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Milton Babbitt, the First Synthesist

Saturday saw the passing of controversial composer, music theorist, and educator Milton Babbitt at the age of 94. He was a father of modern electronic music, a founder of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, and the primary user of the RCA Mark II synthesizer, a gigantic instrument that was first installed at the Center in 1959. His 1961 composition “Music for Synthesizer� was particularly groundbreaking, and he often combined recorded electronics with more traditional live performers.

Born in Philadelphia in 1916 and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Babbitt joined Princeton University’s mathematics faculty in 1943 and its music faculty five years later. His students included composers Stephen Sondheim, John Eaton, Paul Lansky, and Mario Davidovsky. Among his many awards were a Pulitzer Prize citation for his “life’s work as a distinguished and seminal American composer� in 1982 and a $300,000 McArthur “Genius� Fellowship in 1986. He often took a mathematical approach to composing difficult and complex music, a style he sometimes referred to as “maximalist.� His immeasurable contributions to serial and atonal music, avant-garde, jazz, and even musical theater cannot be overstated.

You can watch a recently completed documentary on Milton Babbitt here.

Roger Nichols Needs Your Help

Mix’s George Petersen wrote the following about the unfortunate medical situation of engineering legend Roger Nichols:

One of the great audio engineers of all time, Roger Nichols, needs your help. And he’s not looking for an assistant engineer or someone to help dust his Grammy Awards. Roger quite literally is fighting for his life.

Last summer, Roger was diagnosed with Phase 4 Pancreatic cancer. Although quite serious, many of those afflicted survive for years with proper treatment. Unfortunately, the medical costs and bills have devastated the Nichols family, leaving them nearly bankrupt, making any chance of Roger taking part in some promising new treatments nearly impossible.

Once upon a time, Roger Nichols turned his back on a lucrative career as a nuclear engineer, turning audio knobs instead, and the world’s been a better-sounding place ever since. From his decades of work with Steely Dan, John Denver and other artists, Roger proved his production prowess while stretching the limits of technology. When the available gear couldn’t do the job, he’d invent solutions, such as the 1978 Wendel sampling drum computer (the first drum replacement device) or the Rane PaqRat, which transformed a lowly ADAT or DA-88 recorder into a 24-bit mastering deck. And if that wasn’t enough, his Digital Atomics company developed a vacuum desiccation system for tape restoration that offered an alternative to tape baking. Over the years, tracks Roger engineered (such as Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly) became established as standards for speaker demos in audio showrooms and AES booths—in either case, some pretty tough customers.

On a personal note, Roger was always a caring and giving person, whether serving on NARAS boards, or volunteering his time to lecture to college students and AES sections. Roger once spent a week doing production seminars for the audio community in Buenos Aires, Argentina for AES Latin Region Vice President Mercedes Onorato. That was a little off the beaten track, but Roger was quick to give up his valuable time for the benefit of others. Between his amazing legacy of recorded work (Steely Dan, Donald Fagen, John Denver, Rickie Lee Jones, Take 6, Johnny Winter, Placido Domingo, Roseanne Cash, The Beach Boys and so many more) and his benevolence in helping others, he has given so much to our industry.

Now it’s time we helped him out.

You can donate to help Roger via PAYPAL. Any amount, large or small, is appreciated and will make a difference. Go to www.rogernichols.com for more info.—George Petersen

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Major Studios are Not Dead Yet

Interesting story today in the New York Times about Jungle City Studios, a new high-end commercial recording facility in Manhattan. It was founded by Ann Mincieli, who is Alicia Keys’s engineer, and designed by acclaimed studio designer John Storyk. Apparently, with the demise of so many commercial studios, the supply of ultra-high-end facilities for well-heeled pop stars is in pretty short supply. Minicieli is quoted in the story as saying, “I compare a studio to a hotel, and I want this to be a seven-star studio.” A side note: despite all the new monitors that have been introduced over the last few years, the NS-10M still rules in some quarters. Note the pair of them on the meter bridge of the large-format console in the photo in the Times’s story.

