The American Way
Winter NAMM 1989
Californian sunshine, sea and sand - with all this on offer, why should MT's intrepid reporters want to visit a trade show in Anaheim? Bob "El Bobo" O'Donnell, Chris "El Macho" Meyer and Dan "La" Rue have the answer.
Running less than a week before the Frankfurt trade fair, the American NAMM trade show set a scene of 'refinement' for the music industry this winter.
QUICKLY AND QUIETLY it came upon us. A feeling of renewed confidence in the electronic musical instrument industry. Not that things were ever bad, but it had seemed over the last year or so that not everyone knew exactly where or how things were going. This year's National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention put almost all those concerns to rest. Strolling through the aisles of the Anaheim Convention Centre, where the winter show is held every year, it seemed obvious that companies and dealers are starting to look a little more to the longterm future. There were noticeably fewer "head in the clouds" predictions of how well equipment, technology or markets were going to fare and noticeably more new instruments with planned futures ahead of them.
All the regular keyboard exhibitors were present with new gear to display - Roland their D5 and W30, Yamaha their V50 and C1 computer, Kawai their K4 and K1 Mk II, Korg their mighty T1 - details of which can be found in the Frankfurt show report elsewhere in this issue. One company missing from Frankfurt was Ensoniq, whose European distribution was in the process of changing hands during the show (speculation about which provided one of the main sources of gossip), making NAMM the company's only winter appearance. Responding to the demands of the marketplace, Ensoniq unveiled a rack-mount version of the EPS sampler, the EPS-M (US price: $3295). The 3U-high module offers all the features of the keyboard EPS, including the sequencer and the patch select buttons (interestingly enough), but also includes 1.7Meg of RAM (1 Megaword) standard, as well as a built-in SCSI port and eight polyphonic individual outs - in other words, a souped-up EPS.
Ensoniq also have a new line of Signature Series samples for the EPS (US: $39). Each of the six beautifully-packaged new volumes includes three disks by a well-known artist or producer, including Nile Rodgers and sought-after session guitarist Paul Jackson Jr, as well as complete documentation.
One talking point of NAMM was Peavey's first foray into the world of synthesisers, the DPM3 Digital Phase Modulation synthesiser (projected RRP: £1599). (The word in Germany had it that the DPM3 had been designed by Ensoniq, but since they weren't about to confirm or deny it, it remained pure speculation.) With a 20,000-note, nine-track (eight instrument, one percussion) sequencer, and onboard digital effects which include reverb, early reflections, delay, EQ, chorus, flange, phase shift, distortion, and more, the DPM3 also falls into the popular category of a work... no, I won't say it since Peavey don't want to. Anyway, the spec's quite impressive - a completely software-based architecture, housing 32 oscillators of 16-bit PCM wave samples, 16-voice polyphony/multitimbres, 100 internal programmable patches and 110 individual drum patches, arranged in five drum kits. The DPM3 essentially creates its sounds much in the fashion of Roland's D50 and Korg's M1, with 16-bit PCM samples. One advantage of the DPM3, however, is that you can load in your own 16-bit samples using the MIDI sample dump standard or with the onboard 3.5" floppy disk drive (also used to store voice and sequencer data). How did it sound? Well, we're going to have to wait a while on that one. Although Peavey had noise emitting from the unit, they admitted that the instrument was unfinished and the sounds were unrepresentative. If things progress well in the fine-tuning stages, Peavey will have made a strong initial entry into the keyboard market.
Elsewhere in the Peavey booth, the new MIDI Librarian was displayed. This single-spaced rack-mount device is basically a 3.5" disk drive providing 64K of static RAM and 16K of non-volatile RAM for storing MIDI SysEx data to disk. MIDI Librarian will let you store chains of SysEx functions, request dumps from MIDI devices, and loop dump requests for synths that won't let you request more than one program at a time. Depending on the price they settle on (they didn't announce one at the show), this could be a big hit.
Peavey had started to step into the MIDI arena over the past year or so, but it'll be interesting to see how things develop after this quantum leap.
As with other manufacturers, upgrading existing instruments was the theme at Kurzweil's booth. The K1000 Special Edition (SE) (£2600) includes all the capabilities of the original K1000 and adds aftertouch; an expanded list of control sources so that, for example, staccato and legato touch could control the attack envelopes on sounds; a compare function; multiple levels of programmability for easy and complex editing; and other refinements. The 1000PX Plus includes all the K1000 sounds, plus the sounds of the PXA soundblock as standard, adds additional front panel buttons for easier programming and incorporates all the software refinements included in the K1000 SE - all for the same price as the original K1000PX. In a similar vein, the new K1000AX Plus Acoustic Expander (UK price yet to be confirmed) combines the sounds of the SX string expander and the HX horn expander into a single unit, as well as having the new functions in the K1000PX Plus. Speaking of which, the company also announced new Sound Blocks for existing owners of the SX and HX expanders: the SXA and the HXA (£485).
