One thing that the NAMM show made perfectly clear is that manufacturers are making use of the most state-of-the-art technologies to offer innovative products that combine digital and analog systems for electric and bass guitar players, sound engineers, DJs…
The amount of new gear showcased at this year's NAMM was so vast that we couldn't just do the usual Top 10, and had to expand it to include 20 products. So, here is Audiofanzine's NAMM 2014 Top 20 (in no particular order).
The Slate Virtual Microphone System was NAMM 2014's single most important product. Steven Slate had one of the longest lines throughout the whole weekend to showcase his new hardware + software system that allows you to have the sound of any legendary mic and preamp right in your (home) studio — and all for just $2000. The VSM comprises one large-diaphragm and one small-diaphragm mic each, a preamp/converter and a modeling plug-in. We are looking forward to testing it soon at the office!
Universal Audio came to the NAMM with revolutionary intent and introduced two Thunderbolt 2x6 desktop audio interfaces for under $1000. To be more precise, it's $699 for the Apollo Twin Solo and $899 for the Duo with one or two SHARC processors, respectively. Just like Slate, Universal Audio also enters the legendary preamp modeling race with the Unison technology that makes use of Apollo's own preamps. The good news is that the Apollo Twin is already in stores, and the bad news is that it's only Mac OS X compatible.
The Swedes had us speculating like crazy for two months, but we can finally say that the surprise they had in store for us was worth it. Analog Rytm is an 8-voice analog drum machine with 12 pressure- and velocity-sensitive pads coupled with a step sequencer, compressor, distortion, reverb, delay, and filter. And even better, you can use your own samples. The bad news is that you will still have to wait a couple of weeks to get your hands on it if you decide to fork out $1,549.
The Frenchmen at Arturia are temporarily dropping keys for pads with BeatStep (this is their first pad-only gear) a MIDI controller and 16-step sequencer with CV and MIDI outputs, plus USB port. BeatStep's particularity is that it can work both with MIDI and CV without a computer and can connect to your iDevice with the Apple USB Connection Kit. The module will be available in March with a price tag of $129.
I want an endless sustain when playing a D on the 8th fret. Mission Impossible? Nope. Just ask Keith McMillen, he managed to do it with his StrongArm Sustainer. How could he? By combining pickups, preamps and drivers on each saddle and using a Blend control to mix the sustain and the sound of the pickups. It also incorporates a USB port to recharge the whole system and create presets. It's currently available for Fender guitars only, and has a price tag of $495, but we expect the StrongArm Sustainer to be adapted soon enough to fit all sorts of electric and bass guitars, ukuleles, banjos…
A SansAmp combined with a spring reverb, a tape delay, a boost and distortion, all within a compact pedalboard where everything can be directly activated with your foot or hand with no need for menus and sub-menus. That's what Tech21's Fly Rig 5 is all about. The effects are based on some of the brand's own pedals and also come with tap tempo, gain boost and EQ. The pedalboard will hit the stores in April for $249.
Yet another master keyboard? Yes, but what really caught our attention about Behringer's Motör is that it's the first MIDI keyboard with nine 60mm motorized faders. But there is more! The Motör comes in two versions: 49 or 61 semi-weighted keys with aftertouch, eight velocity-sensitive trigger pads, eight assignable rotary encoders, a transport section, and a hardware arpeggiator. A USB port and MIDI in/out/thru ports, as well as a software bundle are also part of the deal.
We've seen our share of digital modeling amps, but never an all-analog modeling preamp? That is, until Black Widow presented its MGP-1A at last week's NAMM. It offers no less than 18 preamp models, including Marshall, Fender, Mesa Boogie, Laney, Bogner, and Engl to name just a few, spread across three channels. You can further tweak the sound of each channel with different EQ options and control everything with a 3-button footswitch.
The MGP-1A isn't available yet, but if you can't wait to see it in production, you can take part in the KickStarter crowdfunding campaign and benefit from a $700 discount off the normal retail price of $2699 announced by Black Widow.
Boss DS-1X and OD-1X
This year Boss didn't introduce an umpteenth version of its renowned pedals, but rather two new models based on state-of-the-art proprietary technologies: the OD-1X overdrive and the DS-1X distortion. Each is priced at $150.
We really loved Roland's two new workstations, the FA-06 and FA-08, for their sonic arsenal and comprehensive control panels. Their impressive feature sets include 2000 sounds from the Integra-7, including the SuperNATURAL models, 16 multi-effects, a vocoder, a 16-track sequencer, a 16 x 4 bank sampler, the possibility to save your creations on an SDHC card... what else could you ask for? They also features 16 trigger pads, a D-Beam controller, an arpeggiator, an iOS-compatible USB/MIDI interface, and even line and guitar/mic inputs. List prices are $2,099 for the FA-08 88 Ivory G Feel keybed version and $1,399 for the FA-06 with 61 velocity-sensitive keys (and all the above evidently).
