A Look Back at Summer NAMM 2016

From June 23-25, Summer NAMM touched down once again at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Living up to its acronym, this NAMM seemed to focus more heavily on music instruments and accessories than the voluminous pro audio gear found at the larger yearly show in Anaheim. Being in Music City, there were many musicians in attendance with the expected music retailers and some engineers, like myself, too. Yet NAMM significantly delivered on the Nashville experience thanks to TEC Talk sessions, many exhibit floor conversations with peers as well as to one-on-one equipment demonstrations at exhibiting manufacturer and distributor booths. Below are a few of the highlights I discovered at Summer NAMM 2016.
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From June 23-25, Summer NAMM touched down once again at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Living up to its acronym, this NAMM seemed to focus more heavily on music instruments and accessories than the voluminous pro audio gear found at the larger yearly show in Anaheim. Being in Music City, there were many musicians in attendance with the expected music retailers and some engineers, like myself, too. Yet NAMM significantly delivered on the Nashville experience thanks to TEC Talk sessions, many exhibit floor conversations with peers as well as to one-on-one equipment demonstrations at exhibiting manufacturer and distributor booths. Below are a few of the highlights I discovered at Summer NAMM 2016.

THE GEAR

Luke Audio, based out of nearby Goodlettsville, TN and distributed by Wave Distribution, proudly displayed its handmade, platinum-capsuled microphones encased inside of a stainless steel grille. Its new AL-X75 is described as a large-diaphragm cardioid hybrid condenser microphone “designed to emulate the tonal characteristics of the infamous vintage Telefunken ELAM 251.” Its LA-1e capsule found inside is a redesign of the CK12 edge-terminated capsule found in AKG’s 414 and C12 as well as the Telefunken ELAM 250/251. The AL-X75’s machined 34 mm back plates are skinned with ultrathin micron-thick mylar platinum, coated in house with Luke Audio’s own sputter machine. Its circuitry, also hand-wired in house, consists of a solid-state design. The entire body of the microphone is made from brass and stainless steel to give it a durable vintage look and feel. The AL-X75 has a frequency range of 20 Hz to 25 kHz and comes in at $1,999.99—competitively priced for what it is, in my opinion.

Down the row a short way was Tucson, AZ’s Cloud Microphones, also a manufacturer dedicated to building its gear in America. Cloud was recently awarded the prestigious President’s “E Award for Exports”— the highest recognition a US business entity can receive for making a significant contribution to the expansion of US product exports. Among the products that Cloud showcased were four new variations within its Cloud-lifter Series, offering one-and two-channel versions of its Mic Activators with Neutrik connectors, as well as a rack-mountable four-channel unit. For those unfamiliar, Cloud-lifters address the challenges of meeting gain and impedance requirements while using low-output dynamics and ribbons by giving passive microphone signals a major inline boost—up to +25 dB. Driven by a preamp unit’s phantom power, they are ideal for otherwise passive microphones.

With motorized touch-sensitive faders, recallable preamps and scribble strips, the CS18AI has stepped PreSonus into a very competitive market for digital consoles.

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Seattle-based Tracktion was showing off T7, Version 7 of its innovative Tracktion DAW targeting musicians, composers and sound designers. T7 functions are all in one window rather than separate mix and edit windows. Starting at only $60 and increasing up to $200 with the Ultimate Pack, T7’s functions that are a click away rather than buried in any short cut or keystroke, T7 seems to be a competitive and practical solution for musicians and composers. However, the more impressive release showcased at Tracktion was Biotek, an organic synthesizer combining a synthesis engine with sampled sounds found in nature as well as urban and mechanical/industrial environments. As a music production teacher, this intrigued me as a way to teach entry-level synthesis to high-schoolers. Biotek includes an XY pad that visually changes with the sounds, and any filters or adjustments made to the oscillators show a visual representation of the altered waveform. Available in AAX, AU, VST, and Linux VST formats, Biotek is affordable at $150.

