Frankfurt Show Report
All that was new and all that was interesting at the this year's sojourn into Germany.
Frankfurt Show Highlights
All the new gear from what must be Europe's biggest music fair.
The question everyone was asking each other after the show seemed to be 'What did you think was the highlight of the show' - and the most common answer was that there hadn't really been one. Sure, there were plenty of new products, and some were very good, but there was nothing really that new or that different. Most of the meaty stuff came from the big Japanese companies while some of the more tasty morcels on show aren't even available in the UK due to lack of distribution. One such company is the Italian Montarbo who have a most impressive range of hi-tech mixers and digital effects processors (their R16 has an improved EPROM available, as well as software for the Atari that gives you real time spectrum analysis in three formats) that meet the Japanese head on, yet their previous distribution deal with the ill-fated Audio Services has made them very wary of trying to get back into Britain. Also seeking distribution were ARSonic who produce a range of top-end equalisers and dynamic noise filter noise reduction units.
But enough of this philosophy, time presses on - the sound of the 737's engines is still ringing in our ears and this issue goes to press in two hours!
Harrison were one of the British companies showing a good range of new products. As well as their XI series of power amplifiers, which are available from 150 to 2,000 watts, they had a redesigned range of GP Series graphic equalisers and an intriguing modular mixer, the SP2000, aimed primarily at the serious disco market. Also for the disco market was the cost effective SL80 sampler which can store up to eight samples and features variable pitch control and sample editing. Each sample can be triggered by its own button so no keyboard is required. This should also appeal to the garage house music enthusiasts as it is designed to be used easily in a live situation and would lend itself well to making composite remixes of existing material.
Oberheim have added to their range with a Matrix 1000 in a box with a keyboard, a master keyboard with a built-in Systemizer, and the Navigator, the third in the useful Perf-x series of MIDI utility boxes.
Steinberg were demonstrating their existing successful software but, in addition, there was the Cubit and their hardware/software automated mixing system the Mimix which is now undergoing beta testing prior to release. Mimix uses modules based on the Aphex 1537 VCA chip to provide high quality gain control run from Atari based software and the functions include VCA subgrouping, intelligent control of subgroup gain and full function gating. As soon as the system is available, we'll bring you a full report - it looks impressive.
Also impressive is the Cubit, claimed by Steinberg to be a quantum leap in sequencing. This is still under development and uses Steinberg's own Realtime MIDI Operating Sustem (M.ROS). The program allows several pages of information to be displayed simultaneously and the manufacturers have tried to make it as instinctive to use as possible while cramming it with really useful features such as the ability to add feel to tracks and to follow the tempo of a rhythm track rather like the Kahler Human Clock does. There are 16 sets of 64 tracks, and the software can even recognise and name chords being played into it. It supports MIDI Time Code and SMPTE and the song files are Pro-24 compatible.
Hill Audio didn't have a stand but were represented on the stand of their German distributors. They had a pretty comprehensive display of their wares nonetheless. On the mixing front, they have everything from small-ish stage mixers up to the modular and individually configurable Concept Series. Also look forward to an up-graded series of amps that will find applications in the studio as well as on the road.
Kawai have a new K1, the K1 II, and this has a separate drum section rather than the drum voices having to be set up as synth voices. On the way is the K4, a 16-bit K1, but surprisingly, a lot of K1 sounds can be had most cheaply if you look at their small home keyboards and expanders. For example, the PHm multi-timbral sound module retailing around £250 gives you 200 excellent K1 preset sounds plus a drum section similar to that in the K1 II. Considering a lot of people still don't like programming and that the K1 itself comes with just 64 basic sounds, this could be a better option at a much lower cost. And if you need a keyboard, the PH50 Pop keyboard is a real lion in disguise. It is 16-note polyphonic, has 200 K1 presets, operates multi-timbrally and has a price tag of under £300. Also new was the MX-8SR eight-channel, 16-input rack mixer and several low end home keyboards which may still be worth checking out as additions to your MIDI system.
Studiomaster attracted a lot of attention with their range of mixers including the rack mounting 8:4:8 and free standing 16:4:2 or 16:8:16 Pro-Line desks. These are priced to appeal to the budget conscious home studio enthusiast yet have all the features needed including four aux sends per channel and the ability to use the monitor inputs as extra line-ins at mixdown. MIDI muting is available as an option and the consoles are expandable by adding eight-channel blocks. Also doing well were the Mixdown 16-track console and the 12:2 Session Mix.
