s David Lebolt, “Our acquisition of Bomb Factory underscores Digidesign’s commitment to deliver the most powerful creative options available to Pro Tools customers.”

Korg Legacy Collection

One of the most exciting and impressive software introductions of the show came from Korg, which was demonstrating the Legacy Collection ($625) for Mac OS X and Windows XP. It’s comprised of a suite of soft synths (that run either as standalone instruments or VST plug-ins) designed to emulate Korg’s classic MS-20, Polysix, and Wavestation synths. What’s more, the bundle, which will be available in April, also comes with the MS-20iC, a 3/4-scale replica of the MS-20 that’s not a synth in itself, but is a working USB/MIDI controller that can control all the functions of the MS-20 soft synth.

Over at the MOTU booth, the big news was the imminent release of the OS X version of the Editor/Librarian Unisyn. It’s expected out any day now.

Although the new VS8F-3 Plug-In Effect Expansion Board ($395) from Roland isn’t software per se, its announcement is one of the biggest software developments of the show. Why? Because it will allow users of Roland VS workstations to use effects plug-ins from a host of third-party developers including Antares [www.antarestech.com], Cakewalk, IK Multimedia, Massenberg Design Works, McDsp, Sound Toys, TC Electronic, and Universal Audio. Roland expects the board to be available by the end of January.

Steinberg was showing a new hardware/software bundle called Cubase System 4 ($499) for Mac OS X and Windows 2000, XP Home and XP Professional. Due to ship in February, it will include the 4x4 MT4 USB-audio interface and Cubase SL software.

Tascam GigaStudio 3.0

One of the more important software announcements at the show came from Tascam, which revealed the impending release of GigaStudio 3, an updated version of its heralded soft-sampler. It will come in three versions: Orchestra ($599), Ensemble ($369), and Solo ($199). According to Tascam, GigaStudio 3 has been rewritten “from the ground up,” and will offer such features as 96kHz/24-bit sample support, ReWire support, and VST plug-in support. It will also include GigaPulse, Tascam’s convolution reverb processor. (The SP version of GigaPulse will come with Ensemble and Solo, the Pro version with Orchestra). A spokesperson for Tascam said that the company will offer upgrade options for registered GigaSampler users, but those prices have yet to be determined.

TC Electronic caused a stir with its new Virus|PowerCore ($499), a software version of the Access Virus synth for TC’s Powercore platform. Available in March, the new instrument will run as a VST instrument for Windows and Mac, and as an Audio Unit plug-in under Mac OS X.

Waves IR-1

Waves debuted an impressive convolution processor called the IR-1 Parametric Convolution Reverb ($800 native, $1200 TDM). The IR-1 features a variety of sampled acoustic spaces including the Sydney Opera House, the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville (the original Grand Ole Opry venue), The Bottom Line (the recently closed NYC nightclub), The Knitting Factory, Signet Sound Studio A, Westlake Audio Studio D, and even the interior of a Lincoln Navigator. Waves also unveiled the Musician’s Bundle ($199), which includes five Waves’ plug-ins: Renaissance Axx, Super Tap, Renaissance Vox, Doubler, and MetaFlanger.

Yamaha jumped into the plug-in fray with three new VST titles: Pitch Fix ($299), a pitch-correction and pitch-shifting plug-in; Vocal Rack ($199), a vocal processor that offers high-pass filtering, compression, an enhancer, a three-band EQ, a de-esser, and more; and Final Master ($199), which provides audio mastering tools such as multi-band compression.

