January 25, 2014

Another One Down... (NAMM Report 2014)

by Chris Randall

Another January, another winter NAMM. Thoughts, in no particular order:

1. Once again I'll state the obvious: Anaheim hates you if you're not there to go to Disneyland. I will again propose that NAMM move to the LA Convention Center, where at least if we have to put up with bad food and no parking, we can do it somewhere we don't have to drive two hours to get to.

2. The little synth pictured above. This is the Murmux Semi-Modular, a new product from Freaqbox, who are nominally guitar pedal people. Bog standard, mediocre silk-screening, a case that is way bigger than it has to be, and tweed, of all things. Somehow, that combo works. There is also a non-modular version called The Initiate, and one with a big ol' foot-pedal keyboard, if you're in to that sort of thing. There is zero shortage of simple analog desktops, and this is one of them, but the filter is to die for, and the big-ass knobs... PEW PEW PEW!!! No idea what the MSRP is, or availability. But me likey.

3. The Waldorf 2-Pole. Mono I/O, no MIDI, no USB, no runs, no hits, no errors. Another box that is way bigger than you'd think. It sounds farking awesome. $250-ish. Outstanding.

4. Bitwig Studio. I'm now running this jank. Haven't dove in to it in detail yet (i.e. made a track with it) but it shows promise early on. It's good Ableton has some competition now. All consumers benefit.

All in all, NAMM 2014 was exactly like NAMM 2013, only more so. A good time was had by all. Anything you see in the firehose of social and normal media that caught your eye?


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Jan.26.2014 @ 2:29 PM
brandon daniel
After seeing this I stopped by the FreaqBox booth today. Damn that thing actually sounds pretty good, like a vintage Moog oscillator thickness/filter overdrive sound. But it's a super-simple architecture, and it'll have an uphill climb at ~ $900 for the initiate, ~ $1100 for the semi modular.

Jan.26.2014 @ 4:15 PM
Chris Randall
Yeah. The pricing is not great. For the bone stock synth sounds, though, I don't think I've heard better . It blows the doors off at least two of the Studio Electronics synths, and is in the hunt for the real SEM.


Jan.26.2014 @ 8:13 PM
I'm surprised no one's mentioned the Elektron Analog Rytm. It's not something I'm in the market for, but it's an impressive box nonethless.

Otherwise, there was a shitload of interesting eurorack stuff. But what I'm looking most forward to is getting my hands on bitwig...

Jan.26.2014 @ 9:43 PM
1. NAMM should be moved to Vegas Convention Center. Parking is a total non-issue here, and more importantly, it's under five minutes from my house. Y'all can come stay with me, I have a big-ass pool.

2. I played the Freaqbox bass pedals for a long time, and my friend and I were inadvertently drafted to give design feedback. It had some minor issues (the attack didn't really go to zero, nor did the resonance), but it sounded nifty and looked unique, and the multi-octave sub octave was nice. But they told us the bass pedal version was around $3500. Ferreal?!?

3. I didn't play all of them, but I was impressed by the Studio Electronics Boomstar (though the name makes me think it's a an 808 kick emulator). I played the 303 version (mainly because it was in front of me and running), and though I'm not what you'd you call a 303 guy, it had a ton of low end and numerous kickass ways of distorting obnoxiously. They also had new versions with CS-80 filter and Korg System 700 filter, but it seems it would make far more sense to charge $100-200 more and just include all six filters with a selector. Who's gonna buy multiples of these things?

4. Whether it's $99 or $129, Arturia Beatstep is an insane no-brainer. It basically does everything an ARP sequencer does (and stores 16 patterns), and the last I checked, those were going for $2k and up. (ok, it won't do two separate 8-step sequences simultaneously, I but suspect you could get around that by buying two Beatsteps and saving $1800. Or a baker's dozen of them.)

5. Been hammered into the ground, but regardless of the ridiculously cheap MS-20 Mini, the full-size kit one for $1400 is still an unbelievable deal in today dollars. I played it, and it's more fun than a barrel of monkeys with superballs. By all accounts, only 200 will make it to the states, so you and me probably won't get one, but two Korg reps agreed with me that if everyone wants one, they'd be silly not to make more.