Sennheiser were consolidating their Black Fire range of mics and were dispensing some pretty potent Black Fire cocktails to add to the corporate Frankfurt hangover. But they did have one brand new mic, the MKH50, a hypercardioid version of the MKH40 with the same impeccable frequency and phase rsponse.
Beyer occupied the next booth and were promoting the Tour Group mic range. They had prototypes of four impressive N'dym vocals/general purpose mics on show but review models aren't expected to be around until the summer.
AKG were showing the C525S condenser vocal mic which can run from a 1.5V battery or regular phantom power, and the K270 Studio headphones. They also had a low cost add-on for their popular C1000S mic in the form of the PPC1000 - a clip-on converter that changes the pick-up pattern from cardioid to hypercardioid.
ART were out in strength with three new variations on the Multiverb, the Multiverb II, the Multiverb EXT (Sampler/Reverb and Pitch Transposer) and the SGE Studio Super Effector which includes overdrive for guitar processing alongside the usual Multiverb effects. Also welcome in their range is a pair of straightforward 16-bit programmable DDLS with modulation - the Delay V and the Delay VII. Both models have MIDI triggering, a 20kHz bandwidth and oversampling for the best audio quality. They also have two new graphic equalisers, the HD31 and HD15 models.
Yamaha had so many new models that we could write a show report entirely for them - but space doesn't permit. And on examining the press pack provided, it turned out to consist entirely of their corporate plans for world domination and biographies of their revered leaders - but doesn't mention any of the products at all so I'll have to rely on memory and my notes.
Top of the list has to be the MT3X four-track home studio which is beautifully designed, offers dual speed operation and has six mixer channels. To complement this is a mini rack series of devices including a guitar preamp complete with EQ and overdrive, a four-channel mixer and a stereo 50W per channel power amp.
There's now a remote control for the DMP7/11 with real knobs to twiddle and further down the scale, their low cost RX8 drum machine seems set to be a winner if the sounds are anything to go by. Then there's the SPX900 which is a slightly simplified SPX1000 for about the same price as an SPX90 MkII - and we can't even start to look into the keyboards at this stage - we'll have to bring you fully up to date on next month's new page. There were also rumours abounding concerning a Yamaha digital eight-track SDAT recorder retailing for little more than the cost of a 16-track, half-inch analogue machine and as we've heard similar rumours before, I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear some official announcement this summer.
Roland weren't hanging about either and of course no show would be complete without a new MIDI guitar system. The GR-50 combines the conversion and sound generating circuitry in a 1U rack and can be fed from the GK-2 hex pick-up system which fits most popular guitars. The module uses LA voices and can produce velocity related effects such as cross-fade between timbres and so on.
Also for the studio guitarist, the GS-6 offers a full feature programmable guitar effects unit including overdrive, EQ, delay, chorus and reverb. This sounded very impressive, even through headphones and is well worth checking out. That's not forgetting the W-30 Workstation, combining a sampler, a 20,000 sequencer and a keyboard all in one box. And eight outputs. MC-series microcomposer owners will find a certain compatibility for their files, as will owners of S-series samplers. You can do your sampling and sequencing at home, and take the result out on the road without worrying about leads, monitors and other non-portable studio items.
In this issue you'll find a review of the new R8 drum machine, but shortly to folow will be the R5, a smaller and slightly simplified model but still with the same great sound quality. There was quite a lot happening at the keyboard end too with a lot of interest being showed in the D5, basically a D-110 with a keyboard but without the sequencing of the D-10 and D-20. There was also a sneak preview of a flight case said to contain an S770 16-bit sampler but there were dire threats against saying more. We can, however, mention the A-50 and A-80. Two new MIDI keyboard controllers. The 80 has a fully weighted poly aftertouch sensitive keyboard, while the 50 has 76 'synthesiser action' keys, though still poly aftertouch sensitive. Both are similar in other respects - four assignable sliders, four assignable switches and lots of MIDI functions. They don't feel too bad, either.