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NAMM Day 4 Report

My day began at the Fishman booth, which was a couple of halls over from Hall A, where most of the software and recording exhibitors reside. Getting there, which took me through where the guitar and bass products are, I noticed a distinct increase in volume (although it wasn’t as bad as the dreaded drum hall, which is the loudest area of the show). Anyway, the exciting news at Fishman was that the company was showing a preview of its new Nomad digital wireless system, which is designed for acoustic instruments. Nomad will operate in the 5.8GHz range, and will allow you to untether yourself from your preamp. The Fishman folks say it will offer 24-bit/96 kHz audio, which is outstanding for a wireless system. The system should be shipping by the time Summer NAMM rolls around, and the price has yet to be determined.

As mentioned in the continuation of my day 3 report, headphones were a very busy category at this year’s show, and CAD jumped into the fray with a couple of aggressively priced models. The DH100 headphones ($49) are designed to be worn by drummers during tracking. The MH310 are closed-back studio headphones. I wasn’t able to listen to either, but they looked well made.
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FXpansion’s Geist ($249), is a beat-production software package that has actually been shipping since December. Geist appears to be a very comprehensive software solution, allowing you to sample, slice, sequence, and mix beats. I was very impressed with its ability to slice up an audio recording of a drum part (for example a drum loop) and turn it into MIDI. Not only does it do so quickly, but is smart enough to know to which drum sounds to map the slices it has extracted. When I saw this feature demoed, Geist almost instantly sliced up the part into its component pieces, and put the snares on the snare sound, the kicks on the kick sound, and so forth. Overall, it appears to be a very promising product.
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At the Studio Devil Booth, the new VBA Pro bass-amp modeling plug in was on display. It’s most impressive feature was “bi-ampâ€? mode, which lets you split the lows and highs in the bass signal, and process them independently. VBA Pro ($99), which is an update of the original VBA plug-in offers four different cabinet emulations 8×10, 4×10, 1×15, and DI Mode. It also lets you import and export settings via XML files, making it possible to move settings between different hosts very easily. Also on display was Studio Devil’s new Guitar Amp ($4.99) app for iOS devices. It is an amp simulator designed to look like a stompbox and offers three amp models and three cabinets along with Gain, Level, Bass, and Treble controls. It will be expandable with additional models, which you’ll be able to add with a separate purchase.
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Meanwhile, at the Moog booth, one of the new products on display was the Moog Lap Steel ($2,800). The six-string lap steel has the same circuitry as the Moog Guitar. These instruments are being built on a custom basis only, and currently only four exist, including the one they had at the booth. It offers infinite sustain, controlled sustain, and mute modes, and has a Moog filter built in that can be controlled with a foot pedal. As a steel player myself, my mind was boggling at the sonic possibilities. Connected up to an array of effects pedals, one could make some serious sounds.
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Besides Radial’s announcement of its purchase of the ReAmp, the Canadian company was also showing its Workhorse Rack ($1600) an API-Lunchbox style rack that has a built-in 8-channel mixer, XLR and ¼-inch I/O, and a passel of Lunchbox slots waiting to be filled. It can also function as a summing mixer.
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At the Slate Digital booth, where the big news is the upcoming release of the new version of Steven Slate Drums, I had a chance to sit down and chat with the founder of a new, cloud-based file backup service for musicians called Gobbler (gobbler.com). The service is currently in beta, and is free for the time being. Once you download and install its software, it allows you to tag your musical projects to keep them organized, and upload them to the cloud for safe keeping. Eventually, Gobbler will cost, with plans starting at around $10 per month. Anything that helps musicians back up their precious music data is a good thing, and it appears that Gobbler could be very useful for doing so. I plan to try it out when I get back from the show, and will report back. Since it’s currently free, you might want to try it too.
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At the Realitone (www.realitone.net) booth, an unusual Kontakt Player-based software instrument called Realivox was on display. Created by a TV composer, it offers sampled vocal articulations that can be played from a MIDI keyboard. You get ahhs and oohs and 23 other vocal articulations, which can be played in legato or staccato fashion with great realism. The first version, which will feature female voices will be available in late February and sell for $395. A male vocal version will be available for the same price in late April or May. If you buy both, you can save $100. It’s not cheap, but these are quality instruments.
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SM Pro Audio announced that it would soon be releasing version 2.0 of VMachine, it’s outboard plug-in host. VMachine 2.0 ($599) will come with a number of software instrument titles installed, and offer plenty of room for you to install more.
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Speaking of software instruments, PPG Wave 3.V ($179.99) was being shown at the Waldorf booth. The VST/AU instrument is based on the classic PPG Wave hardware synth.
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The TSAR-1 Reverb ($299) is a new algorithmic reverb from Softube. It features true stereo operation, 4 different reverb engines that run in parallel, and a both advanced and simple versions (the latter with less controls).
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Eventide was debuting yet another stompbox, this one a reverb-effects pedal called Space ($499). Due to ship in about a month, Space gives you everything from basic halls and plates to combo effects like reverb plus delay, reverb plus modulation, and reverb plus distortion, among others. If you want some seriously deep ambient effects, this pedal is for you. I heard a brief demo, and it sounds amazing.
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After traveling in the upper halls for the first three days, I finally got a chance to wander around in Hall E downstairs, which is where you can often find some unusual and unexpected products. Sure enough, I encountered a very interesting new guitar-style MIDI synth called Kitara ($849 for the Carbon Fiber model, $2,899 for the solid aluminum model). Developed by Misa Digital Instruments, Kitara is guitar shaped, but has no strings. It has 6 switches on each fret of its 24-fret neck, giving you all the notes you’d get on a guitar. Your right hand plays a touch screen and can use a variety of articulations to affect how the notes sound. There are 128 synth presets built in, MIDI out, and more. The Carbon Fiber and Aluminum models are functionally the same, but the latter is more durable for extended road use. I can’t wait to try this instrument out for myself.
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Among the new products at Tech-21 was the Rotochoir ($295, shipping around May), a rotary speaker box with Sans Amp circuitry included. The company was also showing two flavors of a pedal called the Boost Chorus ($245 each), one for guitar, which features a pre-delay control among its six knobs, and one for bass. The latter offers a detune control to add “girth� to the bass sound.
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Finally, Sony had headphones of its own to debut, with two models, the MDR-7510 ($149) and the MDR-7520 ($499). The latter are premium headphones made to reproduce audio with extreme clarity, and offer a mind-boggling frequency response of 5Hz to 80KHz (beyond human hearing on both ends—now that’s what I call headroom). Both models will be available in March.

