NAMM 2017 – Excitement that came and went


NAMM 2017 has ended and compared with the 2015/16 versions, this year’s event left us a bit on the disappointment side of things. Perhaps one cannot hope that each year will surpass the previous in terms of awesome releases of new software and thrilling new machines on the hardware side, but still this year is at least to us a low mark in terms of what was presented. Sure there were some interesting launches, like Pioneers venture into synth arena, arm in arm with DSI or KORG’s realization that iOS may not be the optimum platform for its kickass Gadget library and ported to the whole thing over to desktop Mac. Furthermore, and for the first time, the modular development community—normally relegated to the basement—found itself with prime placement in the main expo hall, alongside big players like Korg and Pioneer. In any case let us make a summary of the key takeaways from this year´s NAMM event. And to be clear Stereoklang’s focus is on electronic music production gear, so it may well be that NAMM had a lot of nice new stuff to offer for in the brass section, drums or even the guitar section of the event, but they will not be featured here.

Moog didn’t have that much new to show for this year a bold statement one may think. Instead the booth, this year, has been turned into an installation focusing on artists, pioneers and performers of electronic music – including Don Buchla, Keith Emerson and Bernie Worrell. Attendees have been invited to take stock and reflect on the people who helped to shape musical history.

As mentioned initially we are pleased to see that KORG has taken the sensible decision to port its terrific Gadget library to desktop Mac and added needed steps to make it a solid part of desktop music production environment. This means, among other things, that as well as operating standalone and offering what’s described as a “seamless connection” to the iOS version (which presumably means that projects can be shared both ways), Gadget for Mac also comes with the Gadget Plug-In Collection, which means that its devices can be used within your AU-, VST- or AAX-compatible DAW. There’s support for the NKS standard, as well as Ableton Link, Bluetooth MIDI and Allihoopa.

Everything takes place on one screen, though you can split this into four windows to give you a better overview of what’s going on. Mac users will get all of the 30-plus Gadgets that are currently available, as well two new ones that enable audio recording and an additional 16-pad drum gadget. Apart from the above not much new came out of the KORG workshop unless you treat the re-colored version of the MS-20 as something new, ugly or not – judge for yourself. The new synth will be available in February 2017 for $449, and is exactly the same as the black version, but in white.

One of the key surprises at the event was Pioneer’s entry into the synth space, being an established DJ set manufacturer this take both makes good sense, but also question marks on where they may go next. So for the second time Pioneer teamed with Dave Smith Instruments, who they collaborated before for the Toraiz SP-16 sampler, and debuted the the TORAIZ AS-1, a new monophonic synthesizer for music production and live performances. The TORAIZ AS-1 is powered by a fully programmable, analog synth engine based on the discrete analog circuitry in Dave Smith Instruments’ Prophet-6 synthesizer. You can connect the TORAIZ AS-1 synth to the TORAIZ SP-16 live sampler via MIDI and employ the sampler’s sequencer to create even more complex patterns with the powerful analog sounds you’ve created in the synthesizer. Together, the two TORAIZ instruments can be connected to your DJM mixer via Pro DJ Link and MIDI, creating a set-up where the CDJs play the track, the TORAIZ SP-16 adds loops and one-shots, and the TORAIZ AS-1 generates unique analog leads in sync with the BPM of the music.

The TORAIZ AS-1 is driven by a fully programmable, true analogue synthesis engine based on the discrete analogue circuitry in Dave Smith Instruments’ Prophet-6 synthesizer. It also inherits 7 on-board effects from the Prophet-6 synth as well as a brand new digital distortion.

Then we have Percussa (the Audiocube guys) who treated us with something that, by the looks of it, feels far from a traditional modular, but appearance may sometimes deceit you. Percussa premiered the Synthor System 8, a new hardware digital modular synthesis system. The Synthor System 8, allows musicians to create sounds by patching synthesis modules, changing synthesis parameters and modulation signals wirelessly. Synthor System 8 consists of a new digital hardware synthesis module, the Percussa ENGINE, a new control surface and wireless base station, the Percussa REMOTE, and eight wireless modular controllers. Aluminum rack ears are included to mount ENGINE above the remote control surface for optimal usability. It sure is an interesting machine but you need a lot of time to dive in the modularity of this complex Synthesizer

Synthor System 8 is a turnkey modular synthesis system, designed to let you create patches and change synth parameters wirelessly.

