Paul White returns stirred but unshaken from the NAMM '94 exhibition with a brief overview of the products that most caught his attention.
Despite the ill‑timed earthquake that hit LA as most exhibitors were actually setting up for the show, NAMM '94 attracted as many visitors as ever, and though it's supposed to be a trade‑only show, the number of Spandex‑clad bimbettes being towed around the halls by would‑be HM stars would tend to indicate that the end user was pretty well represented too. With five tightly packed main exhibition halls, each the size of a small village, a detailed show report would make War and Peace look like a pamphlet, but even though it's impossible to catalogue every new product, there were a few obvious trends.
After the words "Earthquake", and "Have you seen the Polaroid of where my house used to be!", this year's most bandied NAMM buzzwords were Physical Modelling and Morphing. Physical Modelling saw its first commercial embodiment in the Yamaha VL1 synth, which creates a mathematical model of a wind instrument that the performer can play with mathematically‑generated breath via a keyboard (ideally with breath controller), or from a MIDI wind controller. The VL1 was previewed in the December issue of SOS, and though the fabulous technology comes with an equally fabulous price tag, we're all expecting low‑cost spin‑offs to hit the marketplace within the next year or two. But what I'm really waiting for is the mathematically modelled musician!
Also at the show, but hidden away in a hotel suite, was Korg's prototype X‑230 Physical Modelling percussion synthesizer. This is equipped with a conventional 10‑inch drum head fitted with head and rim sensors, and a pressure transducer to detect head pressure for tabla‑style bending effects. Unlike a conventional drum synth, the timbre of the sound changes depending on the playing intensity and on the type of beater used. For example, a stick gives a harder tone than a felt beater, and the snare emulation plays quite convincingly with brushes. We were treated to a very impressive demo which included pitch‑sequenced ethnic tuned percussion, cymbals, hi‑hats and tablas. I have to admit to being prepared to be underwhelmed, but by the time the demo was over, I was firmly convinced that physical modelling is a viable way to escape the limitations of sample‑based drum sounds. At the moment there's no clue as to prices or availability.
The other buzz word, "Morphing", was kicked into play by Emu when they launched their Morpheus synth module, but they've followed that with the Ultra Proteus, which not only draws on the sounds from all previous Proteus models, but also includes Z‑Plane Morphing filters. At a projected price of around £1500, it isn't cheap, but it should be a hell of a machine. The equally new Proteus FX also includes sounds from previous Proteus models but without the Z‑Plane filtering. The EIIIX software has also been updated to V2.1, which adds time compression and expansion as well as Transform Multiplication, a powerful sound merging facility that could help to make sampled sounds more natural.
Another embodiment of the word "Morphing" was to be found on the Lexicon stand, where the Vortex Audio Morphing Processor joined the Jam Man and Alex budget units. Sharing the same box as its companions, I couldn't at first see the reason for the word Morphing, other than the tenuous possibility that this unit had More Phings on it than its competitors. It turns out that the user can select two multi‑effects patches and then morph between them, either automatically or using a pedal controller. The morphing process causes the effects parameters to gradually change from one effect to the other so it's rather more complex than a simple crossfade. Some of the effects are also envelope sensitive, so that playing harder causes the effects to change in some way. Well, if that ain't More Phings, then I don't know what is!
ART revealed their expected wave of new items, three new processors joining the FXR series — the DXR, DXR Elite and RXR Elite. The DXRs are essentially delay processors, while the RXR is primarily designed for reverb work. Joining the new effects was the CS2 dynamic processor (compression and gating) which offers dual‑channel operation. Zoom were also upping the FX stakes, with their new 9050 half‑rack guitar processor, the 9002 Pro guitar multi‑processor and the 2020 Player guitar effects pedalboard system.
LA Audio were showing their new 4C four‑channel compressor, reviewed in SOS last month, and the 4G quad noise gate with filters and noise reduction mode. Expect a review very soon.
Drawmer have a new valve equaliser, the 1961, which provides two channels of very sweet‑sounding EQ in a 2U format. The unit would make the ideal partner for the existing 1960 valve compressor and, again, we're pitching for an early review.
