Summer 1990 NAMM Show Report
The Summer NAMM show may be losing some of its importance in the world arena but it didn't stop manufacturers from launching new products. Craig Anderton was there to check them out.
The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) sponsors two trade shows a year in the United States, one in June (usually in Chicago) and one in January (in Anaheim, California). The summer show used to be the big one, with the winter show being a regional show for California dealers; but as the balance of the American music industry has shifted to points west, the summer show has been in decline the past few years.
Last year's show was considered slow, but this year was even slower. Companies which did not exhibit included: Korg, Roland, Ensoniq, Akai, Passport, Digidesign, Dr.T's, Opcode, Commodore, Apple, and many others. Normally the show covers two full floors of Chicago's cavernous McCormick Convention Centre; this time, only about 75% of one floor was occupied. Several empty booths stood as reminders of those who had paid for space, but decided not to send personnel as a cost-saving measure against what they felt would be a doomed show.
Even though the Anaheim show has taken over as the premier event, though, there were still plenty of interesting products at NAMM. This report also includes some items that were announced coincident with the NAMM show by non-exhibitors (eg. Roland). Following are some of the highlights; as always, prices, specifications, and availability are subject to change without notice.
Kawai's KC10 resembles a junior K4. It offers 14-voice polyphony (with four voices reserved for drums), 64 preset/32 user-programmable patches, 128 16-bit wavesamples, built-in chorus unit, multitimbrality, arpeggiator, drum machine, and five-octave full-sized keyboard.
Emu's Proformance is a half-rack, 16-bit stereo sampled piano sound module; the Proformance Plus adds electric pianos, organs, vibes, and several basses. Rumour has it that a HyperCard stack is under development that will allow for a certain degree of sound editing in these otherwise preset units.
Yamaha introduced a rack version of the SY77, the TG77, which features two sets of stereo outputs and eight programmable individual polyphonic outputs, as well as 128 all-new ROM voices and 16 ROM multis. The TG77 retains the 40x8 character backlit LCD of the SY77. (SY77 fans will be pleased to hear that Steinberg has released a Synthworks editor/librarian for the Atari ST. Of special note is a routine to convert DX7 and DX7II sounds to the SY77.)
The Video Harp is an alternate controller that optically scans finger motion (finger position, velocity, and distances between fingers) and converts the movements to MIDI data. The basic principle of operation is that light impinges on two playing surfaces; 'fingering' these surfaces interrupts the light, and the built-in computer analyses the nature of these interruptions to obtain performance data. At $9,500 it's not the 'alternate controller for the rest of us,' but it's very intriguing.
Gibson Labs announced Max, a MIDI guitar convertor and workstation with a programmable four-effect-loop routing system, programmable mixer, guitar-to-MIDI convertor, two MIDI outs for 32 available channels, foot controller, and 100 user presets. A variety of pickups can be used with the system, including magnetic, infra-red, or piezo, internally installed or in an external box to avoid cutting up vintage axes. The system is compatible with Roland MIDI guitars as well.
Roland's CP40 is a monophonic pitch-to-MIDI convertor that (with guitar) responds to pitch bend variations and picking dynamics, and can merge a source of MIDI data with signals generated by the CP40. Roland also announced the PK5 Dynamic MIDI Pedal Bass pedalboard, with 13 keys. But perhaps the most eye-opening announcement was the MV30, which combines a sequencer, sound module, and digital signal processing. Other features include a 3.5" disk drive, the ability to read W30/Super MRC/SYS sequences, U220-type internal sounds (the MV30 has two card slots for SN-U110 PCM ROM cards), time variant filters, multitimbral operation, and a MIDI mixer for real-time parameter control.
The DigiTech Whammy Pedal, an offshoot of the technology used in their IPS33 intelligent harmony generator, bends pitch up or down by up to two octaves, creates pitch detune chorus effects, and produces harmony lines.
ART debuted the MDC2001, a stereo compressor/limiter/de-esser/exciter/expander/ gate that appears ideal for vocalists. ART also showed the X11 (a low-cost MIDI foot controller with an all-steel chassis, rugged footswitch buttons, and ultra-bright LED readouts), and the Power Plant overdrive preamp. Just another fuzz? Well, I played through it for quite a while and was impressed by its sweet sound in the upper registers and the refusal of notes to 'wash out', even with heavy fuzz settings. There's no MIDI or programmability; what they're selling here is sound.
