TREND #1: MASTERING SUITES + RESTORATION
Go figure: After spending a few years putting vinyl crackles and lo-fi into digital audio, now the trend is all about taking out the garbage.
Creamware’s REstore is an audio restoration package for Windows with hardware (SCOPE home DSP board) and software (DeClicker, DeCrackler, DeNoiser, Psy-Q psycho-acoustic processor, and TripleLE audio editor, which includes MP3 and CDR support). The noise reduction software, as well as tripleLE, is available separately for existing SCOPE owners . . . scopeFX, a low-priced DSP system derived from the SCOPE platform, concentrates on mixing, effects, and mastering. The scalable system consists of a 6-DSP PCI card with 20 ins and 20 outs as well as MIDI I/O. Processors include a library of over 50 effects, which can also operate as VST effects within Cubase and Nuendo. scopeFX contains software mixers for all available audio sources, whether computer internal (ASIO, GSIF, and Windows drivers) or from external sources (via card I/Os). www.creamware.com
M-Audio got a mastering suite with the stroke of a pen by becoming the distributor for iZotope’s excellent Ozone3 mastering suite. Way to go, guys, it’s good stuff. www.m-audio.com
Nomad Factory’s Essential Studio Suite plug-in bundle includes Multiband Compressor, Essential Channel, Essential Graphic EQ, Essential Compressor, Essential Gate Expander, Multiband Loudness Maximizer, Loudness Maximizer, Tube/Tape Warmer, and Retro-Vox. It supports sample rates up to 192kHz and automation. www.tascam.com
Propellerheads’ Reason 3.0 stresses the Combinator module’s live performance aspects — it’s a way to load a bunch of instruments into the software equivalent of a “multi.” But equally important is the built-in “mastering suite” that provides tasty EQ, stereo imaging, compression, and maximization. Yes, even software studios are getting into mastering. www.propellerhead.se
Sony’s presenting the Oxford Restoration Tools Suite ($1,195; DeClick, DeBuzz, DeNoise) for Pro Tools RTAS/Audiosuite on OS X and XP. www.sony.com/professional
Universal Audio got into the act with the Precision Equalizer ($199), an up-sampled (192kHz) stereo or dual mono 4-band EQ and high-pass filter made primarily for program material and mastering. It’s available as part of the v3.8 software upgrade for UAD-1, downloadable from the UA web site. Want more? Intended for industrial-strength mixing and mastering applications, the Ultra Pak ($1,495; Windows/Mac) includes the UAD-1 DSP card and a suite of 24 powered plug-ins including the classic UA vintage emulations, Precision Limiter, and Precision Equalizer. www.uaudio.com
TREND #2: RECORDING STUDIO OR KEYBOARD?
First it was synthesis. Then sampling. Then looooooog samples, and then — hey, why not? — hard disk tracks. Now any workstation worth its black and whites better do some serious recording, too.
Korg led the charge with the OASYS 16-track hard disk recorder. Oh, our friends at Keyboard will tell you it’s a keyboard workstation, but look under the hood: It’s an audio-meets-MIDI studio with a ton o’ synthesis that just happens to look like a keyboard. Then again, look at that ultra-sexy color touch screen, and maybe it’s really a computer. Whatever, it’s way costly — about $8K — but way cool. www.korg.com
Or what about the Alesis Fusion 8HD, another stealth studio disguised as a keyboard? This expandable 88-note workstation/8-track hard disk recorder can record up to 8 simultaneous inputs and features a 32-track MIDI sequencer. Synthesis types include sample playback, FM, virtual analog, and physical modeling — and at $2,999, it’s also less than half the price of the OASYS. Or spring for even less with the 61-note Fusion 6HD. www.alesis.com
Roland got into the act with their Fantom-X Audio Track Expansion OS upgrade (for Fantom-X6, X7, or X8). This adds 8 stereo linear audio tracks to the Fantom-X’s sequencer; the upgrade kit includes a CompactFlash card with installer software and PC card adaptor. Clever, clever. www.rolandus.com
And if you like software workstations more than hardware, that’s okay. IK Multimedia’s Sonik Synth 2 offers a “can you top this?” 5,391 sounds (8GB). IK says it’s a “complete songwriting, producing, and arranging supertool” . . . actually, that’s a pretty good description. www.ikmultimedia.com
TREND #3: INVASION OF THE SOFT ORKS
Plug-ins made classic analog sounds available to the masses. Next up: Everybody’s gonna have an orchestra on their hard drive. Here’s the proof.
