Gear Reviews


If it’s January, it must be time for the Winter NAMM show, the largest musical instrument trade show in North America. Last year’s NAMM extravaganza covered close to a half million square feet of the Los Angeles convention center, featured almost two thousand exhibitors and was attended by more than 63,000 music industry insiders and music instrument buyers. And this year’s show, to be held again in LA from Jan. 28 through Feb. 1 promises to be even bigger!

While this year’s show will feature the look and feel of other Winter NAMM extravaganzas, convention goers will find a new concept in Kentia Hall called “Innovation Alley,” a concentrated arena for new and cutting-edge music instrument technologies. The idea behind Innovation Alley is to showcase innovative products that represent the future of music instrument design as well as to offer special marketing and promotional incentives for those in attendance.

And speaking of Kentia Hall, one of our favorite up and coming companies, MIT (Music Interface Technologies) will be setting up their booth in Innovation Alley in order to showcase their new line of studio cables called, appropriately enough, Studio Line. Beta tested and endorsed by the folks of LucasFilms at their Skywalker Ranch sound stage and scoring studio, the Studio Line will include microphone, speaker and interconnect/patch cables, as well as digital and MIDI cables. These high-end cables are so accurate and clean that they have microphone cables for either full-range or vocal-range bandwidth!

As far as a pre-show buzz about new product introductions goes, the word on the street is that Mackie is releasing a new line of mixers designed to replace their models 1202, 1204 and 1604. Mackie will also be debuting their new line of P.A. speakers. The folks at Alesis will be showcasing their long-awaited new computer PCI card. And the new joint company Emu-Ensoniq will be showing their newly released Proteus 2000 ($1,395) 128-voice synth module as well as the Fizmo ($1,499) transwave keyboard synthesizer developed by the Ensoniq engineering staff. And if you have to hook these new products to a computer, MidiMan might have just the solution with their new BiPort 2x4s dual-platform (Mac and Windows) MIDI interface and SMPTE sync box, which will be debuting for $179.

In the area of software, Cakewalk will be introducing Home Studio 8 and Professional 8 music production programs featuring significant upgrades from earlier versions of these packages, including MIDI plug-in’s, vector mixing, lasso zooming and video support. Cakewalk is also hosting a special joint press conference with Peavey during the show, which they are promoting as an opportunity to take “the next step in the digital revolution.” MAGIX Entertainment will also be at NAMM showing their new Music Maker V2000 software designed to bring professional audio and video production features to your computer at a price that is affordable for every musician ($39 for the base system and $89 for the deluxe version). Along with the software program and its long list of feature-sets including a newly designed interface, high performance audio recording, auto-song arranger, transport control window and DirectX audio plug-in compatibility for adding digital signal processing, Music Maker V2000 also comes with more than 1,000 new, professionally designed music samples in a variety of styles including hip-hop, acid jazz, speed metal, and trance, and over 600 video and graphic files that allow you to make your own videos. All this for under $100. Very cool!

Tascam will be debuting their new CD-RW5000 Compact Disc Recorder, a professional machine that includes XLR balanced in’s and out’s, a complete array of digital I/O, re-writable capability, and complete compatibility with all formats of CD recording media including the more expensive consumer formats such as CD-R-DA (Compact Disc Recordable Digital Audio) and CD-RW-DA (Compact Disc ReWritable Digital Audio) as well as the professional (and less costly because of no licensing tariffs) CD-R or CD-RW disc formats. Akai will be featuring their next generation of samplers, the S5000 and S6000. Both systems feature DOS (FAT32) disk format and .WAV files as the native sample format allowing any PC.WAV file to be loaded directly for instant playback including downloaded samples available on the Internet. Both new models come standard with a 64-voice system (upgradable to 128 voices), a large 320×240 LCD display, and feature a new set of filters and envelope generators. The S6000 even includes a removable, full function remote control panel that extends almost 30 feet. And Audio-Technica will showing their new 7000 series UHF Wireless Microphone Systems, which operate on the 700 MHz band and offer a choice of 100 PLL (Phase Lock Loop) synthesized channels and InvisibleLink circuitry for safe, interference-free performance and true diversity operation.

GeneralMusic will be demonstrating their newly released Equinox series of keyboard synthesizers, which come in, a 61- and 76-key version. Both keyboards feature 64 notes of polyphony, over 1,000 resident sounds, and the ability to read samples direct from floppy disk, CD-ROM, SyQuest, ZIP and JAZ drives in a variety of formats including Kurzweil K2000, Akai, S1000, .WAV (PC), AIFF (Mac) and many others. An on-board 16-track, 250,000 event sequencer also comes standard on both units. For the more traditional musician, Martin guitars will be showing off their new commemorative Lester Flatt D-28LF, a gorgeous sounding (and gorgeous looking) dreadnought styled acoustic guitar that was inspired by the legendary Lester Flatt, one of America’s greatest bluegrass artists. Only 50 of these collector guitars will be offered for sale worldwide. Martin will also be featuring more affordable guitars in their new Road Series as well as a new acoustic bass. And Korg will be showing two new ultra-compact guitar and bass tuners: the GA-20, a unit that will tune and guitar or bass including 6-string bass guitars ($22) and the CA-20 ($32) chromatic tuner. Both units offer LCD needle displays and professional features (including auto power-off) at affordable prices.

A plethora of products for the percussionist and drummer will be on the NAMM floor including a variety of hardware from Sonor, percussion instruments from Meinl Percussion, a new line of Dancing Percussion instruments from Headliner Percussion, and an interesting set of audio CD’s from Paiste cymbals that include a vast array of digitally recorded cymbals for use with MIDI systems. This three CD set was designed by famed percussionist/sound designer Ed Mann (Frank Zappa, Mark Isham) and includes every type of cymbal sound and style you could possibly want.

And finally, no NAMM show is complete without plenty of cool concerts, parties and side-shows; and one of the coolest will be the press roll-out of the new King Crimson DVD/DVD-ROM featuring re-edited footage from two Tokyo performances. The DVD disc will feature stereo and surround-sound tracks and the viewer can select one particular band member to focus on at a time and can select close-up shots at any time. Every member of the band will be at the press party including Robert Fripp, Adrian Bellew, Bill Bruford and Tony Levin. Sounds like big fun to me.

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