Winter NAMM's Product Hits
Mar 1, 2002 12:00 PM, By the Mix Staff
From January 17-20, NAMM rolled into Anaheim for its annual winter extravaganza of musical and audio goodies. In this post-9/11 era, the art of predicting tradeshow success is somewhat uncertain. The New York AES show in December had a good turnout, but attendance at CES just a week earlier — a bellwether of consumer spending — was substantially down.
Yet NAMM bucked this downward trend with a reported record-setting attendance of 65,490 — slightly above last year's figure. The exact reasons are unclear; perhaps the music industry is less recession-prone than other consumer markets, or maybe the public is attracted by cheaper, easier-to-use high-tech toys for making music. In any case, aisles at the Anaheim Convention Center were packed all day, as was the Hilton bar by night, and, judging by the comments of most exhibitors, sales were up, up, up.
One interesting trend was the complete turnaround performed by many companies that struggled financially in 2001. Alesis (www.alesis.com) came out kicking with 21 new products including two keyboard synths (QS8.2 and QS6.2), a 96kHz upgrade kit for its HD24 disk-based 24-track, and a slew of new outboard goodies. Akai (www.akaipro.com) has completed its DPS24 24/96 workstation (profiled in this issue) and the company unveiled new-generation MIDI systems, including the rackmount Z4/Z8, rackmount 24/96 samplers and the hot MPC4000 MIDI Production Center (see details later in this article). Mackie (www.mackie.com) pulled out all the stops, with 23 product debuts (not including 22 new drivers from its RCF speaker division), including the $2,499 SDR24/96, a three-rackspace disk recorder with 24 simultaneous channels at 24-bit/48kHz or 12 channels at 24-bit/96kHz, an internal HD, drive bay for pullout removable drives, 192 virtual tracks, nondestructive cut/copy/paste editing and SMPTE/MIDI sync. Mackie also launched two mixers, studio monitors, sound reinforcement speakers and a totally new 24/96 Soundscape DAW.WORKSTATION NEWS
With most people announcing 24/96 systems, Digidesign's release of the 192kHz Pro Tools|HD was big news. The high-definition system (costing about the same as a PT|24 MIX 888|24 system) is based on enhanced hardware for improved DSP, more extensive routing and I/O options, as well as improved fidelity. (For details, go to www.digidesign.com or check out the “Technology Spotlight” in last month's Mix.) The list of third-party developers releasing plug-ins for the new HTDM platform is constantly expanding. In other Digi news, the $495, all-in-one Mbox is a 2-channel 24-bit USB peripheral with S/PDIF, hi-Z and Neutrik Combo I/Os, two Focusrite mic pre's, insert points and a headphone out, bundled with Pro Tools LE.
Digi's Pro Tools|HD generated a 192k buzz at the show; while many manufacturers said that they had products coming down the line, we saw a couple real pieces of hardware: Lynx's (www.lynxstudio.com) L22 PCI interface offers up to a 200kHz sampling rate, with two channels of balanced analog I/O, 24-bit converters and a stated dynamic range of 115 dB. And Ego Sys (www.egosys.net) announced the WaMi Rack 192L 4-in/8-out interface, and the 192 Series of 24-bit/192kHz PCI interfaces, which — starting at $199 — may well win the 192k low-price award!
Steinberg (www.steinberg.net) showed VST System Link, a new technology using existing digital audio cables and protocols like ADAT, TDIF, AES/EBU and S/PDIF to connect computers using ASIO 2.0, distributing computational needs among the systems. VST System Link is explained in detail in the February Mix. Steinberg also demoed WaveLab 4.0, featuring ASIO support and a new set of plug-ins; and Cubase VST 5.1, with three new VST instruments and 11 new VST effects.
Emagic's (www.emagic.de) Logic Audio 5 is ready to ship, and should be available by the time you read this. The up grade — which lists a new automation system, 50 plug-ins and integrated synthesizers among its top features — was shown in a futuristic booth layout with the Logic Control.
Syntrillium (www.syntrillium.com) released its biggest upgrade ever for Cool Edit Pro. Version 2.0 features real-time effects, track EQ, Disk-At-Once CD burning, loop-based composition and support for MIDI and video playback. Syntrillium also announced a hardware unit, the Red Rover USB multitrack remote-control interface.
PreSonus (www.presonus.com) licensed Yamaha's mLAN FireWire audio-networking protocol for its recording products, beginning with the PreSonus FireStation. A PC recording interface that's expandable to a 48-in/out system, FireStation has the award-winning preamps and converters of the DigiMax line, with mic/line/instrument inputs, S/PDIF I/O, analog line outs and three mLAN ports. Also new, the FireStation Lightpipe allows ADAT optical and MIDI interfacing to any existing mLAN system.
