From the moment the doors opened at 10am on Thursday, till they slammed shut four days later, this year’s NAMM show felt like the biggest and busiest in years. With record crowds navigating a never ending maze of demo rooms and booths, it was a challenge to see and hear all the new products—of which there were literally tons on display. Fortunately, we had the resources of the combined editorial teams of EM and Keyboard, who hit the floor running each morning to scope out all the cool new items.
KEYBOARDS, SYNTHS AND CONTROLLERS
Roland’s major announcement was the RD-2000 Stage Piano, which combines a dedicated sound engine featuring the latest V-Piano technology with a second engine offering electric pianos and other instruments. Utilizing a PHA-50 progressive hammer-action keyboard with escapement, the RD-2000 has hybrid keys made of wood and molded materials that have a classic feel. The redesigned interface provides Scene memories, LED sliders and knobs, and up to eight assignable zones (internal or external). In addition, the USB audio/MIDI interface, stereo outs on XLR and 1/4" jacks, and assignable stereo sub out give the user plenty of options onstage or in the studio.
For those of you who absolutely hate minikeys, Korg announced the ARP Odyssey FS that features—you guessed it—a full-size standard keyboard. Otherwise identical to Korg’s earlier Odyssey keyboard, this version is an “extremely limited” edition. In other words, get on the phone, now, if you want one.
Every year, Dave Smith Instruments releases another must-have polysynth at NAMM: The 2017 entry, the REV2, will be of special interest to Prophet 08 fans. It’s a 16-voice update that keeps the original signal path and general structure, while adding effects and more sequencing amenities. To those of us who know the Prophet 08, the REV2 had noticeably more “shimmer” and “air” to its sound, based on what we heard during our demos.
Pioneer Toraiz AS-1
While we’re on the topic of DSI, the Pioneer Toraiz AS-1 was one of NAMM’s sleeper hits. Designed for Pioneer’s DJ’ing market, the Toraiz is a one-voice, fully analog Prophet-6, meaning that it’s also a stealth update of the legendary Pro One—and that’s even bigger news. Easy to use, it includes a basic touchpad keyboard and ribbon strip, onboard effects, and hands-on control over filter, envelope and LFO. Moreover, it sounded huge!
At the Radial booth, we found Key-Largo, the long-awaited keyboard mixer and DAC. Built like a tank, as you’d expect, it’s a floor pedal that accepts 3 stereo inputs and USB input, while offering outputs on XLR and 1/4" TRS. But it also includes MIDI I/O, an onboard sustain button (!), and an effects loop with individual level controls for each channel. Key-Largo is small, portable, and solid feeling—just what you want when gigging.
One of the most unusual drum machines we’ve seen is Teenage Engineering’s PO-32 Tonic. Borrowing its sound engine from Sonic Charge’s Microtonic plug-in, this new Pocket Operator furnishes distinctive percussion sounds and a pattern-based beat sequencer. It stores 16 presets and lets Microtonic users transfer custom sounds from their computers.
The Expressive E Touché is difficult to describe: It’s like a paddle mounted on springs that lets you articulate synth parameters by pressing, tapping, swiping, and stroking it. The results feel and sound quite natural, nuanced, musical, and expressive. It comes with Lié, a soft synth based on UVI Falcon.
Rossem Electro- Music Morpheus
The E-mu Morpheus has retained its cult-like status among synth connoisseurs thanks to its innovative 14-pole(!) Z-Plane filters, which were capable of mind-bending morphing tricks that haven’t been duplicated. However, the Rossum Electro-Music Morpheus Eurorack module changes that. With over 280 filter configurations called Cubes, each of which has 8 complex filters, the module gives you smooth, CV control over interpolation between the filters in a 3-D space. It even includes a built-in sequencer!
Elektron’s new Digitakt drum machine combines a sampling drum machine with an eight-track MIDI sequencer at an affordable price. Yep, this sounds like a 21st century MPC-60 to us, too. But it’s made by Elektron, so we’re very excited about getting our hands on it.
