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Team HC's Product Picks From Winter NAMM 2018

Gear that turned our heads ...


by Team HC with introduction by Craig Anderton


This year, the Anaheim Convention Center grew a pair of halls. Yes, a pair of brand spanking-new halls, located north of the familiar five halls + arena we know and love. (Well I’m not sure we actually love the drum hall, but we do tolerate it because without drummers, we’d be stuck with drum machines.)


And those new halls arrived not a NAMM show too soon, because it was outgrowing the previous Convention Center incarnation. The two halls became like the NAMM version of Frankfurt’s Pro Light+Sound—without the lighting part, but with that “new car smell.” I thought it was great that all the software, pro audio, mixers, etc. were all in one centralized location, with a second-floor “skyway” to connect the new halls to the original ones.


The two new halls are the squares on the right side of the floor plan, above and below the arena.


The original halls were also better organized in terms of logical groupings of instruments. So, did this make navigation around the show a joy? Well...yes, and no. Yes, because if you scheduled all your appointments in the same general area, you were gold. But if you had to hop between the new halls and the original ones, you could count on 10-15 minutes of commute time due to both distance and the flood of people.


Actually, maybe “tidal wave” would be more accurate than “flood.” I don’t know what the attendance was, but it had to have been more than last year...I’d estimate over 110,000. NAMM isn’t just a show, it’s a city (for comparison, its "population" is about the same as Boulder, Colorado or Clearwater, Florida).


Everybody Was Doing Lines


No, this isn’t an 80s reference...but a reference to the lengthy lines that were most in evidence on Day One. Last year, all you needed for entry was a photo ID and your badge. This year, you needed to go through a metal detector, have any bags checked, and place your metal objects in one of those little cup thingies...yes, after going through airport security to get on a plane to get to NAMM, you went though an airport security emulation to get into NAMM.


Just one of many lines...this one was trying to get in to the new halls.


Showgoers accepted the fact that in a world where crazy people do crazy stuff for crazy reasons, it was probably wise to err on the side of caution. But credit to NAMM: By Day Two they’d opened up more entrances staffed with more people, and the lines became shorter over the course of the show.


Installing the NAMM V 2.018 Operating System


In a way, the New NAMM was a like doing an operating system upgrade for your computer: there were cool new shiny features, but you had to learn your way around the changes. Hall E was emptier than last year because companies previously stuck there for lack of room elsewhere moved to more appropriate spaces, the secret outdoor restaurant outside of the second floor sacrificed itself for the skyway, and the Arena’s population was a couple of forlorn lightning booths and two food stands. Then again, it was comforting to know there’s room for expansion should NAMM grow even more....which is both scary and exciting.


Tomorrowland, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and now, Platformland


The tech buzzword for this show was “platform.” And yes, that makes sense...it’s difficult enough to bring things to market, so if you can bring something to market that has staying power, serve as a jumping-off point for additional ventures, as well as get other companies involved, that’s a Good Thing. Native Instruments was leading the pack on this one, but they weren’t alone.


Daniel Haver announcing NKS for Effects during his keynote address on the first day of the Native Instruments Summit.


In fact, it’s significant that NI was even there, given that they’d sat out NAMM for the last nine years. However, they took an unconventional approach by holding an “NI Summit,” taking over a large meeting room, and requiring a wrist band for access. It was a smart move: you didn’t have the noise-to-signal ratio of the main floor, developers could talk among themselves and to people from NI, and the isolation meant you could actually hear what was going on.


Sound on Sound on Sound on Sound on Sound


Yes, Sound on Sound magazine was there, but I’m talking about sound. As in sound levels. As in SOUND LEVELS.


Every year, NAMM says they’ll do something about the sound levels, every year the booths keep turning it up, and every year, the sound levels are ear-numbing. When you go to the drum hall for some peace and quiet, you know you’re in trouble.


So here’s my solution: NAMM could offer a 15% discount to any company that restricts its demos to headphones—wired, wireless, or otherwise. Or maybe admission to NAMM could require bringing a shirt pocket FM radio, and the booths do low-power broadcasting over different frequencies. There’s gotta be an answer.