Zero-G Lola

The most stunning software demo at the show had to be of the new Vocaloid software applications from Zero-G (distributed by EastWest). Using technology licensed from Yamaha, Zero-G, is about to start shipping two “virtual vocalist” programs, Leon ($329.95) and Lola ($329), which were put together from the recorded voices of a pair of London studio singers and a whole lot of computer code. The software generates relatively realistic-sounding synthesized vocals. The notes for the vocal parts (up to 16 parts can run at a time) are manually entered into a piano-roll-style sequencer and can be edited to add expression such as vibrato, crescendo and diminuendo, and much more. The lyrics are entered in by typing the words into a text box over the corresponding notes. The software runs on Windows XP or 2000 (a Zero-G spokesman said that a Mac version will probably be available later this year), and can be used as a standalone application or as a VST or ReWire plug-in. A third title—Miriam—will be released in March.

Mixers, Monitors, and Multitracks

One of the most notable of many product introductions from Behringer was the SL3242FX-PRO ($629), a 32-input, 4-bus mixer with built-in effects. It sports a pair of 24-bit stereo effects processors, a 9-band stereo graphic EQ, 4 aux sends per channel, an integrated talkback system, as well as solo-in-place and pre-facer listen features. A 24-input version, the SL2442FX-PRO ($499) was also shown. Both mixers are due to ship in the first quarter of 2004.

KRK Rokit5

KRK introduced its Rokit line, a value-priced series of active studio monitors. Models include the RP5 ($598/pair), which features a 53 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response; 75W of power; a 5-inch woofer; a 1” Neodymium tweeter; and XLR, 1/4-inch, and RCA inputs. Other models in the line include the RP6 ($798/pair), the RP8 ($998/pair) and the RP10S ($599.99) powered sub. KRK also announced its V Series 2, an upgrade to its V Series monitor line.


Mackie Big Knob

Mackie

was showing off its new Onyx line of mixers, which includes three models of FireWire-capable, 4-bus, analog boards. All three, the Onyx 1220 ($639), the Onyx 1620 ($919), and the Onyx 1640 ($1539.99) can be paired with an optional FireWire card ($499.99) that offers flexible I/O functions. The Onyx products are scheduled to begin shipping in the second quarter of 2004. Another interesting product at the Mackie booth was Big Knob ($384.99), a “studio command” device that was designed to provide a variety of control-room functions that DAW-based studios without outboard consoles are often missing. Big Knob, gives you monitor switching, talkback, input source select for up to four different stereo sources, two headphone outs, and more.

Along similar lines was the Central Station Studio Control Center ($699), which was being shown by PreSonus. Due to ship in February, the 1U rackmount unit lets you switch between three sets of monitors, and it offers three sets of stereo analog inputs, digital inputs, and two headphone outs. According to PreSonus, the unit’s purely passive signal path will eliminate coloration, distortion, and noise, giving the user “transparent sonic quality.”

Roland VS2000cd

Over at the Roland booth, two new multitracks were on display. The VS-2000CD ($2,395) is the newest model in the company’s popular VS series. Due to ship sometime in February, the unit gives you 20 recording tracks, a 40 GB hard drive, eight XLR inputs, a CD-RW drive, a 40-channel digital mixer, 4-band EQ for any input or track, and much more. In the Boss section of the booth was the BR-1600CD ($1,595), which can record 8 simultaneous tracks and playback 16. Its features include a 40 GB hard drive, eight phantom-powered XLR inputs, 3-band EQ, and COSM modeling effects.


Soundcraft Compact 4 and Compact 10

Soundcraft

is about to release two new mixers that are designed especially for use in computer-based recording. The Compact 4 ($149), offers 2 XLR mic inputs with 48V phantom power, and 2 stereo line inputs sporting both 1/4-inch and RCA inputs. The Compact 10 ($299) has 4 XLR mic inputs (the phantom power is switchable in groups of 2) and 6 stereo line channels (4 with 1/4-inch and RCA inputs, and two with RCA inputs only). Both mixers offer dual headphone outs with separate mixes, and are designed to mix the live recorded sound with the computer’s output for zero-latency monitoring.

