Report from Frankfurt Musikmesse Pro Light+Sound 2004

Effectively dwarfing the Winter NAMM show, the Frankfurt Musikmesse Pro Light+Sound 2004 combines musical instruments, pro audio, and lighting equipment

Effectively dwarfing the Winter NAMM show, the Frankfurt Musikmesse Pro Light+Sound 2004 combines musical instruments, pro audio, and lighting equipment into a single event that spans nine halls. Major forces in the industry, such as Roland and Casio, compete for floor space with small, individually run companies. Not surprisingly, Yamaha occupies a hall of its own.

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Although the halls are arranged around specific product categories, the occasional overlap makes it necessary to walk the entire event if you don't want to overlook something. Who would've guessed that the booth for the MuseBook electronic score reader would be in the same hall as the classical stringed instruments?

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For those of us in the press, Musikmesse is a thrilling -- and equally grueling -- four-day marathon, where you could wear out a pair of shoes trying to visit every booth. To top it all off, on its last day the show is open to the public, which increases the number of people jostling for prime position at every product demo. Fortunately, this year's event was held from March 31 to April 3, a few weeks later than usual and well enough into spring to give us unexpectedly warm and sunny weather -- perfect for attending the many post-show parties!

Although there were thousands of products vying for attention, Musikmesse's temporal proximity to the Winter NAMM show

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(held in January each year in Anaheim , California ) means that many of the products shown in Frankfurt have already been announced. Of the dozens of items introduced in Musikmesse this year, I've chosen a few highlights and arranged them by category. ( US prices are indicated when available.)

Soft and Virtual

Native Instruments announced several new products at this year's show. Among them is Guitar Rig (Mac/Win), a software/hardware package offering amp, cabinet, and mic modeling that can be controlled with an included pedal board. Guitar Rig offers three tube-amp emulations (a Fender Twin Reverb, a Marshall Plexi 50W, and a Mesa/Boogie Rectifier), ten speaker models, and five mic models. In addition, there are nearly two dozen effects, including models of distortion and modulation pedals, dynamic effects, wah-wah, and spring reverb.

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Native Instruments Elektrik Piano (Mac/Win, $229), due in May, offers multisampled versions of vintage Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and Clavinet electromechanical keyboards. NI also announced the Xpress Keyboards (Mac/Win) series, which are simplified versions of B4, FM7, and Pro53. Xpress Keyboards will be available individually for $49 each or as a bundle for $119. Each instrument includes 64 presets, but they do not load presets from the full versions of the instruments.

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Speaking of B4, Native Instruments showed the B4D, a hardware control surface intended for the virtual organ that includes 9 drawbars, 22 buttons, and MIDI inputs. B4D will cost $499 ($589 when bundled with B4) and is scheduled for June release.

The company's latest metabundle, Komplete 2 (Mac/Win, $1,049), is also scheduled for June release. The software package, which includes every NI product except Traktor, comes on two DVDs and requires only one install for everything.

The Italian software company i3 showed DSP-Quattro (Mac) version 1.5. DSP-Quatro can be used to record and edit audio, host and play AU and VST plug-ins, and master and burn Redbook CDs. It's an impressive application that has the caught the attention of a few of our editors, so look for a review in an upcoming issue of EM.

Steinberg, which celebrated its 20th anniversary at the show, announced that it will release Cubase SX 2.2 (Mac/Win) in May. The free update includes three new VST plug-ins: Monologue, a mono synth; Embracer, a pad synth that includes surround support in some of the patches; and Tonic, a multimode filter. The update also adds enhanced MIDI features and support for generic remote controllers.

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For some, the bigger Steinberg news was the announcement of Wavelab 5 (Win), which is scheduled for release in mid-April. Version 5 adds a video-thumbnail track, support for additional file formats, 8-channel surround capabilities, and DVD-Audio authoring and burning capabilities.

Steinberg's HALion 3 (Mac/Win) is set for release in the second quarter of 2004. The update features 27 new effects, new triggering modes, a file-browser-style database, and availability as a standalone app. The nifty new RAMSave feature increases performance by unloading unused samples from RAM.