ACOUSTIC AND DIGITAL PIANOS
Steingraeber and Söhne, an innovative German piano company, took us by surprise with one of the most enjoyable grand pianos on the floor. Besides having a fluid and comfortable action, their gradient Mozart switch lets you raise the hammers and lower the action, and it worked exceptionally well. The ability for musicians to make these kinds of adjustment easily adds a flexibility to the playing experience that has never before been available.
Another highlight was the Yamaha S7X. This new line from Yamaha uses a treatment process called Acoustic Resonance Enhancement, that gives wood the acoustic properties of an aged instrument. The S7X’s action was buttery and smooth and our players all commented on the ease of ability in expressing themselves.
The young company Ravenscroft has built a reputation for itself one piano at a time. Crisp and clear, its grand pianos produced big smiles from our players. We also have to give a nod to their beautiful custom Kawai VPC-1 controllers that take digital piano action and sound to the highest level.
Which leads us to Kawai, the leader in portable digital pianos with their MP series. Piano man Billy Joel currently uses one on tour, lending real-world credibility where it’s due. Add to that the stellar Shigeru Kawai series, as well as their lovely 7-foot GX BLAK grand and you have a piano company standing tall in both the acoustic and digital realms.
Playing the stunning Bösendorfer 280VC Vienna Concert Grand felt like driving a Rolls Royce. It was majestic, powerful, elegant and had more headroom than any player could dynamically reach. It was very expressive and clear for such a large instrument, and in the world of concert grand pianos, it is truly hard to beat.
Tucked away in the back of the hall, you might have missed Grotrian, but we sure didn’t. These grands were very pleasing to the touch and ear. Even in a spot that was not conducive to quietly listening, the rich tone and supple action on these instruments stood out.
We visited Seiler to play the custom ED-186A grand, which uses a bamboo molding in its hammer design. This easily machinable and sustainable wood replaces the more traditional choices of hornbeam and walnut. The piano had a great feel to all of us who played it and the sound was vibrant and warm. We also have to mention the 7' German SE-208 grand, one of our favorites and a really well-rounded and transparent piano.
STUDIO AND STAGE HARDWARE
IK Multimedia iRig Acoustic Stage
The IK Multimedia iRig Acoustic Stage is a compact and low-cost performance system for acoustic guitarists. The pick-shaped mic clips to a guitar’s soundhole and feeds a preamp that has onboard 32-bit DSP to provide six preset tones: 3 steel-string and 3 nylon-string emulations. The preamp, which can clip onto a guitar strap or belt, includes an aux input with blend control, a USB output for recording to a DAW, and feedback suppression.
Focusrite’s OctoPre and OctoPre Dynamic combine 8, second-generation Scarlett preamps with 24-bit, 192kHz converters. The models have two ADAT ports, a pad on each channel, front-panel instrument inputs, and 8 analog line outputs, which can be used in live-sound situations. The OctoPre Dynamic includes analog compression and 8 channels of D/A converters.
The Neumann KH-80 DSP Studio Monitors are compact, active close-field monitors with 4" low-frequency drivers and 1" tweeters. The built-in DSP allows the user to tailor the monitor’s acoustic response to the room, while the network connector facilitates remote control using the (soon-to-be-released) Neumann.control software (Mac/PC, Android/iOS).
Like its predecessor, the Softube Console 1 Mk II functions as a hardware channel strip that works with your DAW. New features include the ability to work with select UAD plug-ins. And due to a manufacturing change, the price of the new version has been reduced by about 40-percent, making it much more affordable.
The groundbreaking Aston Microphones Starlight is a small-diaphragm condenser mic that garnered lots of attention at the show. The unusual-looking mic features a “sintered” head, made with ball bearings, and is equipped with laser targeting for marking mic positions. Variable voice-switching lets you to dial in vintage and modern sonic characteristics. Aston offers a matched pair, with a stereo bar, at an introductory price.
