N2K: Product Hits of NAMM 2000

Mar 1, 2000 12:00 PM, Sarah Jones, Mark Frink and George Petersen

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From February 3-6, Winter NAMM dropped into downtown Los Angeles. There were plenty of hot new audio and music toys to see-and hear. Here are a few that sparked our interest...

From a pro audio viewpoint, the hottest, most discussed product at the show was Sony's DMX-R100, a 48-channel, 24-bit, 96kHz-capable digital console retailing at $20,000. (For more info, see the "Technology Spotlight" on page 104.)

Stand-alone workstations were big news. Roland's (www.rolandus.com) VS-1880 offers 18 true record/playback tracks, a 28-channel digital mixer and new 24-bit converters. The 1880 can also record in Audio CD Image format for fast CD burning.

Combine an 02R and a DSP Factory in one box and you'll get Yamaha's (www.yamaha.com) AW4416, offering 16 tracks of disk-based recording, processing, automated mixing and stereo mastering in a tabletop unit. The 8-bus AW4416 features 24-bit recording, as much as 64 Gigabytes of storage, an internal sampler, 44 fully automated inputs (16 from the internal hard drive), 17 motorized faders, four fader/mute groups, eight aux sends plus stereo cue buses. Each input has 4-band parametric EQ, and two 32-bit onboard effects can be routed to any bus or input. The AW4416 is slated for June shipping at $3,399 with drive, $3,700 with optional built-in CD burner.

Akai (www.akai.com/akaipro) showed the DPS 16i, offering 24-bit/96kHz operation with 56-bit (!) internal processing, 16-track simultaneous playback with ten tracks of simultaneous recording and 10GB internal IDE drive. Its QoLink Navigation System provides six Q knobs corresponding to virtual knobs on the LCD for direct access to major functions and EQ, aux send levels and effects parameters. A host of mixing and graphical editing features are built-in, as are 256 levels of Undo, a Timestretch function and 250 virtual tracks. Retail: $2,695.

The Fostex (www.fostex.com) all-in-one VF-16 features 16 tracks of simultaneous recording to disk (plus eight "ghost" tracks), with 60mm faders for all 16 channels and master, 3-band channel EQs with parametric mids and highs, assignable channel and master compressors, eight mic ins, two effect sends and two aux sends per channel, and a 99-mix scene memory. Two independent digital multi-effects are standard as is nondestructive copy-and-paste editing. Retail is less than $1,500.

TAKING CONTROL Workstation controllers were hot. CM Automation's (www.cmautomation.com) Dashboard Digital Editor Worksurface is designed with editing ergonomics in mind. The surface is divided into two sections, for navigating with the right hand and operating clipboard/transport controls with the left. CM's The Wedge allows users to create custom control surfaces by joining multiple Dashboard and Motor Mix units.

Radikal Technologies (www.radikal technologies.com) had a slick new controller. The SAC-2K's curvy purple surface features nine groupable and assignable 100mm moving faders and 31-segment LED rotary switch encoders with LCD screen for automation/parameter display. The unit offers transport and jog wheel controls, SMPTE display and one-touch access to effects, individual EQ bands, sends and returns, pans, buses and more. The SAC-2K ships in May for $1,700.

SOFTWARE AND HARDWARE HITS Mark of the Unicorn (www.motu.com) took us "backstage" to see the 1296, a rackmount, computer-based hard disk recording system for Mac and Windows offering 12 simultaneous channels of 24-bit, 96kHz I/Os on balanced XLR connectors. The 1296 core system includes a PCI-324 audio card with three "Audio Wire" connectors, for linking three 1296 interfaces and as many as 36 simultaneous channels.

Steinberg (www.us.steinberg.net) announced Nuendo is shipping on NT, and new surround plug-ins for the platform. The Surround Bundle has six real-time plug-ins with a maximum 8-channel capability. Apps include OctoMaxx, an 8-channel loudness maximizer; an OctoComp compressor; the OctoQ 7-band parametric EQ; OctoVerb reverb; an LFE Splitter; and an LFE Combiner. Steinberg also showed a new Nuendo PCI card with 26 I/Os.

Waves (www.waves.com) unveiled the Pro-FX Plus bundle ($850 TDM, $450 native), designed for post, game design and remix artists. The package includes UltraPitch, SuperTap, MetaFlanger, MondoMod and two new Waves processors: a Doppler effect and Enigma, a feedback circuit with filters and modulator. In other Waves news, the L2 Ultramaximizer hardware limiter is shipping.

