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Winter NAMM Report: 27 Picks to Power Your Studio

My Winter NAMM started early this year.

After a six-hour flight from JFK to NYC, I was more in the mode to make it to my Anaheim hotel, take a hot shower, and pass out before the next day’s convention center fray. But I couldn’t help talking to my friendly cabdriver, whose African accent intrigued me – he was from a small nation in the Horn I knew nothing about: Eritrea.

No sooner had I asked him what Eritrean music was like, then he replied solemnly, “I have,” and pushed a CD into the player of his Prius. What I heard was an entirely new flavor for my ears – jubilant but hypnotic, intensely rhythmic yet slower-paced, enraptured and relaxed. I highly recommend seeking some out.

The lesson of the moment wasn’t lost on me: there’s so much magic in recorded music. These tracks were captured on the other side of the world, then delivered directly into my consciousness, expanding my sensory palate and therefore my mind.

For the next two days, I was face-to-face with the people whose creations make such moments possible. The instruments, microphones, preamps, compressors, plugins and DAWs that are dedicated to enabling such discoveries were close at hand. We were all there to do business, yes, but it’s a trade show that propelled by a uniquely powerful force.

As usual, there was far too much great gear and software to track it all down – innovation and ambition is everywhere. Following, find our picks for the most noteworthy new items, sites, and scenes of Winter NAMM 2015.

Here’s a signal source for you: the new Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator. It’s designed on a single circuit board, with all vital components under the LCD display. 3 versions (rhythm, sub, factory melody synth) for $59. (All photos: David Weiss, unless otherwise noted)

 

The HG-2 Stereo Mix Buss Enhancer (bottom unit) from Black Box Analog Design. This substantial unit uses Cinemag input transformers to feed two paths: The main signal path travels through a 6U8A Pentode tube stage that then drives into the Triode stage that follows, resulting in everything from subtle harmonics to full on saturation. For $2780, this is a serious investment in your stereo buss.

At Dangerous Music, the Convert-2 ($2499) and Convert-8 ($3499) were previewing. Available in Q2, these 1RU units bring Dangerous’ well-known super-transparent conversion into their own box. As usual for Dangerous, there are many unique ergonomic features.

 

The Avid booth was a hotspot, with celeb sightings, plus the debut of Pro Tools 12 and Pro Tools First.
Two awesome sets of Augspurgers, the new Duo 8 Mini-Main system(wood finish on right) and Duo 12.3 DSP (silver finish) made their presence known on the floor…

 

…and mixer Josh Connolly, of Las Vegas’ Audio Mix House, approved of what he heard.
The Sontronics Mercury, a multi-pattern tube mic with a dedicated power supply, made its debut. Expect an MSRP of $2,000 with Q2 availability.
The intriguing K-Mix from Keith McMillen Instruments was on hand. A next-gen audio interface and programmable mixer for live and in the studio, it will list for $499 and be available in April.

 

SSL’s new VHD mic pre for the 500 series is extremely versatile — superclean or driving to crispy distortion.

 

An upstart interface! Tracktion will unveil it’s first piece of hardware this year, the heavy duty Copper Reference. Providing 139 dB of dynamic range, it will be “really expensive.”

 

And ANOTHER upstart! The RADAR studio from iZ Technology runs Pro Tools natively, within a totally integrated “audio appliance.” Highly configurable I/O and extremely fast workflow made this one of the most talked-about audio innovations on the floor.
Moog check! This monster module was a beaut.

 

Only at NAMM — punkers rockin’ selfies.

 

The PMC twotwo sub2 was an impressive sight in person — it’s slim-line cabinet dimensions make for easy placement.

Sonnox’ resident genius Rod Densham was present, demonstrating the new LIVE bundle: 6 Sonnox plugins for the Avid VENUE and S3L consoles.

Historical lore ensued at the Universal Audio booth, where you could grasp the same classic console that tracked “Pet Sounds!” Meanwhile, the just-announced Apollo Expanded Software was a center of attention throughout the show. (photo credit: Amanda Whiting)
Focusrite unveiled their Clarett line of Thunderbolt interfaces. Under 1 ms of latency, with preamps that model Focusrite’s beloved ISA design.

 

Meanwhile, Novation launched the Launchpad Pro. It has many more controls on the surface, and a dynamite light show that also makes it more intuitive for use in Live.
Dave Smith synths — they’re just cool.

 

Auralex’s new ISO-Tone gives the DJ some! It’s specifically designed to take down the vibrations and acoustic feedback that comes with desktops and DJ cases.

 

That DEEtroit sound! The Model 2S stereo microphone from Mesanovic Microphones…

…with the proud inventor, Deni Mesanovic.

 

Super mixer Jack Joseph Puig held court at the Waves booth.

 

The Variax Standard guitar debuted from Line 6. Designed to be more affordable than previous Variax’s, this is a versatile studio tool you can grab for just $799.

 

Soundcraft’s Signature Series of analog mixing consoles brought the company back into the studio, affordably. This Signature 12 has Soundcraft’s Ghost mic pre’s, and Sapphyre Assymetric EQ.
Mic icon David Bock and his eye-popping 407, ideal for male or female lead vox with its custom-built k47 type capsule.

 

The REAL moneymaker at NAMM?

Just follow the lines to the food trucks.

Sennheiser rolled out it’s EW D1 wireless. Extreme ease of use, and 2.4 GHz digital transmission with license-free operation.

We hearted playing with Rev from Output, a terrific sound design and electronic music tool that goes deep into reversed sounds.

A bundle of analog awesomeness from Overstayer Recording Equipmentovertook the M1 Distribution booth.

Cakewalk made noise of it’s own with the new membership program for SONAR.

The Audio-Technica ATH-M70 is their new flagship closed back headphone — definitely worth a listen at $299.

Bitwig Studio 1.2 arrived — you’ll love what it does with track folders.

Ridin’ out with the crowds to…

The most awesome NAMM ending ever — meeting the incredible Nile Rodgers in the JetBlue line.
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