NAMM 2015 Notes – Day 1 January 22
If you’ve been following my NAMM show reports, or anyone’s NAMM show reports, you probably know about Hall E. That’s “the basement,” the downstairs hall in the Los Angeles Convention Center where they put all of the new exhibitors and many of the foreign manufacturers looking for US distribution. In addition to new suppliers of familiar products, it’s the place where you can see things that nobody ever thought of, or nobody ever made before, some really wacky, some really curious, and some that are just darn good ideas. I usually try to start the show with a Hall E tour, but didn’t get very far before a few press conferences took me to other places hither and yon. I hope to spend more time there today (Friday).
It’s been three (I think) years since Mackie introduced the concept of a mixer that replaced the hardware control surface (which, in my book, is what makes a mixer a mixer) with an iPad. This year, it seems that nearly every company that makes small mixers, and even some that make large ones, has picked up the idea. New entries into this pool this show are PreSonus, Phonic, and Soundcraft, and I expect I’ll run into a couple more before the weekend is out. They all offer a range of number of inputs and outputs and on the surface appear to be pretty similar, but there are distinguishing features that give you a reasonable basis for choosing one over the others. All of these manufacturers have some experience in the digital mixer market, and they bring their own brand of DSP technology to these “black box” mixers. PreSonus offers the full complement of EQ, effects, and remote controllability offered by their hardware based StudioLive mixers. The Soundcraft Ui series bring processing from dbx, Lexicon, and Digitech (other Harman companies). There’s lots to study here, and hopefully reviewers will help you to make an intelligent choice should you decide to make the move in this direction when buying your next (or first) mixer.
Hear Technologies brought the concept of individually controllable monitor mixes to the commercial marketplace a dozen or so years ago. This year they introduced the hear back PRO, a 16 channel system (they’ve been limited to 8 channels since its introduction) as well as other features such as stereo mixing with panning on all channels, level indicators, storable presets, both ¼” and 1/8” headphone jacks (no adapters needed), and an input for an on-stage private intercom. It’s digital, of course, and claims less than 0.25 ms latency. It’s a really slick looking unit, and with all the other similar systems on the market now, it’s nice to see the originator, a really small company, getting caught up.
Does the world need another DAW? Nick Garcia (who, as it turns out, is a local Washingtonian) thinks so, and designed the Lumit-Audio DAW specifically to work with a touch screen display. System requirements are pretty modest – a Pentium 4 with Windows 7 or 8, and it features unlimited track count, drag and drop editing, automation, effects, and some gesture awareness for those accustomed to using touch screen devices.
The AmpRidge MightyMic S is a miniature plug-in powered shotgun-like style condenser mic designed for recording on a mobile phone. I plugged it into my decidedly not fancy Android phone and recorded a short spiel about it from the developer. It worked really well in the noisy show floor environment. It’s probably better for making a “live me” video than for recording a concert from the back of the room, but then this is a characteristic of shotgun mics that not everyone understands. I’ll pay closer attention to the sound of the background noise when I get home and can hear it over real speakers. It’s a good functional design, it doesn’t look awkward when attached to the phone, it includes a headphone jack for listening to playback without unplugging the mic, and it includes a foam wind screen.
The Hook from Wishbone Workshop is a microphone boom designed for instrument amplifier. Looking a bit like a cross between a boom mic stand and a Club steering wheel lock, The Hook slips under the handle on the top of an amplifier and extends a boom out in front of the speaker. It can be slipped under the speaker cabinet if there’s no handle, and can go between a speaker cabinet and amplifier head, though, honestly, I didn’t think this arrangement was very stable. This is a typical Hall E product – out for a trial to see who’s interested.
Sennhiesier has a wide range of wireless mics and systems (their 9000 digital system is perhaps the industry’s most complete and complex) and at this show they introduced the D1, a fully automatic just-plug-and-play system that takes care of the things that musicians often don’t understand about RF systems, while not dumbing down the technology and taking advantage of what the company knows about making wireless mics reliable. It’s a diversity system that seamlessly switches between two RF signals, with a third RF channel that maintains the diversity operation should one of the primary channels become unreliable. It automatically searches for free channels and sets up the receiver and transmitter for the best RF signal. The backup channel is constantly monitored so that if it needs to use it, it will know that it’s switching to an available channel. It comes in two packages, one hand-held and one with a belt pack with either a headworn or lavaliere mic.
There’s always some computer audio interface news. Focusrite introduced a new line, the Clarett, with four models from 2 to 8 inputs. This is a cut above the Scarlett and features a higher grade preamp and Thunderbolt computer I/O. I liked the mic preamps on the Focusrite Forte when I reviewed it, and told them that I wished they had a 4- or 8-channel interface with that preamp. From what I can tell, the Clarett doesn’t use that same circuit, but, like the Forte, it’s based on their top grade ISA series. However, I was bummed to learn that Thunderbolt was the only computer connection, no USB, no Ethernet, and of course no Firewire. This is going to keep it out of the hands or a lot of PC users (including me) until we get a new computer, but Mac users should embrace it.
Arturia, known best for their analog hardware synthesizers and classic analog synth plug-ins, introduced the Audiofuse, a compact desktop 2-channel USB audio interface with a well thought out and straightforward user interface. Following the trend, there’s a big knob for monitor volume adjustement, individual gain controls for the two inputs, built-in talkback mic, insert jacks for both inputs, and it’s expandable with ADAT optical and S/PDIF I/O.
Universal Audio announced Apollo Expanded software as part of a software update expected to be released this Spring. The new update will allow any combination of up to four Thunderbolt-connected Apollo interfaces of any configuration to be integrated as a single device. In addition, two UAD-2 hardware outboard DSP host devices can be included to make, as I count it, as large as a 64-channel interface capable of running a heap of UA’s plug-ins.
Gotta run, see more stuff. Stay tuned.