Companies are announcing Mac OS X compatibility. BIAS, Propellerhead Software, Bitheadz, Ableton and Edirol were among those showing “carbonized” versions of their products. BIAS's (www.bias-inc.com) OS X-ready Peak 3 has improved sample-rate conversion, with Pow-r dithering algorithms and comes with BIAS's new Freq 4-band paragraphic EQ. (A 10-band version, SuperFreq, is available as an OS X-native VST plug-in.)PLUG-INS
It wouldn't be a NAMM show without a dozen or so cool new plug-ins. Two new bundles from Waves (www.waves.com) captured attention. The new Masters Bundle includes the Linear Phase EQ and Multiband and the L2 Ultramaximizer. The Platinum Bundle has a whopping 25 tools, including Linear Phase EQ, Multiband, the L2 and the Renaissance VOX, Bass and DeEsser.
Universal Audio (www.uaudio.com) has two new Powered Plug-Ins, both free for registered UAD-1 users. The Pultec EQP-1A models the Pultec Program EQ, and includes all of the features of the original; and the Nigel Guitar Processor offers gate/compressor, phaser, mod filter, envelope follower and other multi-effects for a variety of guitar tones.
Cycling '74's Pluggo 3.0 is here, with 19 Essential Instrument plug-ins for RTAS, MAS or VST, including additive, wavetable, FM and granular synths, theremins, drum and percussion synths, wave shaping and many more. Visit www.cycling74.com for the complete rundown.
Three new CreamWare (www.creamware.de) plug-ins are: OptiMaster, a normalizer, multiband expander, multiband compressor and multiband limiter in a single unit; PSY Q, a psychoacoustic EQ with integrated stereo expander, bass compressor and SoftClip; and the Vocodizer vocoder, with 22 filters and internal synth with 128 waveforms.
Professional Sound Projects (www.pspaudioware.com) showed a bunch of plug-ins for Mac and PC, but one of the coolest was PSP PianoVerb, which emulates the reverb created by piano strings. The best part? It's free!OUT-OF-THE-BOX SOLUTIONS
There are several companies now offering pre-configured, application-specific PC solutions. Carillon Audio Systems (www.carillonusa.com) unveiled its new AC1 line of purpose-built PCs for audio applications. The AC1 can be paired with any number of popular software suites. Out-of-the-box systems begin at $1,599; custom units start from $1,119. SoundChaser (www.soundchaser.com) showed several PC-recording rigs, including the GigaDaw TK1 (based around Tascam's GigaStudio 160) and the Nuendo-based ProDAW.EVEN BETTER THAN THE REAL THING
IK Multimedia's (www.amplitube.com) AmpliTude is a guitar amp/effects modeling plug-in. Three sections (amplifier, effects and post-effects) allow 1,260 different variations. First available for RTAS ($399), AmpliTude VST comes out later this year. DigiTech (www.digitech.com) lets bass players in on the fun with BP200 ($199), a bass amp/effects modeling processor with expression pedal, 24-bit AD/DA converters and a dizzying array of amp/effect combinations. Steinberg (www.steinberg.net) expanded the VST umbrella with its (PC-only) Warp guitar amp plug-in. Based on Hughes & Kettner DSM technology, Warp affords VST users myriad combinations of vintage and contemporary guitar amps and cabinets (list $299).STREAM THIS!
Everyone seemed to have new software samplers or instruments, promising ultra-low latency streaming of huge sound files with amazing polyphony and clarity. Native Instruments (www.native-instruments.com) unleashed the Kontakt sampler, which works as a stand-alone application or as a VST, DXi or MAS instrument. Main features include real-time granular time-stretching and resynthesis; tempo-synched sequencers, LFOs and multistage envelopes; and an integrated loop editor. Famed for its hardware samplers, E-mu (www.emu.com) announced Emulator Soft, which works as a stand-alone or VST instrument, offering all the functionality of a hardware sampler. The program can also edit and catalog E4 samples. Creamware's (www.creamware.de) Power Sampler II adds independent control over pitch, time and formant. The VST-compatible program is $665. BitHeadz (www.bitheadz.com) merged the features of Unity DS-1 and Retro AS-1 with the release of the $649 Unity 3.0 Session for Mac OS 9 and OS X. Unity 3.0 Session combines sampling, synthesis and modeling into a VST, MAS, RTAS DirectConnect-compatible instrument. Steinberg (www.steinberg.net) is making a play for Steinway's clientele with the new VST Instrument The Grand VST, which contains over 1.3 GB of grand piano samples with a simple, clear user interface. Applied Acoustics Systems (www.applied-acoustics.com) updated its flagship with Tassman 3.0 ($299), a software synth based on physical modeling and modularity. The program works stand-alone or within a VST, DXi, MAS or DirectConnect application. Also new from AAS is the Lounge Lizard electric piano, with 24/96 resolution and extremely low latency. It works as a plug-in with a wide array of native PC and Mac systems.STUDIO ESSENTIALS
The $1,999 Behringer (www.behringer.com) DDX3216 32-channel digital mixer features 16 buses, eight aux sends, 12 preamps and dynamic automation of all mix parameters, including 100mm moving faders. Standard are four onboard effects processors, 4-band parametric EQ and dynamics on every channel, plus card slots for TDIF, ADAT and AES/EBU I/O.
