Frankfurt Musik Messe 1992
Paul Ireson reports from Frankfurt on Europe's biggest music fair.
To the European music industry, Frankfurt is far more than a German city that's just about famous enough to have had a sausage named after it; it is home to the Frankfurt Musik Messe, the biggest and best trade and public show of the year. Entire halls the size of Olympia are given over to hi-tech, rock'n'roll, pianos, traditional band instruments and so on, and walking round even the parts that you're really interested in is an exhausting business.
Digital audio products from Yamaha and Alesis were amongst the most talked about this year. Yamaha's new CBX-D5 — not actually on public view, but on demo in a 31st floor hotel room just over the road — is a 4-track playback, 2-track simultaneous recording system. The CBX-D5 itself requires a controlling computer, with which it communicates via SCSI, and has no internal hard disk (you have to add your own, again using the SCSI interface). The computer can be either an Atari or a Mac, running Steinberg's Cubase Audio or Mark Of The Unicorn's Digital Performer software respectively. As with Plasmec's ADAS (also on show and attracting a good deal of interest), you are not restricted to the more expensive and powerful computers to control the digital audio hardware — you can use any machine that will run the software. This last qualification imposes a few restrictions. Don't expect to run Digital Performer on a basic Mac Plus, for example. Yamaha were cagey about the system's price, but £2,000 - £5,000 seems likely.
The length of time we've been waiting for Alesis' ADAT undoubtedly took something off the thrill of actually seeing it in operation, but it was still a star of the show; how could the first affordable 8-track digital tape recorder be anything but? It should be available in the UK by the time you read this.
One surprise of the show was the announcement by Anatek (whose name you probably associate with pocket-sized MIDI filters, mergers etc.) of a 24-track hard disk recorder. The stand-alone Radar system (unkindly dubbed the "Fisher Price ADAT" by one irreverent observer who was obviously not impressed by seeing yet another mock up) starts as an 8-track with a 600MB internal hard drive, and can be subsequently expanded to 16 and 24-track configurations, with three 600MB disks. Tracks can be mixed down to an onboard RDAT transport, which can also be used for back-up. You can of course add external SCSI drives to extend recording time. Anatek hope to introduce the system at between $15,000 and $20,000, a truly ground-breaking price. However, at present Radar is still vapourware, and waiting for products that are that far from the marketplace can be a frustrating business.
Anatek's Pocket Products (palm-sized units that draw power from the MIDI bus, and don't even require batteries) now include a 16-track sequencer, a smart FSK sync box, and a Mac MIDI interface. Other Anatek products include the SMP7 SMPTE synchroniser and MIDI patchbay, SMP16 SMPTE synchroniser, MIDI and audio patchbay (!), and a Fadermaster-style MIDI fader box.
Roland's DM80 hard disk recorder could at least claim to be shown in a fully working form. The 4 or 8-track system can be operated either via a dedicated hardware controller or with Roland's own Track Manager software for the Mac (minimum requirement: any Mac with 2MB of RAM and a hard disk). Four DM80s can be used together for 32-track operation, with simultaneous recording on any combination of tracks, and you can also add the DM80F fader board which puts all mix parameters — channel levels, EQ, and automation enable — at your fingertips.
Though the DM80 and Yamaha CBX-D5 both promise excellent value for money, the cheapest is yet to come. Akai announced plans for their 3U rackmount HD-R100 4-track hard disk recorder, which will cost only £1,399. In this case, four tracks means four tracks of simultaneous recording, a first at this price. No on-board hard disk is provided, although a 100MB internal drive is an option, the idea being that you buy your own drives and hook them up via SCSI. Up to three further units can be added for 16-track operation. Akai say they will ship units within a year.
Akai also announced the LR900 looping recorder (£249), with 8 seconds of 32kHz 16-bit sampling, aimed at providing quick and simple audio sampling and playback for DJs, or any musician looking for a way of building up complex solos live. The MX1000 master keyboard was also on show, along with its optional high-quality piano board (well worth the extra few hundred pounds, to these ears), and there was also news of other forthcoming products including an ADAM offset editor, a sampling frequency convertor, an 8x8 digital patchbay, and a high-precision stereo digital level meter.
Despite Roland having announced their JV80 and JV30 synths well in advance of Frankfurt, they had plenty more new products to show off. General MIDI products were very much in evidence, with a new SC155 Sound Canvas (£599, an SC55 with faders to control volume and pan), and the JW50 workstation keyboard (£1,349, equivalent to a JV30 plus a sequencer plus a MIDI mixer).