Alesis weren't to be outdone where new products are concerned. The microrack equaliser and line amp should be with us within a month or so and the first batch of Quadraverbs is expected to be in the shops by the time you read this. But the really new products were a 16-channel mixer and the HR-16B drum machine. The 1622 mixer is really a 16:2, though the separate monitor routing should enable it to be used as a 16:4, and there are six aux sends per channel with eight aux returns which may also be used as line inputs if necessary. The contruction is unusual in that the whole case is a single plastic moulding and the circuitry uses a new technique called integrated monolithic surface technology whereby a multilayer structure replaces conventional circuitry, and also included the potentiometer and slider tracks. This significantly cuts manufacturing costs and keeps electrical noise to a minimum which means this desk should appeal not only to the MIDI enthusiast looking for more inputs, but also to the small four or even eight-track studio owner looking for a flexible, low cost main console.
The HR-16B appears on the face of it to be a black HR-16 but it actually turns out to be quite a clever idea. Similar in most ways to the HR-16, the B has a completely different set of voices chosen for their power and impact. The HR-16 was designed to produce unadulterated drum sounds but the B goes all out to give you a produced sound from the word go. Furthermore, it is provided with an EPROM that allows existing HR-16 owners to link the two machines providing true 32-note polyphony, a choice of 96 voices and eight assignable outputs. One machine will act as the master controller so all programs written will control both machines. Both the mixer and the HR-16B are expected in the late spring or early summer.
Tascam had no new products actually on show, but we were allowed into the back room for a preview of two new items. But we were made to swear on Terry Day's wallet that we wouldn't let on so all I can say is that one is fairly predictable but good while the other is less ordinary, very compact and costs far less than I imagined.
Casio had two more versions of the digital horn on display: both black, but one having real aftertouch, and the other having room for a ROM card, allowing auto-accompaniment tricks that really don't interest us here. What does interest us is the FZ20M, which is just like an FZ10M (a rack-mounting FZ1 with 1 megabyte of memory), but including a SCSI interface for easily accessible off-line storage. For the MIDI maniac, there were the promising looking CSM-1 and CSM-10P mini rack-mounting modules. The CSM-1 includes some rather 'home keyboard' functions (as the sounds are ultimately from that source), such as preset rhythms. However, you are provided wih a load of usable sounds. The CSM-10P is a piano module with five sounds, including three that aren't piano at all: organ, harpsichord and vibaphone. The other two are piano and electric piano.
You'd think there was no room for yet another Atari sequencer, but a British company called The Digital Muse Company are out to prove otherwise.
What makes Virtuoso, their package, different? Well, the Muses bypassed the GEM graphics and redesigned their own set. They worked in machine code and almost completely ignore the Atari's operating system. The result is fast, multitasking and leaves plenty of room for notes and expansion. The program has a resolution of 480 pulses per quarter note, 99 tracks and a tempo resolution of 0.01bpm.
Surprise of the show must go to Peavey who showed a keyboard! Bearing a passing resemblance to Ensoniq instruments, with an operating system that seems to have the good bits borrowed from various other synths, the DPM-3 definitely has possibilties. To be honest, it wasn't a complete surprise, as rumours had been floating around, but it was nice to see. Apart from the synthesiser section, which has DCA, DCF, DCM and DCE (the C standing for 'convolution' in each case), there is a 20,000 note, nine-track sequencer. The ninth track is for percussion. There are only two outputs, but there is an extensive internal mixer and effects system. Everything, including the synthesis section, is under software control, which means it is potentially very versatile and expandable. The synth has a loadable 16-bit PCM wavetable, and there are (so the brochure says) two eight-bit, one 16-bit and three 24-bit processers doing all the work for the DPM-3. Oh, and there's a 61-key velocity sensitive keyboard, and a card slot for voice storage. You can store 100 patches on board and 200 on the card. Briefly, that's it. We'd like to have a bit more time with one.
Korg had a nice touch in the guitar line. That is, the Z3 guitar synth and the ZD3 guitar synth driver. While no guitar synth driver yet produced has solved all the problems that recur, Korg's system worked as well as most and a good better than others. It was actually quite nice.
Also there was the A3 Performance Signal Processor, aimed mainly at guitars. It's 16-bit linear, with a sampling frequency of 37.1kHz (4X oversampling) and a frequency range of 20Hz to 18kHz. There are 100 'patches' on board with 100 more accessible via the card slot. Effects available include 41 individual variations of reverb, delay, exciter, distortion, chorus and rotary speaker(!), which can be grouped into 20 'chains'. Extra effects will be made available on memory cards. One really useful angle is that there are six knobs under the LCD, that correspond to each of the effects in a chain, allowing real time control over individual effects. It goes without saying that there are MIDI sockets on the back.