In addition to the entertaining magician and his attractive assistant at the Simmons Box o' Trix booth, there were several new items that took advantage of technologies Simmons have developed over the years. First off, the inexpensive new SDS2000 Digital Drum Kit (£691.73 including five pads) uses some of the same digitally-sampled sounds in the company's Trixer (which first came from the company's SDX 16-bit sampler). Eight preset kits and two user programmable ones can be selected, two additional sets can be read off optional ROM cards and an optional digital reverb (approximately £200 more) can be programmed per kit. Five individual outputs as well as master stereo outs are available.
For those interested in drum triggering, Simmons had the ADT Acoustic Drum Trigger (£450) which incorporates the Learn function found on the Trixer. It includes 50 patches and has crossfading, switching and layering functions for expressive MIDI triggering. If you'd prefer something a little more simple, Simmons also unveiled their Drum Huggers (£319.13; £109.97 for master; £52.53 per slave), four small electronic pads and a master controller, which is also a pad, that can be attached to acoustic drums and be used to trigger drum sounds (or whatever) with simple MIDI note commands.
MOVING ON TO the subject of recording, several companies were offering new items to the ever-growing fraternity of home recordists.
At the higher end of the scale, Tascam have a new ½" 8-track machine, the TSR8 (£2250), which sports the same series and parallel-capable synchroniser ports found on the company's MSR16 16-track and 238 8-track cassette. It also includes built-in dbx type I noise reduction which can be defeated on track eight only for sync applications or in groups of four channels, as well as an auto-rehearse mode.
In cassette multitrack recording the news was two 6-track recorders. Sansui showed their WSX1 (US: $1949), which also includes a built-in 8X2 mixer with fixed EQ and an effects send, and a built-in stereo mixdown cassette deck. The company also have the rack-mount MR6 (US: $1299), which only offers the double-speed six-track recorder from the WSX1; the SY1 Sync unit (US: $299) which permits remote operation of either two recorders, allows two recorders to be slaved together for 12-track recording, and includes a MIDI-to-FSK converter (unfortunately without Song Position Pointer information); and the MX12 (US: $1199) 12X6X2 stand-alone mixer.
Vestax, on the other hand, have the rack-mount MR66 (US: $1399) 6-track recorder, which also includes a 34-point patchbay on its front panel. At present, however, the situation regarding UK distribution is uncertain.
Several companies also displayed some very attractive-looking mixers geared specifically towards the MIDI studio. Rane's SM82 Stereo Line Mixer (approximately £425 plus VAT) crams eight stereo inputs, one stereo effects send, balance controls and an expansion out jack into a single rack space. The Unity 8 (US: $445) from Passac also offers eight inputs in a single rack space but has mono inputs and two stereo effects sends as well as pan controls for each channel. The Unity 8 has two sets of stereo outs, one intended for monitoring and the other for connection to another mixer.
Tascam's MM1 keyboard mixer (£649) includes four stereo input channels, 12 additional mono input channels, four stereo effects returns, solo capabilities, direct channel outputs and most importantly, MIDI-controlled muting with up to 99 settings being able to be recalled via MIDI. On top of that, the MM1 can either be rack-mounted or function as a table-top mixer.
Finally, for those of you who want to put everything together into an organised studio workspace, several companies have interesting new furniture. First off, Invisible Products Corp showed their Model MS2048 Workstation (US: $299), for those people who want a computer-centred workstation, rather than a keyboard-centred one. The main desk top is 30" X 48" X 0.75", with one adjustable-height 13.5" X 42" X 0.75" shelf above it. For those of you with a larger setup (and larger budget), PlayStation offered several configurations of their very attractive studio furniture. On display at the NAMM show was the monstrous Mothership 200, which offers 200 rack spaces, several shelves, room for a television monitor, speakers and more. It's guaranteed to turn your home into the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.