Digitech brought a fair amount of new product to the show with them, including the GSP‑2101 Guitar Preamp/Processor, which features a valve preamp. Also new was the TSR12 which, as might be expected, is a slightly streamlined version of their TSR24 multi‑effects processor. The TSR12 has a full 20Hz‑20kHz audio bandwidth and incorporates 33 effect algorithms. Another 'little brother' product is the Digitech DHP33, which replaces the IPS33B intelligent Pitch Shifter. It is designed for use with all types of instrument and generates three‑part harmonies in real time. The more up‑market DHP55 has had a software upgrade which increases the power of the unit while simplifying some areas of operation. For the guitar player, there's Whammy II, a digital pitch bending, pedal‑controlled device. The unit has a range of two octaves, which is more than can be said of most mechanical tremolo units!
A trend very much in evidence was for companies to continue to widen their product range in an attempt to capture a larger market share. Obviously the market isn't big enough to allow everyone to excel at everything, so we'll just have to wait to see who falls by the wayside. Yamaha and Peavey have been diversifying for many years now, and Peavey had what must have been the greatest number of major new product announcements at the show. Apart from designing solid‑state guitar amps that they were prepared to A/B test against their valve jobs, they also expanded their keyboard range — the PCX 688 Sampling Workstation looked particularly interesting — revealed their first (and technically very innovative) drum kit, and announced the T9000 valve microphone. In addition, they demo'd the TGX programmable valve guitar effects preamps, the Valvex Stereo Tube rack mixer and a host of conventional and not quite so conventional outboard processing equipment. In fact there was so much new gear on the Peavey stand that it would require a dedicated magazine to cover it all. Fortunately, it won't all be arriving at once, so we'll be reviewing key products as and when they land.
Alesis adopted the theme of the dream studio, featuring a setup based around ADAT, their X2 mixer, Monitor One speakers, QuadraSynth and a rack of Alesis effects and processors. JL Cooper is producing a mix automation system for the X2, which is available as a factory‑fitted option or may be added later. My idea of a dream studio is one without wires — but I didn't see much sign of that at the show!
Brand new at the show was the Quadraverb II, a dual‑channel 16‑bit effects processor that allows up to eight effects blocks to be combined in a variety of series, parallel or combination configurations via a friendly graphic interface. The effects can be placed in any order, via virtual patch cords in the display window, and an ADAT digital interface is built in.
Other news from Alesis includes a recent agreement between Alesis and Roland; Roland will be supporting the ADAT digital interface, which brings it one step nearer to becoming an adopted standard. Alesis have also founded a sound reinforcement division, so we can expect speaker systems, powered mixers and who knows what else next from this seemingly unstoppable company.
Roland also surprised us with the sheer number of new products on their stand. On the synth front, there were three new models, the JV35, JV50 and JV90 (see review on page 40 of this issue), all featuring a degree of expandability. For the GM/GS user, the SC88 Super Sound Canvas looked pretty serious, while there were a number of expansion cards for existing synths, including the SRJV80/04 Vintage synth Expansion Board, plus a brand new, low cost MIDI guitar system, the GR09. This is a simplified spin‑off from the GR01, and to help promote their MIDI guitar line, Roland have an agreement with Fender, Ovation and Godin which will result in these manufacturers making guitars with the Roland GK pickup system built in. The SDX 330 Dimensional Chorus joins the other RSS effects, while in the Boss arena, there's the DR5 Doctor Rhythm Section, the PS3 Pitch Shifter Delay, the RV3 Digital Reverb Delay and the MEX Expandable Multi‑effects unit.
Just around the corner at Yamaha, partially eclipsed by the VL1 demonstration, was the TG300 (reviewed on page 80 of this issue), the DMP9‑16/8 digital rack mixer, and the brand new QY300, which is something like a serious, executive, top of the line QY sequencer/composer. A little further down the scale comes the new QY8, a diminutive portable music sequencer. Also on display was the updated MT120S cassette 4‑track, the FX770 guitar multi‑effects processor, and two new serious portable keyboards, the PSR1700 and PSR2700. And for the pro with no budgetary problems, the P500 Professional Digital Piano sounded very nice indeed.
While on the subject of pianos, Kurzweil's new baby, the Micropiano, looks very interesting. This half‑rack instrument has on‑board effects yet is relatively inexpensive, featuring 32‑note polyphony and a wide selection of quality piano sounds, including some from the K2000 and some brand new ones.
