Bigger, Better, Cheaper, Cooler

Jan 29, 2004 12:00 PM, By the Mix Staff

Products Hits of Winter NAMM '044

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From January 15 to 18, 2004, as the East Coast was locked in one of the worst cold snaps in memory, some 74,000 music and audio industry pros made the annual pilgrimage to Winter NAMM in sunny Anaheim, Calif. With six-plus exhibition halls of musical instruments and sound technologies and a record 1,340 exhibitors, there was plenty to see. Here are a few of the hits.

There were enough plug-ins, synths, DAWs, live sound and pro audio debuts to fill a couple of AES shows, but NAMM would not be NAMM without gee-tars. Fender (www.fender.com) kicked off 2004 celebrating the Stratocaster's 50th birthday, unveiling several special models (retailing from $1,599) that commemorate the anniversary of the most popular and influential electric guitar of all time. Ampmeister Jim Marshall (www.marshallamps.com) turns a still-young 80 and is honored in Jim Marshall: The Father of Loud (www.backbeatbooks.com), a new 256-page biography by Rich Maloof. Meanwhile, Allen & Heath distributors North American Pro Audio announced the return of Hagstrom guitars—a fave of notables such as Frank Zappa, Elvis, The Beatles and Bryan Ferry—later this year. Stay tuned for more!

With the explosion of virtual synths, sometimes it's nice to get a little hands-on. Korg (www.korg.com) announced Triton Extreme, which features tube processing with an actual 12AU7 built in, a whopping 160 MB of ROM—including 1,334 programs, 50 drum kits and 1,280 combinations—audio CD burning capability and USB connectivity. Kurzweil (www.kurzweilmusicsystems.com) debuted the VA1 analog modeling synth, featuring patented Power Shaped Oscillators that generate classic analog-style waveforms that can be smoothly "shaped" from one into another without using crossfades.

Last year's underground favorite, Open Labs (www.opnlabs.com), has come of age. The company is now shipping its OpenSynth NEKO and NEKO 64 line of AMD Opteron processor-based keyboards, which host VSTi plug-ins and use standard micro-ATX motherboards and processors capable of running Microsoft Windows with standard PC hardware. The OpenStudio OMX 64 integrated 64-bit digital audio workstation is also shipping.

E-mu (www.emu.com) had a big crowd in its booth—maybe it was for the debut of the Emulator X and Emulator X Studio desktop sampling systems, which combine E-mu sampling technologies and hardware DSP with software features such as disk streaming and file management. Both systems feature an integrated waveform editor and powerful synth functions, with a 24-bit/192kHz audio interface with hardware-accelerated effects. (The Emulator X Studio comes with a sync daughter card.)

Apple (www.apple.com) is making inroads into the audio market, as evidenced by its GarageBand announcement at MacWorld a week prior to its first-ever presence at NAMM. At the Apple booth, we saw rebranded versions of the Logic line, which now comprises a full-featured Logic Pro (including Logic Platinum and 53 software instruments) and a more basic Logic Express, which is designed for students and educators. We also previewed some hip new software instruments, including the Ultrabeat percussion synth and the Guitar Amp modeling plug-in. We were especially wowed by Sculpture, however, which simulates the behavioral characteristics of a string or bar and lets users tweak and morph parameters such as material and environment. Sound designers, check it out.

At BIAS (www.bias-inc.com), we checked out Peak 4.1, which now includes Roxio Jam for Mac OS X, boosting Peak's CD-burning capability to allow full access to the Red Book spec to create pre-glass masters for mass commercial replication in OS X. Want more? Peak also adds a lite version of the SFX Machine multi-effects plug-in.

Cycling '74 (www.cycling74.com) announced Soundflower, a free system extension for Mac OS 10.2/10.3, that lets users route audio between CoreAudio apps. Although Soundflower is perfect for general routing tasks, it enables applications developed with Max/MSP to process audio originating from other programs—one can only imagine the possibilities. Cycling '74 also released Sustained Encounters, the first volume in the Cycles Series of audio source libraries from Ron MacLeod, who created the Poke in the Ear libraries.

Last year, we were floored by hearing Vocaloid (www.vocaloid.com) at Musikmesse. Now, the voice-synthesis software that lets users generate authentic-sounding vocals on their PCs by simply typing in the lyrics and music notes of their compositions is distributed by East West Communications (www.soundsonline.com). Click here to hear a sample of Vocaloid in action.