In partnership with Yamaha, Steinberg also announced the Studio Connections Initiative, which is intended to create an open industry standard for integrating software and hardware devices -- beginning with Yamaha hardware and Steinberg Nuendo and Cubase -- using Yamaha's Studio Manager 2 software.

Cakewalk showed Guitar Tracks Pro 3. The new version, which comes bundled with IK Multimedia's Amplitube LE, lets you record and play 32 audio tracks and offers drag-and-drop looping capabilities and time stretching. Look for this to ship in May.

Cycling '74 demonstrated Max 4.5 (due in May) as well as the latest phase of its Mode (Mac) plug-ins. The news here is that the initial five Mode plug-ins have been broken down into individual modules, increasing the plug-in count to 23! This is a powerful and cool collection that you'll definitely want to check out. Look for it in late April.

Appearing in the Independent OS X AudioUnit Developer booth were, showing its Zebra 1.5 modular software synth; Five12 with its Numerology MIDI sequencer; Airy Speedster, a pitch and time shifter; and a polyphonic soft synth called BuzZer by

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Prosoniq introduced OrangeVocoder3 (Mac/Win), which adds a number of new features to this popular vocoder, including a mono mode with glide, support for sound files, formant freeze, a filterbank sample-and-hold, and a vocal synthesizer that uses a "phoneme dial" to create words and sentences without requiring an external speech signal. It's scheduled for a May release. Prosoniq also showed Morph (Mac/Win), a real-time audio-morphing plug-in, and Rayverb (Mac/Win), a reverb plug-in that combines convolution using sampled impulse responses and inverse raytracing.

VirSyn showed its impressive new 8-part vocal synthesizer, Cantor (Mac/Win), which lets users enter words in English and play them melodically from a MIDI keyboard in real-time. According to the manufacturer, Cantor's Voice editor lets you edit the character of the virtual singer by defining the base spectrum for vowels and consonants. The application also includes a Phoneme editor and offers real-time control over vibrato rate and depth as well as the gender of the singing voice. Cantor supports VST 2, AudioUnits, RTAS, and ReWire.

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IK Multimedia, in collaboration with Sonic Reality, introduced StudioPhonik (Mac/Win), a comprehensive virtual-instrument plug-in that includes keyboards, guitars, basses, drums, percussion, and horns, as well as a large number of effects (delays, reverbs, EQs, compressors, and an array of virtual stomp boxes). The plug-in, due for release in July, supports VST, RTAS, MAS, DX, and AudioUnits.

In addition, IK Multimedia showed its Sonik Synth 2 (Mac/Win) synthesizer-workstation plug-in and the Sonik Capsules sound module libraries. The libraries, each of which includes Sampletank 2 LE, include the Studio Drums Capsule, the Acoustic Guitar Capsule, and the FX Drums Capsule.

Dsound, maker of RT Player 2.5, demonstrated an application that allows VST hosts to stream audio and MIDI data between a pair of PCs over a single FireWire cable. Although still in development, the technology is very impressive.

Ultimate Sound Bank presented Ultra Focus (Mac/Win, $399), which combines an 8 GB sample library with a virtual synth engine. The samples represent a wide variety of synthesis methods, including analog, FM, vector, wavetable, additive, and formant. In addition, each of Ultra Focus's four LFOs offers seven waveforms and can be synced to your sequencer's tempo.

Although the company didn't officially exhibit at the show, Digidesign unveiled the Command|8 control surface for Pro Tools TDM and LE systems. The controller offers eight faders, ten rotary encoders, a shuttle wheel, MIDI I/O, a backlit LCD, and a USB port. Remarkably, the Command|8 can also be pressed into service as a standalone MIDI controller for third-party products. The Focusrite-designed monitoring section offers two stereo inputs (+4 or -10 dB), stereo speaker outputs (+4 or -10 dB), and a headphone amp.

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On the subject of analog controllers, MIDIsoft introduced the Midimax hardware control surface, which is based on the Moog Minimoog. The Midimax is available in desktop, rack, and keyboard versions, and I noticed them being used to control Minimoog emulations in the Arturia and Creamware booths. But these babies don't come cheap: the keyboard version costs well over 1,000 Euros.