6. Roland: at least you won the "here's a whole lotta nothing/there isn't an MI company with their heads further up their ass" award, so like, nice work alienating whatever supporters you still have left.

Jan.27.2014 @ 5:09 AM
Jason Duerr
BitWig all the way. It is about time.

Jan.27.2014 @ 9:36 AM
And now I want a t-shirt that says "I have a big ass pool" on it. Even if I don't.

I can't get excited about the Arturia thing until it's been out awhile. First-run Arturia hardware is still a hit-or-miss endeavor. I picked up one of their 49-key keylab controllers the other week - dead keys, not-equally-responsive pads, and fader caps that basically went flying off if not handled with a delicate touch. That went back straight away. My DX7 II FD, well, that still works just fine for keys.

Jan.27.2014 @ 9:40 AM
Jason Duerr
Arturia software updates have killed Ableton sets for me before. I lost a lot of work, and the good folks at Arturia couldn't figure it out. Also, Arturia's MiniLab will crash Ableton on a regular basis, i would never gig with the VST running. IMHO, wait for BeatStep to stabilize.

Jan.27.2014 @ 10:53 AM
I wish the Theremini didn't look like a big suppository.

The MIDI out is kinda cool, but it seems like it'd be most useful to do MIDI out and have the antennas be a bigassed continuous controller, instead of note-out (because, hell, there are far easier ways to control a mono synth than waving your hands around). I mean I love my etherwaves and they sound pretty great for that theremin sound, but I kinda don't think they need to be anything more than they already are, and the Theremini appears to be targeted squarely at the kind of indie bands that have backwards haircuts, tv trays with lots of effects pedals, and some sort of press kit with the words "freeform electronic improvisation." It'd be cool if it was like $150 but at the, what $299 price point? Meh.

I haven't decided yet if Roland has greatly overestimated the number of wedding bands that need an 808 clone, or if we've underestimated the number of people who simply don't give a shit that it's not a true analog signal path. It's a big yawn either way, but being Roland I'm sure they don't care, will sell enough of them to justify the R&D costs, and continue to make their bank off of stage pianos or something.

So breaktweaker is finally out. This is the killer plugin for, like, 2004. For BT. If you're not BT and it's not 2004, then there's no real use for it. On a whim I played with the demo over the weekend. It's pretty limp. Underwhelming drum synthesizer (a few neat features, but everything still sounded pretty plasticky) tied to a sequencer that lets you do BT-style microedits. Which nobody needs to do, ever, in their lives. Might be cooler if you could actually, um, tweak breaks with it, but really it's just another drum box with high clock resolution and some macros for making kick drums sound like farts. I'd maybe shell out for it if it were a reaktor ensemble and was like $75, but that $249 price point (or $300 if you want the add-on libraries) is basically insane.

Jan.27.2014 @ 1:09 PM
ditto on breaktweaker. overhyped, overpriced.. underdeveloped and gimmicky. played w/the demo for a while. very "meh". which is surprising given how much i like some other izotope products.

Jan.27.2014 @ 1:42 PM
I overlooked the Waldorf unit as meh, but looking at it now at your req, looks like a fairly competent little box for those in the market...

bitwig: will definitely check out, have yet to hear anything about it's PDC, it's actual sound engine, or cpu efficiency, .... but looks like it could be a hell of a lot of fun and it's nice to see someone push ableton to fix some of their glaring problems they refuse to admit.

breaktweaker? yeah, seems like it would have been great for BT in 2004, would like to test drive it with some other non percussive type sounds, but for over 200bucks, seems a little frivolous. Izotope makes some great products... seems like low lying fruit for them to make a really good vocoder, as they have done the r&d on synth engines and vocal manipulation, multi band eq's etc....

felt a little underwhelming this year to me, but I am not in the place right now to be dropping thousands on gear anyway, so probably a good thing... my favorite purchase last year was probably iconnectivity's midi2+.... thing actually works, and in aggregate! (had nothing but bad luck with that in the past)....

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