Tinier than the TinyPiano and more minuscule than the iMini, Korg has made it possible to carry 15 synths in your pocket in one single Gadget. The Korg Gadget is an iPad app which is already available in the AppStore for a special price of $28.99. On the menu we have mono and polyphonic synths, as well as drum machines that are all named after a big city, like London, Chicago, Phoenix, Dublin, and Miami.
The Stratocaster has turned 60, and to celebrate it, Fender revisited it to bring into the 21st century. two innovative models caught our attention at the Fender booth at NAMM. The first is equipped with the Fishman TriplePlay system ($1499.99) to play to play MIDI sounds with a real instrument, while the American Deluxe Strat Plus ($2099.99) features “personality” cards to rewire the circuit of the guitar without the need of touching the electronics (all analog, no digital technology involved). This latter model is also completely solderless, which means anybody can exchange pickups without the need of a technician.
It's not every day that Midas brings out a new digital console, especially one with an affordable price tag attached to it. The M32 costs $4,999.99 and has no less than 32 mic preamps with motorized faders, 25 mix buses, AD/DA 192kHz converters, eight DCA groups, an audio/MIDI USB interface, AES50 96x96 and Ethernet network ports, plus a software bundle that will make many envious, for Midas took advantage here of the Behringer X32 software section. MADI, Dante, FireWire and ADAT are also available with optional cards.
Moog listened to Sub Phatty users who demanded a larger keyboard, more voices and controls, and the result is the SUB 37 — a paraphonic synth with 37 velocity-sensitive keys with aftertouch. It features two oscillators, DAHDSR envelopes, two modulation buses, patch banks, a step sequencer and an arpeggiator. An external input is also integrated and the synth will come with a standalone and plug-in software editor to control all the parameters. It will sell for $1,579.
Finally, the third version of SampleTank will see the light of day in 2014, ten years after v2 came out. IK Multimedia announced that SampleTank 3 will have a new GUI with three windows (Play, Mix and Edit), MIDI pattern drag-and-drop to the virtual keyboard, a great variety of new sounds (more than 30GB of samples, 2300 loops, 1000 MIDI patterns, and 3000 instruments) and 52 effects with the possibility to import AmpliTube and T-RackS effects. SampleTank 3 will also be 64-bit compatible. But don't rush to IK Multimedia's website, pricing and availability are still a secret...
A $2,250 analog tube channel strip by Manley will most certainly not go unnoticed here at Audiofanzine. The new Core has a class-A mic preamp, an ELOP compressor, a 3-band Baxandall EQ with sweepable mids, a brickwall FET limiter, and a broad choice of inputs (mic, instrument and line), post-compressor/preamp direct out, an insert point between preamp/compressor and EQ/limiter, as well as a main output. Is it just us that are drooling? It will be available in April...
Guitar players are starting to make an habit of using their iDevices with their amps, and now bassists can too. Ashdown's new series of Access All Areas (AAA) amps are equipped with an AppTek interface with a special cable that connects to your iDevice in order to benefit from amp modelings, especially those of the brand included in Agile Partners' Amp Kit. Five models of the series are equipped with this function right now, but we certainly hope to see more of them in the future.
Livid Instruments offers guitarists a small MIDI butterfly capable of wirelessly controlling effects, plug-ins, iOS apps, or your sequencer while you play. Guitar Wing is installed directly on the guitar and has pressure-sensitive pads, touch faders, buttons, and even accelerometers to vary your sound by simply moving your instrument. An effect app will be included with the module. There's a KickStarter campaign running right now to fund Guitar Wing. If your participate you can benefit from a special price until February 21. The final price announced is $199.
DDJ-SZ features 8.1” jog wheels with color displays in the center, two USB ports to connect it to two computers at the same time, a mixer section with the brand's latest effects, DVS support, and two mic inputs. It will sell for $1,999.99.
The RMX 500 has three effects sections (rhythms, echoes, filters, brake…) that can be controlled with the help of a pressure-sensitive push knob. The third section, called Release FX, allows you to deactivate at will, music or effects currently in use. It comes with a plug-in that will give you access to the same effects from within your DAW “and the RMX 500 can be used as a MIDI controller when connected via USB. The unit costs $399.
To finish our Top 20 we have a technical innovation that, were it not a prototype only, would surely win a lot of fans in studios and stages around the world due to its ability to minimize leakage when using several drum mics. The Laser Drum Microphone that Sennheiser introduced at NAMM uses a microphone equipped with a laser beam that won’t capture the acoustic waves but the drum head vibration to trigger a gate. The microphone is connected in sidechain in your recording setup.
Yes, it's true, our Top 20 is actually a Top 22, but it was a tough choice, and we still have many more products to show you. Don't hesitate to tell us in the comments below what you think of these products and what were your top picks from the NAMM 2014... And if you get the chance to go to Frankfurt in March, you’ll have the ability to see all these novelties at Musikmesse. If you don’t, you’ll get the best show coverage right here, as always!