Mackie Big Knob Studio
Mackie unveiled three new Big Knob models this year. The Big Knob Passive can switch between two sources and two sets of monitors, and includes Mute, Mono and Dim controls. And, of course, it’s entirely passive, so it doesn’t need a power supply to function. On the other hand, the Big Knob Studio + and Big Knob Studio incorporate USB-audio-interface capabilities with monitor and source switching. The Studio + has four Onyx mic preamps, whereas the Studio version gives you two. Other features include onboard metering and a talkback mic.
What’s notable about the new MOTU USB/AVB audio interfaces is that, except for a frontpanel headphone jack, their I/O is exclusively digital: The 8D has two sets of AES/EBU and two sets of coaxial S/PDIF jacks; the LP32 has four sets of optical I/O, supporting ADAT, optical S/PDIF and SMUX; and the M64 contains one bank of coaxial MADI and one bank of optical MADI (each MADI bank supports a whopping 64 channels). All three units come with Word Clock I/O.
The Roland Rubix 22, Rubix 24 and Rubix 44 are class-compliant USB interfaces offering 2x2, 2x4, and 4x4 I/O counts, respectively. The Rubix 22 and Rubix 24 include two mic preamps each, while the Rubix 44 has four. What’s more, the Rubix 24 and 44 are equipped with onboard dynamics processing.
The next-gen version of Universal Audio’s popular UAD Thunderbolt desktop-interface is the Apollo Twin MKII. New features include improved A/D/A conversion, dedicated monitoring switches, and a talkback mic. The MKII comes in three DSP configurations: Quad, Duo and Solo.
A new version of RME’s 30-in/30-out USB interface, the UFX II, handles 12 analog, 16 ADAT, and two AES I/O channels. The UFX II one-ups its predecessor with improved THD and SNR specs, USB 2 support (which allows it to connect with the optional ARC USB remote controller), more powerful headphone monitoring, and improved functionality for its DURec direct-to-USB-stick recording feature.
The Slate Digital VRS-8 Virtual Analog audio interface, which connects via Thunderbolt or PCIe, is the centerpiece of the company’s new Virtual Recording Studio system, which integrates with Slate Digital’s plug-ins and microphone modeling. The VRS-8 provides eight mic preamps and two headphone outs and, according to the manufacturer, achieves latency measurements as low as 0.7 ms at 96 kHz.
Another new component of the Virtual Recording Studio is the ML-2, a small-diaphragm modeling mic that can emulate 20 different classic condensers and dynamics. The developer’s demos, which compared the emulations with the mics they were based on, were quite impressive.
The Electro-Harmonix Blurst offers guitarists and other instrumentalists the ability to create synth-like modulated filter sounds. It contains an analog lowpass filter with three modulation shapes, adjustable resonance, and a modulation rate controlled by either knob or a tap footswitch. You can also plug an expression pedal into it for further control.
Warm Audio has released an updated version of its single-channel mic preamp, the WA12 MKII, featuring XLR and 1/4" inputs and a front-panel Tone switch that changes the impedance from 600 to 150 ohms. The WA12-500 MKII, a version in the 500 series format, was also released.
Tech21 Q Strip
The Tech21 Q/Strip is a channel strip in DI-pedal form. It’s equipped with highpass and lowpass filters, a 4-band EQ featuring two semi-parametric mid bands that can be set to mimic the response of a speaker cabinet, XLR and 1/4" inputs, parallel 1/4" outputs, a pad switch, and more.
SOFTWARE INSTRUMENTS AND EFFECTS
At the Ilio booth. we were treated to the Synthology Ivory II Studio Grands virtual instrument, featuring Steinway B and Bösendorfer 225 grand pianos. Shipping with the new Ivory 2.5 Piano Engine, these VIs offer 24 velocity levels, multiple levels of Soft pedal and Release samples, digital effects, tuning tables, and much more.