Minnetonka (www.minnetonkaaudio.com) broke the two-digit price barrier with Discwelder Bronze, a $99 DVD-Audio authoring package. And Digidesign (www.digidesign.com) surprised us with its acquisition of the assets of Bomb Factory (see "Current," page 16).

Plug-ins, Plug-ins, Plug-ins!

There are more cool apps than ever. Universal Audio (www.uaudio.com) showed a Fairchild 670 compressor for the UAD-1 card and a new UAD-1 Studio Pak Powered Plug-Ins bundle featuring 20 UA plugs, including the 1176LN/SE, LA-2A, Pultec EQP-1, RealVerb Pro and a lot more. TC Electronic (www.tcelectronic.com) is shipping the Virus virtual synth from Access, the TC Thirty classic Vox amp modeler and PowerCore Version 1.8, which features the Tubifex amp simulator.

Waves' (www.waves.com) IR-1 convolution reverb plug-in features impulse responses from some of the best rooms on the planet. The interface gives users a wide variety of tweakable settings and promises to include numerous room updates in years to come.

We previewed the new Advanced Groove Engine from Spectrasonics (www.spectrasonics.net), a product of the new in-house development team. This technology will beef up plug-ins such as the upcoming Stylus RMX, which was previewed at the show.

SoundShuttle from PowerFX (www.powerfx.com) is a VST plug-in that lets users preview, audition and download loops directly within applications such as Cubase, Live and Fruity Loops. PowerFX also showed Miracle Beats, a combination sample CD/VST instrument that slices drum loops and separates elements of the drum kit into individual tracks for separate control. More than 500 drum loops are included.

Sony (www.sonyplugins.com) added to its plug-in line with the Oxford TransMod for Pro Tools TDM (Mix, Accel), LE and PowerCore. The dynamic wonder-worker radically changes the dynamics of a track by sculpting transients and increasing or reducing ambience.

The two new SRS (www.srslabs.com) Circle Surround encoder/decoder TDM plug-ins support seven channels, operate at up to 96 kHz and are cross-platform (Mac and PC).

Eventide (www.eventide.com) was craning necks at the Digi booth with the H3000 Band Delays TDM plug-in, with eight tempo-based delays featuring programmable resonant filters and independent panning controls. Also at the Digi booth, URS (www.ursplugins.com) unveiled the SSL 4000e 4-band EQ emulator.

In addition to announcing Melodyne 2.5, Celemony (www.celemony.com) is teaming up with Ueberschall to develop sample-based VST instruments for Melodyne users.

It felt like Christmas at the Ilio (www.ilio.com) booth, with the company distributing more software packages than ever. Applied Acoustic Systems is the newest developer to join the fold, showing Tassman 3 and Lounge Lizard EP-2. We also checked out Ultimate Sound Bank's new Charlie classic organ module, Ultra Focus virtual synth and X-Treme FX sound design tool, plus Synthology's Ivory virtual piano and Sonic Reality's I-Drums kit library.

M-Audio (www.m-audio.com) made a splash with composer Jeff Rona's Liquid Cinema, a collection of loops and samples for soundtrack creation. The company also showed FireWire 18/14, an 18-in/14-out FireWire audio/MIDI interface with eight channels of ADAT Lightpipe I/O, 8x4 analog I/O and two channels of mic/instrument pre's; the Octane 8-channel Pre and A/D Converter with ADAT Lightpipe; and new Keystation USB MIDI controllers.

Consoles, Interfaces and Such

Mackie (www.mackie.com) unveiled a number of products, including the slick-looking Big Knob, a desktop monitor switching and level control box with built-in talkback functions. Also at the show was a scaled-down, more affordable version of the dXb that the company showed at AES last October. Yamaha (www.yamaha.com/proaudio) introduced V. 2 software and five add-on effects packages for its 02R96 mixing console. Compatible for both Mac OS X and Windows 2000/XP platforms, the $300 V. 2 upgrade includes more than 40 new features.

Tascam (www.tascam.com) revealed the US-2400, a 25-fader DAW controller for under $2,000. The unit features 25 100mm moving faders, 24 assignable encoders, a full transport section and a joystick for surround panning. Also at the booth was the new GigaStudio 3.0, a ground-up rewrite of the original application, adding dozens of new features.