Comparisonics technology, in the SEK'D (www.sekd.com) Samplitude Version 5.5, changes the color of the waveform display depending on frequency content. Developed for CIA forensic audio, this feature will also prove useful for creative applications, like mastering. SEK'D also demoed a new surround editor for Samplitude.

Speed, a new plug-in from Wave Mechanics (www.wavedistribution.com), modifies tempo and pitch. Pitch is transposed in one-cent increments over two octaves. Time is calculated by length or tempo in bpm, and a real-time Preview mode is built-in.

Syntrillium's (www.syntrillium.com) Cool Edit 2000 ($69) offers more than 20 effects and reads/writes MP3. Optional plug-ins include Studio ($49), which turns Cool Edit 2000 into a 4-track mixer, and Audio Cleanup ($49), which adds audio restoration tools.

TC Works (www.tcworks.de) showed a new version of the Spark editor featuring TDM support and audio restoration facilities. This high-end version adds real-time de-noising and de-clicking and allows as many as five TDM plug-ins to be inserted in addition to the native plug-ins, enabling users to build FX chains with TDM and native plug-ins running at the same time. TC Works also ported its MegaReverb plug-in to Pro Tools NT.

Kind of Loud Technologies (www.kindofloud.com), maker of Smart Pan Pro, announced that its RealVerb 5.1 multichannel reverb is shipping for TDM and RTAS. A MAS version is in the works.

MICROPHONES! New studio mics keep coming. Audix (www.audixusa.com) demoed the $199 ADX-90 miniature condenser gooseneck percussion mic and the CX211, a large-diaphragm, cardioid front-address condenser priced at $599. Speaking of front address, R+DE (www.event1.com) showed the NT3, a $199 hypercardioid condenser that's phantom or internal 9VDC battery-powered-the latter is useful for sampling or other portable use. JOEMEEK (www.pmiaudio.com) unveiled its $499 C95 3-pattern condenser mic and $279 cardioid-only Meekrophone, and is now distributing Studio Projects mics, including the $999 T998, a dual-triode tube mic with an infinitely variable (cardioid-to-omni) pattern. Sennheiser (www.sennheiser.com) offered a sneak preview of its flagship multipattern condenser mic, the side-address MKH-800, which offers significantly improved performance over the earlier MKH-80.

Designed for drum overheads, hi-hat and stringed instruments, the CAD (www.cadmics.com) C84 is a cardioid, small-diaphragm, true condenser mic. The cardioid M177's 1.1-inch capsule is based on the Equitek E-300. It has pad and bass roll-off switches and a low self-noise of 10 dB. The M277 is similar but offers nine switchable polar patterns.

By far, the coolest mic at NAMM was DPA's (www.dpamicrophones.com) 7060 Binaural Scope, an under-$1,000 set of tiny condenser capsules that mount in your ears to create true dummy head recordings.

LIVE STUFF AT NAMM The most talked-about new sound reinforcement product of the NAMM show was Shure's (www.shure.com) PSM400 In-Ear Monitor system. Using the frequency agility of the PSM700, as many as eight wireless units can operate simultaneously over 16 frequencies. These are the same price as the PSM600 but also include the P4M, a half-rack, 4-channel splitter-mixer with a stereo aux input, allowing each musician to combine a mix from the main console with four inputs from the stage.

And honorable mentions go to:

Audix demonstrated the beautifully clear, transparent sound of its new VX-10 cardioid true-condenser handheld vocal mic priced at $599. Audix also re-released its classic OM-1 dynamic vocal mic ($359 list).

Crest's (www.crestaudio.com) X Series VCA console offers VCA control of inputs and submasters, with fully parametric EQ in the same frames as its X-8 consoles. Submasters include variable-ratio dynamics, and there are four additional stereo returns with 4-band swept EQ. Two pairs of aux buses are on dual-concentric pots, and all eight can be globally switched to work as level-and-pan stereo pairs.

D.A.S. (www.sennheiser.com) introduced the self-powered, bi-amplified ST-112A ($3,500 list), which employs a horn-loaded 12 and a large-format titanium compression driver with 55x50 coverage. The trapezoidal birch ply cabinet is 33 inches high and weighs 146 pounds. The companion ST-218A double-18 horn-loaded sub is $3,000.

Electro-Voice (www.electrovoice.com) unveiled a new version of its top N/DYM dynamic vocal mic, the supercardioid 767a. Its Vocal Optimized Bass technology dampens the low-frequency resonant peak and reduces muddiness, for a more aggressive sound.

