The “buzz” on the floor of the Los Angeles Convention Center during Winter NAMM ’99 was that there was no buzz at all, and that was certainly welcome news. After several years of mind-boggling, logarithmic growth curves in the area of technological innovation, it seems that the digital revolution is finally more evolutionary than revolutionary. Which isn’t to say that there weren’t plenty of cool things to see and do!
In the “things to do” category, NAMM started out with an intimate evening with legendary musical trend-setters King Crimson hosting a DVD release party, co-sponsored by the Genelec speaker company and Digital Theater Surround (DTS). DTS is a 5.1 surround audio format that is featured in both cinemas as well as home theater systems. The new Crimson DVD, deja VROOM , is a 19-song live set recorded on a short 1998 tour of Japan that offers a log of value-added specials plus some new technical innovations never before offered on the DVD format. In the category of innovation is the ability to isolate any given band member visually while the audio tracks change mix settings to correspond to the highlighted artist. Besides the featured live cuts spanning various incarnations of the King Crimson legacy, the DVD also offers home movie clips of the tour by bassist Tony Levin, an interactive feature called “21st Century Schizoid Band” that allows the viewer to play “Schizoid Man” using any combination of musicians from any of the band’s four incarnations, and a variety of commentaries, slide shows, and “hidden videos” featuring Robert Fripp.
In other news, Alesis hosted an early morning breakfast that doubled as a new product roll out including their new DG8 64-voice Digital Grand Piano that was introduced as the first true “musical instrument” the company has ever offered.
At another press conference hosted by Opcode/Gibson, it was announced that long-time Opcode president Chris Halaby will be heading a new Gibson spin-off venture. While details weren’t specified, the management and design team for the new company have a stellar pedigree. You can track the developments of this new venture by logging onto www.zerocrossing.com. Even with the departure of Halaby, Opcode will be continuing their fine tradition of product design and innovation including the introduction at this show of seven new Universal Serial Bus (USB) products designed to interface computers with external audio and MIDI devices. USB is compatible with Mac and Windows ’98 computers, and when combined with the Opcode MIDIport series of interface devices, allows the transfer of data at speeds 300 times faster than MIDI.
Disc Makers, America’s leading replicator for the independent market has just inked an alliance with the Orchard (www.theorchard.com), one of the fastest growing Internet music distributors. This unique association will finally provide independent artists a full service, online national distribution chain through e-commerce sites such as amazon.com, CDnow, and musicblvd.com, as well as through conventional retail via Valley Media Distribution. The program is designed to be simple, effective, comprehensive, and available free to every Disc Makers client, regardless of the size of its order.
Another major technical announcement came from Cakewalk in conjunction with Emagic, Steinberg, Lexicon, Yamaha as well as the Frontier Design Group, Event Electronics, and Digital Audio Labs, in which it was unveiled that the open audio drive specification called AudioX has become accepted as a universal protocol, which will eliminate the incompatibility problems often found with advanced PC audio cards. This announcement was bolstered by Microsoft’s recent support of Cakewalk’s objective to improve audio quality on the Windows platform and their subsequent endorsement of Cakewalk’s use of Microsoft’s DirecSound API to enable advanced features. Existing Windows drivers provide a standard way for audio hardware and software to communicate, but do not accommodate high-end audio capabilities like real-time digital signal processing (DSP), mixing and synchronization to film or video. As a result, a user purchasing a digital audio card with built-in DSP effects has no guarantee that available software will take advantage of those effects. Similarly, a user buying audio recording software has no guarantee that it will take advantage of the advanced features of a desired audio card. AudioX extends the capabilities of today’s drive models, eliminating these concerns. Buyers gain the freedom to choose the best product for an application without regard for compatibility, software developers gain support for every current and future sound card, and sound card makers gain the ability to market to the universe of buyers.