Tascam made a big splash with a personal digital studio of its own, the 2488 ($1,499). Available in February, the 2488 gives you 24-tracks of 24-bit audio, 250 virtual tracks, 36 mixer channels, 3-band EQ for each of the 24 tracks, a built-in CD-RW drive, 4 XLR inputs with phantom power, four 1/4-inch mic/line inputs, a 64-voice General MIDI sound module, and more.

ZOOM MRS-1608

Yet another entrant in the personal digital studio sweepstakes was Zoom, which introduced the MRS-1608 ($1749). This 16-track unit (8 tracks simultaneous record and 16 tracks simultaneous playback) comes with a 40 GB hard drive, 8 XLR inputs (4 with phantom power), digital effects, guitar-amp modeling and more. Two of its coolest features are the programmable drum and bass sections, which don’t use up audio tracks, and feature touch-sensitive pads for programming. You can also opt for the MRS-1608CD ($2,099), which comes with an built-in CD-R/RW drive.

Keyboards, Synths, and Audio Interfaces

Alesis introduced the Micron ($699), which contains the same analog-modeling engine as the company’s Ion synth. A partial list of Micron’s features include a 37-key keyboard, a programmable step sequencer and arpeggiator, stereo effects such as vocoders and reverb, and four multitimbral parts.

Dave Smith Instruments were showing the Poly Evolver ($1,395), a 1U rackmount module that offers four-voice operation, making it the functional equivalent of 4 of the original Evolvers. Due out in April, the Poly Evolver can be edited with free editor software (Mac OS 9, OS X; and PC) available on the company’s Web site. The synth offers such features as two analog and two digital oscillators, FM and ring modulation on the digital oscillators, four LFOs, 3-tap delay that syncs to MIDI, a 16 x 4 analog-type sequencer, and much more.

Echo Audio was showing its Echofire series of FireWire audio interfaces, which comprises three different units. The top of the line is the Echofire 12HD ($TBD), which offers 12 +4 dBu XLR ins and outs; 24-bit,192 kHz sampling rates; and word-clock sync. Next is the Echofire 8 ($999), which gives you 4 XLR/1/4-inch combo jacks, 4 1/4-inch TRS outputs, MIDI In and Out, word-clock sync, and S/PDIF in and out. Finally, there’s the Echofire 2 ($499), featuring two XLR/1/4-inch combo jacks, 6 1/4-inch TRS outputs, trim controls, and a headphone output. Echo expects all three to ship in April.

Edirol PCR-1

Edirol debuted the PCR-1 ($370), a low-profile keyboard controller and audio interface. It has 25 cut-down-but-quite-playable, velocity-sensitive keys; is only 1 3/16-inches tall; and weighs less than 3 pounds. On the audio side, it offers stereo RCA input/outputs and a stereo 1/8-inch jack that does double-duty as an S/PDIF output. The PCR-1 is USB-bus powered, offers 16 control-map memory locations, and its drivers support Windows XP and Mac OS X. Edirol also was showing a new FireWire audio interface, the FA-101 ($695). Available in April, the 10-in, 10-out unit supports audio up to 24-bit, 96 kHz on both the Mac (CoreAudio) and PC (ASIO 2.0, WDM).

Elektron Monomachine

Although it didn’t have a booth, Elecktron was showing the Monomachine ($1950) in a nearby hotel suite, and those who saw the demo said it was extremely cool. The Monomachine offers six different mono synths, a six-track internal sequencer, six audio outs and two audio ins, a three-octave velocity-sensitive keyboard, a joystick, and much more. Also available is the SFX-60 ($1,300) a table-top module version. The Monomachine is distributed in the USA by GSF agency.

E-mu debuted three new digital-audio recording systems for Windows XP and 2000: the 1820M ($499), the 1820 ($399), and the 1212M ($199). The systems feature different combinations of PCI cards and breakout boxes, offering FireWire, S/PDIF, and ADAT digital I/O. The 1820M and the 1212M feature “mastering grade” A/D converters (the same as used in Digidesign’s Pro Tools HD systems), and all three offer a DSP multi-effects processor that allows up to 16 simultaneous effects without using up computer CPU resources.