E-mu Systems had a stand, making everybody sick with demos of their Emulator III. However, E-mu samples will soon be made available to the masses in the shape of Proteus, a 1U rack-mounting 16-bit digital sound module. Four megabytes (expandable to eight) of 16-bit samples from the EIII sound library stored in ROMs. This is not the end, however. The sounds can be still be chopped around and reassembled with themselves or with any of a set of digital waveforms also stored in ROM. The MIDI implementation is also quite something. Proteus is 32-note polyphonic, multi-timbral and has six polyphonic outputs (which are also configurable as three stereo sub-mixes).
Under glass at the Korg stand was the T1 Total Work Station, which was an imposing piece of equipment. It includes the same AI synthesis on the M1 and M1R, twice the internal memory, a broader range of waveforms, an 88-key weighted action keyboard. There is a built-in 2HD 3.5" disk drive, and the option of loading sample data from disk with the addition of a RAM board. The sequencer is a now quite healthy 56,000 events. Worth looking forward to.
High up on the frustrating 'nice gear but no UK distributor' list comes CAD (Conneaut Audio Designs). This American company are using a lot of cumulative experience and computer aided design to produce a range of excellent, though slightly expensive, effects and mixer modules. The effects comprise a 'Polyframe' plus sundry modules that plug into the frame. All our favourites are represented (compressor/limiter/gate, dynamic expander, etc) plus a few oddballs. They look good and sound excellent. The Maxcon mixer benefits from a clean design. Look at module and marvel at how few components there are! With a background in military electronics, the designer has come up with something wild; even military spec components are used. Almost any configuration of mixer can be built from these modules. All the patching you need is also integral. CAD make mics as well.
Otis, Cheetah and EMS were all there. Otis had their little power amp on display - it's had some redesigning to bring it up to BBC standards. We've got it on review in the very near future. Cheetah had the competitively priced MQ8 sequencer that matches their MD8 drum machine, and a new master keyboard, the Master Series 7P. And EMS had a stand full of VCS3s, Vocoder 2000s and the Soundbeam controller, where hand movements through the air take the place of conventional keyboard technique.
Audix, whose range of mics we look at this month, were showing their mics as well as a new range of near-field monitors. There are no crossovers in these units, but they're time-aligned and have an uncanny knack of not doing funny things with the phase when you move to either speaker, when two are set up for stereo. We'll let you know if they turn up in the UK.
Akai gave us a bit of a surprise in the form of a little four-track machine, the U5 Trackman. And we mean little. It's about the size of a personal stereo, and will record an extra two tracks onto a tape that has already got two tracks recorded. It could be a useful tool for someone that isn't fussy and needs that kind of spontaneity. They also made definite announcements of the Version 2.0 software for the MPC60 and ASQ10, which will be provided free to those of you out there who own these machines. The new facilities include, for example, four independent MIDI outputs, implementation of the second sequence facility, and multiple record on 16 MIDI channels. The MPC60 has also been given a price cut.
Some rather useful disks have been put together for the S1000. Firstly, the 'SWM' (sample wave mixing) disks effectively turns the S1000 into a digital wavetable synth. Each disk contains over 40 programs, leaving room for you to do your own editing. Very short single-cycle samples are taken within the S1000 (there are built-in waveforms, remember), and uses all the sound-shaping facilities that are in there to process them as far as you like. Short attack transients are included, and they can be tacked onto the attack of a sound for more variety. Not a bad idea at all.
The 'Workstation' disks contain sets of sounds for specific purposes, ie. rock, jazz, dance, classical, new age, etc. Just stick the disk in, and you have ready and waiting a complete set of relevant sounds, with all assignments present. It may seem a little lazy, but it allows you to get down and compose without having to compile sounds from other disks. Of course, when your sequences are written, you can spend some time perfecting the sounds. That's not to mention V2.0 software, which finally includes the long-awaited time-stretching facility.
Well, we seem to be running out of space. All we can say is that you should have been there - it was huge! We've seen enough new gear to keep the reviews coming for quite a while yet.
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