Blocks Dashboard turns Roli’s new Lightpad Block into an open-source multidimensional polyphonic controller for Mac and Windows software. You can customize its preprogrammed scripts to control DAWs, software instruments, and more.
Spectrasonics launched Keyscape Creative, a collection of more than 1,200 Omnisphere patches designed for Keyscape users. Showcasing the power you get by combining the two instrument plug-ins, the new library is included when you purchase Keyscape and is added automatically when current users install a free update to their software.
Studio 2 is the next-generation update to Bitwig’s customizable DAW that combines linear and nonlinear sequencing. Rebuilt from the ground up, Bitwig Studio 2 offers a modular architecture with 24 new modulators, dynamic display panels and other new devices, as well as superior integration with MIDI hardware.
Eventide Fission is an innovative plug-in that uses the developer’s new Structural Effects technology to split the transient and tonal parts of a signal and process them separately before they’re recombined at the output. Some application examples include tuning drums without affecting the transients and changing the depth of tremolo on a recorded guitar track.
Taiho Yamada is one of our industry’s most prolific synth designers, with credits on both the Alesis Andromeda and M-Audio Venom. His new softsynth, MOK (Media Overkill) Waverazor, is poised to be another groundbreaking instrument, with its ability to slice, shift and shape individual waveforms, then process the heck out of them. Taiho personally demoed it for us and its sound can pivot from smooth to nasty with just a few clicks.
Zynaptiq Wormhole combines spectral “warping,” high-quality pitch shifting, lush reverb and MIDI control over pretty much everything. From what we heard, there’s some very sophisticated processing going on under the hood and the results were unlike anything we’ve heard in a plug-in for quite a while.
Line 6 introduced Echo Farm 3.0, a collection of 12 modeled echo effects for Pro Tools, based on vintage processors that include the Maestro Echoplex, Roland Space Echo, and Electro-Harmonix Memory Man. Now with native 64-bit AAX performance, Echo Farm supports sample rates up to 192 kHz.
McDSP plug-ins are always of excellent quality, so our anticipation is high for the EC300 Echo Collection, a multifaceted plugin that features three different delay types—Magnetic (tape), Digital, and Analog.
Plugin Alliance bx_subsynth
Plugin Alliance showed the Brainworx bx_subsynth, based on the Waveform Modeling engine of the dbx 120XP Subharmonic Synthesizer but with new features. The plug-in is designed to add subharmonic information to enhance the bottom end on drums, basses, guitars, and keyboards.
Amptrack Technologies showed Amped Studio, a new “hybrid” DAW that can be accessed as native or online (browser-based) versions, both with identical feature sets. Amped Studio allows you to work on your projects at home or remotely, with your tracks saved in the cloud.
With Impulse Response, Celestion provides impulse responses from seven of its classic 12-inch speakers. Load them into a convolution plugin and insert them onto your guitar track. Each speaker’s impulse responses are sold separately in low-cost packs containing five different cabinet and mic configurations.
AAS Objeq Delay
Applied Acoustics Systems showed Objeq Delay, which combines an acoustic filter with a delay unit to impart the acoustic resonances of physically modeled objects (beams, plates, drum heads, strings) onto any audio input. Objeq Delay includes highpass and lowpass filters, an LFO for modulation, and the ability to process repeats separately—wow!
In a few short years, Gadget has become the go-to iOS sequencer for legions of electronic music producers. Now Korg has added recording capabilities and will make it available for Mac users later this spring, with all of its synths included in AU, VST and AAX format for use in other apps. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a truly new desktop DAW, and Gadget is poised to be a game changer.
The latest firmware for the Roland System-8 automatically installs the new Juno-106 Plug-Out synthesizer, which emulates the classic Juno-106m down to its original sound, patches, effects, and timbre-building parameters. Yamaha released the free OS v1.5 update for its flagship Montage, which adds 50 new Performances, a rotary speaker effect, a dynamics processor, MOFX compatibility, MIDI scene control, and improved Auto Beat Sync, among other things.