Blog: The NAMMage is Done

Controversial products, and a clear favorite from the armchair set.   30-Jan-14

Blog: The NAMMage is Done

The SonicState team still has more coming, but NAMM is over, and I've got a few more items that are standing out (for me at least) in the coverage:

My Favorite Product of NAMM 2014

The team got a longer look at the Moog Theremini: Video here.

I may just be a geek, but the combination of Theremin, pitch control aids, onboard tuner, delay and digital sounds from Animoog, even a mini-speaker for practice: Oh. My. God. I'm pretty sure the Theremini gets my personal award for Best in Show. This is a very innnovative product, and maybe we won't all be Clara Rockmore, but might be able to manage a bit of pitch control and some cool new sounds.

Controls and Connections for the Tablet Set

iConnectivity Midi 4+, shown as a prototype last year, is nearly ready. You may remember that Sonic Touch gave the iConnectivity Midi 2+ rather a rave review. The Midi 4+ adds support for four midi devices and 3 separate computing hosts such as a laptop, iPhone and iPad (or 2 laptops and a desktop, or 3 laptops, etc.) to share connectivity over its USB bus.

The next step for iConnectivity will produce be an audio-specific version of the 4+ (previewed in the linked video), doing for audio what the Midi 4+ does for MIDI, but this time providing audio conversion among the devices. This product is very geeky, but it solves a very real problem for musicians and producers looking to better integrate tablets and similar devices in their studios and gets you to a hybrid approach that facilitates a more professional workflow around these portable devices.

For iPad musicians, Focusrite offers the iTrack Dock, an audio dock that adds a 2x2 audio interface to the iPad.

The Most Controversial Product of NAMM 2014

The Line6 AMPLIFi - sort of half amp, half Bluetooth hi-fi, is polarizing the entire Internet. Rob Hicks notes in the coverage that the modeling seems very...modeled. But in its price range, I suppose it's not particularly different from a number of other solid-state, modeling-happy practice amps. Some commenters have complained that critics aren't being fair comparing a $399 tool to a boutique amplifier, but I think the dissonance is in the product's marketing identity.

The demo in the video is all about practice, all about playing your music player through the device and jamming along with it. But Line6 shows it being used as a stage amp, and makes the grandiose claim about "the guitar amp reinvented." Well, that's a little much based on what we see and hear in the video.

The real competition for AMPLIFi, I would think, would be some of the modeling amps from Vox, Blackstar, and a variety of other tools largely focused on bedroom practice.

(Rich has a interesting interview with Julian Ward from Yamaha where he discusses a new free-of-charge version 2.0 firmware for the THR series of practice amps. Julian discusses with pleasant candor how the team building this product wants to find a way to take the idea to new places, rather than change things simply to have something new, and so decided to upgrade the device for now while they percolate some new ideas. The only downside to this interview is that Julian is a phenomenal player but plays only briefly here. His THR demos from Amped's 2013 NAMM coverage singed my eyebrows.)

Runner Up: The Touchmark Touch-Sensitive Pickup Switching system. Guaranteed to offend purists, this is certainly interesting as a technology. It replaces a guitar's switches with 2 touch pads that can be programmed via editor software connected over USB - it can route pick changes in a 2 configurable rows of control, and can provide continuous pickup blending. Regardless of tone, there's a clear aesthetic issue (i.e., these are ugly at least to me), not to mention that you'd be taking fairly drastic steps with your pickguard at the least to get it installed. Still...fascinating, if divisive.

The Least Controversial Products of NAMM 2014

Some items just make sense and sound good. Vox showed off a couple of new Night Train G2 amps, and they sounded really nice. 'Nuff said. No controversy here.

The Monkey Lord is back with several new Chapman guitar models, and is looking for distribution in the US and elsewhere. Rich gets a robust look at the new guitars, along with Chappers' signature-without-an-actual-signature shred-heaven amp from Victory.

Handwired amps from Marshall are pretty exciting,  and these custom models look and sound beautiful. The only controversy these will generate will be the class warfare that erupts when the price is established. Seven hours of handwiring per unit is not likely to come cheap.

Multiple Rings, Multiple Keytars

Sometimes I wish I was an EDM producer, because those folks get a lot of cool toys, such as iZotope's BeatTweaker drum machine.

While calling them cool might be a slight exaggeration, gesture controllers do seem to be approaching interesting. Source Audio demonstrated its "Hot Hands" interface that adds gestural modulation to a variety of tools.  Brutal when you've got to scratch your nose...a little incendiary itching powder could ruin somebody's set.

IK Multimedia was showing off its iRing as well. This Bluetooth device provides somewhat similar functionality, but task-built for phone and tablet apps rather than integrated PC hosted environments.

Just can't let go of the "Year of the Keytar" either, can I?

OK, the Alesis Wireless Keytar has an accelerometer that controls functions, which seems fun. Quote of the day from this demo: "If you're going to use a keytar, you might as well embrace it."  The Alesis unit is wireless and fairly affordable.

Korg's approach with the RK-100s keytar is a wired model, but contains a Korg synth engine, vocoder capability, and 2 clever ribbon controllers. It's got some interesting features and a bold red casing option.

But, um, we're still talking about keytars here. Keytars. NAMM. 2014. Trend. Keytars.


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