Peavey (www.peavey.com) joins the wireless world with its new ProCom(tm) PCX line of true diversity wireless systems ranging from entry-level VHF to the high-end PCX-U302 UHF system priced at less than $1,000.

INSTRUMENTS-: VIRTUAL AND OTHERWISE Faster, cheaper computer technology brings software synths and samplers. CreamWare's (www.creamware.com) PowerSampler is a DSP-based sampling system for Windows and MacOS: It can be used alone or with Pulsar. Built around three SHARC DSPs, PowerSampler features 32 dynamically allocated stereo voices, and hardware I/Os with 24-bit/96kHz quality. Retail: $598.

Digidesign and Access Music GmbH showed the new Virus TDM plug-in for Pro Tools|24 MIX-based systems. The Virus synthesizer, which is virtually identical in sound and core functionality to the Virus family of hardware synthesizers, offers digital modeling of classic analog synth textures, as well as new sounds.

Steinberg demoed The Propellerheads' Reason, a software-based analog synth, sampler and drum machine that operates as a self-contained synth studio system, or in ReWire mode, with its instruments automatically patched into the Cubase VST mixer. Steinberg also introduced the PPG Wave 2.V, a VST reincarnation of the classic wavetable synth.

Emagic (www.emagic.de) debuted the EXS24 (Emagic Extreme Sampler 24-bit), a polyphonic software sampler for Mac and Windows. And Emagic's ES1 synth is now available for TDM.

There was plenty of action in hardware land, too. Roland's VP-9000 processor ($3,295) features VariPhrase technology, a nondestructive, real-time process that works by encoding audio for simultaneous real-time control of pitch, formants and time. Samples can then be played across a range of keys and manipulated.

Korg (www.korg.com) introduced its first new MS series synth in more than 20 years: The MS2000 re-creates classic analog sounds using DSP and includes a 16-band vocoder reminiscent of Korg's VC-10. Two versions are available: The $1,100 MS2000 Analog Modeling Synthesizer has a 44-note velocity keyboard, and the $799 MS2000R is a four-rackspace configuration. Both use a DSP-powered analog modeling system, based on the Prophecy, Z1 and Electribe series, and 35 dedicated knobs tweak major parameters in real time. In other Korg news, a cross-platform (PC/Mac) version of its OASYS PCI card is available.

The A6 Andromeda polyphonic analog synthesizer from Alesis (www.alesis.com) offers 16 true analog voices and 16-channel multitimbral functionality with full MIDI implementation. Custom ASICs developed by Alesis produce Andromeda's sound, with two oscillators per voice with five waveforms each, two sub-oscillators, plus 2-pole multimode and 4-pole lowpass classically derived resonance filters, MIDI-synchable LFOs, an arpeggiator and an analog-style step-sequencer. Retail is $3,499.

There were plenty of other hot toys from NAMM, and we'll present these in our new products columns in the months to come. Meanwhile, Summer NAMM returns to Nashville from July 21-23, 2000. See you there!

It's hard to see everything at NAMM, so here are ten slick picks you may have missed...

Contracting products at NAMM? Allen Audio (www.allenaudio.com) couldn't wait till NSCA to show its VPA-100, a rackmount 8x8 digital mixer/router/signal processor with EQ/gates/compression/ducking.

DI/O from ART (www.artroch.com) is a 24-bit, 96kHz A/D and D/A converter with 11/44-inch analog I/Os, S/PDIF digital I/Os and a dual triode tube circuit with a variable warmth control-all in a package that's less than 6x6-inches. Retail is $249.

Behringer's (www.behringer.de) way-cool GX110 30-watt guitar amp has 3-band EQ, onboard 24-bit multi-effects with MIDI switching, 12AX7 preamp, stereo I/O patching, effects loop and a 10-inch Jensen speaker. List is $199.

CAD (www.cadmics.com) unveiled an awesome drum mic mount that's built like a tank, securely handles any mic and has a simple, effective shock-mount. Retail is $19.95.

Last year, Electrix (www.electrixpro.com) knocked us out with its Performance FX line of thick, funky analog processors. Now they've outdone themselves with the FilterQueen ("vintage" analog filter set) and EQKiller (stereo frequency band killer), the first in the half-rack, Mod series that blows away competing product priced far more than its low $299 list.

Tube gear expensive? No way! The PreSonus (www.presonus.com) BlueTube is a dual-channel tube mic preamp/direct box in a half-rack case with internal power supply. MSRP is $199.