Akai previewed the MPC3000, which combines a 99‑track sequencer with sampling and editing facilities. This succeeds the original MPC, has resonant filters and can be expanded to 16Mb of memory.
Tom Oberheim was showing his new Marion MSR modular synth in a secret hotel room somewhere in the Hilton hotel (see interview, page 32). This 1U machine takes two modular synth cards and the first cards are analogue, 8‑voice multitimbral modules that produce the classic Oberheim sound. Future modules will offer alternative synthesis methods, and the mainframe programming system allows sounds from the two modules to be layered in a number of ways.
From Oberheim, now a division of Gibson, comes the OBMx programmable analogue synth, which is expandable from two to 12 voices. In the analogue tradition, the front panel is bristling with discrete knobs and switches, which accounts for its large physical size. Oberheim have also re‑released the Matrix 1000 with a cream front panel, and have launched the Echoplex Digital Pro, which is a digital embodiment of the old Echoplex tape loop effects system.
Digidesign seem to have become central to the operation of even more software‑based recording products and a large part of their demonstration room was given over to third‑party software, either running on their hardware or as plug‑ins for their own software. New from Digidesign was the ADAT Interface, which enables Pro Tools or Session 8 to be used in tandem with the Alesis ADAT, while Sample Cell II is now available for Windows PCs. Interestingly, ILIO Entertainments have formed an exclusive licensing arrangement for the Synclavier Sound Library which is being marketed on CD‑ROM and is compatible with Sample Cell.
For Sound Tools users, Masterlist CD enables CD masters to be created and PQ coded. The master may be a write‑once CD, a DAT recorder or an 8mm SCSI tape drive and the format is said to be Red Book compatible. Not all CD manufacturers accept masters in this format, but the high cost of conventional 1630 mastering means that there is considerable pressure for them to do so. Also for use with Sound Tools is the third‑party Jupiter Systems Dynamic Processing plug‑in, which can emulate many types of compressor or gate, including valve models. Arboretum have also produced a plug‑in for Sound Tools or Pro Tools in the from of Hyperprism, which is able to create a variety of studio effects in real time.
Session 8 is now available for Macintosh as well as PC, while Steinberg's Cubase Audio 2.0 now supports Digidesign's DAE Audio Engine. as does Notator Logic Audio and Opcode's Studio Vision. DAE compatibility is important, as it allows third‑party software to take advantage of Digidesign's TDM buss for internal digital audio patching. Other third‑party releases include Spatial Effects from Crystal River Engineering and a suite of new programmes from Waves. Waves already produce the Q10 parametric EQ package for use with Sound Tools and now a TDM‑compatible version is available. New modules include the C1 Compressor/Limiter/Gate, the L1 UltraMaximizer and the IDR Increased Digital Resolution Technology noise shaping and dither package.
OSC are another company who overlaps with Digidesign, and their new Deck II V2.1 software offers multitrack hard disk recording using either Digidesign's hardware or a 660AV/ 840AV Mac. The software claims to be able to run eight tracks on Pro Tools hardware or on the 840AV Mac. The new 8‑Track Tools allows 8‑track simultaneous playback using a single (normally 4‑track) Pro Tools system.
Both E‑Magic and Steinberg were showing the latest releases of their sequencing and audio‑plus‑sequencing packages, with E‑Magic also launching Sound Surfer, a universal Editor/Librarian which supports most of the popular synths and effects units, with the notable exception of Yamaha's immensely popular SY35. What do the software writers have against that machine? Steinberg were also showing ReCycle, which allows sampled sound loops to be manipulated in a variety of ways. Sounds within a loop may be replaced, tempo changes can be handled without changing the pitch, and it's even possible to split up a groove so that different sounds feed different sampler outputs. It's also possible to take the feel of an audio groove and create a template to quantise MIDI recordings.
Opcode had a number of announcements, including the new Studio Vision AV Mac software, due to ship later this spring. It is compatible with the new AV Macs and is a spin‑off from Studio Vision. Vision is also being released in PC Windows format, while the Mac version has been significantly upgraded in its V2.0 incarnation. Also from Opcode is Claire, a sophisticated ear training program, and Overture, a professional notation package for the Mac.
Our perennial USA contributor Craig Anderton was hosting a series of practical of seminars on the Passport stand, where Mastertracks Pro 5, Encore and Music Time were on show. Passport also have Producer Pro, which may be used to help create a variety of multimedia products such as CD‑ROM, computer training aids, presentations and educational systems.
