Happy New Year? Not yet. In the universe of music gear, the NAMM show in California is a sort of unspoken new year’s holiday – home to the biggest wave of music tech announcements of the year. It doesn’t cover everything, as many music producer-specific makers have fled the pricey trade show booths for more focused events. But there’s still rather a lot. Here’s a look at what to expect.

Year of the drum machine

The monosynth has made its comeback; now it might be the drum machine’s turn. Behringer and Akai are likely to join recent product launches from Arturia, Native Instruments, Elektron, and others, not to mention the surprise entry of Pioneer into the market.

The big player at NAMM is likely to be Akai Pro, with what is almost certainly the unveiling of the standalone MPCs that leaked in November. We expect that will also incorporate an embedded Windows operating system.

What you might not expect is that Akai is taunting Ableton and Native Instruments a bit. Whereas those two have kept their Push and Maschine, respectively, tethered to computers, Akai is expected to make their software run with or without your laptop. So it’s a bit cheeky that you can almost see NI’s Berlin headquarters in this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwLd5wqZ4Lc&feature=youtu.be

For their part, Behringer are finally shipping the DeepMind synth they’ve been relentlessly teasing (and I do mean relentlessly) for much of last year. But that hasn’t stopped them from teasing vague plans for a far-off drum machine, going so far as to encourage customers to become “involved in this enjoyable design process.” (No, I have no idea what that means, either.)

So, will we get some new idea for drum machines? Erm… no. Behringer says they’re taking inspiration from the TR-808 and TR-909. Now, a company called, I think I have this right, “Roland” has already built a machine that combines 808 and 909 sounds with and interface and sequencer – that’ll be the AIRA TR-8, exactly. But Behringer is touting analog sounds. (Just keep in mind, the original 909 was based partly on digital sample playback.)

I would expect other makers to get involved, too. Roland could add a sample-based groovebox to their AIRA line, for example. And I would imagine some other drum machine hardware may crop up here and there.

Roland

Roland haven’t told me anything about their NAMM lineup, even under NDA, so I’m free to speculate here. The team that has produced AIRA, AIRA modular, and the most recent Boutique line have been really prolific. I imagine they’ve got something up their sleeves for NAMM. Maybe we’ll get a new generation of AIRA products. Or maybe we’ll see another vintage piece resurrected as a Boutique model.

Someone also suggested to me wanting something like the SP-404 sample groovebox. That would to me be a great candidate for an AIRA-style reboot – and certainly I would wait a couple of weeks before rushing out and buying something.

A mixer also seems possible. Roland this week at the Consumer Electronics Show released an entry-level, mobile-friendly mixer (more on that soon), but one that better complements AIRA and Boutique seems like it’d make a whole lot of sense.

Whatever they’re doing, it’s going to be in 3D.

Uh… for some reason. I’ve been physically at Roland press conferences before, in, like, actual three dimensions, and I’m not quite sure how this will work. But it’s happening. Though you could also go see Star Wars again.

KORG

And then there’s KORG. Again, I really haven’t heard any gossip here. It seems like KORG are reaching the end of what they can do with the volca series product format, clever as it is; if they keep the volca line going, it seems it’s time for a new housing and some new ideas. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the present volca, it’s just that their designers might come up with some ideas that didn’t fit inside that particular rectangle of pastic. But then again, that didn’t stop them from doing the volca kick last year.

KORG have also proven adept at surprising us with reboots of vintage classics; they’ve a big back catalog on which to draw, so we could see something there.

The Minilogue (and then its sibling the Monologue) was one of the best synths of 2016, so the bar is high.

Teenage Engineering

The Swedish “teenagers” have long been a favorite for unexpected invention at the NAMM show, and I suspect this year will be no different. I could imagine them building on and extending the Pocket Operator line. But I’m keen to see something closer to a production-ready OP-Z.

Eurorack

You can also expect the Eurorack format to see some action. Part of this is just timing – while Berlin’s Superbooth has quickly become as important a community gathering as NAMM, the bulk of manufacturers are now in the USA and NAMM falls neatly at the beginning of the year. That’s meant that makers are liable to at least preview their latest stuff at NAMM, even if they show it again (or in more finished form) by Berlin in spring.

