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Welcome to NAMM: Day 3

January 15, 2011

The third day of NAMM is behind us, and here are some more highlights from the show floor.

Zildjian has been in the cymbal business for centuries and for 14 generations; the grandchild of the current owners of the firm, the 16th generation, gives her name to gen16, Zildjian's new line of digital cymbal products. There's a high-quality sound library tied to a powerful virtual instrument based on FXpansion's BFD Eco, which we'll be reviewing in a future issue, and a fascinating line of real metal perforated cymbals integrated with phase-cancelling microphone mounts and a special sound-modeling brain, creating a huge range of sounds from cymbals that play like the real thing and are far quieter than their acoustic counterparts. I was geeking out big time at the demo, which I wouldn't have believed without hearing it myself.

Down in the iOS Pavilion I got to see a variety of new developers with some seriously cool apps, including the very powerful SampleLab sample recording and manipulation software from fotoh LLC, and useful utilities and great-sounding amp emulations from Agile Partners. Also in the Pavilion: RapcoHorizon's new iGizmo-friendly guitar interfaces, the passive iBlox and active I-Jam.

Blue Microphones officially unveiled the mic I got to see in a secret reveal at AES: the Yeti Pro, a desktop mic with standard mounting capabilities and a built-in headphone amp. Like the Yeti, it acts as a USB mic and headphone monitor system, but can also act as a standard wired mic in three mono patterns and one stereo array, and its internal converters can work at up to 24/192 resolution. Even newer: the Reactor mic (shipping in spring), with three selectable polar patterns and a swiveling capsule for tight mounting configurations.

MOTU was giving a technology preview demonstration of MachFive 3, the latest version of its sampling plug-in. Extensive and powerful scripting capabilities have been placed in the user's hands; in only one example of the program's power, a drum sample library was turned into a program with mixable signals from multiple miking positions. The hope is to offer the single most powerful sample manipulation plug-in around. Also new: a USB-FireWire hybrid version of the 828 rackmount audio interface, following on the heels of the hybrid UltraLite Mk3.

Spectrasonics offered Omnisphere 1.5, a free upgrade to the well-known virtual instrument, with a cool and intuitive new fast-tweaking control interface called the Orb, as well as deeper Zoom pages for fine editing of previously closed parts of the program's structure, several new built-in effects, and more.

CAD Audio is getting into the headphone business with two models, a $49 isolating drummer's headphone and a $69 studio monitor headphone. We'll be getting both models to review, as well as the new U9 USB mic/headphone amp, which offers an aimable capsule in a compact interface at a nigh-untouchable low price (under $30 street).

ADAM Audio let us hear its newest monitor, the A8X. It offers the clarity and sweetness of the smaller speakers A3X, A5X, and A7X, with a smoothly extended low end (3 dB down at 38 Hz).

Sonoma Wire Works was showing expansion packs for DrumCore including retro drum sounds from a kit like the one Mitch Mitchell played with Jimi Hendrix. They also let us see the production prototypes for a product that Apple has yet to approve but which will make iPhone 4 and iPad users who want truly high-quality audio I/O for their devices very happy when it is officially allowed to exist. Stay tuned.

Muse Research demoed early production units of the MuseBox portable plug-in engine, complete with its very slick and easy-to-use computer front end. A reliable, portable plug-in engine with great sound quality and a huge installed base of instruments and effects, all for under a grand!

Avid premiered the M-Audio Venom modeling synthesizer, with a simple performance-oriented front panel and a custom patch editor for deeper programming work. Multiple timbres and layered arpeggios let the user build up complex and evolving tracks, and the sound engine has a powerful, aggressive tone. I am disappointed that the keyboard itself offers velocity sensitivity but no aftertouch, but maybe that's just me. Paul Vnuk Jr. theorizes that maybe it's going out of style again. I hope not.

Phonic's new S16 digital mixer is now shipping, and we'll be reviewing it soon. A powerful DSP engine and color touchscreen give the user tons of power, easily accessed, and the company is constantly upgrading the firmware with added features suggested by users in the field. Very cool stuff.

Shure has added an affordable entry-level model to its line of in-ear monitor phones, and a high-end model to its SRH headphone lineup. We hope to review those soon as well.

And last but not least, a shout out to those brave and mad scientists at Reactable, who were showing the Reactable Live, a commercially-available version of the incredible Reactable used by Bjork on her recent tour, where clear plastic blocks placed on an illuminated tabletop interact with one another to create beautiful and complex sounds that change as the blocks are moved, turned, and flipped over. A full-sized Reactable Live will run you about $11000; if that's too rich for your blood, consider the Reactable Mobile iPad app for a mere ten bucks.

Lots to see tomorrow as the show wraps up. I'll try to get you a final day's report before I head to the airport. Now it's time for me to get some sleep... after I head to the App Store and buy a copy of Reactable Mobile, that is.

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Kef America

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