Alesis's rack-mount Microverb III includes 256 presets, 16-bit operation, two bands of EQ, and stereo ins and outs. The Quadraverb has now been upgraded to the Quadraverb Plus and offers ring modulation, panning, sampling, multi-tap delays, and resonators. Finally, the DataDisk has been enhanced to the DataDisk SQ, which means it can now record and play back MIDI performance data (sequences) — not just SysEx data. Older Quadraverbs and DataDisks can be upgraded to the new functions for a small fee.
Jim Dunlop has reissued several vintage effects (MXR effects, the Univibe, and Crybaby wah-wah pedal) to great success, and has now re-introduced the original Heil Talkbox popularised by Peter Frampton and Joe Walsh.
Speaking of retro-effects, Mike Matthews, the driving force behind Electro-Harmonix, was back with The Soul Kiss, a filter that's controlled by a transducer (about the size of a cigarette) that rests in your mouth and translates lip movements into filter articulations. It's difficult to describe on paper, but sonically resembles a cross between a wah-wah and talk box.
For headphone fans, Scholz R&D unveiled two new Rockman practice amps, the Guitar Ace and Bass Ace. The guitar version provides clean or distorted sounds; both include aux inputs for playing along with tapes, drum machines, etc.
The Roland SN550 Digital Noise Eliminator is designed to reduce noise in sound reinforcement applications via a five-band downward expander and hum canceller (as used in the E660 Digital Parametric Equaliser). Boss released several signal processors: the SE50 multi-effects unit with reverb, delay, chorus, EQ, flanger, phaser, pitch shift, rotating speaker, compressor, pan, noise reduction, exciter, and vocoder; NS50 Noise Suppressor; GE21 21-band half-rack graphic equaliser; and CL50 half-rack compressor, limiter, and noise gate.
The MX16 stereo mixer from Kawai is a 16-channel audio mixer with EQ, three separate effects sends, panpot, channel fader, and input level switch. LEDs indicate clipping. Built-in dynamic noise reduction gives a claimed signal-to-noise ratio of -124dBm.
Tascam is getting into the live sound business with two mixers, the M1016 (16x2 rack-mount) and the M1024 (24-channel console). Both mixers include mono and stereo channels, six aux sends, four stereo effects returns, and three-band sweepable midrange EQ for each channel.
Alesis unveiled the SR16, and I predict rapid acceptance of this unit once it appears (supposedly in late 1990). It contains over 100 16-bit sounds, many of them recorded in stereo; several of the drum sounds are multi-sampled, so that softer hits on the velocity-sensitive pads produce a different sound from harder hits. When fed via MIDI, the sounds respond to the full MIDI range of 127 velocity values. Outputs are arranged as two sets of stereo pairs. Other features include 100 preset patterns and 16-voice polyphony.
Kawai's XD5 Percussion Synthesizer includes 200 16-bit percussion wavesamples, complemented by a variety of synthesizer-style editing options (ADSRs, resonant filters with modulators, layering, tuning, level, etc). There are six individual outputs as well as stereo outputs.
Intone created quite a stir at the last NAMM show with their MIDI Maestro, a 'do-all' box with a 16x16 MIDI controlled audio patchbay, 7x8 MIDI patchbay, MIDI controller fader remote, bit-accurate SMPTE read/write generator, and a lot more. Their new Maestro Lite is similar but costs less, deletes the audio patchbay, and adds a built-in Macintosh MIDI interface.
The Kawai MM16 MIDI mixer resembles J.L Cooper's Fader Master and includes 17 front panel faders. In addition to being able to control MIDI volume, faders can be assigned to other MIDI controllers (modulation, portamento, pan, etc) as well as to tweak velocity curves (!). The MM16 is also a synth programmer with presets for the K4, K1, K5, D50, and DX7. It can merge two MIDI signals, and split a single MIDI signal into two outputs according to MIDI channel, key number, or velocity level.
