Theme and Variations
THE NAMM REPORT
Anaheim recently played host to 1988's Winter NAMM show. MT's American correspondents were on hand to send back news of the latest developments in hi-tech musical equipment.
The recent convention in Anaheim contained surprisingly little in the way of new equipment; instead the theme was one of variations on existing technology.
WINTER NAMM '88, the musical equipment industry's trade convention, has come and gone. This year's record-breaking show spilled over from the Anaheim Convention Centre into two nearby Hotels. There really wasn't enough time in the three days of the show to see all there was to see. Over 500 manufacturers were on hand to display their wares, and though some of them were selling pianos, organs and guitars, the hi-tech manufacturers were there in force.
While no one actually complained that the show was disappointing, many were surprised that there weren't more new things to see. There were quite a few variations on existing ideas but not much that could really be termed innovative. Perhaps I'm overstating the case, but there wasn't quite the same buzz as at last year's show. Though, to be fair, last year's show had the D50, DX7II and FZ1 to make it more memorable than most.
Nevertheless, there were still things to see as many exhibits represented significant advances over their predecessors.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE show, at least to my mind, was the new line of Korg products. The M1 Music Workstation Keyboard, the Q1 MIDI Workstation Sequencer, the S1 Production Workstation, the P3 Piano Module and the C2 MIDI Mixer all have impressive specs, not to mention slick design. Unfortunately, only the M1 and P3 were working but what I actually heard sounded promising.
The M1 was one of two products at the show (Roland's D20 being the other) that attempted to put a MIDI studio in a single box: synth, sequencer, drum machine and signal processing. The instrument's sound generation is similar to Kurzweil's approach in that it has 2Megawords of 16-bit PCM samples in ROM including 80 multi-sampled acoustic sounds, 30 DWGS waveforms and four drum kits with up to 30 sounds each.
Equally impressive is the S1 Production Workstation which consists of a sophisticated SMPTE-based hardware sequencer with a 1.4 Megabyte capacity 3½" disk drive, 16-bit stereo sampler and drum machine with one Megaword of 16-bit ROM-based sounds. The standard amount of RAM for the sampler portion is 512K but it can be expanded up to 2Meg, which would allow 12 seconds of stereo sampling at 44.1K or 24 seconds in glorious mono. The sampler's processing capabilities include multiple loop points and a variable digital amplifier, but no filtering.
The P3 Piano module offers 16-voice polyphony, a choice of two 16-bit sampled piano sounds and the option of adding up to eight more sampled sounds on high-density (2Meg) ROM cards - tentatively priced at $100 each. Best of all, the oddly-shaped unit is multitimbral and predicted to be in the $500-$700 price range.
The rack-mounting C2 MIDI Mixer (around $1200) offers eight tracks of MIDI-controlled automation of level, pan, two effects sends, effects return, EQ and master volume. The unit doesn't have real faders, but it can store up to 64 settings with programmable crossfade and mutes.
None of the new Korg Professional Performance Series are scheduled to be available until May at the earliest, so you've got time to start saving.
You'll find Korg's new 707 performance synth reviewed elsewhere in this issue so suffice it to say, we saw it at NAMM. The new SQD8 sequencer with a built-in Quick disk drive also attracted its share of attention.
More comprehensive repackaging and reformulating were to be found in the Roland booth. The company unveiled no less than three rack-mounting synth modules which use their L/A, sampling and SAS technologies. The D110 (£586), my personal favourite, is a more professional version of the multitimbral MT32. This new L/A synth adds six individual outputs and 128 more synth partials (256 total) to the MT32 - including all the ones in the D50. It also features battery-backed-up memory, a memory card slot, new drum sounds, front panel programmability and quieter operation.
The S330 (£1335) is basically half an S550. In addition to being half its size at a single rack space, it has half the memory (750K) - which is what's in the S50. Like the S550, however, it has digital filtering (TVFs), eight individual outs (RCAs), can be connected to an external CRT and can be controlled with a mouse. It also has a 3½" disk drive and is completely compatible with S50 sounds and optional programs.
The P330 (£840) is a 1U-high digital piano module using SAS technology (with an additional Mid EQ control) found on the popular MKS20, but at a lower price.
Roland also had a keyboard version of the D110, the D10 (£850) which has a 61-key velocity-sensitive keyboard and all the capabilities of the rack unit but only two outputs. The D20 (£1165) has a similar configuration but adds an onboard 16,000-note, nine-track pattern sequencer and a 3½" disk drive for storing sounds, rhythm patterns and sequences - most definitely one to watch out for. The companion PG10 Programmer (£248) will work with the D10, D20 and D110.
