Trade shows are where products are introduced, connections are made, friendships are renewed, and partnerships are forged. And like clockwork, after every show there’s a flurry of show reports that tell you what was shown—but let’s probe a little deeper, take a look back, and sort out the significant products (with some background for context) and figure out why they matter.
DAWS MARCH FORWARD
DAW updates aren’t as fast and furious as they once were, but that’s not just because of the economy; today’s DAWs are pretty mature, so changes tend to be incremental, and about enhancing what already exists rather than breakthroughs.
What: Magix Samplitude Pro 11
Why: Samplitude has always emphasized its processors; now there’s a new limiter, guitar/bass amp sim, and six-band phase linear EQ. But you’ll also find new VST instruments, better take management, groove quantization, pre-recording for audio, and with MIDI, “retroactive” recording—if you played something and wish you’d recorded it, Samplitude already did.
What: Cakewalk Sonar 8.5
Why: Cakewalk threw a curve at AES, releasing a “point” upgrade at a reduced price rather than going for Sonar 9. Why? We’re not sure, but we won’t question a significant upgrade that delivers extra processors, instruments, AudioSnap optimizations, Windows 7 compatibility (including 64-bit versions), and the Matrix View that puts Live-style improvisation into a Sonar context.
What: Acoustica Mixcraft 5
Why: Acoustica raised a few eyebrows with Mixcraft 4’s insanely high price/performance ratio. For Mixcraft 5, they’ve kept the low price but upped the ante: more virtual instruments, more effects (including an amp sim), a video track, grouping, and a lot more. Very impressive.
What: Mackie Onyx-i Series Mixers/Interfaces
Why: The Onyx-i line provides a mixerstyle audio interface for most DAWs, but goes one step further with Pro Tools M-Powered compatibility (requires a specialized Pro Tools driver and authorizer; $50).
What: Euphonix MC Transport
Why: Maybe you don’t need a fullblown DAW controller for your Mac OS X application, but a handy transport control. Enter MC Transport, with a high-resolution jog wheel and shuttle ring, ergonomic transport controls, and programmable soft keys.
What: Akai APC20
Why: You use Ableton Live, but you’re disappointed you can’t quite swing the bucks for an APC40. No problem: The APC20 streets for a much lower price, but contains significant functionality for hands-on control.
WHEN I’M 64 (BITS)
Native 64-bit applications for Windows Vista/7 and Apple Snow Leopard have gone from a trickle to—well, a much bigger trickle. But 64 bits is the future, as the following companies attest.
What: Spectrasonics Virtual Instruments
Why: Spectrasonics makes great instruments, but they love to soak up RAM. With 64-bit systems able to access tons of RAM, it’s a natural that Spectrasonics has made the leap to 64-bit operation.
Where: www.spectrasonics.net, www.ilio.com
What: Applied Acoustic Systems Virtual Instruments
Why: The AAS Professional and Session Series instruments will be natively compatible with 64-bit versions of Windows Vista/7, thanks to a free maintenance update.
Where: www.applied-acoustics.com, www.ilio.com
What: Apple Logic 9 Pro
Why: Logic Pro 9.1 and MainStage 2.1 can now work in 64-bit mode on Mac OS X v10.6.2 or later.
What: PreSonus Studio One Pro
Why: Studio One has been compatible with 64-bit Windows from day 1, but the upcoming 1.5 update provides 64-bit Snow Leopard compatibility as well as other enhancements.
THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT!
The iPhone and iPod Touch app juggernaut is hitting the music world as well, and these aren’t just toys.
What: Audiofile Engineering FiRe Field Recorder App
Why: FiRe does the job in style for stereo field recording and playback, with the latest version featuring tight SoundCloud integration. For about $10, you can’t go wrong.
What: Akai SynthStation
Why: Don’t you wish you could have a cool little virtual studio in your iPhone? Now you can, with MPC-style pads, effects, synthesis, and sequencing. Really.
What: Wave Machine Labs Voice Band
Why: Hot on the heels of the iGog iPhone/iPod Touch drum workstation app, Voice Band brings new meaning to “if you hum a few bars, I can fake it”—sing into your iPhone, and translate your voice, a track at a time, into an entire band.
What: Studio Six Digital Audio Tools
Why: If you think this suite of audio testing apps can’t be any good given the iPhone’s audio quality, then check out their associated hardware— iAudioInterface, and the iProMic.
