From 88-note weighted keyboards that fold in half to tabletop synthesizers to new electronic instruments that boggle the mind, there was a lot of cool stuff being introduced for keyboard players at this year’s show.
Arturia, one of our favorite virtualization companies, was finally showing off a pre-production 61-key keyboard version of the Origin synthesizer. The Origin is the first Arturia hardware synthesizer, based around a modular system. Loaded with modules from all of their products (Moog Modular, ARP 2600, Yamaha CS-80, Roland Jupiter 8, Minimoog, and Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 and VS) and new modules specifically created for the Origin, you can combine any of the elements as you wish. We’ve been curious about this item for quite some time, and seeing it live didn’t disappoint. The Origin software itself has also been updated to version 1.1, which now includes a tonewheel oscillator, a rotary speaker, a CS-80 envelope, and new effects including bit crusher, EQ, ring modulation, and tube distortion. There is also a new performance mode and a live page (which at times is reminiscent of Abelton Live).
Brass 2.0 is now bundled with the Akai Professional EWI-USB wind controller, allowing great control over Arturia’s latest offering. Brass is a software recreation of a trumpet, saxophone, and trombone. We especially liked the harmonization module, allowing four instruments at a time to be played and correctly harmonized. To our ears, it sounded quite realistic and musical.
A new and intriguing product from Muse was the Musebox. Representing the first product collaboration between Peavey and Muse Research, the MuseBox is a 2U half-rack design that utilizes technology derived from its powerful big brother, the Receptor.
MuseBox features front-panel guitar and microphone inputs, MIDI, and four USB ports, and comes pre-loaded with a wide variety of ready-to-use virtual instruments and effects, including an assortment of essential keyboard sounds, reverb, chorus, and Peavey's ReValver guitar amp modeling software. At the NAMM booth, the Musebox was described to us a “perfect for the one-man-band,” while pros “would be more likely to use the Receptor 2 line.”
Known for their keyboard amplifiers and speakers (including modern versions of the famed Leslie rotating speaker), new models include the MS-360/1, MS-360/2, and the KP-500SN. The MS-360/1 features 100 watts, while the 360/2 delivers 100 watts. Available in walnut or black, these deliver stereo sound in a full 360-degree pattern. The KP-500 is a 500 watt stereo combo amp designed for larger venues, and has an angled cabinet to widen the stereo sound. While certainly not cranked up to full volume at the show, the amps sounded quite good, despite all the surrounding noise.
Known more for their Blofield line of synthesizers, Waldorf introduced a curious product, the Zarenbourg. It looks like a modern-era Rhodes or Wurlitzer with sportscar stripes.
Sadly, we were told that the demo “did not survive the transport” and was non-functional. As you might surmise from the photo, it’s an electric piano with some built-in vintage-style effects, MIDI, USB, and built-in loudspeakers. Hopefully soon we will be able to give this a spin and hear how it sounds.
Technically not a “keyboard,” the omnipotent sith-lord Editor allowed some leeway in checking out Sonic Reality’s new Epik Drums. This is the Ken Scott (a very nice, down to earth guy, by the way) collection of drum sounds and grooves — over 2000! — that ships on its own 130 GB hard drive.
Ken Scott is a legendary British recording engineer and producer who started recording the Beatles as a teenager! He has also recorded David Bowie, Elton John, Supertramp, Dixie Dregs, and quite a few others. This collection features the original drums and associated recording equipment from those sessions. Even better, performing the grooves are drummers Bill Cobham, Terry Bozio, Woody Woodmansey, Bob Siebenberg, and Rod Morgenstein. The plug-in comes with the Infinite Player powered by Kontact as well as a standalone application. While we obviously couldn’t audition the whole library, what we did hear sounded great. Good thing this comes on a hard drive rather than multiple DVDs! We can’t wait to put this to use in our studio.
