The electronic sounds of 2019
NAMM 2019: With many music tech companies now staggering their product announcements throughout the year via online events and upstart shows such as Superbooth, there was a danger that NAMM's electronic sound-making well could have been rather dry.
There was still plenty to see, though, even if many of the new instruments were actually unveiled in the run-up to the show itself.
We've rounded-up our favourite synths, keyboards, drum machines and samplers for you here. Some companies chose to evolve existing product lines, while others embraced their experimental side and tried something different, so everyone should be able to find something to spend their money on in the months to come.
Winner: Korg Minilogue XD
Yes, it's another Minilogue, but with elements of the Prologue (digital multi-engine, expanded DSP section) and the Monologue (simplified sequencer, microtuning) and improved control options, it feels like a big step up from the original. We have little doubt that this will fly off the shelves.
Having been teased in 2018, the Kyra's arrival at NAMM felt almost low-key in comparison to some other synths, but it was undoubtedly one of the most ambitious instruments on show. It's billed as the world’s first fully FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array) powered synthesizer, and is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Unveiled right at the end of the show, Behringer's Crave could turn out to be the product that has the biggest impact on the synth market in 2019.
It's a semi-modular analogue instrument that combines a VCO, classic ladder filter, 32-step sequencer and 16-voice Poly Chain. Perhaps the biggest news, though, is the price: just $199/€149.
Dubreq Stylophone GEN-R8
We're a long way from the original Stylophone with the GEN-R8, which we're assured is "the ultimate" version of the touch keyboard instrument. With a full analogue signal path and the option to integrate it into a wider modular setup, it's hard to argue with that.
Korg Volca Modular
The name gives the game away to a certain extent - it's a modular synth in Korg's Volca format - but that's not quite the whole story.
Far from straightforward, the Volca Modular has an esoteric, West Coast style that’s influenced by the designs of Don Buchla. As a result, it boasts interesting tools such as a wavefolding oscillator and two low-pass gates in place of a more standard amp and filter combination. There’s an excellent digital Space processor, too, which generates a slightly otherworldly reverb-like effect.
A great way to get experimental on a budget.
Teenage Engineering PO Modular
Another company hitting the low-cost modular trail is Teenage Engineering, with its Pocket Operator-based take on the concept.
This currently consists of a trio of self-build modular systems which make use of flat-packed, bendable aluminium cases with AA battery power units. As a statement of intent, it’s got us very interested - Eurorack compatibility is a big plus - and if Teenage Engineering keeps developing the range with expansion options, DIY kits and perhaps a few more esoteric modules, there’s potential for it to grow into something truly fantastic.
A monophonic and 4-voice paraphonic instrument, the MicroFreak has a slightly quirky look about it, and it also boasts a rather unusual feature set.
As well as a multimode digital oscillator, it also includes an Oberheim SEM-inspired analogue filter. Seven of the oscillator modes are based on Mutable Instruments' Plaits oscillator design (although it turns out that this isn't a collaboration between the two companies), and more could be added in the future.
Throw in a PCB keyboard, modulation matrix and more and you have something that's likely to appeal to those who want a break from the norm.
The Sirin is a monophonic ‘Analog Messenger of Joy’ that’s based on the Moog Taurus Bass sound engine. However, it’s also capable of summoning up lead sounds, being the first member of the Taurus family to operate above middle C.
The two analogue Taurus Bass oscillators you’ll find here have been modified to reach these higher octaves, and you also get a 4-pole Moog Ladder filter, two ADSR envelopes, a multi-wave LFO and a one-knob-per-function control panel.
Only 2,500 Sirins will be made, so get your order in quickly if you want one.
With the Model:Samples, Elektron has addressed two of the criticisms that are often levelled at its products: that they're too expensive and difficult to learn. This digital sample instrument has a neatly laid out sequencer and plenty of up-front, hands-on control, and comes in at $449/£410.
It doesn't sound cheap, though. The digital sample engine is punchy with plenty of grit, and the resonant filter, reverb and delay are perfect for quickly shaping and mangling sounds. Chromatic sequencing means it’s also a handy bass and lead line generator.
Model:Samples is a real box-ticker, then, and could rule the groovebox roost in 2019.
Yamaha CP73 and CP88
With its new stage pianos, Yamaha has taken a cue from manufacturers such as Nord, who make on the fly sound shaping easy and intuitive. And, with its new interface that features four independent sound sections (Piano, Electric Piano, Sub, and Master for effects), grabbing and tweaking a sound on the CP73 or CP88 is fast and fun.
If you're keyboard player who wants a do-it-all instrument for gigging, the CPs look pretty compelling.