Every January, music hardware and software companies from around the world descend to the Anaheim Convention Center to showcase their latest and greatest, as well as upcoming prototypes and concepts. The event spans 4 days, 5 including the media preview day, and in the weeks leading up to the event, companies begin to preview what they have in store for visitors. As you’ve noticed from our recent news articles, there have been quite a few surprises. Usually we as media get press releases for upcoming products that we can’t announce until certain dates, but every now and then even we get surprised by companies who keep things tight lipped until the day of. There were a few of those this year for sure, as well as plenty of other great things we were excited to get our hands on. Below, you’ll find highlights from some of our favorite brands. There was a lot to cover, so this won’t contain everything, but I’ll do my best.
Every year for the past four years I’ve been going to NAMM, Korg has had at least one new synth that stands out. A few years ago, they introduced the word to their analogue line of synths, starting with the Minilogue. From there, they unveiled the Monologue, followed by the Prologue. This year, they took the best features from all three and put them into one, an updated and extremely a powerful version of the Minilogue, called the Minilogue XD. They also released two new Volcas, the Modular and Drum, but it was the XD that absolutely blew me away. At the time of this writing, I can’t think of another synth that size with that big of a sound. It’s lush and full, and the onboard effects take to another level. I will 100% be buying one.
Our favorite Swedes always have one of the best booths, packed to the brim with their best gear. This year, they unveiled two new products, an entry-level sampler and the much-anticipated Overbridge 2.0, which is currently available for public beta through their Elektronauts forum. The sampler is limited, although still fun to use, and a perfect entry point for people who want to dive into Elektron’s cult, which yours truly is a proud member of. Overbridge was less exciting for me personally only because I’ve already been using it since they made it available. 2.0 allows you to take full control of your hardware while inside your DAW, and most importantly, allows you to record each individual channel via USB. This is huge, especially for users of the Digitone and Digitakt, which only have either a headphone out and L/R outputs. Full MIDI editing and automation is also now possible inside your DAW. Currently, Electron is still working on Overbridge support for the Digitone, but that should be coming in the next couple months or so.
Founded by industry veterans and based out of San Diego, Fluid Audio make premium monitors at a lower cost than their competitors, without sacrificing sound. I’ve seen their monitors in years past, but this year they had a few new models on display. One such pair is a direct competitor to the highly coveted Barefoots. They look like a cross between Barefoot’s 'Main' line and Adam Audio due to the ribbon tweeter, which vibrates much faster and tighter than a normal tweeter. These are still only a prototype, so the sound will continue to be improved. If they are actually able to live up to the hype, these could be replacing countless producers monitor setups. We shall see…
Last week, IK Multimedia surprised the world with their announcement of a new addition to their compact and affordable studio monitor range, the MTM reference monitors. Based on their Micro monitors, the MTM uses IK's Arc technology to create a sound that matches monitors way above their price range. It was a bit tough to hear them with how loud every pretend rockstar was playing, but from what I could hear, they sounded very rich and full.
One of the biggest must-see bits at NAMM this year was undoubtedly Akai’s new Force controller/instrument/battle station thing. It’s actually hard to really describe it as anything else with how powerful and versatile it is. The easiest way to describe it would be a combination of the APC and MPC Live, times a thousand. The Force contains synth engines, can live sample, launch clips, be run completely standalone while powering and controlling your entire live setup, fully integrate with Ableton, or run parallel with it. Basically, this thing is next level, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
Although it was announced months ago, I finally got to see and touch a Xone 96 and let me just tell you it is as beautiful as you could ever imagine. It was set up right next to a Model1 and there was no contest. It’s exactly what you would ever want in a premium mixer; huge analog sound, quality hardware, and built to last. Not to mention the dual sound cards which allow for individual outs on all the channels, AND two separate headphone cues. Granted, none of this is new or surprising information, but again, seeing is believing.
I always look forward to the modular synth section, which has steadily been growing bigger and more organized each year. This year, there was plenty of space between each vendor and some really exciting new modules on display. It’s always tough looking at all of it though because there is just not enough money or space for me to buy all of it.
Speaking of modular, Bitwig had their new Studio 3 on display, and the new feature is their massive Grid modular system, which allows for drag and drop modular building. Everyone has their own way of doing things with modular systems, but Bitwig may just be the most innovative and intuitive yet. The drag and drop/replace functionality is what really sells it. The feature that was most intriguing to me was that when you have your chain setup, you can remove or replace a module without killing your whole project. I don’t know of any other program that lets you do that. Routing is also very easy and straightforward.
Earlier I mentioned that sometimes even the press can be in the dark until the day of the event. Arturia surprised a lot of people with three new announcements; two new audio interfaces in their Audiofuse line and a new wavetable synth called the Microfreak. The compact synth has quite a unique sound to it, with some very interesting features called Spice and Dice, which add a bit of randomness to your sounds. Arturia is known for their analog synths, so it will definitely be interesting to see where they go with this new digital line. I was told there are more announcements coming later in the year. Minifreak? Drumfreak? We will just have to wait and see.
This one was a big surprise. The Stylophone was one of the earliest portable synths made, used by the likes of Kraftwerk and David Bowie. As I was walking by their booth, I noticed a massive, relative to their other products, analog touch synth that looked like it could survive being run over by a tank. After a few minutes of playing with it, I have a feeling this will be one of the more talked about synths when it’s made available to the public.
Not all that long ago, I saw a video from NAMM 2018 featuring the Radikal Technologies Delta Cem, a desktop format synth similar in size and looks to the Moog Mother 32 and Behringer Model D/Neutron. I’ve become very fond of this format, so right away I was hooked. But then I heard it, and I was in shock. This thing sounds MASSIVE. I knew I had to actually hear it in person, and so I made the effort to get to their booth, which just so happened to be right next to Stylophone. Once again, but this time even more so since I heard it directly, was I impressed. This synth should not sound like it does. Unfortunately, it’s still in development, but it should be released fairly soon.
Recently, Tascam announced a 24 in/out all analog mixer with a built-in sound card that allows you to record each channel individually. It looks like something out of the 70s and is built like a tank. I wasn’t able to hear how it sounds, but the build quality seems top notch. The knobs and faders didn’t feel cheap, which is a relief since for the number of features you get with this mixer compared to the price, you’d think corners might have been cut. Granted, until I’m actually able to test one out I won’t know for certain, but I’m keen to see how it holds up.