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Emes, distributed in the United States by Synthax, introduced the Kobalt (approximately $690 a pair) close-field active studio monitor. The Kobalt, expected to ship in August, has a 5.5-inch woofer, a 1-inch tweeter, and 70W going to each driver.

ADAM announced several new monitors at the show. The passive ANF10 ($700 a pair), due to ship in May, is the company's smallest studio monitor. It features a 7-inch woofer, magnetic shielding, and the new ART tweeter. I also got a glimpse of ADAM's Apple ($1,450), an active studio monitor housed in an aluminum cabinet that has a 5-inch woofer and two 50W amps. At the upper end, ADAM displayed the active P33-A ($2,950) monitor, which has two 7-inch woofers and puts out 100W per channel.

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Roland introduced the DS-series of active two-way digital close-field monitors. The monitors feature 1-inch dome tweeters, an analog input, and digital inputs that support AES/EBU (on XLR connectors) and S/PDIF (on coaxial and optical jacks). The D-8 is a 120W system with an 8-inch LF driver; the D-7 is a 60W system with a 6.5-inch LF driver; and the DS-5 is a 45W system with a 5-inch LF driver. The monitors support 24-bit, 192 kHz digital audio.

The stylish Bulgarian-made Terra II monitor also caught my eye. This attractive two-way speaker includes a 1-inch tweeter and a 4-inch LF driver, and it has a frequency response of 69 Hz to 25 kHz (+/-3 dB). The Terra II is scheduled to be distributed by AS Pro Audio.

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Analog and Beyond

One of my first destinations at Musikmesse is the analog-synth superbooth, this year called Analog Village . The booth includes a number of small manufacturers and boutique items, many of which never get proper US distribution. Nonetheless, there is always a handful of gems here, not to mention fun to be had in the land of knobs and patch cords.

The biggest name in the booth is Doepfer, which not only makes the popular and affordable A-100 modular analog synthesizer and several standalone sequencers, but also supplies the European market with a variety MIDI keyboard controllers. Doepfer unveiled over a dozen new products for the show, such as the new version of its A-198 Trautonium/Ribbon Controller, which includes an interface with MIDI and analog outputs (CV1, CV2, Gate). The ribbon's sensors read position and pressure, which can be assigned as Note On, Note Off, Pitch Bend, Velocity, and Aftertouch. The MIDI channel can be selected for each parameter, and several user presets will be available shortly. The controller will be available in May.

Doepfer has also announced a number of analog synth modules for its A-100 line, including the A-107 Multitype Morphing Filter, the A-101-3 Modular Vactrol 12-Stage Phase Shifter, and the A-101-1 Vactrol Steiner Filter. My personal favorite was the A-137 Voltage Controlled Waveform Multiplier, which allows you to add interesting harmonics to a sound while keeping the pitch constant. Doepfer products are distributed in the United States by Sonic Highway.

In the same booth, the USB-programmable X-IST MIDIGlove was being used to trigger and control the massive Doepfer analog system. Each finger was mapped to a different CV input so that the player could, for example, open and close a filter by merely bending a finger. According to its Web site, the company also offers a FaceTracker, DataGlove, and Fullbody Tracker. If the build-quality of the glove is any indication, this is a line of products worth keeping an eye on.

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Other notables in Das Analoge Dorf was the Vermona Retroverb and Cross Filter. The stereo Retroverb contains an Accutronic spring reverb with controls for VCF, VCA, EQ, and an envelope generator, as well as jacks for CV input, audio trigger, and gate. The stereo Cross Filter, due for release in May, includes controls for panning between filtered and unprocessed sounds.

This year, the village included a darkened passage between the aisles that took visitors from the Doepfer area into the Eowave booth. The passageway included a gutted upright piano filled with a Doepfer MIDI controller and plenty of analog goodies. Tidal showed its 4-channel Quad Filter, the Distorture stereo distortion box, and a turntable preamp. I also viewed one of the very few Macbeth Moroco stereo filter processors. To the right of this was a wall-mounted demo station that included the Spectral Audio Neptune analog synth module, which offers three oscillators, ring modulation, and highpass and lowpass filters, and the Analogue Solutions Semblance, which is based on the Oberheim SEM module.

