Well, another NAMM show over and a whole new raft of products to add to our to-do list. Looking further than just individual products, though, certain trends seemed to emerge over the course of the show, one being the use of digitally controlled analogue circuitry, for those people who still don't believe that digital plug-ins can do an adequate job. McDSP's APB‑16 analogue processor can host up to 16 analogue processes yet be controlled like a plug-in. Then there was the company who had set up a rack of vintage gear complete with robotic knob adjustment, the idea being that you can send your audio to their studio and adjust the controls remotely from your computer to get the sound you want, then get the treated file back. A novel business model certainly.
Another emerging trend was the acknowledgement that guitar players might appreciate recording hardware designed more specifically to meet their needs. Both IK Multimedia and Audient showed audio interfaces that include channels specifically designed for guitar, with Audient adding a valve input stage, EQ and cabinet simulation provided by Two Notes, using its internal DSP to handle the processing. Both these units go far beyond the usual tactic of simply adding a high‑impedance 'instrument' input.
It is no secret that various companies are working with machine learning to create devices that will write — or help to write — music for us (how about an AI machine to listen to it too so we can do something more useful?), but at a more practical level, Toontrack unveiled EZ Bass, which was far more impressive than we anticipated. This ingenious software, which we're told does not rely on machine learning, uses sampled bass sounds, including numerous articulations, then creates suitable bass patterns based on the rhythm and musical structure of what you have already recorded. Though the release version is not expected until later in the year, the demo we had of 'progress so far' sounded exceptionally realistic.
On the guitar‑pedal front, we saw more synthesizer‑type pedals that work by processing the audio rather using pitch-to-MIDI techniques, with EHX adding both bass and guitar monophonic models. I'm always amazed at how many companies there are selling variations on the familiar overdrive, delay and modulation pedals, but there were some stand-out departures from the norm by the likes of Strymon, Meris and Neunaber, with some sweet variations of shimmer reverb, modulated reverb and enhanced delay effects. I can see my credit card taking a beating before too long.
So all in all an interesting show, although for some the highlight was Derek Smalls, formerly of Spinal Tap, playing 'Big Bottom' through an 11‑foot tall Ampeg bass stack!
Paul White Editor-In-Chief