The mighty NAMM show, a mind-bogglingly crowded gathering of basically anyone with anything to do with the sale of musical instruments, brought with it its usual slew of new music tech.
Now, you could wade through all the videos from that show, until your brain is numbed by trying to make out rushed, rehearsed product spiels. And you’ll find that some are … well, less important than others. We’ve instead separated the wheat from the chaff to bring you our favorite videos of our favorite new stuff. Grab the popcorn.
Even though it was announced before the show, the KORG minilogue simply stole the show. It’s what everyone wanted to talk about – even people I know with only a passing interest in new tech. With a low price and poly analog sound, plus a friendly front panel, it was an unsurprising immediate hit.
But the best way to see it is via Japan’s musictrackjp. Apart from the Japanese cool factor, you get a beautiful walkthrough of its sonic capabilities. And there are subtitles.
Behind only the minilogue in attention from synth lovers, Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim unveiled the OB-6. And it’s a hell of a beast: inspired by Tom’s original SEM, but modernized and cross-bred with a DSI synth, it’s a 6-voice monster with all the fixins’.
It’s wild enough seeing new synths from Dave and Tom at a 2016 NAMM show. But this latest announcement cemented their newly revitalized celebrity. Each synth legend had a big crowd around.
There’s tons of content out there, but the singular Cuckoo nailed the hands-on video:
The minilogue and OB-6 couldn’t compete for sheer insanity of the Arturia MatrixBrute. Glen Darcey explains to Source where this thing came from and why it was designed the way it was:
Roland’s A-01 was perhaps the announcement that surprised me the most. It’s in the dockable Boutique form factor. But it’s an unexpected combination of digital (8-bit synth, wireless Bluetooth, step sequencer) and analog (CV/gate connections onboard). It’s somewhat charming, a little like Roland’s take on a chip synth. But it’s impossible to get that from the show floor videos, so instead, let’s watch Roland’s own hands-on videos:
And let’s head to Japan for a suitably, wonderfully weirdo demo of this weird instrument:
This was an amazing show all around for expressive alternative controllers. MIDI manufacturers were talking a lot about how to add additional “expressive” data to their instruments, with the likes of Roger Linn and ROLI in attendance.
What you might have missed among these is the brilliant new Expressive E Touché. It’s a sort of shoe-sized paddle that sits next to a keyboard or other instrument. But it’s both simple and surprisingly sensitive. For me, it wasn’t a direct competitor to the ROLI Seaboard so much as something else — and something a hell of a lot better than the usual pitch and mod wheel fare.
This was the last thing I played with before leaving the show, running to catch a train, and for me it was easily a show highlight. I want one and the ROLI. It’s easier to show than explain, so have a look:
Speaking of new controllers, the Jambé is something else entirely, an expressive percussion instrument. I got a hands on with it; it’s absolutely beautiful, handmade stuff. It was first shown at NAMM last year, but I think it counts as 2016 news, as they’re just now taking pre-orders at US $799.99 to ship next quarter. And they had a lot more to show. Here’s a demo from the makers:
The KORG volca FM was my personal favorite surprise announcement. I discussed the functionality already, but here are some actual sound demos, courtesy Synthtopia and Cuckoo. (Synthtopia is slightly overstating the “exclusive” here, but – the two demos are in fact so different, it’s worth having a listen to each.) Note that this hardware isn’t entirely done yet, so some details may change.
I live around the corner from MFB, so hope to do a detailed review of the Tanzmaus and Tanzbär Lite soon. But I can’t wait to share them with you, so here goes. These are two smaller drum machines from the creator of the 522 and the Tanzbär. Audiofanzine has a walkthrough with creator Uwe:
The Avalon Bassline is an intriguing new synth, with a price of US$949. Here, the manufacturer talkes you on a walkthrough (so you don’t get any NAMM crowd noise).
It’s no secret we love Teenage Engineering’s Pocket Operator line. A demo might or might not make you follow what’s going on with them. Via SonicState:
I can’t remember who, but one CDM reader very specifically asked that we look at Keith McMillen’s K-MIX hardware. A very basic prototype was at Musikmesse last year, but now we get it in full form, and see a demo via Cuckoo:
NAMM has weirdly become the hub of modular instrument news. Once relegated to the basement – indeed, you used to expect trips to the basement to run into fellow synth lovers – modular is now literally front and center on the show floor. I remember the old days of using someone like Digidesign as a meeting point. Now it’s modular.
As modular in general grows more crowded, smart makers like this one are building more context and cohesion around their product lines. Of the American makers, Make Noise was really on fire, with both their O-Coast and the Cartesian system. Watch both via SonicState:
Pittsburgh Modular are also thinking about systems, and their new offering looks really terrific, even when up against the likes of Moog.
Tom Oberheim had offerings of his own, too, showing his SEM re-release now in Eurorack, plus a mini sequencer. It’s getting to the point where a manufacturer offering a Eurovision version of something they make is no longer news, but – well, these offerings I think will still make an impact.
As if Tom getting into modular weren’t enough, so, too, is E-MU founder Dave Rossum. And of all the makes of modular, this one I think got the most attention.
Remember when you said Audio Damage and only thought of plug-ins? Well, they’ve gotten fairly deep into hardware. For the first time, they’re doing an analog module.
And it looks like it’ll be a big hit: an analog drumvoice with waveshaper and lots of envelope features, aiming for US$450. That hits a nice niche. That, plus an updated DubJr, in the Sonic State video:
I was a great fan of what maker 4ms did with delays back before the Eurorack craze had really set in. Their dual looping delay looks really beautiful:
Of course, for the wackiest and most distinctive offerings, we return to our European neighbors Bastl Instruments from Czech. Their booth was greatly downsized from the robotic wonderland that they offered at Messe, but it was still delightful – and they keep putting out new modules, still nicely made in wood:
Soulsby also have new offerings out and were earning a lot of attention. The wild wavetables of the Atmegatron are now in Eurorack form, plus there’s an Odytron Special Edition of the 8-bit synth.
And last but not least, by far the most peculiar electronic musical instrument shown at NAMM was the bizarre ZOOM ARQ, a sort of plastic toy frisbee that you use as a sampler. Let’s watch.