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Also in the booth, European distributor Schneiders Buero had a clever wooden kiosk with instruments attached to its walls. There I found the SND FB-14 parametric filter, an extended-range fixed filter bank that is tuned in quints and offers +/-20 dB of boost/cut at each frequency. I also got a chance to see the diminutive MFB-Synth Lite II, which combines digital oscillators with analog filters and VCA.

A number of tube-amp afficionados sent me to the guitar hall to check out Randall's series of MTS tube preamp modules. The modules, which contain a pair of real tubes and recreate the circuitry of classic amps, slide into slots on the MTS-series amp heads. For studio use, Randall offers the RM4, a 2U rack that comes with four modules, an effects loop, and MIDI In/Thru, allowing you to switch between the modules with a foot controller. Over a dozen amp modules are available, including emulations of a Fender Blackface Twin, a Marshall Super Lead, a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, and other classics.

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While in the guitar hall, I came across the Avantair, created by Pagelli Guitars. Switzerland-based Italian luthier Claudio Pagelli, who is known for his exotic designs, built an Alesis AirFX into this custom instrument, allowing you to control the effects by moving your arm or hand over the dome-shaped Axyz controller. Priced around $5,000 and made one at a time, this baby probably won't be showing up in your local guitar shop any time soon.

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Just when I think I've seen it all, Roland introduces the stylish V-Accordion. Available in two models, the FR-7 and FR-5, the V-Accordion uses Physical Behavior Modeling algorithms, which the company says "faithfully reproduce the characteristics and nuances of an authentic accordion." As far as I can tell from a demo on the trade-show floor, the V-Accordion sounds as good as it looks. Expect it to arrive stateside early next year.

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Roland also introduced the SP-606 Sampling Workstation, which includes 16 pads, D-Beam and V-Link control, and USB/CompactFlash support. It comes bundled with Cakewalk's P606 phrase generator/virtual groovebox, which adds editing capabilities and a sample library.

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Mics, Preamps, and Audio Interfaces

AKG unveiled the C 414 B XLS and B-XLII, which takes the former ULS model transformerless with the new XL indication. Although the new versions retain the C 414 profile, they are larger than earlier models and include a number of interesting new features: an extra pattern (subcardioid), three low-cut settings (40, 80, and 160 Hz), and four pad settings (0, -6, -8, and -12 dB). The new mics have increased sensitivity, lower self-noise, and a greater dynamic range (134 dB) and are available in factory-matched pairs. One noticeable change in the design is the inclusion of tiny lights that indicate switch positions, input overload, and whether phantom power is being received. AKG says that the new mics will be priced the same as the previous models and will be available in June.

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AKG also announced the return of the Hearo digital wireless surround headphones, which can be used for up to five hours on one battery charge.

M-Audio displayed the Nova ($129.95), a side-address cardioid condenser microphone based on the company's Luna mic. According to M-Audio, the Nova has a 1.1-inch diaphragm, Class-A solid-state electronics, and a frequency response of 20 Hz to 18 kHz.

RME showed its impressive FireFace 800, a 24-bit, 192 kHz FireWire interface that can handle 56 channels of audio. The FireFace 800, scheduled for a July release, includes four Class-A mic preamps with 48V phantom power, an instrument input (with speaker emulation), two FireWire 800 ports, a FireWire 400 port, eight balanced 1/4-inch line-level inputs and outputs, S/PDIF I/O, two sets of optical I/O (Lightpipe or S/PDIF configurable), word-clock I/O, and MIDI I/O. RME also showed the ADI-2, a 2-channel A/D/A converter that supports 24-bit, 192 kHz audio and includes two Neutrik combo analog inputs, XLR and unbalanced 1/4-inch outputs, S/PDIF I/O, and optical I/O.

John Oram celebrated his 40th anniversary in the music and pro-audio business with the release of the 4T Celebration Channel Strip ($999). The 1U device combines a mic preamp, EQ, dynamics, and an instrument input.

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