A Splendid Time Is Guaranteed for All!


As always, though, the bottom line is that NAMM is exhilarating, inspiring, exhausting, fun, and educational. And this time, it was even more educational thanks to an association with AES and an expanded TEC Tracks schedule that brought a new level of seminars and workshops to NAMM. (Although the result was option overload—do you do the TEC tracks workshop, the AES one, set up an appointment, or roam the floor?) I truly look forward to the day I can clone myself...and given that science has now successfully cloned a primate, maybe in a few years my clones and I really will be able to see all the show!


Meanwhile, here are some of the highlights that jumped out to our editors. Some things are new and notable. Some gear may have been released since Summer NAMM but was our first exposure to the product. Or, It could be a display that just blew us away.  --Craig Anderton



Phil's Product Picks 

It was shown off-site and not on the NAMM floor, but Moog Music's DFAM (Drummer From Another Mother) deserves to be mentioned. It's the first new addition to the Moog Mother synthesizer ecosystem. This is the closest thing yet to a drum machine from the good folks at Moog. With two oscillators, a white noise generator and VCO, VCA and VCF onboard, along with an eight-step sequencer and patch bay, and packed into a Eurorack style enclosure (like the Moog Mother 32), it's designed to work stand-alone or in partnership with your Eurorack rig or Mother 32 and provide hands-on rhythmic pattern creation.


Fender replaced their long-running (since 1982) American Vintage series with the new American Original Series. Built in Corona California, these nitrocellulose finished guitars and basses, inspired by models from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, take less of a specific "model year" approach and instead go for more of a best of the decade approach, allowing Fender to cherry pick the best features from each era while still keeping the vibe of each vintage decade. They also incorporate some modern touches too, such as flatter 9.5" fingerboard radiuses.

Arturia's new MiniBrute 2 takes the MiniBrute into the realm of semi-modular analog synths with a new 48 point patch bay. It also gets a second oscillator and other new features too. There's also a new Minibrute 2S, which has the same basic synth engine but replaces the keyboard with a velocity and pressure-sensitive pad interface and "three layer" sequencer that can sequence not only notes but parameter changes too.

Sabian's new FRX Cymbals hit a middle ground between regular cymbals and practice cymbals (like their new Quiet Tone models) - being about 4dB quieter than regular cymbals and not nearly as quiet as practice cymbals, they're designed for situations where regular cymbals might be a bit too much, such as coffee shops, churches, rehearsal rooms, recording studios and anywhere else where the drummer might be asked to "hold back a bit" - now you can play without having to hold back, and still keep the volume of your cymbals in check.


The new Korg Prologue polysynth builds on the foundation of their earlier Minilogue and Monologue analog synths, but with larger keyboards and more polyphony; the Prologue will be available as an 8 voice synth with a 49 key keyboard, and a 16 voice version with 61 keys. Each features lots of knobs for real-time control. Both versions have three oscillators (two analog, one digital), onboard arpeggiators and effects, updated filters, and 500 program memory locations for storing and recalling sounds.


The ultimate looper pedal? The new Electro Harmonix 95000 Performance Loop Laboratory just might be in the running for that title. The biggest, most powerful looper yet from Mike Matthews and company, this monster works equally well as a pedal or tabletop unit, has two inputs, supports instrument, line and mic input sources, has six mono tracks plus a stereo mixdown track, supports MIDI sync and reverse playback, and comes with a 16GB Micro SD card for storage, giving you up to 375 minutes of audio across 100 loops.




Craig's Product Picks


I really like the Line 6 Helix, but I like it more after Line 6 announced the V2.5 update that includes 6 new HX effects, 2 new amps, and 77 “legacy” effects from older Line 6 effects like the FM4, DM4, DL4, M9, etc. It truly is a platform—apparently Line 6 stuffed Helix with a ton of flash RAM, which makes this kind of major update possible. Line also introduced the HX Effects compact multieffects, which in a nutshell is a Helix with just the effects—no amps.


If Marshall can have a wall of anps, then Line 6 can have a wall of effects.