Digidesign's sample player card for the Macintosh was part of a private showing to dealers, but the SOS spy network brought back the following info: the card boasts 16 voices, eight outs, up to 88.2kHz sampling rates, and 19-bit resolution. There is 8Mb of RAM on the card itself, which includes all necessary computer 'smarts' to avoid tying up the Mac's processor. As a bonus, there's a 32-channel mixer on screen, matrix modulation options, and MIDI response. You can't sample with it, but you can port sounds over or load them in. This, coupled with Digidesign's release of a Proteus-on-a-card, finally fulfills the promise (or was it a threat?) of synthesizers evolving into plug-in cards for computers.
Band-In-A-Box, from PG Music (IBM, Atari, and Mac versions available), provides automatic accompaniment in 24 different musical styles. You enter chord symbols (F9, C7, Cm, etc) into a leadsheet screen and the program takes care of the rest. Performances can be saved as Standard MIDI Files.
MiBAC for the Mac, from MiBAC Music Software, is another automatic accompaniment program that accepts data concerning style, form, key, and chord progression, then analyses this and sends MIDI data to various synths. The main goal is to create a three-piece jazz backup band against which you can practice.
The CD2 from Eltekon is a SCSI-based CD ROM unit that can also play conventional music CDs. A 'dual' version includes a 44Mb removable hard drive in the same rack-mount casing. Also available: the MX2 650Mb optical drive.
The Atari stand hosted mini-stands from several manufacturers who did not otherwise exhibit at the show. Digidesign touted a co-development program with C-Lab that allows Sound Tools for the Atari to be integrated with Creator/Notator, offering hard disk audio recording along with MIDI sequencing. MultiByte showed a portable power supply for the Stacy laptop that gives up to four hours of operation between charges. Steinberg introduced a 16-bit D/A convertor designed for use with their Avalon sample editing program that includes Digital Signal Processing options and the ability to monitor 16-bit samples directly from the computer (there's no need to transfer samples over to a sampler for monitoring).
Commodore's Amiga was a bit of an endangered species, but Steinberg gave it a boost with Pro 24 Amiga. Features include 96 ppqn resolution, cycle recording, recording on multiple tracks, score display and drum editor, SysEx recording, and a fully graphic interface.
Prosonus is now porting their samples (previously available only on sample CDs) to disks for samplers such as the S1000, S900, S950, and EPS (in fact, I'm the one doing the transfers to the EPS). Three-disk sets of Orchestral Strings (Marcato, Pizzicato, and Sustained) are currently available for all the samplers mentioned above; string effects and brass, already available for the Akai S1000, will be introduced soon for the other samplers.
Coda's Finale music transcription program is now working on the IBM PC. Based on Microsoft's Windows, the user interface is very Mac-like, and is substantially improved over the initial Mac version.
Mark Of The Unicorn's Video Time Piece reads and writes VITC and LTC SMPTE timecode. It can genlock to house sync, video, or Jam Sync SMPTE, and convert SMPTE to MTC, VITC to LTC, and LTC to VITC. It also includes a character generator that can burn in SMPTE timecode, generate streamers and conductor crawl lines, and download graphics from any computer to video. The package even includes an audio click-to-MIDI convertor and comes with two BNC-to-RCA video cables. If you're involved with MIDI and video, this is quite a breakthrough with respect to cost-effectiveness. Also introduced: the Video Distribution Amplifier, a 3x15 video signal routing device. Both units take up a single rack space.
Passport's Trax [not to be confused with Quinsoft's Trax, reviewed p.40 - Ed.], an entry-level 'MIDI recording studio', is now available for the IBM PC as well as the Mac, Amiga, and ST.
Fostex announced the G16, a 1/2", 16-track recorder with the option of a built-in integrated synchroniser. Plugging in the model 8330 SMPTE control card lets the G16 serve as a master or slave. The G16 outputs timecode in wind modes as well as play, and transport functions can be controlled via MIDI commands. Other features include pitch control, 10 cue points, pre-roll, and auto functions (locate, play, and return).
Tascam introduced the BR20T, a 1/4", 2-track, rack-mountable mastering deck with centre-track timecode. Intended for audio-for-video production, the BR20T also offers separate record functions for the left and right channels, SMPTE outboard control, and independent reel size selection for handling dissimilar reel sizes.
Show Report by Craig Anderton
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