What: Peterson Tuners iStroboSoft
Why: Load this app, and there’s a Peterson Strobe Tuner in the palm of your hand. ’Nuff said!
What: AKG iPhone Wireless Mic Control
Why: This free app streamlines the workflow for wireless microphone monitoring and configuration by linking Harman’s HiQnet protocol to the iPhone and iPod Touch app via Wi-Fi network.
GUITARISTS GET THE SPOTLIGHT
It seems everyone wants a piece of the guitar player’s market. In addition to almost all DAWs including guitar amps and processors, plug-ins keep progressing too. And, now there’s also a whole slew of small, low-power, “lunchbox” amps that are ideal for studio work when you don’t want to disturb the neighbors.
What: Peavey ReValver MkIII.V Amp Simulator
Why: MkIII.V adds new amps (including Budda models) and new effects. And don’t you think a MuseBox (Peavey has an alliance with Muse Research, makers of the Receptor) with guitar amp sim software could, uh, maybe replace guitar amps? We’ll see.
What: IK Multimedia AmpliTube 3
Why: With AmpliTube 3, you can now drag-and-drop insert and rack effects, and of course, there are extra effects (including some synth-like step sequencers). The virtual miking has been stepped up as well, with dual miking and more flexible placement options.
What: Apogee GiO
Why: GiO is an interface and foot controller that fits Logic 9, Mainstage 2, and GarageBand ’09 like a glove—call up presets, control recording functions without touching the keyboard, edit effects, and send your audio into the Mac via lowlatency USB. Where: www.apogeedigital.com
What: TC Electronic PolyTune
Why: And how much time do you waste tuning your guitar in the studio? PolyTune lets you see the tuning of all six strings at once, and can even switch over to a conventional, high-accuracy tuning mode for individual strings. If you play guitar, you want this.
What: Zoom G2.1Nu
Why: It’s an effects box, but it’s also a USB interface for your guitar that includes editing software and an expression pedal. The LCD is really nice, too, with easier programming than previous multieffects—even if you don’t use the computer.
What: Scads of Low-Wattage Guitar Amps
Why: Now you can get loud, crunchy amp sounds without the high volume levels. Several cool little “lunchbox” amps joined this product category at NAMM, including the Vox Night Train, Traynor DH15H DarkHorse, Peavey Nano Vypyr, and Mesa Boogie TransAtlantic. They all sound remarkably full and loud when you stick a mic in front of ’em.
Where: www.voxamps.com, www.traynoramps.com, www.peavey.com, www.mesaboogie.com
PLUG-INS AND VIRTUAL INSTRUMENTS
Plug-ins continue to be hot news as algorithms become refined, prices drift downward, and companies push the envelope further.
What: Waves Vocal Rider and Multirack Live
Why: Okay, Vocal Rider was introduced at AES . . . but it was the talk of NAMM, too. Who wouldn’t want an “invisible engineer” who can ride vocals unobtrusively and accurately? And if you’ve always wanted to leave your live rack at home and use plugins, meet Multirack Live (also note that Lynx Studio Technologies has partnered with Waves to develop for this platform).
Where: www.waves.com, www.lynxstudio.com
What: McDSP 6030 Ultimate Compressor
Why: The 6030 Ultimate Compressor delivers ten compressors in a “virtual lunchbox” format—from transparent, to loaded with character. Even better: McDSP will soon make their plug-ins available in AU formats.
What: Slate Digital Virtual Console Collection
Why: Add some character to your digital world—obtain the sound of the classic console channel strips and buses of yesteryear, brought to you in convenient plug-in form.
What: FXpansion BFD Nano
Why: BFD is great, but takes up a lot of drive space, and has a bit of a learning curve. So, enter BFD Nano—basically, BFD on a diet but with the same “magic” to the sounds that made BFD a hit.
What: Sonnox Restore Suite
Why: Those clicks, pops, hisses, hums, and crackles are driving you crazy—so get rid of them with the Sonnox Restore, which distinguishes itself with an intuitive and revealing user interface.
What: Universal Audio Partnerships
Why: Universal Audio has a history of reaching out to other companies, but check out who they’re working with now for future plugs-ins: Ampex for tape emulations, Dunlop for classic guitar effects, Harman (for gear from Lexicon, Studer, dbx, and AKG), and Manley labs. Look for the results later in the year.
What: DrumCore Groove Creation Software
Why: DrumCore isn’t news, but its acquisition by Sonoma Wire Works is— and you don’t need to be psychic to see how DrumCore could integrate with existing SWW technologies, like RiffWorks and InstantDrummer.