Cherry Audio's Voltage is a modular synth, yes, but it’s also a platform because people can create their own modules using Java and there will be a way to get these out in to the world. It’s not just about synths—I’m planning on finally implementing some of my hardware effects because this is the ideal environment to replicate some of my weird analog modules.



Native Instruments was stressing two new platforms—the Native Kontrol Standard for Effects (mentioned above, which has already signed up biggies like Waves and Softube) to make hardware/software parameter mapping painless. This builds on what has already happened with virtual instruments. What's more, Sounds.com is a gigantic marketplace for loops, samples, and the like that goes way beyond being “just a Native Instruments” thing. Currently it has 600,000 items, and the introductory price is under $10 a month for unlimited access. So how do you find what you want? There’s an algorithm that analyzes sounds with quite a bit of detail, and automates the tagging process for retrieval.



Okay, the legendary Yamaha CS-80 isn’t a new product—it came out 40 years ago. But this CS-80 is brand new, because it was forgotten in a corner of a Yamaha warehouse somewhere, wrapped in plastic and slated for crushing because someone thought it was some kind of mixer. Fortunately it was rescued from a fate worse than death, and was on display at the Yamaha booth.




Chris Loeffler's  Product Picks


The thing I was most looking forward to checking out going into the show was the EHX 95000 looper. The pedal isn't the smallest thing you'll step on at a gig, but it's smaller than comparable loopers and features 6 independent loops.  It also includes volume controls so that if doesn’t require and external mixer to mix live.  This could be a great studio tool as well a pedal board looker.




The biggest surprise of the show for me was the Plasma Pedal by Game Changer Audio.  A high-gain overdrive and distortion effect, the Plasma Pedal translates your guitar's signal into high-voltage charges in xeonon-filled plasma tubes to create a unique clipping overdrive. As good as it sounds to my ears (vintage TS fans might find it too pinched and modern), the biggest reason the Plasma Pedal caught my attention was the visual treat that is seeing the plasma waveform respond to the incoming signal. It's hypnotic and bonkers.



Another show suprise was the Chase Bliss Audio Thermae delay pedal.  A sibling to the Tonal Recall analog delay, the Thermae takes analog delay in a totally different direction by leveraging the digital controller to create wacky pitch bends and warbles. It's deeper than any delay I've played with, and I suspect there dozens of hours of hidden tones and tricks to tease out of the Thermae... truly a new take on a classic effect type.



Russ Loeffler's  Product Picks


Similar  to the  Two Rock TS1, but with reverb.  The 100 watt head is switchable to 50 watts.  The 40 watt combo is switchable to 20 watts.  Matt Schofield had two of the 40 watt combos on  stage at the  D’Angelico room.  He  played through  one  amp and  guest guitarists played through  the  other.  They all played through  335 style D’Angelicos and everyone sounded great in the  clean and lead channels. 


If I could have taken one amp home from the show, this would have been it.



The demo for the  S1 impressed everyone in the room.  They had to confirm that  no other PAs were running.  The weight is  15 lb.s and  I think the  wattage  is 30.  The dispersion array adjusts depending on the position – tilted back,  table top, pole  mounted, stage monitor.   Two XLR / phone  plug  inputs plus Aux in or blue tooth.  They quoted a price of $500, but the web site shows $599.  The rechargeable battery is $99 (but worth  it).  They also have a back pack to carry the PA plus additional room for cables and a mic.


As usual for Bose.  Pricey,  but worth  it.



The Interfacer is  new product from Good Wood Audio in Australia.  The device allows you to run more than one signal chain through your pedal  board. 




I thought Smash Mouse was a good idea as a foot controlled mouse for a  computer, but it can do more and  has  more potential.


It has USB, Bluetooth,  and  MIDI connections.  It will also  have the capability to down  load apps to pair to and control different devices.


They are hoping to start production  through a Kick Starter campaign, and said they'd  send Harmony Central a unit to demo if they get a production run of 50.



The new Eric Johnson strat was the talk of the Fender booth. The guitar also made an appearance as EJ’s main guitar for his concert at the National Grove in Anaheim ( a few miles from the convention  center).  He said that they used low tech  methods for routing out the f-holes … badgers.





Dendy's Product Picks  - Dums, Drums, Drums!