Also new in the world of GS/General MIDI are the SCC1 PC MIDI interface and sound card, CM300 and CM500 computer sound modules (new additions to Roland's computer products, these are respectively equivalent to a Sound Canvas and a Sound Canvas + CM64), and the education-oriented MT200 sequencer and sound module (Sound Canvas plus a sequencer, £940)
The DJ70 was something of a surprise. This takes the guts of an S750 and puts it in a keyboard with features aimed at the DJ. The keyboard is only three octaves in length, but a 'scratch dial' is provided to the right of the keyboard which allows digital simulation of traditional DJ turntable tricks. The DJ70 is intended to be very easy to use, making the process of taking a sample and assigning it to the keyboard as simple as possible. It will cost between £1,600-1,800.
New controller keyboards were also on show. The AX1 and A30 are both optimised for use with GS sound sources, offering reverb and chorus on/off buttons, for example, but as controllers for any MIDI instruments they still have their points of interest. At £499, the A30 is the cheapest 76-note controller on the market, and the AX1 revives the idea of a strap-on remote controller.
Roland also had a good selection of new electronic percussion products. The Boss DR660 (£335) and DR550 Mk II (£225) drum machines both draw on the DR550 Dr. Rhythm for inspiration. The latter simply doubles the number of sounds of its predecessor, whereas the former adds on-board digital effects — a beat box first — to its 255 samples and touch sensitive pads. Both are surely destined to be big sellers. Upmarket of the Boss machines we find the R70 (£499), which offers 210 samples, plus digital effects, Feel function, and some handy song arranging features to help you compose rhythm tracks.
The PD7 is a new budget electronic drum pad system — the basic setup offers several pads plus the TD7 tone module (512 drum sounds, with onboard digital effects), and you can also buy the pads individually.
Yamaha's new keyboards, the SY35 and SY85, are both mid-range machines. The SY85 is an AWM2-only synth with 30-note polyphony and quick edit facilities to enable players to alter sounds without getting deep into complex editing pages. However, it is the tone module version of the keyboard, the TG500, which looks most interesting, boasting as it does 64-note polyphony. The SY35 is essentially an updated version of the SY22, which remains my favourite Yamaha synth of recent years (though a little time spent with the SY35 could change my mind).
Emu showed the third in the Proteus series of expanders, the Proteus/3 World, which in offering a selection of sounds from around the globe includes both ethnic staples such as kotos, gamelan and tabla, and less obvious choices such as bagpipes, banjos, and harmonicas.
New products from Peavey included both rack modules and keyboards. The DPM C8 is an upmarket master keyboard with a piano weighted 88-note keyboard; it also comes as the DPM CH8FD, a version that adds the guts of a DPM3SE Plus. Of more general interest is the DPM2Si, a 76-note version of the DPM2 keyboard, which comes as standard with the sequencer upgrade that is an option on the basic DPM2. The as yet unfinished Spectrum Bass and Spectrum Synth modules could have the potential to reach a far wider market than the DPM keyboards. Both repackage Digital Phase Modulation synth technology to offer a box of high quality preset sounds (though you will be able to create your own with a computer and suitable editing software). The £250 Spectrum Bass, though intended primarily as a companion for Peavey's MIDI Bass (a MIDI bass controller), could equally be of interest to keyboard players, and the £375 Spectrum Synth should appeal to musician looking for a box of instant, ready-to-go synth sounds.
My favourite keyboard of the show, all practical and financial considerations aside, was undoubtedly the Waldorf Wave. Much more than a keyboard version of the excellent Microwave, this 16-voice (expandable to 48-voice) beast offers all the knobs and sliders you could possibly want, and actually extends the Microwave architecture to offer improved modulation, and user Wavetable editing. You can even use sampled sounds as the basis of Wavetables. I'm still trying to think of anything that I wouldn't do to raise the £3,500 or so that the Wave will cost when it actually becomes available. I did come up with one or two, but they're certainly not fit to print.
Unfortunately, the Wave exists at present only in non-playable prototype form, so it was left to the Oberheim OBMX to produce the fattest sounds of the show. The OBMX should finally ship in May, and will range in price from just under £1,200 for a 2-voice system up to £3,000 for a full 12-voice system.
Sharing this high price bracket is the Cheetah Zeus 24. This monster analogue synth keyboard is now nearing completion, and the projected price is around £3,000. A digital effects section has now been added to the potentially world-beating analogue synth architecture. Cheetah's MS800 module was also on show in finished form, with an impressive set of presets. At only £199, it really is remarkable value, though programming your own sounds is not an easy task.
Finally, Novation's new MM10 (£149.99) looks like an essential purchase for serious QY10 fans, as well as an interesting option as a cheap controller keyboard, provided two octaves of keys is enough.