RØDE (www.rodemicrophones.com) debuted the NT4, a stereo mic with two ½-inch capsules in an X-Y configuration; the unit includes custom stereo cables with both XLR and ⅛-inch connections. Royer (www.royerlabs.com) launched the $5,500 SF-1V, a vacuum-tube ribbon mic designed for choirs, orchestras or other distance-miking situations. B.L.U.E. (www.bluemic.com) added the $1,699 Dragonfly Deluxe, a spiffed-up version of the standard Dragonfly. CAD (www.cadmics.com) showed its new instrument mics, including the long-awaited D60LF neodymium kick mic.
Mackie's (www.mackie.com) HR624 studio monitors ($649/each) are biamped (100 + 40 watt) units with a 6.7-inch woofer, rear passive radiator and 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter for a 50 to 20k Hz (±1.5 dB) bandwidth. THX
Focusrite's (www.focusrite.com) OctoPre is a one-rackspace box with eight discrete transistor mic preamps, two DI inputs, eight compressor/limiters, and analog or optional 24/96 digital outs (AES, S/PDIF and ADAT Lightpipe). Designed by Rupert Neve, the DMCL Dual Mic-Amp Compressor/Limiter from Amek (www.amek.com) has two mic and line amps, DI inputs, variable high/lowpass filters, dual compressor/limiters, and simultaneous AES/EBU, S/PDIF and optical outs. Retail is $3,995, or $2,995 sans digital ports. Bargain-priced at $649, the Aphex (www.aphex.com) Model 207 stereo preamp combines the award-winning tube circuitry of the Model 107 with DI inputs and Mic-Lim
Got neo-vintage? The 2108 mic/instrument preamp from Universal Audio (www.uaudio.com) uses discrete, solid-state, Class-A circuitry based on the amplifier in the legendary 1176LN compressor/limiter. Retail is $1,695. Chandler Limited (www.chandlerlimited.com) offered a sneak preview of its latest re-creation — this one is a classic EMI console compressor in a rack chassis. The $1,499 MP-2 stereo tube mic preamp from A Designs (www.adesignsaudio.com) has Jensen input and custom output transformers and 10k/600-ohm output impedance switching.
Lexicon's (www.lexicon.com) MPX 110 has 240 24-bit, dual-stereo factory effects including pitch, 5.7-second delay, modulation, and legendary reverbs with independent processing on each input and analog and digital (S/PDIF) outputs. Retail: $329!
The coolest effects at NAMM: The Alesis (www.alesis.com) ModFX line, with 14 different — some very different — stereo units such as Smashup, Nastify, Crush and Metavox are retailing at $129 each. The compact ModFX units have 9-pin link ports on either side of each box for passing digital audio, clocking and power between ModFX units. (Each has analog I/O as well.) Effects range from modulation effects, filters and chorus, to harmonic enhancers, compression, vocoder, distortion and more. Alesis also previewed PicoVerb, a diminutive ¼-rackspace box with 16 reverbs and effects, priced at $99.NEXT TIME…
There were plenty of other hip products at NAMM, and we'll present more of these in our new-products columns in future issues. Meanwhile, NAMM returns to Nashville during July 19-21, for Summer Session 2002. Mark your calendars now!