What: Lexicon PCM Native Reverb Plug-in Bundle
Why: Now you can have the Lexicon reverb hardware sound without the hardware box, courtesy of these VST/AU/RTAS plug-ins that deliver seven reverbs.
What: Digidesign Pro Tools Instrument Expansion Pack
Why: This package bundles five Digi instruments—Structure, Transfuser, Velvet, Hybrid, and Strike—with additional content and updates, at a bundle-friendly price.
What: BIAS PitchCraft EZ
Why: Pitch correction is big, whether it’s applied subtly to fix a few bad notes or used like a sledgehammer to robotize voices. PitchCraft EZ can do both, as well as other tricks like formant preservation and automation.
What: SoundToys Decapitator
Why: If you like distortion—whether restrained or brutal—Decapitator calls. As the web site says, “Decapitator is the sound of great analog gear and the ability to push it way too far.” We particularly like the last part.
ADVENTURES IN MIC-LAND
The main mic trend continues unabated: Better performance at lower cost. But also throw in ever-improving USB mics, the dawn of digital mic technology, and a proliferation of ribbon mics, and you have a pretty good idea of the mic state of the art.
What: Blue Microphone en•CORE Line
Why: You want good mics for recording and for live, but money is tight, and you can’t afford both. Fortunately, the en•CORE line puts Blue’s studio technology in a rugged, live performance- oriented mic that works for stage or studio.
What: Mojave Audio MA-101fet Pencil Condenser Mic
Why: The MA-101fet combines switchable cardioid and omni capsules from the MA-100 small-diaphragm mic with the FET-based electronics from the MA-201fet (and don’t forget the Jensen audio transformer). Smooooth.
What: sE Electronics sE4 Stereo Mic Pair
Why: The sE4 pair replaces the sE3 pair with a re-engineered chassis that comes with a standard cardioid capsule, but can also accept optional-at-extra-cost hypercardioid and omni interchangeable capsules.
What: New MXL Mics
Why: MXL has a bunch of new mics, including the USB-77 cardioid condenser studio mic (with the look and feel of a 1940s era ribbon mic); the Revelation Variable Pattern Tube Mic with a hand-selected EF86, and variable polar pattern from omni-directional to figure 8; and if you want to get a kick out of your mic (or actually, a mic on your kick), the A-55 Kicker is a heavy-duty dynamic mic optimized for kick drums.
What: Neumann Solution-D Digital Mic System
Why: While not a new product, Solution- D is gaining traction because the degree of control over A/D conversion, synchronization technology, integrated signal processing functions, and remote control over standard mic parameters, represent a significant breakthrough in mic technology.
What: DPA 4099 Instrument Mics
Why: The 4099 supercardioid clip-on condenser mics are available in different versions for guitar/dobro, brass, violin/mandolin, and sax/bass clarinet. Need a bunch? The 4099 PA/Live Kit provides ten 4099 series mics of your choice in a single bundle.
What: TC-Helicon VoiceTone Synth
Why: Okay, it’s not a mic—but mic processing options include vocoder effects (including a voice-controlled synthesizer), the “hard” pitch correction effect that’s a staple of today’s pop records, and various “transducer” effects (megaphone, distortion, radio voices, etc.). Fun stuff.
WELCOME TO WIRELESS WORLD
What:Sure, you use wireless for live performance. But wireless is getting good enough that with a low-level signal source like electric guitar, you might actually get better sound quality in the studio with wireless than a wired connection. Here are the latest developments.
Why: It’s digital—no companding, so you get natural sound quality without a “muffled” wireless guitar sound.
What: Shure PSM 900 Wireless Personal Monitor System
What: The PSM 900 is the culmination of what Shure’s learned so far—serious audio quality, ultra-thin/all-metal wireless bodypack receiver, and half-rack wireless transmitter. Also new: The SE425 Sound Isolating Earphones, which work with the PSM 900 and feature a detachable cable.
What: Audio-Technica 4000/5000 Series Updates
Why: Updates include a new backlit LCD on transmitters and locking battery door on UniPak body-pack transmitters, 25kHz spacing to provide up to 996 selectable frequencies, and updated AEW Control Interface Software.
What: Sennheiser Wireless Updates
Why: The EM 3732-II twin receiver and SK 5212-II body pack transmitter feature switching bandwidths that are twice as wide and five times as wide respectively compared to previous versions, with a switching bandwidth of up to 184MHz. Bottom line: Get reliable reception even in difficult RF environments.
