Wow! What a weekend! I was not sure what to expect from the NAMM show, as this was my first year, but what an amazing experience! I was hoping to check out some of the new DJ controllers and production equipment coming out this year, but I never thought that I would get my hands on a Moog synthasizer, get to tweak a real Reactable, or get a demonstration of the Rhizome Mega Groovebox by the most excited little Frenchman in the basement. That does not even broach the subject of the modular analog synths that were on display, which I will cover in another post. In order to keep this organized, let’s go through the highlights!
Akai, and all of their associated madness:
A TON of people bum rushed the Akai booth on openeing day to get their hands on the new MPC Renaissance, and for good reason. It’s the new big daddy of their line, and has a whole bunch of fancy things that most people buying it won’t really read till they get it home. When I was finally able to get my hands on it though, I had one thought alone…”why are the pads so damn hard to play?” And so I asked….turns out that was the biggest concern that came out of the beta testing, meaning that it was very, very hard to get a good roll, or even a feel for the velocity sensitivity. Thankfully they are reverting the pads to the MPC 3000 pads, which are much, much nicer.
The one issue with this beast is that it’s built for the boss pros, and comes with a boss pro price (around $1500 bucks), and as such is not the best option for your average bedroom producer. However, they did have two other offerings that fit that niche a lot better….the MPC Studio and the MPC Fly. Now, they both look cool, but your choice really comes down to, “Do I have an iPad?”. Both of these devices attach to a computing device of some sort (either and iPad or a computer), and offer much of the same functionality as the Renaissance, as well as a smaller foot print, for less. The MPC studio also screams “NI Mashine is my target!!”.
For my money, and for the fact that I have an iPad, the Fly is a better option, but to each their own!
The Rane booth, and a whole bunch of expensive things that combine other expensive things most people already own:
So the Rane booth was debuting a couple of their new mixers, aimed at taking sides in the Serato vs. Traktor battle (they choose Serato!). The 61 and 62 are great mixers, don’t get me wrong….they feel nice and durable, and they had Z-Trip at their booth! But when I think about what they are asking people to buy, it gets a little silly. Allow me to explain: most DJs that have gone full digital realize that they need to have a control of some sort to so what they want, and so, in addition to the mixer that they invested many, many rolls of pennies into, they shook out their couch cushions for change, and then sold their couch on craigslist to get a control. Okay….”all set” you would think. But then here comes Rane with their new line of mixers and says, “Here is the new, more affordable version of the 68 that we made just for you…BUY IT!”, even though most of us have eaten anything that would be worth selling by this point. And that is not to say that these will be all that cheap, given the built in sound cards and mesmerizing blinky lights. I guess though, if you have not gone all in on your setup, and are just breaking in, this would be a good choice, until you have to go to a club and they look at you funny for bringing your own mixer.
Pioneer: “dude, do you think the size of that booth is compensating for something?”
I’ll be up front and say that I like Pioneer stuff. I have the 800, and it says nice things to me when I’m setting it up. That said though, I was a bit baffled with my first hands on with the Nexus, especially given the price. I’m all for adding new features to keep your products fresh, but when I actually plugged in and played with the Nexus, I had a hard time figuring out what all the fuss was about. Yeah, some of the few new effects are kinda cool, and the limited edition white model they had was indeed very, very shiny…but all I could think about was the many hours I would lose trying to keep it clean. And that little X/Y pad? Nice try, but give me a Kaoss pad any day. And having seen the Nexus, I made my way to the very lonely 2000 series setup. Seriously…a bunch of kids were gathered around one of the 2 channel mixers, leaving the DJM 2000 and the 4 CDJ 2000s all alone. And looking just now at a Google shopping, I would shell out the few extra (hundred) bucks for the much, much nicer 2000.
Reloop, various other control makers: “have I seen this before?”
This might feel like variations on a theme, but the feeling that I kept getting with the controller makers was, “These all look the same.” It may seem like a weird thought, but when you get right down to it, there are only SO MANY buttons that you need on a control. Play, pause, load and transport stuff, a few effects, and MAYBE some looping and sampling madness, and that is really all. So when you get down to the comparisons, most of the controls look very similar, and work in very much the same way. I guess then it comes down to build quality and feel, and to be honest, it’s tricky to guess how one control versus another is going to hold up over the months/years/pints of beer spilled on it. In the end, these controls were just fun to mess with, and none of them really gave me the fizz.
Synthasizers: “that costs how much again?”
One of the real treats of the show was the chance to get hands on with the synths that have and will define electronic music going forward. One thing that was very clear is that there is a group of folks out there that think analog will live forever, and after playing some of these synths, I have to agree. For those of us that have come into music production in the era of Ableton and Logic, it’s easy to get very proud of the sheer number of software synths that we can use. A quick search of the internet turns up TONS of companies making tons of little programs that really make amazing sounds (and that’s the truth….they guy demoing Ivory by Synthogy proved it), but there is really nothing like the direct feel of the knobs and switches you get on a Moog or one of the Dave Smith synths. These guys know their stuff rocks, and when you walk up and start playing them…it’s a special experience. I walked away from these booths knowing that, yes, these devices will require me to sell the kidney of my first born, but that I will do it anyway. I will get a bit deeper into the weird world of analog in my next post as well.
The Basement: “the floor space is cheaper”
The basement proved to be the area that I liked the most, because it was full of “everyone else”. There were very few big name companies down there, and an avalanche of ukulele makers, but that’s where some of the neat stuff was hiding. First, I almost fell over when I saw the tiny booth with the Reactable folks in it. If you don’t know, this is what a Reactable looks like:
….and it’s awesome fun to mess with. Those blocks are different sound and effect functions, and the whole thing plays like a little kid’s busy board. As luck would have it, I have the iPad version of this, and was able to jump in and start playing. I’ll never afford one, but this was great.
Finally in the basement, I met my favorite exhibitor at the whole show. Sadly I didn’t get his name, but the ‘Little French Guy’ gave the best demonstration of any product at the show. He was demoing this:
That’s the Rhizome SXT, and again, I want one. This little puppy is a true all in one work station…drum machine, synth, sequencer, it does it all. And that’s because it is actually a hard interface built on a consumer level PC, so everything that you see looks familiar and works the same as any Windows based production machine. It even runs VST plug-ins, and as such becomes a stand in replacement for Ableton. As you would imagine, it’s out of this world expensive, but looks like loads of fun to play with. By the time he had finished his demo, the NAMM noise police (yes, they have them), were already on their way to reel him in. Awesome.
It was a truly great event, and it’s practically a lock that I’ll beg, borrow, and steal to see it again. I’ll do a follow up to this post on the analog guys and their crazy, collective systems, but until then…..110101!