It was our first afternoon on the floor of the yearly gear showcase, and we found a couple of bits that rose above the din.
Here's some of what stood out on Day 1.
Korg MS-20 Kit
At last year's NAMM, Korg's slightly smaller remake of their semi-modular classic was one of their showstoppers. If you're enough of a purist that you scoffed at its tweaks—but not enough of a purist that you own the original already—then the MS-20 Kit is your synthesizer. It's the same size as the original, containing the same circuitry and overseen by the engineers behind the original. The catch is that you have to put it together yourself. (Conveniently, though, no soldering is required.) Like the Mini, this full-sized remake sounds like a dream. But act fast: word is there won't be many of them to go around.
Korg will release the MS-20 Kit in March 2014 for a suggested retail price of $1399.99.
Analog vs. digital seems like an outmoded debate at this point. Producers are embracing a mix-and-match approach these days, which makes Arturia's latest bit of hardware especially smart. On the one hand, Beatstep is a MIDI controller, with 16 pads and as many pots for interfacing with DAWs and whatever else. Press a button, though, and it turns into a 16-step analog sequencer. Like more and more controllers these days, Beatstep can connect through USB, traditional MIDI or CV, meaning it'll work with your iPad, modular setup and everything in between. It felt solid and responsive when I tested it this afternoon, which makes its price point especially pleasing.
Arturia will release Beatstep in late March 2014 for a suggested retail price of $129 / 99 Euro.
As previously mentioned, sometimes you go looking for gear at NAMM, and sometimes it seems to find you. A small booth run by a Latvian startup called Sonarworks caught my eye in the far corner of Hall A, and I'm glad I stuck around for the spiel. It's not as exciting as a new synth or effects box perhaps, but their product, which launched yesterday, may effectively give bedroom producers a new pair of speakers. Their microphone/software system calibrates your monitors for you, correcting for less than ideal acoustics and cutting down on the number of trips you need to take to your car or friends' studios for reference. Ultimate pros can trade up to an "HD" system that gives you lots of data about the analysis, but most will do fine with the standard version, which makes adjustments and spares you the details. At their booth, they were demoing a system currently in development that does something similar for headphones; it actually worked wonders on a pair of Beats By Dre cans.
Sonarworks 2.0 is available now for $463 / 339 Euro.