Korg was showing the Triton Extreme, a new version of its Triton workstation and sampler. Available in April, the new Triton will come in three flavors: the Triton Extreme 61 ($2,800), which offers 61 synth-action keys; the Triton Extreme 76 ($3,150), which gives you 76 synth-action keys; and the Triton Extreme 88 ($3,600), sporting 88 keys with “progressive graded hammer action.” All three units feature 1,334 programs, 1280 combinations, 50 drum kits, 120-note polyphony, sampling and resampling to CompactFlash cards, a USB output for storing sounds, and much more. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Triton Extreme is the 12AU7 tube that can be used as an insert effect or strapped across the main output.

One of the more interesting keyboards at the show was the Keystation Pro 88 ($TBA) that M-Audio displayed at its booth. It’s an 88-key, weighted-action, USB-bus-powered keyboard controller that has 4 zones and a multitude of assignable MIDI controllers including 9 faders, 24 rotary controllers and 22 buttons. The unit not expected out until the second quarter of the year, but assuming it follows M-Audio’s tradition of aggressive pricing, it’s a product to look out for in the future.

Moog introduced the Etherwave Pro ($995), a striking-looking theremin made of Birdseye Maple. The instrument gives you a 6.5 octave range, control-voltage outputs, tuner outputs, and a headphone output. It’s due to ship at the end of March.

One of the many Roland product introductions was the new Fantom-X series of workstation keyboards. The new line includes three models: the 61-key Fantom-X6 ($2,395), the 76-key Fantom-X7 ($2,895), and the 88-key, “progressive hammer-action” Fantom-X8 ($3,395). All three models offer 128-voice polyphony, 128MB of internal wave ROM, and can hold up to 544 MB of sample RAM using optional DIMMs. The keyboards all have a USB port, as well as a suite of onboard effects including COSM Guitar Amp Modeling, Lo-Fi Processing, and a mastering processor. Roland also announced the Fantom-XR ($1,595), a 1U rackmount module that uses the same sound engine as the Fantom keyboards; and comes with 128 MB of internal ROM, 16 MB of sample RAM, a USB port and more. Roland expects the keyboards to be available in March and the module in April.

Mics, Preamps and Processors

Audio-Technica debuted its new, affordable, small-diaphragm condenser mic, the MB4k ($129). Part of its new Midnight Blue line of mics, the MB4k features a cardioid pattern, and can run on either batteries or phantom power.

Meanwhile, Audix was showing its new i5($179), a cardioid dynamic that’s designed for instrument-miking applications. The mic has a frequency range of 50 Hz to 16 kHz, and can handle sound pressure levels up to 140 dB.

Blue Microphones displayed a prototype of its new 8-Ball ($279), a softball-sized condenser mic that follows in the footsteps of the Ball, the company’s spheroid, phantom-powered dynamic mic. Blue expects to roll out the 8-Ball sometime in April.

CAD is reintroducing its Equitek line of mics, and the first revamped model to be released is the E1002($399), a supercardioid electret condenser. Able to withstand up to 148 SPL (with its pad on), CAD recommends the E1002 for a wide range of miking applications including percussion, strings, and vocals.

DigiTech GNX-4

DigiTech was showing its latest GNX processor, the GNX-4 ($799). The unit is a combination of guitar multi-effects, modeling processor, USB-audio interface, and multitrack recorder. It includes an 8-track digital recorder (which uses CompactFlash memory for storage), 15 guitar-amp and 10 bass-amp models, Distortion-Stompbox Modeling, a MIDI drum machine, XLR and 1/4-inch outputs, USB output, and a mic input with phantom power, and recording software for Mac and PC. DigiTech also introduced The Weapon (149.95) a stomp box that recreates seven of Disturbed guitarist Dan Donegan’s favorite studio tones from songs such as “Down with the Sickness,” “Mistress,” and “Stupify.” The presets include a mixture of effects such as Whammy, dynamic autowah, pitch shifting, and reverb. The technology used in the Weapon will allow DigiTech to recreate the tones of other famous guitarists in subsequent pedals.