That’s it for my NAMM report. I will be posting photos to go along with the entries in this blog and uploading videos, as this week progresses.

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NAMM Day 3 Report (continued)

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At the Muse booth, the biggest news is that the Receptor 2+ (two plus) line of outboard plug-in players is now shipping. The Receptor 2+ ($1699) has a 750GB hard drive installed (as opposed to 320GB on the original Receptor 2). The Receptor 2 Pro+ ($2599) has a 1TB drive and a 3GHz Intel processor. The Receptor 2 Pro Max+ ($3199) features a 1.5TB drive, and a 3.3GHz Intel processor. All will come loaded with either the Plug Sound Box Bundle or the Muse Player bundle, and Wave Arts MasterVerb and TrackPlug. In addition, the full Native Instruments Komplete 7 is preloaded, but must be paid for and unlocked to use.
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Arturia was showing a couple of new products including Spark ($599), a software drum machine with a hardware controller. Offering analog synthesis as well as sampled and physical-modeled sounds, the hybrid product is designed for creative beat production. Spark should be shipping by early April. I saw a demo of it, but it was very difficult to hear much due to a band playing in the Arturia booth. Arturia was also showing Analog Laboratory ($349), the latest of its software synth/hardware controller products. This one will come with a 49-key controller and offer sounds from Arturia’s Minimoog V, Moog Modular V, CS-80 V, ARP2600 V, Prophet 5, Prophet VS and Jupiter-8V software instruments. The software portion of Analog Laboratory has been shipping for a while, and can be purchased on its own for $249. The hardware won’t ship until early March.
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One of the hot product categories at the show was headphones, and KRK was showing two new models: the KNS8400 ($149) features memory foam ear cups, and an inline volume control. The KNS6400 ($99.99) is similar, but without the memory foam. KRK will offer replacement ear cups and cables so that users can extend the life of their headphones. I think that’s a great idea. KRK was also promoting a firmware and software update for its ERGO room-tuning device. ERGO ($499), which came out a couple of years ago, is an outboard box that comes with software and lets you analyze your room’s acoustics. The box (which goes after the monitor outputs in your system but before your monitors) then compensates to give you a more accurate frequency response for mixing. The new version supports 64-bit computing and has been made easier to use.
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Yamaha took a page from Korg’s book and wooed software developer Steven Kay to program a version of his Karma algorithmic-composition software for the Motif XF keyboards. Kay was at the Yamaha booth, and demoed the software for me, which looked quite good. I say looked, because, similar to my experience at the Arturia booth, I could barely hear the demo due to a full band playing about 20 feet away in the room. Kay turned up the monitors so that we could hear a little, and people listening to the live music complained that it was interfering with them hearing the band. A quintessential NAMM experience.
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My final stop of the day was the Steinberg booth, where the big news was Cubase 6 (now that is big news!). The new version featured a multitrack drum editor (think Beat Detective), which looked really good. The only thing that made me scratch my head is that it appears that if you want to quantize a multitrack drum part, you have to quantize it at 100 percent; either full out quantize or none at all. In any case, one of the coolest features of the multitrack drum editor was called “Create MIDI Notes,� which, as you might have surmised, allows you to create a MIDI part from one of the drum tracks. So you could take, say the snare track, turn it into a MIDI part and replace or augment it with MIDI sounds. Very slick. Another impressive feature in Cubase 6 allows you to create a tempo map from a recorded part. So if you have, say, a drummer who won’t play with a click, you can take a basic mix, have Cubase figure out a tempo map, and then you can edit the song a lot more easily. More headlines from Cubase 6 include a new vocal-comping feature (which works similar to those in Logic and Pro Tools) new MIDI controller-data editors, 64-bit capability on the Mac, and more. Cubase 6 will be available at the end of January and will cost $499 with an upgrade price from Cubase 5 of $149. Let the DAW wars continue!

