Musikmesse 2010 Show Report

If you''ve never been to the annual Musikmesse/Prolight + Sound in Frankfurt, Germany, you''ve missed out on one of the world''s great experiences for musicians and studio gear junkies. Most industry people are familiar with the NAMM show, but Musikmesse takes everything up a few notches, with 2,340 exhibitors packed into 16 convention halls and nearly 110,000 visitors from 128 countries.
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If you''ve never been to the annual Musikmesse/Prolight + Sound in Frankfurt, Germany, you''ve missed out on one of the world''s great experiences for musicians and studio gear junkies. Most industry people are familiar with the NAMM show, but Musikmesse takes everything up a few notches, with 2,340 exhibitors packed into 16 convention halls and nearly 110,000 visitors from 128 countries.

Besides being in Europe, part of Musikmesse''s allure comes from the show coinciding with Prolight + Sound, which brings pro recording, live sound, and lighting to the mixture of synths, software, DJ gear, guitars, drums, strings, pianos, brass, accordions (an entire hall of squeezeboxes!), and more. There''s also continuous live music on multiple stages, events, seminars, and workshops. The show offers a little bit of something for everyone, with a difference—the show is restricted to pros in the music trade the first three days, and it''s open to the general public on the last day.

There was a lot to see in just four days, and here are just a few of the cool toys that caught my eye.

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Digital Mellotron

A Whole Messe Keyboards
As a Mellotron fan, I was skeptical about this one, but the new Digital Mellotron (pricing TBA) delivers. It''s loaded with some 100 Mellotron and Chamberlin samples—more sounds are also planned—all reproduced in stunning 24-bit uncompressed PCM format. The new version has a custom wood keyboard with ebony keytops. It''s still in the prototype stage, but hopefully it will ship soon.

The 37-key GAIA SH-01 ($799 MSRP) from Roland has a panel layout similar to that of vintage Roland synths, but it offers 64-voice polyphony; multi-effects; three virtual-analog modeling sound engines (each having a dedicated oscillator, filter, amplifier, envelope, and LFO); onboard arpeggiator; and phrase recorder. Also new is Roland''s Lucina AX-09 ($699 MSRP), another 37-key model, but with 150 sounds including synth leads and solo violin. It can be played horizontally or standing using a shoulder strap, running up to four hours on eight NiMH AA batteries.

Korg''s microStation ($850 MSRP) puts a 61-key mini-keyboard, effects, twin arpeggiators, and 16-track MIDI recording with easy looping features and Visual Grid sequencing in a compact package. The microStation''s Enhanced Definition Synthesis-integrated (EDS-i) engine has 480 tweakable programs and 25 drum kits. Programs, combinations, and song data can be saved to SD/SDHC media, and included software enables visual patch editing, either standalone or used as a VST/AU/RTAS plug-in instrument inside a DAW.

Designed for live performance, Korg''s PS60 (pricing TBA) has 61 full-sized semi-weighted keys, 440 EDS-i sounds (focused on organ, strings, brass, and synth), 63 built-in effects, and real-time controls (joystick, octave/transpose buttons, and footswitch/footpedal jacks). Included is PS60 Editor software for tweaking sounds and using the unit as a synth plug-in.

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Elektron Octatrack

Studio Essentials
Elektron''s Octatrack (pricing TBA) lets users cut up and rearrange samples in real time as completely elastic loops that stay in sync whether pitch-shifted or tempo-altered. Octatrack has eight stereo tracks, four audio inputs, four audio outs, an optical fader (assignable to any parameter), an improved Elektron sequencer, and two effect blocks per track. A CF slot gives access to stored data, and a USB port offers computer connectivity. It is expected to ship in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Recording guitarists will dig Cakewalk''s V-Studio 20 ($299), which combines an 8-fader Mac/PC-compatible DAW worksurface (Mackie Control protocol), a stereo (24-bit/44.1kHz) USB audio interface with onboard Boss-powered COSM DSP guitar and vocals effects, VS-20 Effects Editor (Mac/Win) software, and Win-only Guitar Tracks 32-channel recording application. It''s slated to ship in May 2010.

Overall, the show was slammed full of new DJ devices, but Mixdeck ($699) from Numark really stood out. This universal DJ system supports CDs, USB flash/hard drives, computers, turntables, iPhone/iPods, and a mic input. And the dual decks with touch-sensitive platters, mixing, and onboard effects also function as software controllers, connecting to your PC/Mac via a single USB cable. The $699 street price includes Native Instruments Traktor Numark Edition software.

Steinberg previewed its WaveLab 7 (about $800) audio editing and mastering suite for Win and Mac OS X. Features include a unique GUI for fast audio-material handling across multiple windows, new VST3 plug-ins and restoration tools, a new CD and DVD-A burning engine, and more. WaveLab 7 ships in the second half of 2010.

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Universal Audio Manley Massive Passive

New for Universal Audio''s UAD-2 platform is the Manley Massive Passive ($299) plug-in, a virtual version of Manley Labs'' popular 2-channel, 4-band equalizer, offering radical tonal shaping, delicate vocal shading, or subtle mastering enhancement. It''s available as part of the new UAD Software Version 5.6 release, which also includes the EMT 140 plate reverb and the Precision Enhancer Hz plug-ins.

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JazzMutant Mu

Sound Performance Labs'' DrumXchanger ($449 MSRP) is a drum-replacement plug-in (native RTAS, VST, and AU for Mac and PC) that uses SPL''s Transient Designer technology to substitute drum sounds in multitrack sessions regardless of the level they were originally recorded at. Included is a library of 24-bit/96kHz samples, and drum sounds can be entirely replaced or mixed with the original tracks—all in real time with phase-accurate precision.

The Superlux HD668B ($59 MSRP) semi-open back headphones provided flat, accurate, stunning headphone mix capabilities with a 10Hz to 30kHz response. These were the best cans I tried on at the show.

Ableton fans will want JazzMutant''s Mu (pricing TBA) plug-in that offers hands-on, touchscreen control between the Lemur controller and Ableton Live, with instant integration with any Live set. Simply select any Live device from any track, and Mu brings up a custom graphical interface that makes controlling multiple parameters quick, easy, and totally intuitive.

Just for Fun
Although these are somewhat extravagant, I loved Richter''s $1,000 leather gigbag and extremely high-end guitar straps, which range from $200 to $1,200. Most of these straps cost as much as my guitars! There were a lot of odd things at Musikmesse, but the most bizarre was the Guitdoorbell ($99 MSRP), a child''s-sized guitar fixed above a doorway that is strummed when the door opens. The included guitar easily removes for regular playing.

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Korg monotron Analog Ribbon Synthesizer

My top Musikmesse pick was Korg''s monotron Analog Ribbon Synthesizer ($85 MSRP), a battery-operated, hand-sized unit featuring the company''s MS-10 and MS-20 analog filters with a basic VCO/VCF/LFO circuit. Its simple ribbon controller borrows from Korg''s Kaoss line and can produce expressive vibrato and glide effects. Also, any audio source (guitar, digital audio player, etc.) can be patched into monotron''s filter input for more fun. It ships in August.

Musikmesse and Prolight + Sound return to Frankfurt next year, April 6 to 9. Auf Wiedersehen!

Formerly the publisher of MixBooks, author Mike Lawson operates Nashville-based lawsonmusicmedia.com.