Allen & Heath's (www.allen-heath.com) Xone:92 is a killer 6-channel DJ club mixer with 4-band EQ, two LFOs, a tap-tempo feature, two independent filter systems and MIDI output for tweaking outboard effects, lighting, etc. Slammin!

PreSonus (www.presonus.com) debuted Firepod, a 24-bit/96k recording studio, including eight microphone preamplifiers and Steinberg's Cubase SE 48-track, 24-bit/96k recording software. The cross-platform (Windows XP/Mac OS X) box is priced at less than $700. Edirol (www.edirol.com) showed FA-101, a 10x10 FireWire audio interface capable of 24-bit/96kHz operation. The unit also offers stereo recording and playback at 24-bit/192 kHz.

Studio Essentials

Dynaudio Acoustics (www.dynaudioacoustics.com) released the AIR 25, a three-way active near-field with two 10-inch woofers, a 5.5-inch midrange and a 1.1-inch soft-dome tweeter. The quad-amped unit offers 1,200 watts of power and retails for $7,495. KRK's (www.krksys.com) Rokit RP-5 and RP-8 powered bi-amped monitors incorporate key design elements from the company's higher-end models and feature volume control, XLR, RCA and TRS inputs.

SE Electronics (www.seemics.com) showed several unique entries: Gemini is a large-diaphragm cardioid studio condenser with dual-tube (12AU7 and 12AX7) electronics; Icis has a superlarge 35mm (1.5-inch) cardioid capsule paired with tube electronics. Both mics include flight case, shock-mount and cables. For stage or studio, the I-5 from Audix (www.audixusa.com) is a $179 retail, cardioid dynamic for high-SPL applications, such as close-miked snare or guitar cabs.

Fiber Nation

Light Viper from Fiberplex (www.lightviper.com) uses military-grade fiber optics to transport 40 line-level signals up to 1.25 miles without degradation from a stage box with 32 inputs of phantom-powered mic/line amps. At the other end, a single-rackspace box has D-25 sub connectors breaking out to any analog configuration that the user needs.

The first CobraNet-based digital snake, Whirlwind's (www.whirlwindusa.com) E-Snake, sends/receives 24-bit audio over standard Cat-5 cable. Each E Snake Frame module handles eight to 32 channels with a capacity of hundreds of channels over a Gigabit Ethernet network. Control software remotely tweaks mic/line levels, pads and limiting.

Going Outboard!

NAMM had tons of hot new outboard toys, including some exotic entries. Complementing its ViPRE preamp, Groove Tubes' (www.groovetubes.com) Glory Comp is a $2,999 all-tube compressor featuring built-in sidechain EQ and a "Glory" (second-harmonics boost) knob, with adjustment between Earth (no effect) and Heaven (full effect). The new 162SL from dbx (www.dbxpro.com) packs the punch and quality of its flagship 160SL Blue Series compressor, but in a more affordable package featuring Jensen output transformers, full-manual AutoVelocity and OverEasy modes, and a groovy purple chassis.

Most clever NAMM product name? The NY-2A from Electro-Harmonix (www.ehx.com), a $2,999 2-channel tube compressor with a choice of three opto-coupler (slow incandescent, high-velocity clear LED or electro-luminescent panel) light sources, Lundahl transformer I/O, and VU and EM80 "magic eye" output displays. At the other end of the price scale, Phonic's (www.phonic.com) $250 T8200 TubeOptimizer is a stereo/dual-mono, 2-band (HF/LF) compressor with balanced I/Os, tube warmth controls and eight VU meters showing status.

The $2,495 Aphex (www.aphexsys.com) Model 1100 MkII is an update of the discrete Class-A tube stereo preamp with MicLim limiting, 24-bit/192kHz AES and S/PDIF digital outs and an amazing -135dB EIN spec. A Designs' (www.adesignsaudio.com) Pultec-like EQ-1 mono tube equalizer features hand-wound output and Jensen input transformers, custom capacitors, EC99 tube and a custom spec transducer. Demeter's $1,899 (direct from www.demeteramps.com) VTMP-2c dual-channel tube mic preamp is a limited edition of the VTMP-2 released in 1985. Nautilus Master Technology (www.nautilusmastertechnology.com) unveiled a number of new high-end products, including the Commander back-end summing bus. The unit features eight Class-A inputs, pan and mute, a stereo insert, aux input, stereo VU meters, left/right mute switches and a mono button.