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Namm Day 3 Report

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One of the coolest new products at the show is iZotope’s Stutter Edit ($149 introductory price until Feb. 14th, when it goes up to its regular price of $249), a plug-in developed with BT to emulate his signature stuttering effects. I remember interviewing BT several years ago, and he talked about the meticulous way that he chopped audio up into tiny 32nd and 64th note slivers in order to achieve his stutter effects. Now, it’s a whole lot easier with this plug-in. I saw it demoed, and it’s really easy to use. Because it requires MIDI input from your host to achieve its effects, it only works with certain hosts. They are: Apple Logic, Ableton Live, Pro Tools (7.4+), Cakewalk SONAR, Steinberg Cubase/Nuendo, Image Line FL Studio, Cockos REAPER, and MOTU Digital Performer.
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Universal Audio announced Satellite, an external UAD-2 processor that uses FireWire 800/400 to extend UAD-2 compatibility to MacBook Pros and iMacs, two popular Mac models that previously weren’t able to access the UAD system. It will come in Duo and Quad versions, with several different plug-in bundle options. It’s slated for release sometime in Q1, and according to Universal Audio, the prices will start at $899.
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Over at the Shure booth, one of the key new products was a new set of headphones, the SRH940 ($299). These over-the-ear headphones come with super comfortable cloth ear pads (including a spare set), coil and straight cables, and a nifty hard-shell case. More importantly, they sound excellent. If you’re looking for premium headphones, these are worth a close listen.
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I was completely blown away by the demo of the Synthogy Italian Concert Grand ($179) virtual piano at the Ilio booth. Using the same technology as the acclaimed Ivory 2 piano, Italian Concert Grand sounds absolutely stunning. I listened with headphones (the only way to hear anything accurately on the noisy NAMM show floor), and was super impressed with the tone and realism of this instrument. Also on display at the Ilio booth was the brand new Vienna Dimension Brass ($745, but on sale for $625 until Feb. 15th), a collection of 16 different virtual brass instruments and four brass sections. They use the Vienna Instruments PRO software player, which contains features for humanizing the sound of your MIDI brass parts.
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Mackie has moved its booth from the noisy show floor to a quiet demo room on the second floor, and so I was able to get a chance to listen to its new MR5mk2 ($299/pair) and MR8mk2 ($499/pair) monitors. Boy, was I impressed. Both models the MR5mk2 has a 5.25-inch driver and the MR8mk2 has an 8-inch driver), which have been redesigned from the original MR monitor line, offered excellent bass response and crisp sound overall. These speakers are likely to shake things up in the budget monitor category.
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In the microphone department, Audio-Technica debuted a new stereo mic, the AT2022. Designed to be easy to use with portable recorders, video cameras, and other devices with 1/8-inch mic inputs, the AT2022 includes an XLR to stereo mini cable, a cut filter, a fuzzy windscreen and capsules that can adjust to two different stereo configurations. I look forward to checking this mic out.
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As mentioned in my Day 1 blog, the Korg Kronos keyboard has been one of the big buzzes of the show, and I finally got a chance to hear it in person, during a demo by Korg’s Jack Hotop, in one of the sound rooms in Korg’s massive booth in Hall A. The Kronos has nine synth engines of various types, and can switch sounds seamlessly while its being played. Hotop took full advantage with a masterful demo that really showed the power of this instrument. From ethereal sound-designy sounds to hard hitting pianos to incredibly layered textures, he put the Kronos through its paces. It is an amazing sounding instrument. The Kronos will begin shipping in May, and will be offered in three different models: 61-key ($3750), 73-key ($4350), and 88-key ($4750. All those prices are MSRP). The Kronos isn’t cheap, but it appears to be one of the most powerful keyboards around.