Garritan Personal Orchestra Advanced Edition ($499) offers more solo strings, brass, and woodwind instruments, as well as new articulations compared to the original GPO . . . The Garritan Stradivari Violin Sample Library ($199) uses “sonic morphing” to align samples. Thus, users hear a single instrument during transitions (e.g., dynamic changes, vibrato) instead of two, producing a much higher level of realism. . . . And speaking of GPO, Richard Birdsall is the winner of Garritan’s 2004 Orchestration Competition, and will have his work performed by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra in the great country of Moravia . . . okay, whatever. Runners-up are Kentaro Sato, William Pearson, and Craig Reeves. Congrats! www.garritan.com
IK Multimedia’s Miroslav Philharmonik, an “orchestral workstation,” folds orchestral and choir samples into a plug-in instrument tailored toward classical sounds and arrangements. www.ikmultimedia.com
MOTU Symphonic Instrument ($295) is a cross-platform instrument plug-in (VST, Audio Units, DXi, MAS and RTAS) with an 8GB library of orchestral sounds and built-in convolution reverb. Instruments include strings, brass, woodwinds, orchestral percussion, male and female choirs, pipe organs, period instruments, and pianos. www.motu.com
Sonic Implants completed the Orchestral Solution series with the Percussion ($695) and Woodwinds ($995) libraries, which join their acclaimed Brass and Strings libraries. www.sonicimplants.com
TREND #4: USB ROOLZ
USB keyboards. USB interfaces. USB control surfaces. Even press kits on USB memory sticks (pioneered by EQ magazine a few years ago, but what the heck, we’ve always been ahead of the curve). NAMM 2005 put the “universal” in Universal Serial Bus; here are a few examples.
Peavey’s FX Series mixing consoles, available in 16-, 24- and 32-channel versions, have an interesting claim to fame: Dual USB ports, which allow streaming digital audio directly to a computer-based recording/editing program or memory stick, and the inclusion of built-in MP3 compression for direct audio export. Performers can rip a live performance or rehearsal directly to MP3 (or other digital format), or even save demos to memory stick and bring song ideas to rehearsal. The FX series can also act like an audio interface for your computer. The other mixer features are cool, too, like dual DSP engines that allow multiple simultaneous effects (reverb, delay, compression, de-esser, chorus and gate/expander) as well as additional processing such as Feedback Ferret, delay, limiter, and 31-band graphic or seven-band parametric EQ. There’s a lot more, but you get the idea. www.peavey.com
The Marian UCON CX ($899) USB2 audio interface for Windows has four balanced mic/line ins, four line ins, one stereo S/PDIF or ADAT I/O, MIDI I/O, eight balanced outs, and headphone output. An integrated DSP mixer allows mixing all available signals to one dedicated out for latency-free monitoring. The UCON CX also works as a standalone 8-channel ADAT converter. www.plus24.net
Also in interface-land, the Alesis Io|2 is a portable two-channel 24/96 USB audio interface with two XLR ins with +48V phantom power and two balanced line ins. Other features are S/PDIF I/O, headphone amp, TRS input channel inserts, MIDI I/O, low power drain for laptop applications. . . . Crossing over to keyboards, the Photon X49 is a 49-key velocity-sensitive USB/MIDI keyboard controller with airFX-type controller dome, 60 assignable controls, mod/pitch wheels, and multiple power options. www.alesis.com
E-Mu Systems’ Xboard 25 and Xboard 49 USB/MIDI Controllers for PC and Mac feature full-size velocity sensitive keyboards with aftertouch, 16 programmable realtime controllers, Xboard Control editing software, and E-MU’s new Proteus X LE Desktop Sound Module with over 1,000 sounds. Both Xboard models can run on USB, battery, or AC power. www.e-mu.com
Still like vinyl? Well, we admit we do too. And we like USB. So . . . ART’s USB MicroPRE ($99) is a USB audio interface phono preamp and line level I/O for Windows 98/2000/ME/XP and Mac OS 9/X. It also includes optical TOSLINK I/O and coaxial S/PDIF ins for S/PDIF-to-USB conversion. www.artproaudio.com
The Lexicon MX200 hardware signal processor (reverb, delays, effects, and dbx dynamics) provides a USB interface with a cross-platform VST plug-in window, allowing the MX200 to function as a “hardware plug-in” within any VST-compatible workstation environment. For live performance, three control knobs for each processor offer hands-on control. www.lexiconpro.com
We’re not done yet: Brian Moore’s iGuitar.USB is a guitar that offers onboard, bus-powered, class-compliant USB audio. Yes, the audio can flow out of the guitar and right into your computer, delivering a line-level signal with no preamp or impedance-matching issues. Darn clever, these guitarists. www.brianmooreguitars.com
TREND #5: FIREWIRE’S ON FIRE
It’s an old protocol by computer standards, and it used to be just an Apple thing — but no more. FireWire has sparked people’s interest, and is blazing a path in the audio world. And there’s going to be more, so let’s start with the reason why.