We loved Sample Logic’s Morphestra. Briefly, this is a collection of sounds recorded all over the world including symphonic, percussion, vocals, guitars, animals, strings, machinery, tools, brass, winds, and ethnic instruments, all powered by the Native Instruments Kontakt engine. Really, you have to hear how good this stuff sounds! Thick, lush, dark, moody, cinematic… it’s all in there. We were informed that James Horner used Morphestra heavily on the score for the blockbuster film, Avatar. Morphestra ships on a 160 GB Glyph HD (we’re really loving this trend), with loops, single hits, and multilayered sounds. $699 including the hard drive — nice!
Musicianlink presented the jamLink, an ultra-low latency device that enables real-time jamming and collaboration over the Internet. Essentially a little blue box with a webcam and audio interface that goes inline between an instrument (or your mixing board) and Internet router, it enables long distance real-time jamming. Unlike some other solutions such as that from eJamming, there are no monthly service fees. You just purchase the hardware (under $200) and you’re all set to rock, assuming you’ve got good bandwidth at each end.
The demo that in their NAMM booth was impressive, with an electronic drummer at NAMM and a keyboard player and singer using the system 100 miles away, without any noticeable latency. As some of our editors are not all located at the main NJ office, we are eager to give this one a hands-on review. It could be a lot of fun, not to mention extremely useful.
We fell in love with Roland’s vocal processor technology when we reviewed the VP-550 Vocal Designer Keyboard, which provided a simple and fun way to add realistic sounding vocal harmonies to your music. Now the technology is a full generation newer, and the VP-7 looks like something we’ll have to buy for our studio.
If you don’t need a full keyboard product like the (current) VP-770, this module comes in a small 9” x 5” tabletop box that weighs barely over a pound! It connects to any MIDI keyboard, and vocal backing can be triggered by what you play on the keyboard, while another setting allows two or three voice harmonies to be added to your singing. There is also a vocoder function allowing you to create classic sounds, too. The unit comes bundled with Roland’s DR-HS5 micrpohone.
Dave Smith Instruments
We previously reviewed the Prophet ’08 and Mono Evolver — it is no secret we really dig the sound of Dave Smith products. Dave has no introduced several siblings of the Prophet ’08, all of which ooze the same sonic deliciousness.
The Mopho is a small footprint one-voice unit of the Prohpet ’08, with sub-octave generators, feedback, and external audio processing- in a 7.5” x 5” package. Even more fun was the Mopho monophonic keyboard synth, essentially a 32-key version of the Mopho with USB, aftertouch, and an expanded user interface. The Mopho keyboard can be daisy-chained to the new module Tetra, a four-voice version of the Mopho (and basically half a Prohet ’08), giving you a total of five voices in a small package. If you like the Prophet ’08, you’ll definitely want to check out these new toys.
We were very excited when we heard the Kurzweil PC3 a few years back, and now it has been upgraded to the PC3K. In addition to all of the innovative features that made the PC3 a major success, the PC3K features 128 MB of non-volatile user sample memory. Utilizing sample flash technology, the PC3K allows user samples to remain intact after a power-cycle, with zero load time upon powering back on. Hallelujah! Can we get an Amen on that?
The PC3K can load .WAV files, but it can also load legacy Kurzweil .K files from the K2000, K2500 and K2600 keyboards. This opens up a whole new world of sonic possibilities; users can now combine the PC3K’s Dynamic V.A.S.T. synthesis engine with a library of K Series samples generated by users and developers for over 15 years. Another major improvement added to the PC3K is the inclusion of a USB port to support the use of thumb-drives for data loading and storage, as well as OS updates. We think Kurzweil has another winner here.
Eigenlabs introduced a new instrument: the Eigenharp. While a marvel of technology and potential expressiveness, it likely holds a steep learning curve to virtuosity, but electronic musicians have an incredible new tool at their disposal.
To quote their website and press release:
“A professional level instrument, which allows the musician to play and improvise using a limitless range of sounds with virtuoso skill. The unique design of the keys makes this the most expressive electronic musical instrument ever made. The Alpha can play and record loops, change scale and key, transpose, alter tempo, program beats, create arrangements, switch and layer multiple sounds, all while the musician is performing live on stage.”