And a few other impressive things – like the ever-impressive wall of Marshall Stacks! Even drummers love being taken to eleven.


Out of the gate, let me say that choosing favorite things at NAMM is hard for me. I like everything I see, and there are very few items that leave me scratching my head wondering, “why?”


The drum hall can leave even the most tolerant drummer in a bit of shell shock because of the noise, but this year the “db patrol” was not messing around!



Every year as you approach their booth, Ludwig has a huge, impressive (and possibly unrealistic) drum set that is the “in your face” display. If you’re a drummer from the 1970s like I am, this year’s, however, was simply stunning. Their old familiar blue and olive badge holds a special place in my memory, so when I saw those colors applied to this impressive drum set, I was left speechless.



Ludwig also introduced the all-new Neusonic line. This is a working drummer’s shell pack. They are wrapped in what is called “a formica-like covering that is extremely durable” to withstand easily the rigors of the gigging drummer.




I wasn’t the only one impressed with Ludwig. MMR gave them the most innovative drum line award!



For a small manufacturer, Ronn Dunnett’s booth always impresses; this year he knocked it out of the park. His snare drums and George Way Drums are out of sight.



DW Drums had some really innovative items.

The mini-shallow kit (not the official name, but we couldn’t find anyone to ask the official name) is a traveling drummer’s kit. It comes in its own compact case. (I think I must get one!)



Another very innovative release was a partnership pro audio device between Audified and DW drums called the DW Drum Enhancer. It’s a new plugin that Audified says is “the only drum processor you’ll ever need.” The rack mount has multiple EQs and compressors. Once you’ve chosen your drum ‘type,’ these are set up automatically to give you the sound you’re looking for. While you can fine tune it, they claimed the hard work has already been dialed in by DW’s and Audified’s engineers.



Also, you can take a complete tour of the DW Booth here:





Gretsch was showing this little bebop kit that really spoke to me. This vintage wrap just said – old school cool.



Even though it was released back in the fall, Pearl had a big focus on their new Pearl Malletstation. It’s a fantastic electronic mallet instrument with a dynamic range that surpasses its acoustic counterpart.


Additionally, since we are showing “walls” of gear…how does this strike you?

Pearl’s Wall-O-Drums:



Guess who’s back!! Rogers Drum Company, that’s who!



While Phil was impressed with Sabian’s new FRX cymbals, I was equally impressed with the new Sabian Custom Shop series. It’s a service through which a drummer can custom order what Sabian claims to be 46 million cymbal possibilities.



And how about Sabian’s Wall-O-Cymbals:



Paiste had one of the largest gongs I’ve ever seen, and Tris Imboden decided he had to bang it!



Remo had a smorgasbord of drum heads for everyone to try; however, they get the award for most polite booth of the drum hall.




Mapex displayed a Saturn V kit with one of the most beautiful glitter finishes I’ve seen.



And Sonor rocked it out with Nicko McBrain’s Iron Maiden kit, which was amazing.



Finally, Yamaha introduced their Concert Floor Bass Drums, which are truly geared to the concert market. However, I’d like a drum kit with these bottom thumpers!


But Yamaha got my most innovative pick of the show with their EAD10. This device was introduced back in November at the PASIC show, but it’s an amazing piece of technology. The mic attaches to your batter side bass drum hoop and records your entire kit. The interface (electronic acoustic drum module – EAD) allows you to have your drums processed through 50 presets and 200 user scenes, allowing the acoustic drums to have electronic enhanced sounds. It also has a free iOS app that allows you to practice, shoot, edit, and upload videos of your drum performances.



You can learn more about the Yamaha EAD10 Here.



As the dust is just starting to settle in the Anaheim Convention Center and gear is still being shrink-wrapped, carpet rolled up, tow motors running up and down aisles, and skids loaded on trucks to head home...we're preparing for Summer NAMM 2018.


We hope you enjoyed our report and look forward to reviewing some of these great picks in future issues of Make Better Music for Harmony Central. - HC-


Photo credits: Lee Anderton and Team HC





TEAM HC is the combined group of editors at Harmony Central. See their individual Bios here


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