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Also at the Korg booth was the Kaoss Pad Quad ($350 MSRP), which gives you the functionality of 4 Kaoss Pads in one unit. Also on display were updated versions of the Nano series of mini controllers. Nano Kontrol 2 features volume sliders and transport controls, Nano Key 2 is a mini MIDI keyboard, and Nano Pad 2 has 16 drum pads (Nano Pad 1 had 12) and an X-Y controller. Prices were yet to be determined, and the new Nano’s are expected to be released in the late spring.
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Waves was showing its new plug-in version of the Aphex Aural Exciter ($250 native, $500 TDM). They were able to get their hands on one of the only five tube Aural Exciters that were ever produced (most were solid state), and sampled it for this new plug-in. I didn’t get a chance to hear it, but based on Waves’ track record, I have high expectations. Waves also announced that its Version 8 software is on the way, and owners of a number of their bundles, including Gold, Diamond, and Platinum will get a nice surprise with the inclusion of waves Neve plug-ins for no extra charge when they upgrade. Waves will also offer “significant price reductions� across the board, in an effort to get its software into the hands of more recording musicians. This is excellent news!
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Roland always introduces a bunch of products at NAMM, and this year was no exception. I wandered over to the arena area of the convention center, which has now become Roland land to see some of them. One of the most notable of the new products is the GR-55 guitar synth (pictured), which offers 900 sounds and comes in two versions: with a GK pickup ($800) or without ($700). Also new and notable were a couple of VDrum kits, the TD-9KX2 ($2699) and TD-9K2 ($1499). Both feature all mesh heads, a new drum brain, and excellent cymbals. Clearly, the 9KX2 is the nicer of the two, but the 9K2 offers a lot for much less. Roland was also showing its new V-Piano Grand, which is designed to emulate a real grand in every way. They had a pianist demoing it in an isolated sound room, and the sound was incredibly realistic. If I didn’t know it was digital, and I hadn’t seen the array of speakers built into the soundboard, I would have thought it was an acoustic grand. With a price tag of over $20,000, this V-Piano Grand is clearly not for everyone, but the technology is quite impressive, nonetheless.

I’ll post more from day 3 and a day-4 wrap-up this evening, after the show ends. Photos and videos are coming soon.

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NAMM Day 2 Report

My first stop of the day was at the MOTU booth, where they’ve been previewing the new version of Mach Five (Mach Five 3), which will be out later on this year (they’re not yet sure of a release date). I am looking forward to when it does get released, because the demo they had was damn impressive. They were showing off several samples from the included collection, which included a sampled Telecaster that sounded extremely realistic, and could be played in guitaristic manner using Mach Five 3’s advanced scripting engine. I also got to hear a couple of other samples sets including a very realistic acoustic drum kit and an awesome-sounding upright bass.
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American Music and Sound, which distributes a bunch of major brands, held its annual NAMM press conference, and this one was livened up by a keyboardist playing a StudioLogic organ and doing tongue-in-cheek, old-school-gameshow-style music to bring the various presenters on and off stage. He had that vibe down perfectly, and frequently ended on upward gliss. Anyway, there were products galore at this press conference, including a New Nord Stage 2 ($4,195), which adds features like 24-bit DSP, playback of user samples, MIDI over USB, and more.
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Also announced there was the Vestax Pad-One, a table top pad controller with 12 pads and a touch-control pad. It’s price hasn’t been determined yet, and it will be out in the late Spring. (Which brings to mind the old joke: Q: What does NAMM stand for? A: Not available, maybe May).

