A preview of some of the products that are likely to be revealed this month at Europe's biggest music show.
Curtis Schwartz previews some of the instruments that will (fingers crossed) be on display at the Frankfurt Music Messe this month.
Yes, it's that time of year again; need I say it only seems like yesterday that we were recovering from the waves created from last year's Frankfurt Music Messe. The hustle and bustle that everyone loves to hate and moan about is once more upon us - the new products announced at last year's show have scarcely entered the shops and are now being updated and outdated with facilities, namelifts, softwarelifts, in fact anything that might enable the proverbial Smith to keep up with the Joneses - the same Joneses that have been leading the business for the past four years are the ones that everyone has their eyes on - Yamaha and their series of FM synthesisers, Roland and their Jupiters and JX's, Casio and their portables, Fostex and Tascam with their recording equipment...
Two years after Yamaha announced their revolutionary DX7 and DX9 synthesizers, the repercussions are still being felt as manufacturers set higher and higher standards and goals for themselves in trying to keep up with these milestones in synthesiser design. However, Yamaha are not prepared to give opportunities for being caught up with away, and this is evident with the launch of their DX5 synthesiser, TX7 expander/module, QX7 sequencer and KX88 remote keyboard. These are the highlights of what is to be found amongst the additions to Yamaha's high tech products.
To briefly elaborate in more detail on these products, the DX5 synthesiser could be termed as a scaled down DX1 or a scaled up DX7. Falling somewhere between the two, it is possibly more akin to a DX1 without all the specialised displays for parameters modification and this will fall into Yamaha's mid-price bracket. Then, individual DX7 sound modules will be available going under the name of the TX7 - and these will be single modules with the full potential of a DX7 synthesiser when MIDI controlled. In this way, it will enable more sophisticated FM programming without the need to purchase their four thousand pound TX816 eight-DX7 sound module system, which might be out of reach for the semi-pro or amateur synthesis. The TX7 will retail at under £800.00, and will have a MIDI sequencing partner going by the name of the QX7. This will in fact partner any MIDI keyboard, and will be a scaled down version of Yamaha's own £2000 QX1 disk based sequencer. This is rumoured to have a retail price the right side of a grand, and will be in the shops, as will all of these products by the Summer of this year! The final item on Yamaha's HiTech agenda is their new remote keyboard, the KX88. This will be a full size wooden, weighted, after-touch velocity sensing keyboard which will transmit information to satellite keyboards in the usual way as well as being able to transmit volume information to them - ie. you will be able to control the outputs of any or all of your satellite synthesiser modules from the KX88 itself (on MIDI code seven by the way...) In addition to these items will be several new guitars and drums, rackmounting effects (2x31 band graphic and a compressor/limited), high powered compact mini compact speakers and on the home recording front, their popular MT-44 four track cassette system will be updated with the MT-44D which will be fairly similar to its predecessor, yet with the tape running at double speed rather than normal speed, along with a much better mixer to partner it.
Over in the Roland camp, the big highlight will be their new polysynth the JX8P. This is a five octave, six voice poly synth with velocity sensing, after touch sensing (controlling vibrato, brilliance AND volume), two sets of DCOs with cross modulation, phase synchronisation, two envelope generators, key follow, voltage controlled mixer (!), 64 present sounds, 32 programmable memory locations, facility for a RAM cartridge to extend memory by another 32, a bright LCD window for display of parameter values and voice name (up to 10 letters), facility for chaining of patches for live performance, remembering the preset, key mode, after-touch assignment, bender range and portamento time and switching. A patch program will also hold specific MIDI options for that sound which includes the ability to disable the JXP's synthesiser so that only the sound of a satellite MIDI module can be heard. If all this wasn't enough, the JX8P comes with a bargain price tag (for a machine of this sophistication) of £1250 inclusive of VAT, and it has its own programmer assigned to it which will sell for £180.00!
Still on the keyboard side of things, Siel from Italy will have their new DK80 bitimbric (dual voice) synthesiser on show offering a three way split and touch sensitive keyboard built in MIDI sequencer, ROM and RAM storage of voice and sequencer data, and all for a projected price tag of £699.00. They will also have an Expander version of the DK80 called the EK80 with all the DK's facilities and should sell at £399.00. They will also have more computer interfacing products and software - lookout for their CMK49 poly/sequencer which uses the Commodore 64 for hardware which will also give some pretty impressive graphic programming and sequencing displays.
Casio's rumoured sampler is hoped to be ready in time for the show, and this will be more akin the Fairlight/Emulator league than anything else, and should sell for under £6,000.00. They will also have the full size keyboard version of their CZ101, touch sensitivity and all...
Up at the top end of the keyboard market you will find the Fairlight going Series III, with 16 bit sampling, 16 track recording with separate outs, MIDI, hard disk in addition to floppy (one hard disk storing 100 of the soft sound disks), sampling rate with linear encoding, 85dB S/N, three megabytes of waveform memory allowing thirty seconds of full bandwidth sampling time which will soon be expandable to 12 Megabytes which will allow a total sample time of two minutes!!! This original thirty second of sampling can also be broken down into 64 sections of multisampling.
Both the Emulator II and the Kurzweil will have Macintosh interfaces which will enable the Kurzweil to sample, and the EII will be able to give PPG type wavetables.
Back down to earth Rosetti will have some new computer software, Akai will (already) have some new products - hopefully their extension to the 1212 mixer/recorder expanding it to 24 tracks, and Allen and Heath will have some new software for their CNC mixer.
AMS will have many new permutations of the original 15-80S digital delay for special video film uses, as well as the new Time Flex which is dedicated to time compression/expansion and will correct the audio pitch when audio/video or just taped material is slowed down or speeded up! They will also be demonstrating the new programs for their RM16 digital reverb - 'Non Lin', 'Reverse', 'Chorus', and 'Echo'.
The new Linn drum will be making its presence felt, and will be termed the 9000. This will have dynamic buttons, a 32 track MIDI sequencer (!), built in Macintosh disk drive, the facility for loading new libraries of sounds simply through the tape interface, will read and generate SMPTE and will sport dozens of other brilliantly user-friendly functions such as completely programmable hi hat decay (ranging from "I'm open" to "I'm completely open") etc.
One other potentially spiffing item in the drum department will be what D-Drum will be doing - namely producing an all-digital drum kit à la Drum pads we have all come to know and love.
On the multitracking side of things are to be found Tascam's disappointing re-vamp of their older 16 track machine. Nothing too much from Fostex, still riding high on their winning B16 from last year, however Seck's 18-8-2 mixer will be there with its most innovative approach to a sixteen track mixer yet, being the most compact by a few miles, and definitely the first choice companion for the B16 both price-wise and everything else-wise (within reason).
Well those are a smattering of answers to all the sweaty little questions popping out from everywhere, but more to the point are the questions which remain un-answered - such as does Cutec's eight track on video cassette really exist? Will their new mini four-track portastudio suffer the same relegation to the status of myth after its launch? Is the Tascam 16 track revamp just buying time until their new 24 track machine pops out into the land of the living? And most importantly can the mighty Gwen Alexander keep the whole of the musical instrument industry afloat without smiling Dave Caulfield in the wings? I, for one, hope so.
So now I'd better pack my suitcase with the prerequisites of valium and Doc Martin's crowd eliminators for the big show down, and I'll let you all now who drank how much and who knocked over which displays in a future issue.
Show Report by Curtis Schwartz
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