The System consists of:

  • a new digital hardware synthesis module (Percussa ENGINE)
  • a new control surface and wireless base station (Percussa REMOTE)
  • and 8 Wireless modular controllers (latest generation Percussa AUDIOCUBES).

Not so complex as the Synthor is Teenage Engineering’s release of the PO-32, a new pocket operator with a deeper engine. However, one of the most interesting aspects of the new PO-32 Tonic is the included microphone and export feature. Teenage Engineering introduces the new operator by saying: PO-32 tonic is a powerful drum- and percussion synthesizer a result of a fruitful collaboration with Magnus Lidström of sonic charge, creator of award-winning audio plugins and the man behind the CWO effect in OP-1.unique to PO-32 tonic is its wide range of sonic capabilities, a fresh selection of new punch-in fx, a built-in microphone allowing direct transfer of sounds and pattern data between units, as well as the ability to allow users of the standard desktop version of microtonic to shape sounds, generate new patches and pattern data, and transfer this wirelessly back to the PO-32 tonic. for the first time pocket operator users can easily import, export and share their music with the world, opening up for unlimited potential.

Another cute aspect is the UI, drawn by the nine year old daughter of the CEO Jesper Kouthoofd.

Features:
  • Mic for transferring sounds
  • 16 fully customizable sounds
  • 16 punch-in effects
  • 16 step sequencer
  • parameter locks
  • built-in speaker
  • 3.5 mm audio I/O
  • jam sync
  • LCD display
  • folding stand
  • watch + alarm clock
  • battery powered (2 x AAA)
  • 1 month battery life
  • pattern chaining, up to 64 patterns
  • compatible with Microtonic Drum Synthesizer VST/AU Plugin

Another trusted provider of new gear at NAMM is Elektron. This time the announced the Digitakt, a new compact drum machine, containing all the necessary tools to make people move to the beat. A digital and highly flexible sound engine, sampling capability, a live-friendly sequencer, the means to control external MIDI gear. Round it off with a crispy OLED screen and tactile back-lit buttons.

Each of the Digitakt’s eight audio ‘tracks’ has its own digital multi-mode filter and assignable LFO, while delay and reverb send effects add further possibilities. Alongside the sample tracks, there are eight MIDI tracks for triggering external sound generators, giving you up to 16 sounds to play with. The 16 backlit drum pads double as sequencer step buttons, with up to 64 steps per sequence. The Digitakt has eight context-sensitive rotary knobs to adjust parameters shown on the yellow-on-black OLED screen, plus numerous function buttons. Elektron have included a range of sequencing tools found in the Analog Rytm and Analog Four, including conditional note triggering and micro timing, and this is very much a drum machine designed with live performance in mind. In terms of sampling capacity, there’s 64MB of sample memory and 1GB of storage from which sounds can be loaded into the sample memory. Other features include stereo balanced outputs, stereo inputs for sample recording and MIDI in, out and thru ports. The device also has a USB 2.0 port, with support for Elektron’s Overbridge software, which allows you to control Elektron hardware from within a DAW just like a plug-in. Best of all, the Digitakt, which is set for release in April, is expect to cost around 650 Euros. Here it is in action:

Shear Electronics Relic-6 is an interesting new comer – a hardware emulation of the Oberheim OB-X. A 6-voice all-analogue synth with two VCOs and an Oberheim-style 12db 2-pole lowpass filter. The knobs are touch-sensitive and you’ll note the wooden end cheeks and aluminium case.

If DJ-ing is your thing this new release from Denon might have you going on the dance floor.