PreSonus also was showing off its latest DAW – Studio One 3 Professional. See Russ Long’s full review of this impressive DAW elsewhere in this issue of Pro Sound News. Meanwhile, the company also displayed StudioLive AR Hybrid Mixers, bringing analog signal flow and digital post-fader effects and recording capabilities together. The AR Series come in 8, 12, or 16-channel options and are fully analog except for onboard post-fader effects such as reverb and delay and, of course, Bluetooth input features. Also onboard the AR Series is an SD recorder for simple two-track recording and USB 2.0 for multi-tracking to a DAW. Also displayed was the StudioLive CS18AI, the latest generation of SL AI consoles. Arriving with motorized touch-sensitive faders, recallable preamps and scribble strips, the CS18AI has stepped PreSonus into a very competitive market for digital consoles. The CS18AI talks over AVB networks, connecting it to the rack-mounted RM mixer stage box.

Antelope Audio introduced its versatile audio interface called Goliath. It is capable of delivering 64 channels of simultaneous I/O via Thunderbolt or MADI and is inclusive of USB connectivity. Featuring onboard DSP, 36 analog inputs, 32 analog outputs, 16 microphone preamps, four instrument DIs and internal clocking, Goliath serves as an all-in-one interface for multitracking, offering reportedly zero latency as it works in real-time. Also included are 24 line level outputs and 16 line inputs on DB25 connectors. It can be controlled via a mobile app for wireless control. Goliath began shipping in May at $4,995. Did I mention how slick it looks, too?

Tascam showcased its impressive 64-channel capable interface, the DA-6400, offering both Dante and MADI card options plus AES/EBU via DB-25 connectors, too. The unit a hot-swappable caddy, redundant power supplies and a USB 3 jack for standalone use.

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Tascam also showcased a 64-channel capable interface, the DA-6400, yet it offers both Dante and MADI card options plus AES/EBU via DB-25 connectors, too. The DA-6400 is perfect for broadcast and live recording purposes, as it is a solid-state recorder that fits into a 1U rack space. The unit has a hot-swappable caddy, redundant power supplies and a USB 3 jack for standalone use. The SSD can record 64 tracks at 48 kHz/24-bit or 32 tracks at 96 kHz/24-bit and has SMPTE timecode, word clock, RS-422, parallel and Ethernet connections on the rear panel. The front panel shows metering for all 64 channels on one screen—amazingly, actually. It also has remote capability via iPad as well—all that for $3,499.

There were many other major players at NAMM that struck my interest—too many to name them all, actually. I was most excited to see Other World Computing, a.k.a. OWC, demonstrating some of its products that literally prolong the life of older Macs. I was incredibly interested in these offerings since I have a 2007 tower that I still love and consistently use. For it, OWC has created a chassis to fit in the HD bays to reload it with SSD drives. OWC also has built one for MacBooks, fitting into the disc drives to allow for a second onboard HD—very neat. And it showed SSD Raid drives and redundancy drives, necessary products for video and audio editors. Finally, I was interested to see Allen & Heath showing off its new Qu-Pac and Qu-SB, an affordable and simple alternative to the Qu-16/24/32 digital console models. The Qu-SB is simply a stage box that can be controlled wirelessly via the Qu remote app. It has 16 line and mic inputs and 10 outputs along with a pair of stereo matrix outs and stereo ins. The Qu-Pac is the stage box on the rear panel and has compact controls on the front. The front panel includes a small touchscreen, user-defined keys, channel select buttons and scene and setup buttons— essentially the Qu without faders and knobs.

One of a variety of the TEC Foundation’s “TEC Talk” sessions at Summer NAMM, “Studio Talk with Tony Brown & Friends featuring Chuck Ainlay and Steve Marcantonio” was a clear highlight.

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SESSIONS FOR INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS

A valuable part of my NAMM experience was attending some of the various sessions offered. They were geared toward musicians, retailers, small business owners, music marketers and producers. I attended the TEC Foundation-sponsored Festival 101: Tech Rider Update, Studio Talk with Tony Brown & Friends, Hot Producers Hit Rewind, The Future of Music City and Technology Innovation and a session on Publishing and Copyrights. Each session was fairly thorough, rightfully entertaining and full of good information to walk away with.

OVERVIEW

I had my eye out for Dante-enabled products and was a little disappointed that I didn’t see more than I did, but was generally impressed with the products I found. As an audio engineer, I would selfishly love to see more pro-audio products on the floor at Summer NAMM, more along the percentage represented at Anaheim’s far-larger show—especially considering that Nashville is arguably the most recording-centric city in America. Yet at the end of the weekend, I felt I had truly had received the “NAMM Experience,” and I look forward to attending again next year.