One of many new products at the M-Audio booth was the Octane ($749.95), a new 8-channel mic preamp. Each channel offers balanced XLR and 1/4-inch TRS inputs, and there are two 1/4-inch TS instrument inputs on the front panel for channels 1 and 2. The XLR inputs have 48V phantom power, which is switchable for channels 1-4 and 5-8. The Octane also features an ADAT Lightpipe output, which can be used to connect the unit to audio interfaces, ADATs, and digital mixers.

To go along with the three mixers introduced in its Onyx line (see “Mixers, Monitors, and Multitracks”) Mackie also unveiled the Onyx 800R ($1279.99), an 8-channel mic preamp with AES/EBU, ADAT Lightpipe, and S/PDIF digital outputs. Other features include eight XLR inputs with individually switchable phantom power, two front-panel instrument inputs, and individual phase and low-cut switches.

Moog MF105 MURF

Fans of the Moogerfooger processors from Moog, will be glad to know that the company has added a new model, the MF-105 MURF ($435). MURF, an acronym for Multiple Resonance Filter Array, aptly describes the pedal, which is equipped with eight filters, each controlled by its own sliders. The filter levels can be animated using one of 24 adjustable-rate preset patterns, and there’s a Tap Tempo Input that accepts an external footswitch.

Nady Systems was showing a prototype the RSM-2, a ribbon condenser that’s tentatively priced at what would be an astoundingly low price for a ribbon mic, $439. We’ll have to wait and see when this mic is actually released, and what kind of a sound it has, but it’s a promising development from a price standpoint.

Miscellaneous Hardware

Ebtech displayed its recently released hum-eliminating product, the Hum-X ($90). Designed to eliminate ground loops, the Hum-X is simple to use. Plug the piece of gear with the ground loop into the Hum-X, and then plug the Hum-X into the wall. According to Ebtech, your ground loop will then be safely and effectively eliminated, and your audio signal will be unaffected.

EZDupe EZD9168

EZDupe was touting its new EZD9168 Portable Compact Disc Duplicator ($549), an extremely lightweight, one-to-one standalone CD duplicator. The unit can also connect to a computer (Mac or Windows) and function as a CD-R drive.

Furman announced new versions of its PL-Plus and PL-8 power conditioners. The PL-Plus Series II ($249.95), and the PL-8 Series II ($189.95) offer a host of improvements including “non-sacrificial” circuitry, which means that if a power surge is encountered, the internal circuitry of the power conditioner isn’t damaged.

LR Baggs introduced the M1 ($199), a natural-sounding magnetic pickup for acoustic guitar. The M1 could be useful in recording situations in which there’s no isolation between the acoustic guitar and the rest of the band, or when a mic/pickup combination is used. According to the company, the secret to the new pickup’s sound is its TriAxial Dynamic Technology, which allows the M1 to pickup not only string vibrations, but body vibrations, as well.

Peterson unveiled its new StroboStomp ($309), a stompbox tuner and DI that uses the company’s Virtual Strobe Technolgy. According to a Peterson spokesperson, the StroboStomp should ship in April.

Ultrasone was showing updated versions of two of its headphone models including the HFI-650 ($249.00; PROline model $299.00), and the HFI-550 ($189.00; PROline model $239.00). Ultrasone’s headphones utilize the company’s S-Logic Natural Surround Sound technology, designed to give listeners the sense that the music is playing outside of their heads rather than in it. In addition, the company claims that the technology reduces ear fatigue by lowering the dB output by 40% (compared to standard headphones), without changing the perceived loudness level. Ultrasone headphones also reduce magnetic field emissions, but if you purchase its PROline models, the reductions are even greater.

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