Denon DJ debuted three new noteworthy products, including the X1800 Prime, a new four-channel mixer; the SC5000 Prime Media Player; and the VL12 Prime Turntable. The X1800 mixer has Sweep FX and BPM FX units, a 24-bit/96kHz audio card, and the ability to connect to players via Engine Connect. The Filters in the X1800 are entirely separate from the Sweep FX. Now you don’t have to make the choice between one or the other as on Pioneer DJM mixers.

X1800 Prime mixer Features:

» 4-Channel Digital Mixer with (4) phono/line switchable channels
» BPM FX section with frequency controlled ‘Band-Isolation’
» Dual USB audio connections for software and audio devices.
» Dedicated Sweep and BPM FX Knobs — high-quality effects for each channel with a single knob turn
» Expressive EQ – choose Classic or Isolation modes and an Adjustable Filter Resonance Control
» Engine Connect’ protocol for beatgrid locked FX
» Expressive Denon DJ ‘Flex-Fader’, Crossfader
» Connect MIDI based effects and instruments
» 24-bit/96kHz digital output for uncompromised audio quality
» Crisp OLED screen for precise menu based adjustments
» (4) Digital inputs for high-resolution audio mixing
» LAN Hub for up to four players or accessories
» Metal construction

SC5000 Prime Media Player Features

» 7-inch HD display with multi-touch gestures
» 24-bit/96kHz digital audio outputs
» Dual-layer playback with individual audio outputs
» Plays uncompressed audio formats (FLAC, ALAC, WAV)
» 8 multifunction trigger pads for Cues, Loops, Slices and Rolls
» 8-inch rugged metal jog wheel with HD central display
» Customizable RGB color around the jog wheel
» (3) USB and (1) SD input for music playback
» LAN output to link to up to four players

VL12 Prime Direct Drive Turntable Features:

» Isolation feet eliminate unwanted vibration and feedback
» 5kgf/cm torque on High setting
» Easy grip/brake chamfered platter redefines tactile DJ touch
» Isolated motor design, for optimal signal-to-noise ratio
» S-shaped tone arm for accurate tracking
» Reinterpreted tone arm support with dual-function ‘lock or rest’ feature
» Rugged all-metal tone arm base and high-quality brushed metal controls
» 2-speed operation 33 1/3rd and 45 RPM (45 RPM adapter included)
» Adjustable pitch range: ±8%, 16%, 50%
» Built-in RGB lighting illuminates platter’s edge
» Color selection and brightness controls

One of our favorites at this quite meager NAMM year is the upgraded Stylophone. Dubreq Stylophone GEN X-1 Synthesizer is the newest version of the classical Stylophone instrument. This new Stylophone remains an analog synth with controls for attack and decay alongside knobs that allow tweaks to filter and delay. There’s also a LFO with both square and triangle settings and a pair of sub octaves. The Gen X-1 is still battery powered just like the original that debuted in 1968. What’s more, that built-in speaker remains, as does the stylus you will need to start making noise. This new Stylophone has a 3.5mm jack as well if you need to connect the instrument to your other gear or a set of headphones.

Last but not least we have the ever so productive guys at DSI revealing their REV2. Yet another monster machine with apparent endless tweaking possibilities.

The REV2 doubles the amount of polyphony of its 8-voice predecessor and it’s bi-timbral, allowing creative stacks and and splits.

The most interesting new addition to the synth however is its waveshape modulation, wherein the user can vary the waveshape of the oscillator and have complete control over either a synth sound or an LFO. As DSI assures in the press release, “the tonal possibilities are vast.”

There’s also more effects, a larger modulation matrix to allow for more complex patching and a polyphonic step sequencer.

OK so we will leave this year´s NAMM with some snaps from Studio Electronics and a brand new interview with Jean Michel Jarre who attended the event – so till next year…

 

 

In this interview from Synthtopia, Jarre discusses how he got his start in electronic music; the genesis of his classic album, Oxygène; his perspective on electronic music; revisiting Oxygène on its 40th anniversary; and more.