Roland's HPD-15 Hand Percussion Pad ($1,295) is about as much fun as anyone can have without being arrested. The instrument has a 10-inch diameter, 15-zone surface designed for finger/hand playing with the same pressure, muting and pitch control offered by congas and other hand percussion. Its 300 onboard stereo sounds (from around the world), two ribbon controllers, three real-time modifier knobs, trigger inputs and hi-hat jack add to the party. Yeah!

Slider Products (www.slider-straps.com) unveiled the "Piano Barre." This innovative means of placing mics above an acoustic piano's soundboard has two adjustable mic mounts that can be moved anywhere along an easily removable, no-mar center bar. Prices start at $189.

Most DAWs and soundcards have no means of adjusting monitor volume, so Vergence (www.vergenceaudio.com) offers the $149 Passive Volume Control, with two balanced Neutrik Combo XLR/TRS input jacks, two balanced XLR outs and a quality Noble(r) pot in a sleek, compact case for desktop or rackmounting.

Vestax (www.vestaxdj.com) showed its VRX-2000 "vinyl recorder." Priced at less than $10,000 and available this summer, the VRX-2000 has a linear cutterhead and separate play tone arm mounted on a 45/33rpm turntable that's designed to create high-quality, one-off discs on vinyl blanks (available from Vestax). This product should appeal to well-heeled DJs who want to cut their own scratching discs, and could open up a niche for studios and mastering houses seeking to expand their services.

NAMM offers a sneak peak into what the future may bring. For example, milled aluminum front panels are no longer the exclusive domain of high-end brands such as Avalon, Millennia and Focusrite Red boxes. That million-dollar look is now coming to other products, such as Lucid's (www.lucidtechnology.com) SRC9624 $1,999 sample rate converter and PreSonus' $1,495 DigiMax 8-channel preamp/limiter/EQ with analog and digital outs.

Other trends? Network alliances and Firewire ports on peripherals are coming to store shelves, but the buzzword du show at this NAMM was "USB."

TO USB OR NOT TO USB The coolest USB item at NAMM was Tascam's (www.tascam.com) US-428 Digital Audio Workstation controller ($599), a 24-bit hardware controller that interfaces with Windows- and Mac-based sequencing platforms via a USB port. This no-audio-card-required workstation/control surface features eight hardware faders, with jog wheel, transport, EQ and control functions. It supports 16- or 24-bit resolution and 44.1 and 48kHz sampling rates and has four analog and two S/PDIF ins, plus RCA and S/PDIF outs. The US-428 comes bundled with software and will be available next month.

The MIDI Oxygen (or MO2) 44 from Virtual DSP Corporation (www.midioxygen.com) is a USB multichannel MIDI interface for BeOS, delivering 64 MIDI channels, four MIDI ins and four MIDI outs on one USB cable. Multiple units can be connected through USB. Coming in June, Akai's USB interface board for its S5000 and S6000 samplers includes the company's updated M.E.S.A. (Modular Editing System) software, providing computer control and editing of program and effects parameters. Emagic's MT4 ($149) is a 2-in, 4-out USB MIDI interface for both Mac and Windows. Emagic also announced that Windows 98 USB MME drivers for the Unitor8 MkII, AMT8 and MT4 will be available next month. And Midiman (www.midiman.net) showed an entire line of USB peripherals, including the new lime-green Midisport 2x2 interface.

THIS ROCKET'S TAKING OFF The San Francisco-based network of Internet recording studios, Rocket Network (www.rocketnetwork.com), announced software support from Euphonix, Emagic and GVOX at NAMM. Steinberg also announced its own branded Internet recording studios at www.cubase.net, where users can interface via Rocket Powered Cubase VST. In addition, Digidesign and Rocket announced a strategic partnership providing Digi with an equity stake in Rocket Network. The companies will work together to enable Pro Tools users to collaborate using Digidesign Internet, based on an enhanced version of Rocket Network's technology.

FIREWIRE! Compared to video, IEEE-1394 (Firewire) interfacing has been slow coming to pro audio. However, KRK (www.krksys.com) demoed a pair of its Expose 7 powered monitors using a Softacoustic digital crossover (optional on KRK speakers) direct from a Firewire source. Meanwhile, 1394 evangelists Digital Harmony (www.digitalharmony.com), who have made significant inroads in helping consumer audio companies integrate 1394 into their products, were seen meeting with numerous pro audio manufacturers at the show. There just may be a little Firewire in your future...






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