Wavefront Semiconductor has an audio evaluation module for their DICE II FireWire chip. It sports multiple audio interfaces (AES/EBU, S/PDIF, ADAT optical, TDIF, MIDI, and RS232); but note that DICE II is unique among FireWire chips aimed at audio applications because its software is open source. Translation: Faster time to market for FireWire-based audio products. www.wavefrontsemi.com
Glyph Technologies is deep into FireWire-based storage subsystems. Their GT 060 has two fixed-mount FireWire drives, while the GT 061 is a tabletop enclosure for one fixed-mount FireWire drive and one hot-swappable drive. The GT 062 allows for two hot-swappable GT Key drives in one tabletop enclosure, and the GT 060BR is a FireWire 800, hardware RAID 0 solution with two drives. www.glyphtech.com
Got interface? Hercules’ 16/12 FW is a FireWire 24-bit/96kHz, 16-in/12-out audio and MIDI interface for Mac/PC. There are also 2 mic/instrument pres with switchable 48-volt phantom power, 2 x 2 MIDI interface, word clock I/O, zero-latency direct monitoring, and drivers for Mac OS X Core Audio and Windows (ASIO2.0, GSIF, WAV, DirectSound). www.hercules.com
Edirol’s FA-66 ($495) is a 6-channel FireWire audio interface that supports OS X and WDM/ASIO2.0 drivers for Windows XP. It can record up to 6 channels of audio simultaneously at 24-bit/96kHz, or up to 4 channels of audio at 24-bit/192kHz. Record two microphones directly into the FA-66 via the included phantom power mic preamps, or line-level devices through stereo RCA inputs. Other features include zero latency monitoring, MIDI I/O, a built in limiter, and optical S/PDIF. www.edirol.com
Alesis Multimix mixers double as analog mixers and FireWire interfaces for computer-based recording. The line includes the MultiMix 8FireWire (8-channel analog mixer), MultiMix 12FireWire (12 channels), and MultiMix 16FireWire (16 channels). All offer 100 onboard preset effects, are OS X/XP compatible, and come bundled with Cubase LE. www.alesis.com
TREND #6: GENDER CONFUSION
We have audio interfaces that drive sound modules, guitar processors with recorders, recorders with guitar processors . . . and as mentioned previously, keyboards that think they’re recording studios. If the question in the ‘60s was, “Are you a boy or are you a girl?”, it seems the question for 2005 is, “Is there anything you don’t do?”
Take M-Audio’s Ozonic. Is it a keyboard controller? Yes, it has 3 octaves with velocity and aftertouch response. Or is it a MIDI interface? Uh . . . well, yes, it’s a MIDI interface that connects via FireWire. Or is it an audio interface? You could certainly say that, it’s 24/96 and has an XLR mic preamp. Or is it a control surface? After all, it has 40 assignable MIDI controllers (including transport buttons). Answer: (e), all of the above. www.m-audio.com
Another example: Hot on the heels of the GNX4, DigiTech’s GNX2000 Guitar Workstation is . . . well, it seems like an “all of the above” kinda thang as well. It’s a digital effects processor, a USB audio interface, a mic preamp, and a drum machine. What’s more, they support each other, so it’s not like a separate collection of modules. www.digitech.com
TREND #7: BIG HUGE SOUND LIBRARIES
Give sound developers big hard drives and DVD storage, and they’ll take the bait. Here are just a few of the big sound libraries that, perhaps not coincidentally, make pretty big sounds.
EastWest. RA ($995) is a 14GB orgy of ethnic sounds from Africa, the Americas, Australia, Europe, the Far East, India, the Middle East, and the Turkish Empire — and I loved it. Every instrument is heavily articulated, and can be played very expressively . . . Also based on the Kontakt audio engine, COLOSSUS ($995) is a massive 32-gigabyte virtual instrument that includes all of the instruments and SFX in the GM specification, yet offers more detail than would could expect from any GM synth. www.soundsonline.com
Ilio Entertainments. Talk about oldies but goodies: The Origins 3.5GB sample library by Dirk Campbell ($349; for Giga 3.0 and EXS24 mk II) covers ancient winds, percussion, and voices (Greek aulos, Roman war horns, animal horns, ambient ethnic drums and cymbals, tribal drums, group vocal notes, vocal clusters, and Shamanic circular breathing songs). We’re definitely not talking about another dose of pianos and French horns. In addition to multisamples presented in a variety of different dynamics and articulations, the library features phrases and performances. www.ilio.com
Sony. Steve Ferrone & Greg Ladanyi: Drums from the Big Room ($249.95) is a 5-CD “acidized” collection of mixable, multitrack drum performances in 24-bit format. The collection features rock, pop, R&B, jazz, and reggae . . . Chicago Fire, A Dance Music Anthology ($249.95), produced by Vince Lawrence, is also an acidized 5-CD collection that covers deep house, electro, old school, progressive, and drum ‘n’ bass. www.sony.com
TREND #8: TECHNOLOGICAL DESENSITIZATION
Quite a few people said there was nothing really new at NAMM. There are only two possible explanations: There’s a parallel universe where they attended a totally different NAMM, or as Mitch Gallagher and David Bryce theorize, they’ve become numb to the rate of technological change.
What’s happened in music technology over the past few years is nothing short of miraculous, but apparently people have gotten used to miracles. Think about it: When you can buy an 8-track hard disk recorder with mixer for under $400, an 88-key keyboard for $500, a complete orchestra on a few CD-ROMs, or plug-ins that compete with the best analog could offer at a fraction of the cost, that’s pretty effing amazing.