Elektron

Elektron are one to watch, it seems. They threw a curveball at us with the interesting but unexpected Analog Heat. 2017 feels like it may get a new flagship. In my dream world, that’d be a new generation of Octatrack, but… it could wind up being just a minor Overbridge software update. My rumor mill is quiet on this one. Given their product cadence, Elektron is one I could imagine making an announcement at Musikmesse.

DJ products

It looks like the big DJ reveal at NAMM is going to wind up being Denon’s CDJ rival. DJ TechTools reports on the leaks, somewhat surprisingly, given they were given a preview and are presumably under NDA.

There’s some potential here: Denon are emphasizing performance features (in keeping with parent InMusic, who also own Akai), and they could well undercut Pioneer on price. But given the saturation of the CDJ, it’s hard to imagine their “#changeyourrider” campaign as much more than wishful thinking. Part of what has made Pioneer an industry standard isn’t just the player hardware itself, but also the Rekordbox workflow for preparing tracks.

denon

And that all leaves the question of what Pioneer may have next. Given their aggressive move into new markets, from turntables to samplers, I expect 2017 could be a big year. They may choose to focus at the NAMM show more on entry-level products for DJs, with higher-end gear launched elsewhere (as with the sampler at Musikmesse last year). But one reason not to underestimate Pioneer is their incredible push for emerging markets. While the USA, Japan, and the Eurozone remain the big markets for now, there’s huge growth in the global south – South America, Africa, and south Asia, which are also the youngest parts of the world. In fact, the real question may not be what happens at NAMM, but when we have a big DJ event somewhere like India or Kenya. It’s coming.

Apple

It’s been years since Apple exhibited at NAMM. But they have often shown new versions of Logic privately at the show. And I expect a new version of Logic Pro that’s optimized for the new MacBook Pro, with Touch Bar support as found in Final Cut Pro. It’s not hard to guess what that would look like: Logic has context-sensitive tools just like Final Cut does, plus the macro controls that have been mapped to the iPad.

USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 and mobile

Brace yourself for a bunch of audio interfaces.

On the entry level side, makers have finally worked out that providing class-compliant USB means the ability to make serious audio interfaces that work with both your mobile device and your laptop.

At the pro level, USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are finally coming into their own. Apple has given that a boost by eliminating all but the USB-C connector on their MacBook line. But don’t overlook the PC, either: after years of lagging in pro audio connectivity, the PC platform now has roundly embraced USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. That’s meant makers like Universal Audio can finally support both platforms via a single interconnect, and provide reliable low-latency performance.

Ironically, the increased specialization of the laptop in the post-PC era seems to have made PC vendors more likely, not less likely, to court pro users. So especially after looking at CES, we’re seeing lots of computers aimed at creators, and providing high-spec performance to match.

What you won’t see

There are some things that I think won’t be making an appearance at the show.

Mobile music is still a thing, but the days of making specialized accessories seem largely gone.

Companies like Native Instruments and Ableton have, as I said, largely abandoned the trade show as a format for making product launches. That’s not to say we won’t see something from them in January, just that you shouldn’t expect a splashy NAMM launch.

I think in the age of social media, there’s a general resistance to doing all your product launches at trade shows, and getting lost in the avalanche of news. These shows are remaining just as vital in terms of networking, but less so when it comes to telling the story of a product.

On the other hand, looking back at NAMM 2016, a lot of 2016’s tone was set at the show. The most important synths – KORG’s Minilogue and volca FM, Arturia’s MatrixBrute, the MakeNoise 0-Coast, the Dave Smith/Oberheim OB-6, to name a few – all made their debut. All the biggest modular stuff showed up, too.

In fact, back here in Germany, the only big news at Musikmesse was really Pioneer’s Toraiz SP-16.

So, we’ll be reporting from this one. Keep an eye out.

  • Kiritan Flux

    Ok, OK, I will wait with my Roland SP purchase until after NAMM, i promise 🙂

  • ab

    i’d LOVE to see a roland boutique tr-08.

    • Meaning like an 808 in Boutique form factor?

      Sure, why not? 🙂

      • ab

        yes! i would pre-order one the day it was announced. and i’m sure they could sell them for $399 or even $499.