Apogee's (www.apogeedigital.com) new AD-16X and DA-16X converters operate at up to 192kHz sampling rates and feature the same clocking technology found in Big Ben (reviewed in Mix December 2003), and optional Pro Tools|HD and FireWire expansion cards.

More to Come!

Too many toys, too little space! There were lots of other cool items at NAMM, and we'll include some of these in our regular new product sections in future issues. Meanwhile, Summer NAMM returns to Nashville from July 23-25, 2004. See you there!

Mix correspondents contributing to this report included George Petersen, Sarah Jones, Kevin Becka, Maureen Droney, Michael Cooper, Nick Batzdorf, Barry Rudolph and Erik Hawkins.

AND MORE NEWS!

Roland (www.rolandus.com) V-Studio users are celebrating the biggest news of the show, the company's announcement that it has opened the platform to plug-in developers with the debut of the VS8F-3 Plug-In Effect Expansion Board. The board is compatible with the entire VS Series, from the new VS-2480DVD, which lets users burn up to 4.7 GB of song data to a single DVD-R or DVD-RW disc, down to the 1680, giving thousands of Roland users the opportunity to upgrade their systems at any level.

Not only will Roland plug-ins be available, but Antares, IK Multimedia, George Massenburg Labs, Universal Audio, Cakewalk, McDSP, TC Electronic, Sound Toys and other developers are porting plug-ins over to the V-Studio platform; many of these plug-ins are already available. The VS8F-3 boasts 56-bit processing and sampling rates up to 96 kHz, depending on the V-Studio host. Each VS8F-3 can run two plug-ins; Roland includes five plug-ins with each board.

Hits You Might Have Missed...

These didn't grab all headlines, but they could sure make your life easier.

Atlas Sound QR2: This adapter for your Atlas mic stands attaches between the 7/8-inch-lower tube and the cast-iron base and features a quick-release button allowing the stand to easily separate into two pieces for transport. Slick! www.atlassound.com

Atomic Reactor 112: Here's a $699 single-12 tube guitar amp, but with a twist: You insert a desktop modeling/DSP box (Pod, VAMP, etc.) into a docking adapter on top of the amp and you've got a killer tube amp for recording or stage with your fave tones preloaded. Awesome! www.atomicamps.com

Furman SB-1000 UPS: The single-rackspace SB-1000 uninterruptible power supply offers three minutes of power at a 5-amp draw or 32 minutes with a typical computer/monitor load—plenty of time to save important files or avoid crashes during brownouts/power failures. At $699, insurance was never so affordable. www.furmansound.com

Latch Lake Music Microphone Jam Nuts!": These large-diameter rings replace those stupid, pinkie-ring-sized threaded nuts that secure mic clips/shock-mounts to mic stands. At $4 each, these will change your life for the better, and while you're on the LLM Website, check out the company's amazing micKing booms for serious users. Brilliant! www.latchlakemusic.com

Radial Engineering JPC Direct Box: This 2-channel DI is specifically designed for use with computer sound cards, consumer electronics, audio/visual post systems and electronic media. Smart! www.radialeng.com

Live Sound Rocks NAMM

Long considered solely a "music store" market, NAMM has evolved into a premier showcase for pro products for live sound and touring. Here are some hits that caught our eye.

Consoles

Midas (www.midasconsoles.com) has finally entered the mid-market with Verona, an affordable analog 8-bus for front of house or monitors, with six models from 24 to 64 inputs, premium mic preamps, sweepable 4-band EQ, eight aux buses, 12x4 matrix, four mute groups, optional redundant PSU and more. Altair Audio's (www.altairaudio.com) Electra E-3 analog console has 32/40/48-input channels and features eight subgroups, 16 auxes, eight VCAs with motorized faders, 8x16 matrix, LCR outputs and 4-band input EQ with parametric mids. Eight mute masters store 128 scenes, and digital parametric EQ and onboard dynamics complement the aux outs.

