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Welcome to NAMM: Day 1

January 13, 2011

Hello from sunny Anaheim, where the 2011 NAMM Show is in full swing. The economy's slow trend toward recovery is visible everywhere, with formerly more cautious companies coming out with new products and ideas of all kinds. We'll bring you a full report on the show in our March issue (in subscribers' mailboxes in early February), but in the meantime I plan to shout out about some of the cool products I see on the show floor every day. You should also check out Lorenz's blog, where he gives his own perspective on NAMM happenings.

For some of the press, NAMM actually started a day early, with a number of product announcements that came the day before the show began. One of the most hotly anticipated launches at the show was Korg's new Kronos, a powerful keyboard workstation with a built-in solid state drive for its enormous sample wave memory, nine distinct synthesis engines, powerful and flexible effects routing, a host of computer-integration features, and lots more.

I got to see DigiTech's return to the guitar-amp business, with a line of three entry-level combo amps, three modeling amps with built-in effects in different wattages, and an all-tube 150W half stack. Also new: three additions to the HardWire line of guitar effects pedals, including a polyphonic guitar tuner.

dbx has updated its very commonly used series of rack signal processors with the S Series, sporting a new look and improved specs for the line's anniversary.

Lexicon is now shipping the PCM Native Effects Bundle, a collection of plug-in non-reverb effects algorithms taken from the company's flagship PCM 96 signal processor.

Roland has supplemented the Octa-Capture multichannel USB audio interface with two small and affordable models: the very simple 2-channel Duo-Capture, and the Tri-Capture, which features a recordable audio loopback for a variety of applications where you can play music from the computer, record audio through the inputs, and easily mix and record the results "in the box".

Steinberg announced Cubase 6, the newest upgrade to its flagship DAW. The new version features improved drum editing tools, simple and effective track grouping for edits, and a new VST expression control protocol that allows controller data for each individual note to be edited separately. Steinberg also announced a collaboration with Rupert Neve Design on two new Portico plug-ins, the first software to carry the RND name.

Focusrite now has the VRM Box, an affordable little USB audio interface that lets you apply Focusrite's VRM room modeling algorithms as heard in interfaces like the Saffire Pro 24 DSP. You can hear in your headphones what your mix would sound like over various famous speaker brands (most of them now identified by name rather than hinted at), in different room settings. It also makes a dandy portable headphone amp that beats the heck out of most laptops' built-in audio.

Aphex has two new pedals, new versions of the Exciter and Punch Factory, and updated and revamped rack signal processors with an exciting new look and improved sound quality.

Electro-Harmonix is constantly creating new effects processors, and the newest batch includes the Talking Machine, a very cool formant filter, and the Freeze, which grabs and holds audio as a drone which can then be soloed over.

Dave Smith Instruments showed the Tempest, a new drum machine that combines digital sampling with an analog sound creation engine. This new drumbox was surrounded by crowds from the moment the show opened.

TransAudio Group showed a bunch of new gear, like a new mic from Bock Audio, 500-Series modules from Geoff Daking, a very high-quality headphone amp from Lehmann Audio, and speakers from Indian audio gear maker Sonodyne.

Audio-Technica has a pattern-adjustable battery-powered stereo mic, suitable for use with portable cameras.

Eventide has a new guitar pedal called Space. It has a number of very complex reverb algorithms, some taken from the company's H8000 and Eclipse processors, and has several staffers at RECORDING already fighting over who gets to do the review.

TC Electronic showed a series of seven new compact effects pedals with high quality audio and powerful features: two all-analog overdrive/fuzz boxes and five digital processors with a variety of cool control and sound tweaking options, plus a USB connector so they can be updated with entirely new sounds and settings via an online system called Toneprint.

Peterson showed a sexy new stompbox version of the Conn strobe tuner, and the newest BodyBeat metronome, the BodyBeat Sync, which can wirelessly synchronize multiple units in a tracking room to one master unit. Also at the Peterson booth: a new instrument audio-to-MIDI converter from Sonuus.

Radial Engineering has acquired the rights to the name and circuit designs of Reamp, with the blessing of the company founder. We should start seeing Radial Reamp boxes shipping in the spring.

In closing for today, I'd like to apologize to the kid at the Big City Audio booth who was going on at some length about how brilliant the Mellotron is as a paradigm of instrument design. I agree they sound awesome, young man, but when you admitted you never had to service one or keep it running reliably while on tour, you lost a few credibility points. Sorry.

Lots more to come tomorrow and throughout the show. Stay tuned!

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