Touch Innovations Kontrol Master
NAMM 2017: New music software and noise-making toys are great, but controllers, mics, audio interfaces and other pieces of hardware are equally important parts of your setup.
As such, you’ll find plenty of them at the NAMM Show, each one promising to raise the quality bar, give you more features or do something different (perhaps all three).
Without further ado, then, let’s run you through a selection of the best products that were on display this year, starting with a controller that would look equally at home in an arcade or a studio…
It’s Kontrol Master’s simplicity and flexibility that has made it our favourite controller of NAMM 2017.
Taking control of your DAW and soft synths is easy via MIDI and keystroke mappings across 10 arcade-style buttons and one touch-capacitive knob.
This could be the ideal centrepiece controller for producers who want to speed up their workflow and rely less on the mouse.
Slate Digital Virtual Recording Studio
Slate Digital reckons it's come up with the world's first truly viable native alternative to DSP-based systems in the shape of Virtual Recording Studio, comprising an impressively low-latency audio interface, a new addition to the Virtual Microphone System, and the company's established preamp, outboard and effects modelling plugins.
The interface, called VRS-8, is a super-low-latency eight-channel box with a VMS-One preamp (as used in Virtual Microphone System's hardware interface) on every channel. Like the VMS-One, the ML-2 modelling mic outputs a perfectly neutral signal for transformation into any of almost 20 emulated vintage and modern microphones in the VMS plugin, and processing with one of Slate's (currently only two) virtual preamps and/or, of course, any other plugins you like.
Both the VRS-8 and ML-2 are intriguing, and we can't wait to get our hands on them.
New Mackie Big Knobs
Having been around for over a decade now, Mackie's Big Knob is certainly due an update, and the launch of the second generation of the US music tech giant's popular monitor controller at NAMM 2017 certainly doesn't disappoint.
For starters, there are now three of them. Starting at the bottom, Big Knob Passive offers analogue path switching between two sources and two monitor pairs. Big Knob Studio and Studio+ are altogether different propositions to Passive, combining source and monitor switching with USB 2.0 audio interfacing.
We’re keen to get our hands on all of the Big Knobs soon.
Connecting through ADAT optical, Focusrite's Scarlett OctoPre and OctoPre Dynamic each add up to eight high-quality mic/line inputs and eight analogue line outputs to any ADAT-equipped audio interface.
Both Scarlett OctoPres feature eight second-generation Scarlett mic preamps, all capable of receiving mic and line level sources, two of them also packing instrument inputs.
The Scarlett OctoPre Dynamic adds to the standard model with eight channels of digital-to-analogue conversion on dual ADAT inputs, and per-channel analogue compression.
In an ingenious move that's surely destined to become standard throughout the microphone industry, British manufacturer Aston has revealed the world's first, er... laser targeting pencil mic.
The Aston Starlight features a 20mm cardioid capsule and a high-spec discrete mic amp circuit, enabling the connected mic preamp to work at lower gain for less distortion. Voice Switching lets you choose between Vintage, Modern and Hybrid filter settings, for a tonal response appropriate to the source being recorded.
Ridiculously posh and no doubt superlative microphone aside, though, it's the laser that's the real story here. A Class 2 model (the kind used in laser pointers, rather than the kind we'll use to stave off alien invasions on the future) with on/off switch, it makes accurate recall of mic positioning effortless, and lets you precisely target the point on the source instrument likely to give the optimum response. Clever stuff!
Softube Console 1 MkII
It's always nice to get some completely unexpected news at a NAMM Show (providing it's good, that is) and the revelation that Softube's Console 1 - the company's hardware/software mixing system - will soon be able to run certain UAD plugins certainly counts as that.
Console 1 MkII will be available in the spring, adding the UAD compatibility, and we’re pleased to be able to report that this will also be available to version 1 owners as a software update. We're told that, with the addition of the UAD offerings, more than 60 plugins will now be on offer, including ones that emulate classic gear from the likes of Chandler Limited, Fairchild, Teletronix, Tube-Tech, Abbey Road Studios and more. These come pre-mapped and can be selected from within the Console 1 software.
The new hardware is pretty similar to the original, but has some minor layout changes and more visible LED markers. What has changed significantly is the price, which drops from $849 to $499.
Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII
Universal Audio's Apollo Twin was an easy sell - high-quality I/O meets access to the acclaimed library of UAD DSP-powered plugins in a portable package - and we suspect that there'll be plenty of takers for the new MkII version as well.
Available with Solo, Duo or new Quad Core processing, this 2-in/6-out interface features redesigned A/D and D/A conversion that's said to deliver increased dynamic range and ultra-low THD. The Unison technology on the dual mic preamps and front-panel DI is designed to ape the sound of a selection of famous solid-state preamps, guitar amps and stompboxes from the likes of Neve, API and Fender.
There's improved monitor functionality in comparison to the original Twin, and Universal Audio's Realtime Analog Classics UAD plugin bundle comes as standard.
IK Multimedia iRig Pro I/O
It wouldn't be a trade show without a new iRig interface, so we're pleased to be able to report that the iRig Pro I/O has landed in Anaheim. An evolution of the existing iRig Pro, this is IK Multimedia's solution for those who want a pocket-sized device that enables them to hook up a wide range of instruments and devices to their PC, Mac, iOS or Android hardware.
The iRig Pro I/O supports 24-bit/96kHz audio (as does the original iRig Pro if you get the latest firmware update, incidentally) and includes dedicated MIDI I/O mini-jack ports. There's a headphones output with its own level control (useful for iPhone 7 owners in particular), and if you plug in the optional DC power supply (the iRig Pro I/O also runs on batteries) you'll be able to charge your iOS device as you make music. When connected to your PC or Mac, the device is powered over USB.
As before, there's a Neutrik XLR/1/4-inch combo input that enables you to plug in everything from from dynamic, condenser or ribbon microphones to unbalanced Hi-Z or line-level instruments such as guitars and basses. You can turn on 48V phantom power when it's required, while a multi-coloured LED enables you to monitor your input signal.
The iRig Pro I/O is pretty versatile, then, and comes with the added bonus of a software bundle that’s valued at more than EURO 500.