Having given rivals Steinberg a considerable head start in the Mac market, C-Lab finally unveiled Notator Logic. The program, which should also be available for the ST within six months or so, is really a completely new program, not merely a 'porting' of Notator to the Mac. Notable features include impressive and very smooth real time editing, a hierarchical arranging system, and an integrated virtual representation of your MIDI system — rather than assign tracks to MIDI channels, you assign tracks to instruments, which are then defined in terms of external devices, note ranges and so on, in the Environment window. Windows can be scaled up or down in size (ie. real size of graphic elements, not just size of window), so you can work easily on different sizes of monitor, and the program features an impressive (insane, even) resolution of 960ppqn. Overall impressions were of a very slick, well thought-out program.
Steinberg themselves attracted attention with version 3.0 of Cubase. Forthcoming modules announced at the show included Cue Trax, which helps you make your music fit SMPTE hit points when scoring for video, and the Studio Module, which provides librarian and macro editing functions for all your synths. Also new is Cubase Lite a new entry-level version of Cubase that should be irresistible to newcomers to the ST sequencer market with an eye on the future.
For the Mac, Opcode showed the Studio 4, a 128-channel, 8-in/8-out MIDI interface with SMPTE synchroniser which sits neatly between the Studio 3 and Studio 5 in terms of both price and features. Versions 1.4 of Vision and Studio Vision were on show (the latter now supports Pro Tools for four tracks of digital audio), though they won't ship in this country for a month or two. Ironically, it took an American company to sound a '92 European market note, as Opcode announced versions of EZ Vision in German, French and Spanish. On-line help, as well as manuals and pull-down menus, have all been translated.
Mark Of The Unicorn's Mosaic notation software looks to be a more than worthy successor to Professional Composer. Although it is a fully professional package, with the range and quality of features that implies, ease of use is quite remarkable. Almost anything that you want to change on a score can be manipulated with a simple click-and-drag operation, without the need to select any kind of special tool. Digital Performer was also on demo, along with the Waveboard digital audio card.
Passport showed Turbo Trax, the latest version of the entry-level Trax, along with Music Time, an entry-level Mac and PC notation package.
Fostex continue to demonstrate their commitment to putting innovative recording tools into the hands of MIDI musicians with the new DCM1000 MIDI mixer with its companion Mixtab hardware controller. The DCM itself is an 8-channel stereo/mono input 1U rackmount mixer which is controlled entirely via MIDI. It is equipped with 2-band EQ, two effects sends, stereo returns, and a stereo master output. Control for the DCM can come from a sequencer — a suitable Cubase MIDI Manager page was being demoed — or the Mixtab, which has hardware faders and knobs for every DCM1000 parameter. There was also talk of allowing the Mixtab to control other MIDI gear, and even perhaps edit popular synths. The DCM1000 alone should cost around £350, or around £600 with the Mixtab.
Soundtracs have obviously been thinking along similar lines — besides a MIDI mute-equipped version of their Solo desk (the Solo MIDI: 16, 24 or 32 inputs, with 4-band EQ and six auxs sends), they too had an 8-channel stereo input 1U rack mixer on show. Spec-wise the two units are very similar, although the Soundtracs unit will retail at the higher price of £475, and features front panel knobs (continuous dials in fact, with a ring of LEDs to indicate parameter value). A hardware controller along Mixtab lines is planned, although nothing was on show. Also new from Soundtracs is Tracmix 2, an update of their Tracmix mix automation system that allows for 64 channels of VCA automation locked to timecode.
Soundcraft's Spirit Studio is now available as the Spirit Auto, which features VCA automation of channel faders, channel mutes and monitor mutes. Steinberg provided the mix software, for ST, Mac and PC.
Tascam didn't actually launch any products in Frankfurt, but the show was a first chance for many to check out their top-of-the-range 464 Portastudio and 3700 automated desk, and also the ATS500 synchroniser.
Mackie exhibited a prototype of their 8-bus recording console, which will be available in 16, 24 and 32-channel configurations. If the quality and price of the desk follow the pattern of Mackie's current 1202 and 1604 compact mixers, the 8-bus desk will give plenty of other manufacturers something to worry about. The MIDI automation option for the 1604 is still on the way, and will now use VCA technology, not a resistive system as preliminary information suggested.
On the effects front, the Ensoniq DP/4 four-processors-in-one parallel effects unit was on show, and Zoom had their new 9200, an upmarket dedicated reverb processor. As with the 9010, the unit can be used in a 4-in, 4-out configuration, or you can dedicate all the processing power to a single algorithm. It sounds wonderful, as you'd expect, but won't be cheap.
Show Report by Paul Ireson
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!