NAMM coverage – part two
Nashville, Tenn. • July 17 to 19, 2009
A smaller turnout and fewer exhibitors at the NAMM summer show in Nashville, Tenn. did not deter some major manufacturers from attending and debuting new product. Ink 19 spoke with several of these companies — Yamaha, Akai, Numark, and Alesis — on-site and gathered opinions about why they considered it necessary to attend this show.
While many top-name companies opted out, Yamaha went against the corporate grain, renting its usual large booth space and bringing in a full array of pianos, guitars, software, electronic drums, and accessories.
“In this economy, manufacturers have pulled back on advertising and research and development,” says Richard Young, senior vice president of Yamaha. “However, we think it’s critically important to keep innovating and coming up with new products.”
On the higher end, Yamaha introduced the AvantGrand, a new upright hybrid electronic piano and successor to the AvantGrand N3 minigrand, which was introduced in Anaheim, Calif. “The AvantGrand is the only combination acoustic/electronic piano,” says Young. “In the past, electronic pianos never felt and sounded like a piano. We made our pedals with the light/resistance/light feel of an acoustic piano. It has speaker plates to reproduce the sound of the grand. In the lower register you can feel the vibration of a real grand. Concert pianists tell us that it’s an amazing instrument. It’s all player-centric and offers great educational opportunities.”
Yamaha also introduced two new music synthesizers, the 88-key S90XS and the 76-key S70XS. “Synthesizers are traditionally performing instruments onstage,” says Young, “and one of the challenges for synth players is that they like to have weighted action in the keys, which we have in these models.”
Four years ago, Yamaha bought Steinberg, one of the premier application software companies. “Synthesizer and recording progress have meshed, and with a keyboard controller, speakers, and Cubase or Nuendo, you have all of your mixers, limiters, compressors, and phasing,” says Young. “A really good program like this is $500 or less. The controller/keyboard is a couple of hundred, the monitor speakers are around $200 each and the interface is around $300, so you can put together a strong system for $1500 to $2000.” New for summer NAMM: Cubase iC, a remote controller application available free of charge exclusively through the Apple iTunes store to all Cubase 5 and Cubase Studio 5 customers who own an iPhone or iPod Touch. Digital audio workstation, or DAW, control at your fingertips — literally.
Five years ago, Yamaha began manufacturing smaller, portable PA systems. Their StagePas 300 and 500 are all-in-one systems that include a set of passive speakers, detachable powered mixer, and a pair of speaker cables. “These systems are ideal for a small band or someone playing an acoustic gig,” says John Schauer, product manager for Professional Audio Products. “In this market, a lot of people are looking to Band-Aid what they have or hang on until it gets better. These systems are simple to operate and are built for use by musicians, not audio engineers.”
As part of its NX Series acoustic-electric guitars, Yamaha debuted the NCX, a traditional classical wide-neck guitar, and the NXT, with a thinner body and “more of an electric guitar feel,” says Armando Vega, product manager for Yamaha Guitars. “Our acoustics are probably the strongest in the industry. These are handcrafted models, very boutique and made with rare woods. With this line we wanted a hip, modern look in a nylon-string guitar. The A.R.T. (Acoustic Resonance Transducer) pickup and pre-amp system is the most natural sounding in the market and it’s great at eliminating feedback. Even the entry-level models offer the solid top and pickup system. We felt it was time for the nylon-string guitar to go to the next step and move forward.”
For Yamaha, participating in the summer show meant more than displaying and demonstrating their latest products. “We’re here because we think it’s incredibly important to take any opportunity we can to interface and work with our dealers,” says Young. “You get a feel for what’s going on with them and their stores, their challenges, what we can do together to help get through this time. They give us ideas. There are a lot of retailers here, and when they’re here, we would like to be here. It’s a simple answer, but it’s a simple fact.”
Akai, Alesis, and Numark also opted to attend the summer show and demo numerous new products being introduced in the fourth quarter of 2009. Eric McGregor, product specialist manager for Akai, gave us a rundown of the product lines. Here are a few highlights.
Akai’s user friendly LPK25 and LPD8 are new USB-MIDI laptop controllers that allow musicians, producers, and DJs to work from their computers. At less than 13 inches across and weighing under a pound, both workstations are portable and built to fit easily inside laptop cases, backpacks, or messenger bags. The LPD8 features assignable knobs and light-up pads for programming beats and melodies, while the 25-key LPK25 features synth action and an arpeggiator, sustain, octave up and down, and tap tempo controls. Both plug-and-play controllers are Mac- and PC-compatible and require no software driver installation or wall power for operation.
Akai’s new MPK88 is the next step up from the popular MPK61, MPK49, and MPK25. It, too, is plug-and-play, with a MIDI-over-USB keyboard controller, assignable fader, weighted hammer action, built-in presets, arpeggiator, transport, and “everything to get a DAW up and running,” says McGregor.
The MPK25 and MPK88 are bundled with Ableton Live Lite Akai Edition software, a popular, powerful program for composition, recording, editing, and remixing. “We started working with Ableton several years ago,” says McGregor. “We asked producers, engineers, DJs, and customers what they wanted, but we didn’t rush it to the market. The enthusiasm coming back to us has proven that this was the right move. Ableton has been out for nine years, and our partnership with them marked the first time anyone built something that works with their interface.”
The MINIAK is Akai’s new, most powerful virtual synth and was developed in partnership with Alesis. Compact and portable, with 37-key semiweighted keyboard, it’s perfect for studio and stage, with three oscillators designed for simple interface, arpeggiator, drum machine/rhythm sequencer, easy to access programs, over 600 presets, and a built-in 40-band vocoder with microphone. “It’s a powerful synth in a simple setup,” says McGregor.
The Alesis DM10 electronic drum kit features all-new pro hardware, USB connectivity, a top-panel mixer, built-in sequencer, easy setup, 8-inch and 10-inch dual-zone RealHead pads and SURGE electronic cymbals: 12-inch hi-hat, 13-inch crash and 16-inch ride with choke. The sound module contains true drum, cymbal and percussion sounds built from actual samples of classic studio drums and cymbals. The DM10 is also the world’s first drum-sound module that enables players to load new sound sets via USB connection to their computer.
Numark iCDMix2 and iCDMix3 are dual CD performance and mixer systems with universal docks for iPod. The iCDMix3 also offers MP3 capabilities. These are easy-to-carry systems for mobile DJs. Both have assignable crossfaders, three-channel mixers, onboard seamless looping, programmable playback, headphone outputs and multifunction jog/shuttle wheels for control, as well as Numark’s electronically buffered Anti-Shock skip protection.
“We’re here at NAMM because we’ve always got new products to launch, and we want our customers to know that we are still making them,” says McGregor. “This show is an opportunity to introduce dealers to new things. If you develop the right products and put time into them, musicians will buy them. The Akai APC40 (Ableton performance controller) and Numark NS7 (dual-turntable performance controller with Serato Itch software) are two of the most successful products ever — even in this economy.”
While manufacturing and advertising costs continue to rise, Akai, Alesis, and Numark consistently offer low price points. “We are able to keep our prices down because of smart engineering and paying attention to exactly what the customers want,” says McGregor. “When you’re adding features and trying to please everyone, you build yourself out of sales.”