NAMM 2013 Gino's Hits

Synths, 500 Series, and Stylophones, Oh My! Read about Gino Robair's favorite gear on the show floor at NAMM 2013.

NAMM 2013

Synths, 500 Series, Stylophones, and all of the hits from Anaheim

By Gino Robair

For a second year in a row, there was an exuberant feel at the NAMM show as record crowds packed into the Anaheim Convention Center and exhibitors showed off plenty of new products. And, like last year, mobile connectivity was the buzz throughout the various product sectors—both for iDevices and Android—as well as the exponential growth in the world of modular 500 Series products and Eurorack synths.

But the excitement on opening day revolved around four major hardware synth releases: the Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 12, the Moog Music Sub Phatty, and remakes of the legendary Buchla Music Easel and Korg MS-20. Dave Smith told us that the Prophet 12 was the apex of his design work, providing 12 powerful voices, a collection of new effects, and the touch-control strips that were introduced on the Tempest. Moog's Sub Phatty, on the other hand, is a diminutive powerhouse of a monosynth that, among other things, has snappier-sounding envelopes than its stablemates, yet provides a rich sound palette and great playability.

Buchla's Music Easel marks the return of a classic semi-modular analog design, but with modern touches on the control side (digital capacitive keyboard, MIDI, and the promise of Bluetooth and iPad patch control). While the show units weren't fully operational and didn’t sound quite the original (yet), it was a very exciting announcement for analog-synth users, and certainly a blast to play.

Korg's new MS-20 Mini is smaller than the vintage model (86% of the original's size) but with instantly recognizable features such as the resonant filters and patchbay with 3.5mm mini jacks. However, as a modern instrument it includes MIDI and USB connectivity to give you complete creative control. Korg also unveiled its Kingkorg, a great sounding 61-note virtual-analog performance keyboard that features a 12AX7 tube for coloring the sound, emulations of classic analog filters, and CV/gate outputs.

On the "Lunchbox" front, a major announcement came from Aphex with the USB 500 Rack, which features a built-in 24-bit/96kHz, 6x8 USB interface. Use it as a digital interface with a DAW (utilizing your 500 modules) or integrate it into a fully analog environment. It sports a pair of headphone jacks, S/PDIF and MIDI I/O, and internal busing. And priced at $749, it's poised to steal the lunch from the traditional interface manufacturers.

Reason and Cubase users were very excited about the Nektar Panorama P-1 USB controller, which provides highly integrated control over both DAWs and more generic over others. The design is taken directly from the center section of the Panorama P4 and P6 USB keyboards, but the P-1 eschews keys and drum pads while keeping its heavy duty faders (9), rotary encoders (16), buttons, transport controls, and function keys. Its ability to store complex macros makes this a powerful studio tool when a mouse just isn't doing it for you.

Zildjian made a splash this year with a major redesign of its Gen16 Acoustic-Electric (AE) cymbal system. The new Direct Source Pickup is a small piezo-like device that you attach to the company's mesh-like electronic cymbals or to traditional cymbals. Because the trigger sits directly on the instrument, it sends a stronger signal to the AE controller and DSP system, which results is a higher quality sound at every dynamic level and without feedback problems.

As usual, there was a lot of activity in the depths of Hall E, where the most innovative companies tend to be. The Canadian upstarts iConnectivity showed the new 4+, a rugged little interface for iOS devices that passes audio and MIDI between, say, a USB controller, your iPad, and your Mac/PC computer. It offers four DIN ports, three device ports, an Ethernet port, and it can handle multiple MIDI and audio devices. Best of all, it can route MIDI and audio directly to your DAW simultaneously, allowing you to get pro-level recordings from your apps. Sweet!

A particularly fun surprise was the re-introduction of the Dubreq Stylophone from the UK, this time in the form of a monophonic, 2-oscillator analog synthesizer. With its metal keyboard that can be played with stylus or finger like the original, the Stylophone S2 has a 2-pole filter, an LFO, a sub oscillator, trigger and CV inputs, an aux input and it can run on batteries. And as you'd expect, it's quite joy to play.

Stay tuned to over the next few weeks as we look more closely at the coolest products unveiled at NAMM 2013.