NAMM Show Preview Day

This is a pretty dinky report because it was, at least from the perspective of pro audio gear, a pretty dinky preview, but fear not, there will be cooler stuff for me to see in the next few days, and hopefully my reporting will be better. As is becoming the norm these days, few of the exhibitors had printed literature, and I couldn’t get my Android tablet recording setup to work when I wanted to record my chats with a couple of the exhibitors, so you’ll just have to rely on my memory for sketchy details which I’ll fill in when I get around to the real booths.

M-Audio has been set free from Avid and is now part of the Akai Pro Audio/Alesis group. They’re enthusiastic about getting M-Audio back in gear with some new studio products. Most of what they were showing at the preview was MIDI controllers but they promised more at the booth. I remember the company from its origin as Midiman, and they’ve always had pretty solid technology. Hopefully that will continue.

Fender is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Stratocaster with three new models. There’s a re-creation of the original model, a fancy 60th anniversary model, and a preview of a new model with an interesting concept. The company recognizes that there are a lot of customized Strats out there, many coming directly from Fender. The new model is designed with customization in mind. The pickups (maybe controls, too) are connected with plugs and sockets so that parts can be changed out without knowing how to solder. That’s the dangerous part, in my humble opinion, but there’s a cool feature that allows for simple plug-in customization. There’s a slot in the back of the guitar that accommodates a plug-in card that, depending on which card you insert (the guitar comes with three), rewires the pickup switch for different combinations of pickups, modifies the tone controls to a treble cut and bass cut, and does the “treble bleed” modification which, if you’re into Strats (I’m not) you’ll know what that means. They plan to have some pictures of the insides at the booth. I’m curious as to what kind of solderless connectors they’re using. It’s gonig to be one more thing that will require some maintenance, particularly if these guitars last another 60 years.

David Smith was showing a tabletop module version of the Prophet 12 keyboard that they introduced last year. This is a mostly analog synth – the oscillators are digital for stability but all the filters and modulators are analog.

IK Multimedia showed a new version of their iRig Mic. The original mic (I have one of these) connected to the analog TRRS mic/headset jack on a mobile device, replacing the built-in mic with the IK mic and providing a jack for headphones for monitoring and playback. The new mic incorporates a 24-bit 96 kHz A/D converter and comes with three cables for connecting to a recording device. There’s one that connects to the digital audio input of the iPod docking connector, a Thunderbolt cable, and for those of us with just plain ol’ computers, a standard class-compliant USB connector. Unfortunately there’s no analog cable so I’ll have to keep my old one to use with my Android tablet (or do what I wish I had done and brought the TASCAM DR-40 recorder and an EV
635 mic. The new iRig mic has an upgraded capsule for which they claim flat frequency response. The original one has a pretty steep low frequency roll-off which I find to be very useful for interviews in noisy surroundings (like NAMM shows). The closest they com to that with the new mic is that it includes an app (which I didn’t see) that includes EQ.

IK was also showing a curious new gadget/app called the iRing. This is a ring-like gizmo with a pattern of dots that you wear between two fingers and put it in sight of the camera on your iPad. The camera picks up which “controller” it’s seeing (it can look at one on each hand) and sends control data to a hippy-hoppy music app. It’s one of those “now anyone can make music without knowing about music” things. I’ll have to admit that it wasn’t my flavor of music so I’ll reserve judgment on its value to the world. In the mean time I’ll just have to say it isn’t going to replace the Theremin.

I wish I had remembered the name (I’ll get it in the next couple of days) of a new optical piano key sensor that claims better dynamic resolution than anything else out there. I dou’t think it’s in a gig-ready snap-on format quite yet, but Steinway is installing them in their reproducing pianos. What struck me was this factoid that the sales guy told me: Most people who buy expensive Steinways buy the reproducing (player piano) version and don’t play piano themselves. I was trying to sort out the story that went something like this – you can (if you’re a pianist) play along with a recording, then the company makes up a file for the player piano that has an MP3 file of the audio (your backing track) and a MIDI file that drives the keys on the piano. I dunno. I think it has better applications in the performance world (Lady Gaga’s keyboard player was going to demo it later on in the day but I didn’t stick around).

One more tidbit here – someone’s idea of a better idea. Touchmark is a modification kit for an electric guitar that replaces the tone, volume, and pickup switching controls with two programmable touch pads. My first question was “How do you know what it’s set at?” They answer was “You don’t have to, you just play it.” I’m a bug about user interfaces and frankly I find this one to be kind of useless. But he says they did their due diligence and asked a couple of hundred people how they liked the idea and got positive responses. When I asked how many people were actually using it, well, it’s about 20 or 30. Maybe it’ll be a hit, maybe everyone who it works for already has his or hers and then they can move on to something for the other 5 million guitarists.

I’ll hit the deck at the real show tomorrow, probably starting in Hall E and checking out all the rest of the new ideas and concepts.



About mikeriversaudio

Helping people getting their studios together has been a passion of mine for more than 30 years. Get yours together.
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