Those 120 highly sensitive keys are actually three-position switches, there are 12 percussion keys, and two ribbon controllers run down the sides. Add the breath pipe and numerous pedal inputs and you can understand why this instrument will set you back close to $5,000 when it ships.
We had an opportunity to hear and actually play both the Alpha model and the smaller Pico version. The expression possibilities are nearly limitless, though we question the practicality of the instrument. Hopefully in time an electronic music virtuoso will be revealed who can show us the instrument at its best!
Long popular with gigging musicians for their Electro series, Nord has now released the Nord Piano. The Nord Piano is a dedicated stage piano with 88 keys and weighted hammer action. It is designed with the performing musician in mind — it’s very lightweight at roughly 18 kg (39.6 lbs). As with other Nord units, it is designed with a focus on fast response and accessibility of every function from the front panel.
The Nord Piano comes equipped with several acoustic and electric pianos, and harpsichords. Other pianos are available as free downloads from the Nordkeyboards.com website. The sounds are stored in non-volatile flash memory with a 512 MB capacity. This allows you customize the Nord Piano to feature only the piano models you like, without fear of losing them when powering Off. There aren’t any drawbars on this keyboard, but nevertheless even the organ sounds we heard on it sounded quite good. A full complement of built-in effects round out the package.
John Bowen Synth Design
John Bowen, in synth circles, is a legend. Having been involved with Moog, Sequential Circuits, Korg Wavestation, and Creamware, John is a synth designer of the highest order. His new synth, the Solaris, offers an unprecedented amount of horsepower in one place. Featuring six LCD screens, one can use a knob to digitally “patch” a module into the signal path instead of using patch cords. There are four oscillators, including CEM models and Prophet VS models, two rotor controls, four filters, four mixers, and six envelope generators… plus many more!
There is a Fatar 61-key licensed keyboard, a joystick, ribbon controller, 2 wheels, and multiple built-in effects. Last year it was just a pretty box, but his year, we got to play the nearly finished prototype. It sounded great and should be a sound designer’s fantasy come true. The Solaris should be shipping in the spring… hopefully to our studio!
After much anticipation, Moog released the Taurus 3 bass pedals! The Taurus 3 Bass Pedals recreate the sound of the legendary Taurus I. Moog analyzed the original circuitry, and then added modern amenities like MIDI and USB. Of note, these will have a limited run — less than 1,000 will be built. Specs include 13 velocity-sensitive bass pedals, 9 footswitches, 100% analog signal path, arpeggiator, 52 presets, which include the original classic presets. Should be another classic!
Korg released a few new products. Expanding their Kaoss line, the Kaossilator Pro works as a track-making tool, as well as a powerful live performance unit. At the center of the unit, is the XY control pad for real-time manipulation and two hundred sound programs, covering synths, drums, and acoustic instruments. Thirty-one scale types cover a range from chromatic scales to major, minor, blues and more. By specifying a scale and key, players can use a single finger to play perfect melodies and phrases that would be difficult to play even on a keyboard. There are also special scales such as Spanish, Ryukyu, and Raga, playing phrases that have a distinctive atmosphere. Another boost in expressive power is provided by the new Note Range function, which lets users specify the range of pitches available on the touchpad. The Kaossilator Pro features a mic input jack and fifteen types of vocoder programs, making it easy to achieve unique sound effects and robot voices among others.
The other interesting offering was the SV-1 piano. Sporting a red and black chasis, the 73 and 88 key versions offer acoustic piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Clav, CP-80, Mellotron, and organ sounds. Organized into six banks of six sounds, effects and amp modeling are included. The front panel also sports a tube amp circuit that allows real 12AX7 tube effects. We played this for ourselves, and the Rhodes sounds were quite warm and snarling. It also weighed a heck of a lot less than the real thing!
Check out the other cool gear we saw at NAMM:
Recording & Live Sound