2014 NAMM Show Day 1

As usual, my first day was pretty scattered with little accomplished. Several press conferences with little information (when will I ever learn?) kept me running from one end of the convention center to the other all day. I tried to get through Hall E but only made it about half way. Hall E is the hall in the convention center where, traditionally, they put the new exhibitors, so it’s often the place where I see some interesting though often whacky products. Those that survive a couple of years usually get “promoted” to the upstairs main halls, but things have been a bit different the past couple of years. There are now a good number of established vendors there, some like it because it’s a bit quieter than in the main halls, other get “banished” there and grumble a little, and this year it seemed like about half the square footage was occupied by Asian manufacturs, both of parts and complete products. I tend to cruse by them with just a glance since they’re mostly targeted toward the smaller music stores (mics, stands, mixers, amplifiers, guitars and such) or are sources for parts (tuners, tailpieces, strings, cables) for builders. It’s impressive how many copies there are. Some are probably OK, some aren’t, but there’s no way to tell and not a lot of technical information available at the show.

So much for excuses. I did see a few interesting things today.

The Softube Console 1 was probably my favorite product of the day. As the name suggests (at least 2/3 of the name – no tubes or tube emulations here) it’s a software plug-in that models an SSL E series console strip – input section with input gain and low and high pass filters, compressor, gate, and equalizer, combined with a hardware control surface for that part of the console. Note that it has no analog signal path so you need an outboard preamp (which is likely in your audio interface), nor is it an analog summing box. In addition to the standard channel strip, it includes a transient shaper that’s similar to the one from SPL, and adjustable analog distortion in the output stage. The hardware part isn’t a DAW controller – it only operates ome channel at a time with a row of 20 buttons and a shift to select up to 40 channels, with one knob per function within each section. The idea is that even though it’s software, you get “the console experience” of dialing in a sound with all the controls in one place rather than having a bunch of open windows for each function, that you control with a mouse. While the sound closely models the sound of an SSL console, you don’t have to use it on every track in your DAW, and you can add other plug-ins to it just as you’d do with a real analog console. The plug-in supports VST, VST3, AAX, and AU formats and sells for about a grand including the hardware controller, which connects to the computer via USB, from which it’s powered.

Universal Audio introduced the Apollo Twin, a 2-channel version of their popular multi-channel Apollo audio interface. It’s a solid aluminum desktop sized box with a sloping front panel, a big knob, and several buttons, one of which quickly switches the monitor outputs between source and playback. It has two mic/line input channels with a high impedance instrument DI input on the front panel. There are six outputs, a main and an auxiliary pair on the rear and a headpone jack in front. Its 24-bit A/D and D/A converters operate at all common sample rates up to 192 kHz, and it’s designed to interface to a Mac via Thunderbolt. There are two models, SOLO and DUO, differing in the amount of on-board DSP hardware available for running Universal’s UAD Powered Plug-ins. New with this unit is Unison technology, an integration of the internal mic preamps and a UAD powered plug-in that models a number of different mic preamps. The preamp modeling isn’t limited just to what they can do in software, it also controls the input impedance and gain structure via analog hardware components. The Unison mic preamp plug-in is included with the Twin. The SOLO is $700, with the DUO adding another $200, which might be a smart buy if you plan to add more UAD plug-ins.

Yamaha introduced the third generation of their popular MG mixer series that incorporates a number of upgrades which add features, improve the sound, and make it more roadworthy. The chassis is now all steel, the circuit board has been beefed up, the controls are more solidly supported (they feel very good) and it’s now using the same discrete Class A mic preamp circuit as is incorporated in the Steinberg recording interfaces. The models have been juggled a bit with all but the smallest ones now incorporating a USB port for recording the main mix to a computer as well as a one-knob compressor optimized for vocals on 2 channels. There are both FX (with a built-in effect processor) and non-FX versions in most sizes. There’s a new MGP series that includes DSP effrects based on their SPX series of studio signal processors, a “leveler” designed to even out a set of pre-recorded tracks with uneven levels, eight of the compressors, and a “blend” channel which offers either a mono sum or a panned-in (by a fixed amount) stereo output for situations where you don’t want a full stereo spread.

TC Electronic introduced the Helicon VoiceLive 3, the next generation of their popular voice processing system. The new version, in addition to some upgrades to the vocal effects including new harmony modes and a vocoder, adds a guitar processor using effects from their TonePrint pedals, and also a phrase looper. The Helicon division has decided that singers are their primary target, so to support this, they’ve published a heft book entitled “The Ultimate Guide to Singing,” a collection of articles and frequently asked questions by singers,  with answers supplied by over 100 different singers. TC’s Tannoy brand of speakers hasn’t had much exposure in the US market recently (well, really, since TC took over the brand) but they’ve introduced a couple of new studio monitors tht are reminiscent of the popular Reveal series from the mid-1990s. There’s also a new powered speaker that’s designed as a singer’s monitor. It clamps directly to a mic stand and has a built-in reverb processor.

A few clever guitar notes: When I visited the Musical Instruments Museum in Phoenix a couple of years ago, I saw a video of an African street musician playing a home made guitar with the body made from a rectangular oil can. Bohemian Guitars, started by a player who comes from South Africa, recreated this novel instrument for commrecial sale. Although they have to manufacture cans since they can’t find enough used ones in good shape, they apply the principles of the makers in Africa in that they recycle discarded guitar parts such as tuners and pickups. They’re really cool looking and sound pretty decent.

The Roadie tuner is a variaton on the self-tuning guitar that’s starting to show up. this one is a hand-held motorized unit that slips of the tuning pegs, tuning one string at a time. It communicates with an iPhone app via Bluetooth. The phone’s microphone or external audio input jack detects the pitch of the string and the app tells the tuning motor which direction to turn and when to stop It suupports multiple tunings, and even keeps track of the elasticity of the string, reminding you when it’s time to change strings (as if you didn’t know). It only costs $99.

The Add String adds a seventh string to an acoustic guitar. It’s not an extra low string as with the typical 7 string guitar, but rather, doubles the 3rd string an octave higher, giving a strummed sound much like the “Nashville high strung” guitar that became popular in country music 20-some years ago. The kit includes a sort of one string tailpiece that fits around the bridge pins for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings, plus a little clip that fits in the sound hole and lets you pull the high string out of the way when you don’t want it. Clever.

Sony showed a new Music Video Recorder, a hand-held fixed lens video camera with a crossed stereo pair of mics that’s designed for making music videos. It’s a high resolution format, 1920×1080 pixels and records in MP4 format. While it works fine as a stand-alone camera, it can connect to an NFC compatible (not all of them are) mobile device to provide remote control and remote display of the video, as well as the ability to transmit the recorded file to the phone for uploading directly to a web site or YouTube. About $300. In other Sony news, they now have an app for remote control of their professional wireless mic systems. The transmitter has always been controllable from the receiver, and the receiver has always had an Ethernet port, so with this app, the mix engineer can, for example, lower the transmitter’s mic gain if he hears the mic clipping.

Well, it’s long past my bed time, so that’s it for Day 1. More details to follow in the final report.



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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