The miles of aisles that weave throughout the halls of the Anaheim Convention center were once again bulging with music and technology, as well as record numbers of attendees to the 110th NAMM Show. In a welcome turn from recent years, innovation took a turn in the spotlight, with several manufacturers introducing products that not only showcased new tools, but new ways of looking at old ones as well.
No product visually exemplified this new thinking more perfectly than the MOLECULES drum company (moleculesdrumcompany.com), with its bizarre-looking and great-sounding hand-made custom drum sets. The ubiquitous look of cylindrical-style drums gets stood on its head with this design, which transforms them into a rounded, almost kettle drum shape with a suspended drumhead at the top. This results in a drum set that looks like bubbles and sounds like champagne!
The highly respected folks at Universal Audio (uaudio.com) have a very long history of providing analog recording products of exceptional build quality and unparalleled vintage sound. Over the past decade, that sound (as well as the sound of dozens of other manufacturers’ designs) has made its way into countless professional and project studios via its line of digital plug-ins, which remarkably impart the audio characteristics of their hardware counterparts onto their recorded tracks and mixes. Now, UA is integrating that same great sounding processing power into its first digital audio interface, Apollo. Along with offering high-resolution (24/192), 4 premium hardware mic pres and a 18 x24 Firewire/Thunderbolt-ready interface, Apollo also offers real-time UAD processing. This means you can plug in a mic, select the 1176 compressor plug-in and record just as though you were running through the real thing! Nice job, UA.
Guitarists will be enjoying this sort of live plug-and-play experience in even smaller form via PocketLabWorks’ (pocketlabworks.com) iRiffPort, which allows access to iPad, iPhone, and iPod music and amplifier simulation apps for performing and recording. Unlike past designs, the iRiffPort uses the 30-pin dock connector as opposed to the headphone jack, providing greater bandwidth with lower latency and as demonstrated by none other than guitar-slinger Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the show, it plays and sounds amazing. Considering the wide range of available tones (not to mention the weight difference between and amp and an iPhone), I expect to see a lot more of these in clubs and studios in the coming months.
A somewhat related product design is the Strumbuddy (mystrumbuddy.com), which provides a mounting solution for the previously mentioned iPhone-wielding performing artist. The Troubadour model clamps to the headstock of your guitar, so that you can view cheat sheets or apps discretely while playing. The Sing-Along model clamps to your mic stand, allowing singers and other instrumentalists to benefit from Strumbuddy’s “extra hand.”
As evidenced by the torrential rain of new apps, the musical possibilities of the iPhone and other smart phones continued to inspire musicians and software developers, with the folks at Tiggzi (musicians.tiggzi.com) taking aim at the promotional and networking side of things with their Mobile App Builder. Tiggzi “creates finished, fully functional mobile applications for smartphones or tablets on iOS, Android, Blackberry, and windows Phone platforms. In less than 15 minutes, users can build the online builder to create an EPK-style app that features their music, photos, bios, and gigs. Fans can interact with the artist and other fans, or follow their Twitter, FaceBook, and podcast feeds as well as purchase tickets, music, and other merchandise directly.” The price is FREE for the basic app, with other features and services available for an additional fee. Anyone looking to get their music out to a wider audience should go there and check this out for themselves.
Microphones? Yes, I do believe there were a LOT of them! DPA (dpamicrophones.com) builded upon the success of their 4000 series microphones by introducing the new, friendlier-priced 2000 Series, allowing more of us to enjoy their incredible audio quality as their prices come closer to within reach. British designers SONTRONICS (sontronics.com) personified the amazing sound of their microphones with the wonderfully engaging look of two models in particular: SATURN, a multi-pattern condenser mic inspired by the designs of the ’40s and ’50s equally suited for vocals to strings, brass, or percussion and the new HALO, a dynamic mic designed for mic’ing guitar amps and cabinets. Both feature a retro-meets-futuristic looking suspended capsule design and specs that would make just about any other mic maker blush. The engineers over at Blue (bluemic.com) were not to be outdone in the looks department, however, unveiling its new Reactor mic. Featuring a swiveling capsule head perched atop a circular body that houses a nifty, back-lit pattern selector. Grooovy.
As always, there’s waaay too much to go over in such limited space, but rest assured that many, many other products will be covered in these pages in the coming months, including new offerings from PreSonus, MXL, McDSP, Avid, and more. Until then, keep your hands dirty and your audio clean!
Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, recordist, and mastering engineer. He’s also a well-respected singer and songwriter with a new album on the way. Contact him at kaspro.com, svensongs.com, Facebook, or Google. Or call (619) 287-1955.