At any show, there's always something cool you overlooked. Here are some of our faves…Akai MPC4000
Akai's ultimate MIDI Production Center, the MPC4000 offers 24-bit/96kHz resolution, 4-channel effects, 192 dynamic 6-pole filters, mic inputs, turntable input, MIDI and SMPTE I/O, SCSI port, internal 20GB EIDE HD and an empty bay for a CD-R or Zip drive. A USB-host port supports a QWERTY keyboard or USB floppy, Zip, CD-R, HD or MO drives. A 6-inch LCD, Q-Link interface and ak.Sys network/control software offer enhanced control/file management via Macs or PCs. Super! www.akaipro.comApogee Mini•Me
Big punch/small price: Mini•Me packs two channels of Apogee 24/96 conversion, mic preamps (with phantom power), UV22
Korg's CX-3 organ rocked; now here's the one you really wanted. The BX-3 has dual 61-key manuals, two sets of nine drawbars, a choice of vintage or clean tone, keyclick control, 128 editable presets, tube-amp simulation (with overdrive), MIDI In/Out/Thru, rotary speaker simulations and a matching wood stand. www.korg.comLine 6 GuitarPort
At first glance, it's a futuristic guitar POD, with ¼-inch input, selectable classic amp models, digital guitar effects, and analog, USB and headphone outs. Beyond its obvious use as a direct-to-PC front end, GuitarPort also offers a low-fee membership to an online service where you can take lessons, work on your chops, check out forums and jam with mix-minus-solo tracks featuring world-renowned bands. www.line6.comMotion Sound MS-145N
Famous for its suitcase-sized rotary speakers, Motion Sound now makes an unpowered, dual-rotor (12-inch woofer and upper horn), 26×20×17-inch system with passive crossover and fast/slow/stop footswitch jack. Multiple units can be driven from a single power amp, and the cabinet is slotted to simplify studio-miking possibilities. Retail: $1,099. www.motion-sound.comPrimacoustics Freeport
The $149 Freeport is a 24×48-inch acoustic absorber of high-density Primafoam
From the father of the digital drum machine and Akai's MPC groove boxes, Roger Linn's AdrenaLinn ($395) takes the stomp box concept to the limit, adding a bank of filters, a looping sequencer, synth-style modulators and amp modeling for a wide array of rhythmic effects. Playing in sync to MIDI or its internal 40-sound drum machine, effects range from traditional (tremolo/flanging/auto pan, etc.) to sequence-driven, dynamically looped filter tones, creating a bazillion sounds you've never heard. Wild! www.rogerlinndesign.comTannoy Ellipse
The coolest monitor at NAMM was Tannoy Ellipse, a three-way near-field in an elliptical — no parallel surface — cabinet with either an 8- or 10-inch Dual-Concentric driver and top-mount super-tweeter, offering a 40kHz bandwidth that's perfect for 96/192kHz production. George Jetson would love the wayout look! www.tannoy.comTascam PocketStudio 5
This digital 4-track boasts 100 multi-effects, an onboard synth module and MIDI sequence player. Compositions can be stored to Compact Flash media or mixed to MP3 format and offloaded via the USB port. Also standard are track bouncing and copy/paste editing of audio and MIDI tracks. This battery-powered, studio-in-your-hand includes a built-in condenser mic, AC adapter, headset mic and 32MB Compact Flash card. www.tascam.com
Over the past few years, NAMM has become a major showcase for pro sound reinforcement products. Here are a few that caught our eye.
Allen & Heath (www.allen-heath.com) is now shipping its ML3000 dual-function FOH/monitor console, featuring eight VCA groups, four audio groups, eight pre/post-switchable auxes, eight mute groups, LCR panning, 8×4 matrix, and snapshot VCA/mute automation via a PC and 24/32/40-channel versions.
Audio-Technica's (www.audiotechnica.com) Artist Elite Series handheld mics include the top-end AE5400 cardioid condenser ($579) with a 1-inch capsule based on A-T's 4050 studio mic; the $439 AE3300 puts the sound of A-T's popular 4033 into a handheld package. Cardioid or hypercardioid dynamic models ($289/each) are also offered.
JBL's (www.jbl.com) Soundfactor
Mackie Designs' (www.mackie.com) DFX Series of 12- and 6-channel mixers are designed for the entry-level market: The DFX•12 is $479; the DFX•6 is $379. Both include 16 digital multi-effects, 5-band graphic EQ and an onboard vocal elimination circuit for karaoke use.
PAS (www.pas-toc.com) debuted its “plug-and-play” RSLA FOH Line Array System, a package with everything you need (less console, mics and outboard toys) for handling venues up to 10,000. It includes 16 RS-LA dual-15/co-ax line array speakers, cables, racks, amps, processing and flying hardware.
SLS's (www.slsloudspeakers.com) $550 US8190 is an ultra-compact (11.5×18.5×8-inch), low-profile wedge monitor with 8-inch woofer and 5-inch ribbon tweeter. Smooth, sweet and loud, with 115dB continuous SPLs.
Soundcraft's (www.soundcraft.com) MH4 is designed for FOH, monitor or shared FOH/monitor duties, in 24- to 56-input versions — plus four stereo input modules that can be moved and swapped with any mono input on the board. Priced from $23,995, the totally modular MH4 offers 20 aux buses, eight VCA and eight mute groups with snapshot automation, true LCR panning and outputs, and integral 20×8 matrix.
Wharfedale (www.wharfedalepro.com), known for its high-end hi-fi gear, now markets Topaz consoles and offers a full line of pro and MI P.A. products, ranging from the $99 VS-10, a 10-inch, two-way box (the VS15 two-way, single-15 is only $169 retail!) to the $1,189 LIX-215FR, a trapezoidal enclosure with dual-15s, a cone mid, titanium-compression driver HF and flying hardware.