Trade shows are a funny thing, in that you tend to learn about stuff you can’t have yet – and that there’s a sudden, overwhelming load of new press releases. So, let’s try to keep things navigable with a walk through some of the most significant stuff coming out at the massive Messe trade show in Frankfurt, Germany this week.
I can’t say this was a mind-blowing week by any stretch – I’ve been perfectly happy to stay here in New York, thanks. (Germany, may I ask, why is that you don’t hold events in Berlin?) But there is some news, so let’s have a look:
Dark Energy is a standalone analog synth from Doepfer. For those of us who have looked enviously at big Doepfer racks, but couldn’t afford / find space for / lift them, this is huge news. It’s a monophonic, standalone synth with USB and MIDI (and, naturally, control voltage), weighing just over a kilogram. Once you get beyond the MIDI interface, everything is analog. VCO (triangle-based, FM, PWM control), VCF (24 dB low pass) with external audio input, VCA, LFO1 and LFO2, ADSR. It’s basically a standalone version of the A-111-5 module. As such, it’s a bit limited compared to what’s out there, but there’s still a lot you can do with it, and at EUR400 it’s a Doepfer you can more easily afford.
I actually wish they hadn’t used the vintage-style look, because I like the distinctive, Cyberman-silver look of the Doepfer racks. (Maybe a Light Energy version for those who agree?) But that doesn’t make your credit card any less safe from this drool-inducing monster.
The Miniak is a new synth from Akai that crosses the Alesis Micron synth with an Akai body, adding a boom mic and a 40-band vocoder. There are also some Akai-style features – step and phrase sequencing, and a drum machine/rhythm sequencer. There’s no question this is an attempt by Akai to position the Miniak opposite Korg’s microKORG XL and R3 – and, perhaps, an acknowledgement that the “Alesis” nameplate doesn’t mean much to anyone these days. But given the fact that a lot of people like the sound of the Micron better than the Korg, I think it could be a contender. No pricing yet.
In other, if less earth-shaking, Akai news, Akai has added an 88-key MPK, their controllers with MPC pads on them. It also includes MPC Note Repeat and Swing. That’s cool, but for 88-key keyboards, action is everything, so I wonder how the quality may be. I haven’t been blown away with Akai on build quality lately. (As an aside, I think these are all variable — some people love them. You tend to hear positive and negative comments about any lower-cost items. I guess part of my concern is I don’t have much experience with 88-key keybeds from Akai or Alesis, so we’ll see what they use and judge then.) The MPK88 also suffers from the same thing I complained about on the Novation SL: the control layout is exactly the same to save cost, even with the added keys, so you get this oddly-cramped control layout in the center and then big blank spaces on either side. Then again, you have a place to store sheet music, sandwiches, etc.
So, in other words, Akai’s APC40 Ableton controller from NAMM and the Miniak from this show are likely to be the big newsmakers.
Samplitude 11 / Sequoia 11: The beloved (if not terribly widely-known) audio software from Magix is getting a pretty significant update – and best of all, Magix is dropping the dongle in the basic version. (See KVR for some heated debate about the value proposition there.) Samplitude has a new integrated UI, a new effects suite, “artifact-free” timestretching, and a new EQ. Sequoia adds “multisynchronous cut” for easier comparison of takes and visual feedback when timestretching, AAF/OMF support, video export, and new user admin features. There’s also a new guitar amp simulation, though I’m unclear why the world needs another of those. Sadly, details are scant right now and someone had the terrible idea of spending time instead of Flash animations of bird woodcuts (see my caption for the image above), but go enjoy:
I love OpenLabs, in that they seem – kind of crazy. DBeat is the latest in their line of massive hardware-computer hybrids. Interestingly, their capacitive touch screen will be multi-touch capable with Windows 7, which is very cool. Otherwise, well, everything you could put on this, they did – that is indeed an iPod dock on the top and a trackball on the bottom right. It comes preconfigured with Ableton Live and their own Riff virtual instrument host, plus GURU running inside Riff.
DBeat [Open Labs]
What you get is an integrated hardware interface and pre-tuned software configuration – though I do wonder how you get inside for repairs / upgrades. It costs US$3999 – 3499 intro – but make one Geico ad and it should pay for itself, as the NeKo did for these guys:
Euphonix with their MC Transport have created what must be acknowledged as the world’s most beautiful jog wheel. It even has a gorgeous Time Code Display, made … well, quite small, apparently because it’s artier? Those are transport buttons, function keys, navigation controls, and of course a numeric keypad, and it all connects via Ethernet – something I’d love to see more of. The controls work with Euphonix’s own EuCon, plus HUI, MackieControl, and plain keystroke support. For those of you who can’t afford an entire Euphonix setup, get the jog wheel!
The surprise news of the store: PreSonus Studio One, a new DAW. Apparently we don’t have enough of those with Samplitude (see above) and Pro Tools and Logic and DP and Cubase and Tracktion and Live and Reaper and Ardour and … so on. As with Mackie’s Tracktion, the goal appears to be to build a new foundation from the grou
nd-up, for easier ease of use and slicker features. But I’m still scratching my head as to what the real advantage is here. The primary selling point is a new audio engine that can switch between 32-bit and 64-bit floating-point audio processing on the fly. (They note “even with a 32-bit OS,” but that’s true of all 64-bit audio; it’s not directly related to the OS.) Other features seem Ableton-influenced – drag-and-drop, instant timestretching and (again, as with Tracktion) a one-window interface. But all in all, this looks like reinventing the wheel to the extreme. (A new virtual sampler!)
One interesting implementation detail: MIDI mapping is designed to be easier, by moving your hardware control and software control for linking. (That’s the way assignment works, for instance, internally in Kore.) And there’s full Mac and Windows audio interface driver and plug-in support, plus even VST3 support.
But if you’re building a new tool in a crowded marketplace, why not do something really different? Why not support OSC or build in clever new networking features or change the interface paradigm? This entire industry sometimes seems addicted to reinventing proprietary tools to create new “platforms,” without any real thought into why we’re doing it. And I personally can’t describe how little I want another DAW. (I could try breaking down and crying, for effect.)
Maybe it’s fantastic. But even if it is, it certainly didn’t take this opportunity to do something radically new.
And the oddest photo from Messe (snagged for us at CDM):
These wound up being the biggest stories of the show for us personally – in part, just in terms of what I’m anticipating.
The synth that stole the show without making a sound (meaning, it had better sound great when it ships):
There was one actually-shipping software program that has made a big splash, naturally.
A major announcement:
Garritan Rescues Giga Sampling Technology, Talks Open Standards (to me, the biggest news of this show)
Updated Novation ReMOTE SL Line, and the Controller Keyboard Battle Heats Up (cool, though not the “product of the show” Novation hyped it up to be)
And no, nothing I covered this week was an April Fool’s Joke. Jeez.
Did I leave anything of import out of this round-up? Let us know!
Disagree with my take? Say so. (That’s why we have open comments.)