The biggest news from Yamaha didn't concern new products but the fact that the company had purchased the assets of Sequential. It looked pretty definite beforehand but the word became official at NAMM. Apparently the company will release the Prophet 3000 (£3500 approx) 16-bit stereo sampler - a more finished version of which was being shown in a hotel suite - and may continue to produce the Studio 440 and the Prophet VS. Time will tell.
The company's own TX16W Digital Wave Filtering Sampler ($2895) made its first show appearance, as did the DX11 ($995), which combines a TX81Z with a velocity and pressure-sensitive keyboard. The TX1P ($895) is a new 1U-high sampled piano module with five different voices and three on-board effects: chorus, transposed delay and chord play. The module uses AWM (Advanced Wave Memory) technology, which first appeared in Yamaha's high-end HX organs.
On the subject of sampling, the higher price bracket contained the Dynacord ADS Advanced Digital Sampler ($3995). The ADS is a 16-bit stereo sampler that features many of the complex modulation controls found on Oberheim analogue synths including three envelopes, two LFOs, tracking and ramp generators per voice. The standard rack unit features 2Meg of RAM, but can be expanded up to 8Meg for 100 seconds of mono sampling and 50 seconds in stereo at 44.1kHz. A SCSI port is standard, as are eight individual audio outputs. A keyboard version is also due to become available for about $500 more.
High-end samplers are soon to have the company of new Mellotron products. The MIDI Symphony, Electric Symphony and Studio Symphony 16-bit stereo sample playback systems signalled the company's return to its roots in a big way. Each of the systems are based around rack-mounted AT-compatible computers and custom music software. The optional SoundTrap allows 16-bit stereo sampling at rates between 12kHz and 48kHz. The different configurations vary from 1 Meg of RAM and eight voices in the MIDI Symphony to 8Meg and 24 voices in the Studio Symphony.
Casio were showing a rack-mount version of the FZ1 called the FZ10M ($2499). It maintains all of the functions of its predecessor, including 16-bit sampling and a large LCD display, and doubles the standard memory to 2Meg. Bigger news in the Casio booth, however, was the company's VZ1 digital synth ($1399). The 16-voice, multitimbral, four-output VZ1 uses Interactive Phase Distortion (iPD) Synthesis, a more complex variation of the PD synthesis found in the CZ series. The VZ1 sports the same large LCD display as on the FZ1 for graphic editing of the synth's envelopes and other parameters.
Over at Kawai, the big news was the company's K1 (£595, subject to confirmation) and K1M synths with digital sampled waveforms (see this month's In Brief for more details). Kawai also introduced the Q80 hardware sequencer with built-in disk drive and extensive note editing, tentatively priced at £695. E-mu demonstrated a new Emax called the Emax SE (Synthesis Enhanced) which is a software update loaded via disk that includes Spectrum Synthesis and additive synthesis. All existing Emax owners will be able to upgrade their instruments for about £200, and the range throughout, including the update, will cost about £200 more to buy from new.
Oberheim introduced their Matrix 1000 (£449), which is basically a Matrix 6R with 1000 preset voices, 200 of which are programmable from a computer with 6R voice editing software - no front panel programming is available.
Other companies showing MIDI processing products included KMX, who showed the MIDI Central 15X16 programmable MIDI Patch Bay, Korg's KMP68 6-in/8-out MIDI patchbay, and 360 Systems' 8X8 MIDI Patcher ($329) with memory and 2X12 MIDI Data Buffer ($129). Bob O'Donnell
AS WAS THE case with the other categories, there were few genuinely new MIDI controllers at NAMM. The only exception wasn't for public viewing, although setting up a clandestine rendezvous with a journalist and asking her to keep quiet is an extremely effective way to make sure that everyone knows what's happening. The Suzuki Kazoozle KZ1M is a self-contained voice synthesizer with 16 internal sounds, which allows octave shifts, chorus effect, playing in octaves or fifths and an output jack. Plus it sports a MIDI Out - yes, it's a MIDI kazoo. Apparently the instrument I saw is a prototype and still in R&D, but Suzuki hope that it will be available in a few months for around $99 - my name's on the list for one as soon as they're out.
On the more serious side, the most significant changes in controllers came in the form of MIDI guitars. Though no additional information could be obtained, Yamaha apparently previewed an impressive guitar controller at their dealer meeting, leaving the most notable improvements to Passac's Sentient Six, whose software updates include increased capability of the pick direction feature (two MIDI channels can be controlled from one string now), the addition of a sequencer which can handle up to 1000 events, an optional 64K RAM, and an arpeggiation feature which can sync to MIDI clock. Passac's demonstration centered on the capabilities of a Strat modified with the MPX1 Kahler bridge (£250) controlling the SSCI computer (£799), and was indeed impressive.