If any product category qualifies as “hot,” it’s portable recorders. They not only stole the spotlight at AES, but a proliferation of new products made it to NAMM as well.What: Alesis PalmTrack and VideoTrack
Why: The PalmTrack is a low-cost portable recorder with several musician- friendly features, while VideoTrack is a video recorder with extra effort paid to audio recording. Record your band and put it on YouTube? You bet.
What: Olympus LS-11 Portable Recorder
Why: The LS-11 combines 24-bit/96kHz PCM WAV/MP3/WMA recording with 8GB of internal memory (expandable with an additional 32GB SD card) and stunning battery life—up to 23 hours. And, it’s only 5 ounces.
What: TASCAM Portable Recorders
Why: TASCAM has focused in on the portable recording market like a laser. The DR-2d Portable Digital Recorder provides up to 96kHz/24-bit WAV/MP3 recording to SD cards, with a dual recording feature that records a lower-level “safety” copy of your audio in case of distortion. The DR-08 is super-compact and records 96kHz/24-bit WAV or MP3 files to MicroSD cards (a 2GB card is included). It also includes looping and variable speed on playback, noise cancellation, and EQ. And when two tracks aren’t enough, the DR-680 records up to eight 96kHz/24-bit WAV files to solid-state SD card media. Six mic inputs provide phantom power and 60dB of gain; digital S/PDIF provides two additional inputs.
What: Korg Sound on Sound Unlimited Track Recorder
Why: Play back what you’ve recorded while overdubbing a new track, then play that back and overdub another part, then play that back and overdub . . . hence “Unlimited” Track Recorder. Each overdub is saved as a separate WAV file if you want to transfer them to a DAW for additional fun. SOS also has on-board rhythms, a built-in monitoring speaker, time stretch, tuner, internal stereo mic, and 100 effects.
Speakers is where your music ends up; advances in materials and technology continue to result in incremental improvements.
What: ADAM Audio SX-Series Monitors
Why: Compared to the S-series, the SX-series is a major re-design. The XART tweeter responds to 50kHz, and the HexaCone woofers have larger and longer voice coils for greater linear excursions; digital input (XLR/SPDIF) and magnetic shielding are optional. There’s also a new control set, with six controls to tailor sensitivity and frequency response.
What: Focal Professional CMS Line
Why: Focal isn’t the only company to introduce speakers specifically for smaller studios, but their CMS line is making major inroads in the USA. Leading the pack is the CMS 65 monitor, with the CMS 50 providing a more compact size and the CMS 11 sub offering serious low end.
What: JBL MSC1 Monitor System Controller
Why: The MSC1 provides monitor functions but more importantly, includes JBL’s Room Mode Correction Technology. What this means is that you get a calibrated reference environment where your speakers work with your room, not against it, to take the guesswork out of mixing—regardless of which speakers you use.
What: Ultimate Ears by LogiTech In- Ear Earphones
Why: Why torture yourself with the klunker earbuds that came with your fave portable music player? Ultimate Ears models range in price from about $50 to $420, but you can even get custom-fitted earbuds at prices from $400 to $1,350.
HARDWARE PROCESSORS, INSTRUMENTS, AND ACCESSORIES
Despite the hoopla about software, hardware is most definitely not an endangered species—whether you’re talking reproductions of vintage gear, to “plug-ins made physical,” or useful little accessories that make studio life easier.
What: Trident Audio Developments A-Range
Why: Trident has brought back the dual channel strip that was the heart of many legendary recordings at Trident Recording Studios. What’s more, the project was overseen by Malcolm Toft, the original engineer.
What: Eventide “Stompboxes”
Why: Given economic realities, more people are seeking gear that works in the studio or onstage. Eventide’s PitchFactor, ModFactor, and TimeFactor squeeze rack performance into gig-friendly stompboxes—and now you have a use for that DAW feature where you can use external hardware boxes as plug-ins.
What: API 527 “Lunchbox” Compressor
Why: You no longer need an API mixer to get API-style compression: Based on API’s 225L discreet channel compressor, this single-channel module puts classic sound in a 500 Series format, and even includes API’s patented Thrust circuit.
What: Steinberg Nuendo SyncStation
Why: This rack-mount synchronizer locks Nuendo to tri-level sync, distributes word clock signals up to 192kHz, and communicates with external machines via Sony 9-pin, MMC or timecode. Controllable from inside Nuendo, features include pull up/down, clock manipulation, GPIO interfacing and varispeed. Thank you, Yamaha, for buying Steinberg.