Also very interesting was the Midas Venice F console, which features bi-directional FireWire support, which could make it really useful as a hybrid digital/analog mixer. No price was given, but I will be checking it out more closely when I go to the AM&S booth on Sunday.
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Other items of interest from that press conference were the StudioLogic Acuna 88, an 88-key MIDI controller keyboard with an iPad dock (iPads are everywhere at this year’s show), and the Focusrite VRM Box ($99, pictured on left), a small device that allows you to incorporate Focusrite’s Virtual Reference Monitoring technology (which simulates a variety of listening environments). They used VRM on the Saffire Pro 24 DSP interface, and I’m curious to see how it sounds in this product.
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IK Multimedia has been into the iOS app and accessories world for a while now, and they didn’t disappoint at this year’s NAMM. The iRig Mic ($59.99, available in March) is a standalone, electret condenser mic with an omni pattern, which will work with any iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. The handheld mic was on display at the IK booth, along with some new apps. The VocaLive app is a voice processing software app for iOS devices that includes pitch correction (from subtle to T-Pain), harmony generation, gender-bending effects, and more. It sounded really good. The same could definitely be said of the new AmpliTube Fender app ($19.99, out in a few weeks), which, like its big brother for Mac and Windows, offers up Fender amp, cabinet, and effects models. I was really impressed with the warmth of the amp models. The difference between the sound you can get on a conventional computer and on an iOS device is not that big anymore. The one exception to that rule remains reverb, which must be a lot tougher to emulate on the chips used in the iOS devices. Overall, though, the Amplitube Fender app is pretty mind blowing.
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Over at the TC Electronic booth, it was a veritable stompbox festival, as TC was showing off seven new guitar stomps, which ranged in price from $129-169. They included five digital (chorus, flashback delay & looper) flanger, vibrato and reverb and two analog (overdrive and distortion). What makes them particularly interesting is that the digital pedals have what’s called TonePrint technology, which allows users to download “TonePrints� from well-known guitarists (via the TC website) into their pedals. These TonePrints feature the artists’ settings for the pedals, which access many more parameters than are available on the front panels.
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New from TC Helicon were the Voicetone Single pedals, which also range from $129-169, and include single effects from the company’s larger vocal multieffects pedals. Also on display was the Voicetone Correct XT, which in addition to offering compression and pitch correction, has an anti-feedback circuit in it. Finally, TC Helicon has also dived into the iOS world with Voice Jam ($9.99), a live looper app for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.
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Rob Papen was at his booth, demonstrating Punch, his new drum machine software, which will be available in about six weeks. His company also announced the Explorer Bundle ($699), which features six of his plug-ins: Blue, SubBoomBass, Predator, Predator FX, RG, RP-Delay, and PR-Verb.
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At the Samson booth, things were really busy, due to artist singings that were going on. Despite the crowd, I was able to check out two new products of interest: the Samson Meteor Mic ($99, available in April), is a metal-housed USB mic with folding legs that allow you to set the mic at a variety of angles on a tabletop. It also has a mic stand mount if you’d prefer to stand mount it. The pint-sized Zoom R8 ($299) is one of those all-in-one devices. It’s an 8-track recorder, a 2×2 USB audio interface, a pad sampler (with 8 pads at a time, in up to 3 banks) and a controller.
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Blue Microphones had a couple of new mics to show, including Reactor ($499, available this spring, pictured at right), a multipattern condenser with an unusual round shaped body, topped by a bottle-style, rotatable capsule at the top. The Yeti Pro ($249, available in Feb.) is an update on the multipattern Yeti USB mic. The Yeti Pro adds XLR connectivity and 24-bit compatibility (up to 192 kHz). This mic should be both incredibly useful and quite popular.

Spectrasonics has upgraded its flagship Ominsphere synth to version 1.5. The update will be free for registered users, and offers a passel of improvements including the Orb, a new interface for real-time synthesis manipulation. Spectrasonics also debuted Omni TR, an iPad app that allows for remote manipulation of Omnisphere.
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Among the new items at the Tascam booth was the TA-1VP, a 1U rackmount vocal processor with Antares EVO software built in. Now you can bring Auto-Tune on the road with you. (There’s no truth to the rumor that Taylor Swift has already ordered 20 of them.)