Cakewalk and Peavey also made another dramatic announcement, rolling out a very cost effective turnkey digital recording system called StudioMix. The StudioMix is a complete hardware and software recording system for under $900 (excluding computer) that offers multitrack recording on up to eight simultaneously with additional tracks capable of being archived. The software supports other features like real-time audio and MIDI effects processing and mixing, SMPTE/MTC tape synchronization for film and video, and staff notation editing and printing. The StudioMix console is a state-of-the-art hardware control surface featuring nine motorized faders, 14 “soft” buttons, and 18 rotary encoders. All buttons and encoders are assignable, allowing the user to customize the feel of the interface. The console also features an audio mixer section with everything the user needs to connect to and from the computer’s sound card, as well as a stereo record/playback source. The StudioMix hardware and software are preconfigured to work seamlessly right out of the box. StudioMix users need not worry about obsolescence as the software can be upgraded through Cakewalk, ensuring the user the latest functionality available. In addition, the multitrack software is compatible with any DirectX audio effects plug-in.
Speaking of turnkey recording systems, a new company spearheaded by Ryan Kallas and Tom Oberheim called Sea Sound, unveiled its first product called the Solo. Solo is a 24-bit digital audio recording system designed to provide a variety of features of common functions required by the digital audio musician. The Solo offers microphone pre-amplification, line level inputs, low level instrument inputs, input mixing, monitoring, and a high-quality analog to digital converter. The Solo is designed to work with either Mac or PC platform and provides a wide variety of studio interfacing functions in one integrated package.
Yamaha unleashed a variety of new products including the SU700 Loop Factory, a hip new product for the DJ and dance production markets. The Loop Factory is a powerful, multi-function music production center which is a hybrid combination of a sampler, sequencer and drum machine. The Loop Factory combines the pattern-based music production and loop playback features into a powerful table-top unit. Features of the SU700 include 4 MB of sampling wave memory, a large assignable ribbon controller, 12 real-time control knobs, 10 trigger/trackpads with four bands and separate audio-in and Master Pads (providing a total 42 virtual triggers). Options include a SCSI interface or output expansion board featuring six analog outputs and digital I/O. The unit has a retail price of $1,299.
Korg also introduced two new products that will compete with the Yamaha Loop Factory in features, but with a significantly lesser price point. The Electribe-A is a two-part DSP-based synthesizer producing classic analog sound, combined with a flexible step and real-time sequencer. The Korg Electribe-R combines a four-part DSP-based synthesizer with four additional PCM sound sources, providing classic hi-hat and cymbal tones. Both Electribe models offer the same sequencer design, which uses a familiar step-grid interface used on many venerable dance products, but also allows for real-time recording as well. Both models also offer audio inputs for processing external audio through the synth voice. Both units will retail around $800.
Waldorf was showing their very cool sound, and looking, Q synthesizer keyboard, which offers a wide variety of unique synthesizer sounds and features based around the Waldorf/PPG wave-table synthesis model. Another very interesting product is the Roland VM-7200/7100 and C7200/7100 V-Mixing console. The V-Mixing System is a separate component system, employing an all-digital console with quiet motorized faders and an expandable 3U rackmount processor that contains all inputs, outputs and effects. The benefit of this separate component design is the elimination of long, heavy multichannel audio cables between the stage or studio and the mixing console. The design, power, flexibility and cost-effectiveness of the V-Mixing System should cause quite a few heads to turn once the unit hits the market.
Mackie Designs debuted a wide variety of products including an updated VLZ Pro series of portable mixers and an entire range of PM series powered mixers. Mackie also excitedly unveiled an entire line of P.A. and stage speakers that comes from the company’s acquisition of Italian speaker manufacturer RCF. A lot of new microphone products were present on the NAMM floor including the new Pro 100 Series VHS Wireless System from Audio Technica. This professional wireless system, which includes a UniPak Guitar system, is designed for a wide range of applications due to its rugged design and excellent RF specifications.
Shure also debuted a new wireless, in-ear monitor system called the PSM700. The Shure PSM700 is designed for touring applications and is frequency-agile system with two groups of 16 selectable UHF frequencies to choose from. And Sony was demonstrating their new professional line of MiniDisc recorder/players designed for the DJ and studio markets. Several models are available in the series including the MDS-E58 which is touted as the most affordable professional MD available on the market today. If you haven’t experienced the ease and value of the MD format yet, you owe it to yourself to try out this digital audio format.
There were of course tons of drums, guitars, basses, amplifiers, signal processor and keyboards on display at the winter music marketplace as well as upgrade features on already available software products. Needless to say, we’ll be covering all of these in depth in the months to come. Until then, happy shopping!