What: Primacoustic “Acoustic/Miking Helpers”
Why: Your acoustics can never be good enough—isolated problems can crop up even in well-treated rooms, and Primacoustic has several solutions. VoxGuard clamps to a mic stand to isolate the mic from external noises. SplashGuard is a portable, acoustic treatment panel that mounts on a mic stand to isolate (for example) cymbals from other musicians, while TriPads mount on mic stand legs to provide isolation from the floor. CrashGuard isn’t really about acoustical treatment, but protects drum mics from cymbal crashes. KickPad provides a stable mounting surface for mics placed within kick drums, while KickStand minimizes resonances from drum risers. These may be cheap & cheerful products, but they really do the job.
What: Peavey/Muse Research MuseBox
Why: Bringing a desktop computer to your gig is a hassle, and laptops make you nervous. MuseBox is a version of the Muse Receptor, developed in conjunction with Peavey, that combines the power of a computer (in particular, the ability to load plug-ins effects and virtual instruments) with the ruggedness of a rack-mount signal processor or tone module.
What: Kurzweil PC3LE6
Why: Either it’s a great controller with a bunch of sounds, or a ROMpler that’s also a great controller (we report, you decide). It has all the PC3 sounds as well as LE-specific sounds, a slick user interface, 700 onboard effects chains, 8 backlit/velocity-sensitive drum pads, 16 independent arpeggiators, and a lot more.
What: Cakewalk A-PRO Series Controllers
Why: They’re inexpensive, but the keybed has a wonderful feel, the percussion pads are a welcome addition, there are plenty of faders and knobs for realtime control, and for Sonar fans, these controllers fit Cakewalk’s Active Controller Technology like a glove. Choose from 32-, 49-, or 61-key models.
What: Phonic PAA6
Why: Audio test equipment used to cost a fortune, but whether you want accurate metering, distortion analysis, spectrum displays, RT60 measurements, or other audio test necessities, this portable, hand-held device tells you what you need to know—at the right price.
What: Focusrite OctoPre Mark II Dynamic
Why: Eight Focusrite preamps are nice, but eight Focusrite preamps with builtin compressors can save a session, particularly for live recording; and thanks to ADAT I/O, this unit is ideal for expanding an existing interface that lacks quality analog I/O.
What: Crown International XLS Power Amps
Why: Sometimes you need lots of clean, efficient power, whether driving monitors or PA columns. The XLS series consists of five models, ranging from hundreds of watts to thousands of watts, packaged in all-steel, rackmount enclosures. Forced-air cooling means minimal thermal buildup.
What: Neutrik OpticalCON Quad Cables
Why: The opticalCON system is based on LC-Duplex connectors but eliminates their weaknesses to implement a safe, dust-protected, and rugged connection. The opticalCON QUAD handles four fiber-optic channels for point-to-point interconnections and multi-channel routing applications.
DRUMS FOR YOUR BACKLINE
It’s downsizing time. Your virtual tonewheel organ has replaced the ancient B3 sitting in the corner, and Synthogy’s Ivory means you don’t feel so bad that you can’t fit a grand piano in your basement. But what’s going to replace that acoustic drum kit whose main purpose seems to be getting the neighbors to complain about noise to the police? Glad you asked.
What: Yamaha DTX-Multi 12 Electronic Percussion Pad
Why: Choose from 1,277 drum, percussion and effects sounds, and play them from 12 trigger pads in a compact splitlevel configuration. Not enough sounds? Then load your own samples, as well as trigger rhythmic patterns— using sticks, hands, or fingers. Here’s that collection of percussion instruments you always wanted—except that it takes up virtually no space.
What: Alesis USB Pro Drum Kit
Why: You have great drum software (e.g., Toontrack, BFD, Reason Drums, etc.)—but you’re playing the notes from a keyboard. Hello?!? The USB Pro Drum Kit is designed specifically for triggering computer-based drum, and features dual-zone drum pads, alloy cymbals, and a compact, studiofriendly drum rack.
What: Roland Octapad SPD-30
Why: Roland’s been at drum pads since the original Octapad debuted in the late Cambrian Epoch (well, maybe it was a little more recent than that). The latest version has responsive pads, phrase loop recording, a ton o’ percussion sounds (50 customizable kits altogether), 30 types of multieffects, and exceptional resistance to crosstalk.