NAMM 2008 BLOG: Future Music's show highlights

Novation's Nocturn offers powerful MIDI control at a low, low price.
Novation's Nocturn offers powerful MIDI control at a low, low price.

Another NAMM, and another great excuse to get out of the freezing cold UK rain and swan around Orange County in a T-shirt and shades. In January. Amazing.

NAMM is the place where the big names unveil their big new gear and the world's music mags descend in search of big news. And covering the show for Future Music - if you can plug it in, we want to know about it - I had to do more than my share of legwork.

First thing a hi-tech journalist needs for a NAMM report is a pair of comfortable shoes - the show is vast, taking 20 minutes just to walk from one end to the other.

The next thing you need is an encyclopaedic knowledge of gear and an eagle eye for 'II's or 'SX's added to the back of familiar looking casings. Yes, seems the theme for Winter NAMM 2008 was evolution rather than revolution, with many staples undergoing minor tweaks to stay ahead of the pack.

We went in search of incredible new standards in synthesis and recording and came away with a bulging bag of new gear but very little in the way of genuine innovation.

The big names were perhaps those playing it safest. Yamaha chose NAMM to unveil a new Pocketrak 2G micro recorder for example. Excited yet? Meanwhile Korg showed off its M3-powered Pa2Xpro workstation and Pa500 songwriting station. Both great products but both focused on bringing established technology to new music makers.

Roland went the closest to 'new' with its new Fantom-G and new mid-range V-Tour V-Drums. And a special mention goes to its entirely kick-ass new V-Accordions. They can recreate the sound of any accordion. Don't laugh. Roland sells stacks of the things.

The most remarkable synth we saw was Access's Virus TI Snow - a stunning new mini Virus that packs a surprising amount of the original Virus TI's power into a tiny, sexy white 'n' walnut case. There's also its brilliant Atomiser program, which enabled Warp artist Richard Devine - resident on the Access stand throughout the show - to mangle his iTunes collection live before our ears. If I had a dollar for every time someone came up and asked me "What IS that?!?!"...

Similarly sexy are Euphonix's impossibly sleek MC Mix and MC Control consoles. We'll save the full jaw-drop for our massive NAMM report (coming up in the next issue of FM); suffice to say that you don't know that you want one yet... but you will.

Elsewhere, we were delighted to lay our hands on the eagerly awaited (ie, long overdue) Arturia Origin Keyboard synth. This sizey number sports a cool flip up, laptop style control surface and screen but - major disappointment - was only at the show in static prototype form.

Likewise Dave Smith Instruments LinnDrum II. It looks gorgeous, its lights flashed and its pads and buttons depressed and turned, but unfortunately Mister Innards was sadly absent. Dave Smith was on hand to apologise, though, and to hint that Frankfurt's MusikMesse in March might be a good place to see it in action. Good job his Prophet '08 rack was up and running and sounding fabulous then.

On the softer side, the world of virtual synths was more than ably supported by Spectrasonics' Omnisphere, which achieved the holy grail of managing to sound unlike anything else at the show by delicately morphing real acoustic sounds to form unidentifiable new tones. These can quickly be made to do anything from polite twinkling to taking the top of your head clean off.

Likewise EastWest's Forbidden Planet, which we fully expect will provide the soundtrack to every sci-fi/horror movie of 2009. A perfect partner to its similarly Bruckheimer-friendly SD2 percussion plug-in we reckon.

Native Instruments Kore Player might not be the brand new übersynth we now routinely expect from the Berlin powerhouse, but the fact that it's giving it away free instantly makes us like it. And - speaking of bargains - the Novation Nocturn controller, laden with the Automap power of its costly SL keyboards, is your irresistible route into tactile software control for just £69.

We could talk about seeing Stevie Wonder on the Rhodes stand or the length of the queue to see Slash, but we'll save that for another time. Instead we'd better get our finger out and finish off our bulging NAMM report for Future Music's new issue - on sale in the UK on February 15.

Daniel Griffiths
Editor, Future Music

The MusicRadar team

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