Mark of the Unicorn were promoting Performer and Performer Audio (which now runs with Yamaha's CBX‑D5 hard disk recorder), though their hardware side is no less significant. MIDI Express, the affordable multichannel MIDI interface, routing box and synchroniser is now available for PC as well as Mac (see review on page 132 of this issue).
As always at the NAMM show, there were interesting new software products that have yet to find UK distributors. SAW showed at PC‑based hard‑disk recorder that can run four simultaneous stereo tracks, while Lyrrus demo'd the intriguing G‑Vox interactive guitar training system, which used a custom‑designed hex pickup and some nifty PC software. An optional MIDI module allows the pickup output to be converted to MIDI, enabling the system to drive conventional synth modules; from what I could see, the tracking is pretty impressive.
DigiTrax is an extremely attractive looking digital audio package for the Mac, designed by an ex‑Macintosh software engineer. It runs on the more powerful AV Macs and includes Quicktime video support for working with movie clips, an on‑screen digital mixer and a transport section that resembles a traditional autolocator. Digital EQ is also provided, and if the quality of the screen displays is anything to go by, this could be a company to watch.
Digital Audio Lab's Fast Eddie PC sound editor is designed to work with Windows‑compatible sound cards and provides fast cut, copy, and paste operation for people in a hurry.
Being a closet guitarist, I couldn't help but sneak a sideways look at what was going on in that department. Korg have a new suite of G‑series guitar pedalboard processors, which could also be pressed into service while recording. The G4 is a rotary speaker simulator, while the G2 is designed specifically for processing acoustic guitar sounds. I was particularly intrigued by a pedal on the Rockman stand that processed a conventional electric guitar to make it sound like an acoustic. It really worked and I think I want one! Marshall also premiered a direct recording preamp, the DRP1, which is designed to give that Marshall sound direct into your mixing console. Sansamp was demoing the PSA1 programmable rack direct recording guitar preamp, which sounded pretty impressive. Sony caught us all off guard when they unleashed a pair of half‑rack processors, the MP5 and the guitar‑specific GP5.
Nothing to do with guitars was the WaveAccess WaveRider, a computer peripheral that converts brainwaves, muscle and heart signals, and skin conductivity to MIDI. I'm not sure how musically useful this is, but it's certainly intriguing!
I won't even start to pretend that this is anything like a comprehensive coverage of a show that would require a magazine the size of Yellow Pages to cover properly, but I hope it whets your appetite for what is to come. To those manufacturers not mentioned, I can say that we have listed all your new products and we'll be looking at the most interesting of them in detail as soon as they become available. There will also be more coverage of new products after the Frankfurt show in March.
Though little was actually revolutionary on the mixer front, the trend of more knobs for less money continues. Mackie's long awaited automation hardware was finally unveiled in the form of an add‑on fader pack which sits in front of the existing console. Their 32‑channel keyboard mixer was also a little closer to shipping. Starting with the UK first, Allen & Heath were showing the GL2 4‑group mixer for the first time, though we currently have one in for review, so no surprises there.
Soundcraft are clearly still gunning for the aforementioned company with their new 28‑Input Rac Pac 6‑buss mixer. This is a general purpose design and features a rotatable connector pod, Solo in Place, 3‑band EQ with sweep mids and six aux sends. For the home recording market, the 8‑buss Spirit Studio LC provides up to 32 channels, each with direct tape outs, in‑line monitoring and eight aux sends. There are seven stereo FX returns and a balanced submix input to accommodate an external submixer. Each channel has a 3‑band EQ which, though not splittable, may be switched in or out as required.
Tascam also bounced back into the mixer market with a vengeance with the M2600 8‑buss recording console with splittable, assignable 4‑band EQ, in‑line monitoring, direct channel outs and a comprehensive effects send section. The console, available in in 16, 24 or 32‑channel formats, is being promoted for its flexibility and sonic transparency, yet it is extremely keenly priced.
Vestax caught us unawares by announcing two new stand‑alone hard‑disk recorders, the HDR4 4‑track and the HDR 6 6‑track. The rack‑mounted units use internal 150Mb and 340Mb hard drives respectively, though additional hard drives can be fitted to increase the recording time. Multiple units may be synch'd via MIDI and data can be backed up to DAT.