As you might have expected, one of the big words at NAMM was "multi" - as in multi-effects - and there were a number of new entries into the market. ART have expanded on their popular Multiverb with the Multiverb II (US: $599), Multiverb EXT (US: $675) and the "super effector" geared towards guitarists, the SGE (US: $649). Like its namesake, the Multiverb II gives you four 16-bit effects at once and offers 200 memory locations, but it adds real-time MIDI performance controls to the package. The EXT adds a sampler with a continuous loop option and extended delay times (up to two seconds). Finally, the SGE ups the ante to nine simultaneous effects including all the digital effects of the Multiverb II as well as digitally-controlled analogue effects such as a harmonic exciter, and distortion. The SGE doesn't have sampling but it does have all the real-time MIDI controls of the other new Multiverb units.
If you'd prefer just a straightahead digital delay, ART also have something for you in the form of the non-programmable Delay System V (US: $349) and the programmable Delay System VII (US: $499), which also includes sampling. Both units offer full 20-20kHz bandwidth and ART's new Harmonically Accurate circuitry for clean A/D/A conversion.
Yamaha unveiled their new SPX900 (£629), which utilises the same full-bandwidth effects processing of its big brother, the SPX1000 (£999), and features 50 presets in ROM, 49 RAM presets, five 16-bit effects at once, 90dB dynamic range, parametric or dynamic equalisation, and the same control layout as the SPX90.
DigiTech's newest arrival is the MSP4 (US: $370) digital multi-effects processor. It can produce four 16-bit effects at once at a 12kHz bandwidth, offers dynamic MIDI control, 128 user-programmable memory allocations, and a host of effects, including reverbs, choruses, flange, echoes, doubling...
A new item from a company called Cadence is the DSP System One (US: $899), a true stereo 16-bit multi-effects processor. It comes with 64K standard memory, or in an "enhanced" version with 128K (US: $949), or "deluxe" version with 256K (US: $999). Stereo 20kHz bandwidth supports such effects as flanging, chorusing, delay, and reverb, as well as 48kHz stereo or mono sampling, and 96kHz "2X" mono sampling which gives an additional 3dB of dynamic range. Two effects can be layered with most of the programs, and the unit includes MIDI control functions via the MIDI In and Thru jacks. The controls are simple and straightforward, and the front panel also sports an easy-to-read backlit LCD.
In the areas of more specific signal processors, Rane have a new line of MPE MIDI programmable equalisers, due to become available in June '89: the MPE 28, single-channel, 1/3-octave unit; the MPE 14, two-channel, 14-band, 2/3-octave unit; and the MPE 47, four-channel, seven-band, one-octave unit. All have 128 program memories, full MIDI implementation, balanced inputs and outputs, and +12/-15dB filter ranges. The list prices have yet to be announced.
All in all, there seemed to be a growing trend towards quite a bit of MIDI control.
Digital Music Corporation have an attractive low-cost alternative for those trying to sort out their MIDI routing mess. The MX28S (US: $89) is 2X8 MIDI patchbay, with A/B/off switches per output and data activity LEDs per input.
From Altadena, California come a number of interesting little units made by Musicsoft. Most intriguing is the "MIDIMAN" MIDI Tape Recorder Interface (US: $179), which converts MIDI into a signal that can be recorded onto audio tape (and played back in real time). MIDIMAN supports low and high grade tape decks (the recording quality determines how dense the information you can reliably record and play back can be), aftertouch filtering, some channelisation, and the ability to record SysEx dumps up to 2000 bytes long. Others have tried this trick in the past but have failed due to delays and unreasonably low data density restrictions; we're looking forward to trying a MIDIMAN ourselves. Other Musicsoft news includes an updated sequencer, PowerStation (US: $129), for the Commodore 64/128 and Apple II, an IBM G10 editor/librarian, an Oberheim Matrix 1000 editor/librarian for the Atari ST, a Roland D110 editor/librarian for the Amiga, and the ProSound series samples for the Akai S1000. Diverse.
Rack-mount equipment is great. But after a while, the racks themselves start to eat you out of house and home (plus there's the difficulty of trying to transport them to a friend's house). Thus, very welcome from Anatek Microcircuits in Canada is their line of Pocket Products - a merge box, a data filter, a sequencer, and a box that takes any volume pedal in, turns it into continuous control data, and merges it with a MIDI signal passing by. Each box is the size of a pack of cigarettes; each (with the exception of the sequencer, for which no price has been fixed) costs $99 in the States.
So, there were no earth-shattering developments lurking around every corner at NAMM, but the atmosphere of "refinement" was a reassuring and encouraging one. And the bottom line is: would you rather know that your six-month old pride and joy has just been superseded or that you're going to have a wait a while for the next "instrument of the decade", but when it does arrive you'll have time to get to know it well before you feel it's out of date?
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