Phi Tech were again showing the Photon, and have added some nifty software updates. The 4.0 version will be released in March, incorporating a performance mode (a short loop which can be recorded and overdubbed at will), and the ability to sync to either an external or internal clock. Also new is MIDI Echo, which creates a MIDI merge ability when used with a second instrument, and remote preset selection, allowing patch maps to be set up from the neck of the guitar. The Photon with the foot controller, converter, and pick up is $1295; the software upgrade costs $99.
Guitar synth players will probably be excited about the new packaging of the Quantar Controller from Beetle ($1295). The unit is entirely self contained and battery powered and will select patches by fret and string. Also new is a palm pad for assigning pressure sensitivity. There's some question about how easy this one will be to program; only an MT review will tell for sure.
Casio also added to their existing line with the PG380 ($1499), a MIDI controller with 64 preset internal sounds and optional ROM cards for expansion. The unit uses Casio's new Interactive Phase Distortion technology, the same as in their new VZ1 synth, with up to eight "oscillators" per patch and eight-stage envelope generators.
Casio also introduced a wind controller, the DH100 digital horn, featuring six preset tones, portamento and most importantly, a MIDI Out. The fingering is said to be the same as that on a recorder (wooden not electronic), and offers a key transpose feature if the fingering gets too tough. It's a bit of a toy, but for $179, may get a lot more people interested in wind synthesis.
New keyboard controllers were scarce, as well as disappointing. At the Akai booth, I drooled over the MWS76 MIDI Work Station - the latest in the Akai/Linn project, only to find out that it doesn't really exist. I can only hope Akai Japan will decide to go ahead with it - not only did it have the best keyboard feel of any of the controllers at the show, the plans are to install the ASQ10 sequencer on board. Akai, don't fail me now.
The only other keyboard controllers I encountered were those from Cheetah. If you want affordable control, check these out; just be forewarned that they look and feel as inexpensive as they are.
The ever-imaginative folks at KAT were showing their percussion controller, enhanced by some clever software updates. There's not enough space here to go into all the details, but if you've been thinking of purchasing KAT, now may be the time. Masters are still £1199; expanders are £599 each.
Several new MIDI foot controllers were available as well, the most interesting coming from Yamaha for use with the WX7 wind controller - the MFC2 ($325). Others of note were the MIDI Mitigator ($395) of the Lake Butler Sound Company, and the Elka DMP18 bass pedal (£299.95).
There were some interesting new ideas presented in controllers which, if not enthralling, ought to help us get things under control. Deborah Parisi
THE HEART OF Yamaha's new D8 electronic drums is the PTX8 tone generator which holds 26 internal drum sounds - similar to an RX5 without the sequencer. Optional ROM cartridges include latin percussion, effects, basses, and more. The D8 system with pads, PTX8 tone generator, and two-double mount stands lists for $1675.
Also from Yamaha is the RX120 Digital Rhythm Programmer ($350). This has 40 preset rhythm patterns, each with eight variations: at the push of a button, you can have a samba or a rock beat, and patterns can be chained together to form 20 songs. PCM samples provide the sounds which can also be accessed by other devices through MIDI.
Akai, along with Roger Linn, showed the new MPC60 MIDI workstation which combines the features of an extensive MIDI sequencer with a sampling drum machine. This is an impressive machine which lists at an impressive £2999. A new product, the ASQ10 (£1599), provides the sequencing features found on the MPC60 without the sampler.
On the budget side, Imagine Computers and Software showed the Cheetah DP5 electronic drum kit (£159.95) consisting of five pads and a steel frame for mounting. The DP5 can be used to trigger the Cheetah MD8 MIDI digital drum machine (£139.95), which has eight digital sounds.
The Simmons SDX is today's state-of-the-art electronic drum, incorporating everything from zone-intelligent pads to pull-down menus for easy programming and sampling. This is an all-in-one open system: 16-bit sampling at 44.1kHz; 8Megabytes of RAM storing 88 seconds of samples; zone-intelligent pads with up to nine samples to a pad, controlled by dynamic and strike position; MIDI, SMPTE, SCSI; the list goes on. Now, the bad news: a full SDX system sells for about £9000.
Simmons also showed off the new Portakit ($999), a self-contained, 12-pad MIDI controller and sequencer designed to enable drummers to conveniently play MIDI sound sources. Michael McFall
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