Monday, January 24, 2011

92BPM Presents: NAMM Round Up by Mike Gao

The National Association of Music Merchants aka NAMM is a trade show that takes place twice every year where music production aficionados can go see and hear new hardware and software from their fave manufacturer. Imagine this as the CES of music, or even a MacWorld of hardware. With the shift towards in house studios that took place years back, and the flourishing laptop musician/production market that keeps blossoming as new technology is introduced, it's only right that we keep an eye on this as many of the ppl we chat about use much of this low to mid range gear.
So, we enlisted the help of SoCal producer, software developer and all around good dude Mike Gao. You might have copped his latest release from All City, and his iPhone app (which we'll chat about very soon), but he's dedicated to the music beyond the actual production. He was nice enough to walk the floor @ NAMM and highlight what he thought were worth mention for our world. Enjoy.

NAMM Round Up - Mike Gao.

For the laptop musician, Akai has a new MPK Mini.

They are also putting out some keyboards that let you dock iPhones and iPads into them (I'm not sure how good iPhone/iPads are as modules due to still too high of a latency, I'd rather use them as controllers like in my own apps. My secret sources tell me iPad 2 is coming in April though, so maybe the processor boost will help this). Akai also has a new soundcard out that functions also as an USB hub.

It has mic-pres and a nice VU meter. What got me real hyped was they had my iPhone app and told me they loved it, probably because I had promoted it as being able to beat box into the phone and load it onto a MPC.

Dave Smith Instruments
Tempest is an analog drum machine with Roger Linn's name on it. Great sounds, plus there are two pressure and position sensitive slide controllers with LEDs for added expression.

It boasts 6 analog voices with 2 analog/2 digital oscillators each, as well as analog compression and distortion circuits. Sequencer is still not done with 4 months left before release, but currently it only works with 4/4 time signature and 16th note swing (no 8th note swing). Projected retail at $1,999

Korg has a new series of Nano controllers.

I am impressed with the pad one and how they fit 16 pads on it now. They also have a new Kaosspad which lets you do four effects at once, and a new flagship keyboard called the KRONOS that I will never be able to afford.

Livid Instruments
Despite not being part of the monopoly that companies like Akai and Novation have on Ableton integration, smart hackers like James ( have gotten around it, and will be releasing Ableton integration software for this MIDI controller underdog's beautiful Ohm64 controllers.

The folks at M-Audio have Torq 2.0 which supports other "open" hardware boxes such as Traktor, but not Serato's box. It seems like they are abandoning their original Torq boxes and focusing on hardware because their Torq boxes sucked (I spent 3 hours trying to debug a buzz that was just Torq's fault for Trueradio). It features four decks and can even work without its hardware now.

Moog unveiled its largest synth and smallest synth this year. The smallest is the Moog Slim Phatty, which is like a Little Phatty with no keyboard (table top sound module/rack mount only).

The largest was its new Voyager XL, with frontal patching like a modular synthesizer, and addition of a 500mm ribbon controller.

Thavius Beck was doing a good job showing these Ultranova keyboards with dope push-button knobs that can be assigned to different things. This is a powerful stand-alone virtual analog synthesizer that is priced pretty low at $699 retail and has a vocoder and mic that comes with it.

Focusrite has this tiny sound card with software that allows it to model different studio environments/speakers. Don't expect it to put a sub into your headphones though.

Rane has the new flagship Sixty-Eight 4-channel mixer out, which I was able to play with weeks ago at the GasLamp Killer's house. With cue buttons along the left and right sides, it is well integrated with Serato and features built in effects and the new Serato built in (2 USB ports). Serato has its new SL-4 out, with ability to control 4 decks, and also 2 USB 2.0 ports for seamless switching between DJs. Make sure to download the new Serato version.

Teenage Engineering
The OP-1 is amazingly designed in a small package.

Aesthetically and functionally, it blows anything at this size out of the water. With FM synth, sequencer, mic, multi-track recording, mini keyboard (no velocity though), and many features, this is truly a work of art and great engineering. Only problem is the $800 price.

Universal Audio
UAD, who makes hardware accelerated analog modeling plug-ins, and who I first studied VST plug-in programming from, unveiled a Firewire version of their plug-in cards. These plug-ins sound so good and model analog equipment so well, that it requires extra hardware horsepower. Previously, it ran on PCIe cards, but as new Macs came out with different slots, they would become no longer usable. Their new version unveiled at NAMM utilizes firewire which means it should be future proof. Bumped into Computer Jay on the last day of NAMM who was also singing the praises of these UAD plug-ins.

Infinite Response
My favorite keyboard controller (arguably the best in the game) is Infinite Response's Vax-77. It is a 77 key keyboard that folds up so you can fit it in a bag and take it with you.

Without going into technical detail about its innovative new approach to keyboards using magnetism and hall effect sensors, I will just say that it is very responsive and has polyphonic aftertouch. Oh shit I think I got too technical. Basically aftertouch means after you hold down a key, you can keep pushing it up and down to control something (like a filter). The MPC has this. Polyphonic aftertouch means each key has its own individual aftertouch, like having a modwheel under each finger.

Say wrd.

Def want to thank Mike Gao for taking his time to pen this. More on his exploits this week. Indeed.


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