With Christmas out of the way, those with a penchant for music technology turn their thoughts to California, to Anaheim specifically, and the NAMM trade show. Arguably the most important show of the year for the industry, there's always a buzz surrounding new products, so what better way to kickstart RA's Sounding Off series than with a round-up of some highlights.
It's fair to say that hardware ruled this year at NAMM, and while there were some significant and exciting software products, any doubts that hardware has a major role to play in modern music production were swept away.
Two hardware drum modules start our round-up, the first of which sees the long-rumoured collaboration between Dave Smith Instruments (DSI) and Roger Linn finally come to fruition. The result is Tempest which features 16 touch-sensitive pads to trigger a collection of analogue drum sounds, all of which are generated using the DSI sound engine. Linn provides the drum-machine know-how and, despite a rumoured price tag of $2000, this might be too good to miss.
Arturia provide the second drum box in the form of Spark, which is firmly designed to go toe-to-toe with Native Instruments' Maschine. Like Maschine, it features a hybrid hardware/software engine and combines samples, analogue sound generation and physical modelling to produce sounds capable of doing a job in a wide range of musical genres. It's expected to cost in the region of €500.
New hardware was also being paraded by Korg, who announced Kronos, the latest in a long line of keyboard workstations. This one features 9 separate sound generation engines, which can be used in tandem, a built-in solid state drive loaded with samples, built-in effects, a touch screen and lots of performance controls and sliders, all of which combine to provide Korg's most comprehensive workstation to date. Meanwhile, M-Audio announced their first ever synth, in the form of Venom. Having spent years building keyboard controllers, it's perhaps no surprise the company has now branched out into producing keyboards which make a noise and this one is a 12-voice "virtual" analog model, which uses samples of classic synths as its sonic engine.
In terms of FX processing, UAD sprang a surprise with the release of their Satellite Duo and Quad firewire-based Accelerator packages. Until now, UAD plug-ins have run only from PCI cards or via dedicated laptop cards but for Mac owners with a spare firewire 400 or 800 port, it's now possible to get the UAD sound with all of the benefit of hot-swapping between, for instance, a laptop or studio computer. Prices are expected to start at $899.
On the software front, Cubase 6 was launched by Steinberg and whie Cubase sometimes seems to represent the forgotten man of the currently available raft of DAWs, there are some impressive new features here. Notably, Cubase 6 features VST Expression 2, new phase accurate drum editing and a reworked collection of instruments and effects. The VST Expression update is significant as it will enable more intuitive and greater control of software bundles such as large orchestral packages.
IZotope also released new software, in the form of Stutter Edit, which has been developed in tandem with producer/composer BT and which is designed for manipulation of audio signals to fracture, glitch up and variously fragment audio in real-time, blurring the lines between effects processing and performance. It'll normally cost $249 but is available at a launch-price of $149 until Valentine's Day.
Elsewhere, Clavia launched a new 88-key piano and Novation announced version V3.8 of Automap, which is particularly good news for Waves users, as integration is tightened up there. Spectrasonics' launched version 1.5 of Omnisphere's new software and this synth can now be controlled from a dedicated iPad application, while dedicated keyboard controllers for other iPad apps were launched by StudioLogic and Akai.
Other manufacturers were also on hand to demonstrate their latest kit but pride of place at the show went to two extraordinary bits of hardware. The first of these will actually never be available for purchase as it features a one-off Spectrasonics/Moog hybrid product appropriately entitled OMG-1. Combining Moog's Little Phatty, Spectrasonics' Omnisphere, a pair of iPads and additional control via iPods, this one-off is the grand prize in a competition being run by The Bob Moog Foundation beginning in March.
Last but by no means least, there's a new Fairlight available. In the '80s, Fairlights were the way to sample and represented break-through technology, albeit at vast cost. Now, the CMI-30A model is with us, complete with retro styling, the seminal light pen and famous monochrome screen. The cost of this slice of modern history? $20,000. Form an orderly queue now...