    • I don’t know any sales figures for the TR-09, but judging from the number of appearances on YouTube videos, it looks like a big success. A TR-08 model would be a no-brainer, IMO. If it had swing, I’d be challenged not to buy it…

    • Simon Swain

      Yep. That. And a (1)01

  • quantize=evil

    I’m hoping to see a battery-powered drum machine or sampler that allows for un-quantized recording.

    • Mafgar

      sp404sx

    • Holmes

      Good point. Imagine that – a hardware sequencer that actually captures your own rhythmic feel. Thinking back, didn’t I see those around 25 years ago? And now, I suppose it’s assumed that everyone wants everything in their music strictly quantized, presumably because most music-makers can’t really play and groove out a rhythm. I can’t believe boxes like the Novation Circuit don’t even allow the option to record rhythmic performances, with the option to quantize it a bit afterwards.

      I also think we could use some hardware sequencers that record more than say 1, 4 or 8 bars, so that you can capture longer stretches, in addition to having shorter loops. The Yamaha QY20 did that decades ago. You would think that some natural human feel and longer stretches of performances would be considered important in music in general.

      • Olivier Ozoux

        on the hardware sequencer front, you just described the Squarp Pyramid. patterns from 0.25 to 384 bars, polyrythm, un-quantized recording. checked. (disclaimer, I own one)

        • Holmes

          Squarp Pyramid does looks really good, and I guess rather appropriately expensive.

      • That’s where I’m hoping for the supposed-to-be MPC Live to join the best of the good old MPC line (that sequencer!) and the new MPC Touch.

        • Dubby Labby

          I don’t expect the good and legendary midi sequencer from AkaiOS/jjOS from a windowsOS. Hope I get wrong…

    • DrüMünkey

      Why does it have to be battery powered? Unless you’re in a marching band, if you need ” portable” (i.e. You’re setting up a rave at your camp site or you need to perform at Burning Man) a UPC and an Analog Rytm would be perfect. 🙂

  • starkaudio

    Speaking of Sweden…any synth rumors from our red-friends at Nord?

  • Bernard Perbal

    Still waiting for the Tom Oberheim Mini Sequencer & SEM Plus Eurorack stuff…!

  • “DJ TechTools reports on the leaks, somewhat surprisingly, given they were given a preview and are presumably under NDA.”

    We actually were the second site to go to press, Mark over at DJ Worx wrote something up first. It’s a delicate balance, but if a leak is already all over Twitter, Reddit, Denon DJ’s largest Facebook group, and others, you can’t put the cat back in the bag.

  • Mark Kunoff

    Fwiw, the Volca Kick is in my book the sleeper Volca to get. I have been capturing all kinds of amazing kick samples from it. Seriously, a monster!

  • itchy

    new apc with sound card built in. would be great.

  • I am focussed on guitars. Would be nice to add some modelling to pedals. I would love to be able to design my own sounds. At the moment I get best results using Reason but bringing that on stage is an issue. Reason for live usage might be a cool next step or Reason on a tablet or something…

  • heinrichz

    So what’s the big deal about a drum machine that runs without a laptop? I’d rather use computer file management plus timeachine backups and certainly a bigger display along with Maschine. Not to mentioned the superior browsing and integration of Komplete and other NKS instruments. On a critical note though: NI really needs to step it up on the software side with Maschine, there is a long wishlist of current shortcomings many dedicated users will agree upon!

    • Have you tried the Pioneer Toraiz or an MPC Touch? If the leaked new MPCs can keep up to everyone’s hopes, they could be a big deal. Obviously, computers have advantages when it comes to overall flexibility. And an Octatrack, Toraiz or MPC is essentially nothing but a computer with a specialised operating system in a dedicated box. But that’s exactly what makes the difference: focus and a dedicated workflow and user interface. Why do you think everybody uses controllers with keys, knobs, pads, faders and buttons to – well – control their music software? Because mouse and keyboard suck at it. And on top of it, many artists embrace the limitations of dedicated hardware to boost creativity.

      • Will

        I tend to agree with this. I’m musically computerless these days (if you don’t count iOS, that is).

        One thing keyboards qwerty keyboards are really good at is editing (once you learn the shortcuts). It offers a lot of dedicated controls in really small form factor. Not only is the layout tight but it provides for key combos. MPC2.0 software looks fairly deep. For heavy editing sessions (or just quick access to more shortcuts) it’s possible that users could actually choose to hook up a qwerty keyboard via USB since it’s Windows under the hood.