With 24 mic inputs for FOH/monitor work, the Mackie (www.mackie.com) TT24 Digital Mixer is a 56x45, 8-group, 24-bit, 96kHz-capable LCR design featuring 100mm touch-sensitive moving faders, onboard analog and digital I/O, digital recall, 4-band EQ, 12 aux sends, dynamics, effects, 11x8 matrix and two expansion slots. A 5-inch touchscreen, eight function buttons and 12 rotary encoders provide quick access to key live functions.

Hear Technologies (www.heartechnologies.com) Mix Back is an affordable ($1,495) 16-in monitor mixer with 12 mono and two stereo outputs for live or studio cue use. The 11-rackspace unit can be cascaded for more inputs. An optional $100 talkback remote instantly connects the engineer with any (or all) of the musicians.

Designed to optimize sound from inexperienced house-of-worship users, Peavey's (www.sanctuary-series.com) Sanctuary Series mixers offer onboard effects, auto feedback elimination and Automix!" to automatically switch from lapel to pulpit mics and mute unused inputs.

Distributed by ART, Alto's (www.altoproaudio.com) new Dragonfly Series powered 6- to 20-channel mixers have onboard digital amps. The 2x450-watts (into 4 ohms) PM16 is a svelte 18 pounds and retails at $749. The Soundcraft (www.soundcraft.com) GigRac has two low-cost ($430/650) powered mixers to make gigging easy with eight line/mic inputs (with 2-band EQ and phantom power), 7-band master EQ, internal digital effects, single or dual 300W amps and a road-ready case that also stores mics and cables.

Mics and Wireless

Aussie mic company RØDE (www.rodemic.com) brings its studio sound to the stage with the S1, a high-performance handheld vocal mic with low-noise FET electronics, an internally shock-mounted true (externally biased) condenser capsule and five-year guarantee.

Audio-Technica (www.audio-technica.com) updated its entry-level cardioid mic line with Midnight Blues higher-output designs and lower handling noise, including the MB1k and MB3k dynamic vocal models, the MB2k dynamic instrument mic and the MB4k (battery or phantom) condenser. Price: $49 to $129.

Wharfedale Pro (www.wharfedalepro.com) enters the mic market with the DM 2.0, a tough, handheld dynamic featuring a non-dent, spring-steel grille and shock-mounted cardioid capsule. They're sold in a three-pack priced comparably to a single competitive pro mic.

Sennheiser (www.sennheiserusa.com) announced Evolution Wireless G2, taking Evolution UHF wireless second generation with new handhelds, smaller bodypacks, expanded receivers, 1,440 available channels, free channel search scan, rechargeable or battery operation, true diversity receivers and compatibility with earlier E Series models. Shure's (www.shure.com) new midline SLX UHF Series feature Audio Reference Companding technology, Auto Transmitter Setup, with support of up to 20 systems in an area, a choice of 960 channels, and a variety of handhelds, beltpacks and receivers. Systems are priced from $599.

LOUDspeakers!

Eastern Acoustic Works' (www.eaw.com) industry-standard KF850s got better. The new KF850zF (flyable) and KF850zR (road) versions include new internal components, such as Radial Phase Plugs, a neodymium Orbital Magnet Array HF driver, new HF horn and new dual 1,000W 18-inch woofers. Cerwin-Vega (www.cerwin-vega.com) showed Vision, a serious new flagship series including two three-way, bi-ampable trapezoidal enclosures with ATM-equipped fly points; two subs; a single-12 coaxial that doubles as a floor monitor; and flyable install speaker.

Community (www.loudspeakers.net) turned heads with its DnD12 ($239) and DnD15 ($259) speakers with 12- or 15-inch woofers and twin 1-inch PZT drivers on a 40°x90° horn that operates as upright (standing or pole-mount) mains or at two different angles for monitoring. JBL Pro's (www.jblpro.com) JRX115 and JRX112M (doubles as monitor) two-way speakers with 12- or 15-inch woofers have unique dual-angle pole sockets for vertical or -10° downward aiming. Also new are dual-15 JRX1215 and two (passive or powered) 18-inch sub boxes. Non-hardware installation versions, JRX112Mi and JRX115i, are also offered.

Integrating the functions of telephone, e-mail and Web interaction into a single online resource, QSC's (www.qscaudio.com) eBOX personalizes tech support with FAQs, submitted questions/answer archives, product content and messaging—all customized to each user's needs.






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