That’s it for my day two roundup. I’ll post my day three report tomorrow.

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NAMM Day 1 Report

The show opened today, and one of the biggest buzz-getters was Korg, with its new Kronos keyboard. Featuring a staggering nine (count –em) synth engines, this instrument is supposed to be a monster. I haven’t had a chance to hear it yet (I will on Saturday), but colleagues I’ve talked to who have heard it were singing its praises.
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Also, as mentioned, the Tempest drum machine from Dave Smith Instruments, seems to be a very cool product. I watched a demo of it at the Dave Smith booth, and it was impressive sounding.
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I went to the Akai/Alesis booth, and there were several notable products on display. Two of them had to do with iPads (this seems like the year of the iPad at NAMM). The Alesis Studio Dock is an audio interface for the iPad, featuring two XLR/1/4-inch combo jacks and MIDI in and out ports. It promises to be an elegant solution to the problem of plugging mics into an iPad.
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Also for iPad, was the Akai SynthStation 49, a 49-key keyboard with an iPad dock. Pop in your iPad, boot up a compatible instrument app, and away you go. This is the big brother to the earlier SynthStation keyboard, which was designed to work with the iPhone/iPod touch.
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I’m going to preemptively award the best product name of the show award to the AKAI EIE I/O (think “Old McDonald� if you don’t get it), which is a rather bulky looking USB 2.0 interface that sports 4 combo inputs, VU meters, switchable headphone monitoring and more.
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At the Avid booth, I was impressed by the Eleven Rack Expansion Pack, which offers additional functionality for Eleven Rack owners. For $99, those owners will a number of new models, including a bass amp and a vocal channel strip, making their Eleven Rack presumably go to at least 12.

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A visit to the Acoustica booth was highlighted by a look at the company’s Mixcraft Pro Studio 5 product. Release late in 2010, the software package combines the Mixcraft 5 sequencer (which offers a ton of power for a very low price) with a suite of plug-ins that includes two analog-synth-emulating virtual instruments, a bass instrument, a virtual tube preamp, a Transient Vitaliser, and a highly customizable delay.

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For those who do their own mastering, the new Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro Codec Plug-In will be of great interest. This plug, which will be available in March and sell for $495, allows you to listen to your mix as it would sound as an MP3 or AAC (in a variety of bit rates), before you’ve rendered it. Knowing what a file will sound like in a compressed format had always required actually printing it and compressing it first. Now, you can strap this baby on the master bus and listen to your mix as it would sound as a compressed file. Very slick.

Speaking of guitar amp sounds, Radial announced at a press conference that it had bought the ReAmp from its inventor, John Cuniberti, and will market it as part of its line of reamping products. Radial had been leasing reamping technology from Cuniberti for its X-Amp and Pro RMP products, and the ReAmp will fall in the middle of the two from a price standpoint.

Those were the highlights of day one for me. Now, it’s on to day two.

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NAMM 2011: Dave Smith/Roger Linn Tempest

Dave Smith Instruments announced a new analog drum machine, that is the result of a collaboration with Roger Linn. Called the Tempest, it has 16 velocity- and pressure-sensitive pads. According to the press release, the unit will allow for both step entry and real-time programming. It also includes an effects section with beat synced delay, distortion, compression and a stutter effect. The Tempest will be available in the summer and is priced at $1,999. I will go to the Dave Smith booth when my schedule allows to get a look at it and will take some pictures.

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Jordan Rudess/RnL Video Featuring iPads Galore

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Keyboardist and iPad evangelist Jordan Rudess sent me the link to this video, featuring him along with Project RnL. The first two minutes of the song are all played on iPads, using a variety of apps including: MorphWiz, Wizbot, Nlog PRO, ThumbJam, Looptastic HD, Mugician, iELECTRIBE, iMS-20, Pocket Organ, Drum Meister, MiniSynth, iShred, and VoiceKeyboard. Unlike the iPad/iPhone Band Performs Christmas Carols video and the iPhone Band on the Subway videos reported on previously in this blog, this is not just a novelty, but a legitimate musical use of iOS devices. Very cool.

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The Bus, EM's editorial blog, features posts from all the EM editors on topics related to gear, recording techniques and much more. It's also home to posts from a selected group of guest bloggers.

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