  • heinrichz

    On second thought, since it’s a Windows machine, i would expect Akai to throw in a big touch screen. However i’d rather have more physical controls, like touch strips, touch sensitive knobs and buttons. Screens are here to look at and should be touched as little as possible otherwise they need constant cleaning, especially in a studio situation after people eat their burgers.. fine at the ATM or in other public utilities but please not in a musical instrument at the expense of physical controls. Most importantly screens also won’t allow you to make use of muscle memory which is a very important part of playing any instrument in an inuitive and fun way. And is that not how many if not most musical ideas come about?

  • Ryan

    why is the sp line so ugly though

  • James Husted

    Another one you WON’T see – any new Nord Modulars. Even though there has been a calling for them for years.

  • Ashley Scott

    I can’t wait for the MPC release & months of speculation from non-programmers about Windows embedded/RT being ‘laggy’

    • Dubby Labby

      It’s not RT anymore. It seems it will be windows 10 between IoT and regular one crafted to dedicated machines. If it’s laggy, buggy or perfect we should wait and see.
      Which is not going to be is an AkaiOS or jjOS return and probably any code line from these will be on this.

  • I wonder why nobody has mentioned the Acidlab Detroit yet?

  • Michael Ahern

    Look for StompLight’s new DMX compatible lighting effect pedals at this year’s NAMM Show. Stage lighting made simple. http://www.stomplight.com https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/06589720b07a55876b25b0333a51225a2062a38a8716594bfae4ee29df733e2b.jpg

    • Pop

      Oh.

  • Will

    Tats is going to release a $300-$400 Korg drum machine that’s an analog/sample player hybrid. Sounds largely from the Volca beats, with a more flexible kick via lessons learned from the Volca Kick, an entirely new “I’m sorry about that” analog snare channel and 2-4 channels of swappable samples ala Volca Sample.

    The sequencer will be more like the DrumBrute than any of the existing Volcas.

    And the Volca mixer, natch.

    /dreaming

    Also probably time for something new from DSI.

    And… Audiobus 3 has been on the stove for a long while. They’ve demoed before; maybe they’ll unveil the WIP there.

    • Neil

      I’d like Korg to update the 1st gen Volcas with pattern chain mode. Failing that, open-source the firmware so we (by which I mean, people cleverer than me) can implement it themselves!

      • Will

        Yeah, I’d love to see all of the Volcas refreshed with the collected sequencing tricks learned over the course of the series (flux mode, pattern chaining…). I’d also dearly love for all of the synthy ones to allow for remote transpose. Can get a lot more mileage out of a 16 step sequencer with transpose. I’d buy the keys again in a heartbeat. And maybe the FM again, particularly if it had the crappy/wonderful Keys delay!

        VFM does allow for local transpose but only via slider.

  • Will

    What about Novation?

    Circuit was insanely popular this year. Circuit Pro? Some ancillary Circuit controller? Supplementary synth box (for channels 2 and 4?)

    A dedicated Blocs Wave controller?

    Stand alone launchpad (with sample memory).

    Stand alone drum machine? Circuit with 8 tracks of drums.

    Wish they’d reboot the X-Station. The world needs it now more than we needed it when it was released.

    • Dubby Labby

      Blocs just need compatibility to launch series to be perfect 😛
      Standalone launchpad? Just add a iOS device 😉

  • guest

    tl;dr A fairly boring show. An MPC that everyone already knows about and a Roland that has already blown its idea budget for the next 3 years and will be desperately trying to convince marks that it’s bizarre cloud thing is not a terrible idea.

  • Robin Parmar

    Apropos of nothing… I’d just like to wish you a Happy New Year, Peter. Been following you through several website changes and often surface to make snarky comments. Even though I’ve deleted most of my web fixations (too busy) your site still remains. Keep on keepin’ on!

  • Doug Gough

    I’d love to see Elektron release Analog 4 Mk II with a UX that doesn’t make me want to heave it out the window every ten minutes. I loved the sound of my Analog Keys, but absolutely hated doing sound design and sequencing/arranging with it. Overbridge helped, but not enough.

  • Spankous

    So will there be a big brother of the Minilogue?

  • Vincent

    Really hoping the other eurorack companies will follow Moog and Makenoise and create standalone semi-modulars.