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Pro Audio, Spandex, Piercing and Tats

When I was a studio rat, I had little consciousness of what the NAMM Show was or its significance.

Frank Wells
When I was a studio rat, I had little consciousness of what the NAMM Show was or its significance. NAMM, via the lens of the trade press, could only be visualized as another platform for new product releases, an event that held relevance for music stores, but only for audio pros where the products used by the consumer overlapped with the tools of the professional.

There are still highly specialized professional products like large touring PAs and large format consoles that are only sparsely represented at NAMM. With that caveat, NAMM represents what has become the mainstream for even pro-quality audio products—sales are largely through retail distribution. The same products are being sold to amateurs and pro-am users, and retail is their channel. In fact, if retailers are asked to prioritize their clientele based solely on economics, there are few that would choose pro audio end-users over the larger potential market of wannabes, newbies, musicians and other traditional retail customers. These buyers have a new strength as a target market because the products the pros use have become broadly affordable and the customer population is huge. Their potential as a market dwarfs the pro market.

NAMM is not, for the most part, an end-user event. Audio Pros do get in, many as guests of manufacturers, as program content presenters or as celebrities. The same applies to musicians and artists, replete with exotic outfits, creative body piercings and tats. NAMM members—the retailers—are the target market. NAMM has to balance serving its members with opening up attendance too broadly. This year’s NAMM event, while managed extremely well, was obviously larger and busier than last year’s edition. More pro audio manufacturers were present than ever, and reported doing a lot of business with individual customers, alongside their interaction with retail buyers. That business is good is a hopeful harbinger for 2015.

At any trade event, I’m asked what I’ve seen that was innovative and cool. You’ll see some of those products in our Best Of Show report, others mentioned elsewhere in the issue. Let me mention a couple of others.

The Soundcraft Ui series, previewed at NAMM, is a pair of 1RU digital hardware consoles without a physical control surface, instead sporting built-in Wi-Fi capability; control of the console and individual artist monitor mixes is via networked phones, tablets or computers— the GUI automatically loading on any HTML5-capable browser once the network link is established (meaning no OS restrictions nor apps required). Reread that last bit— it’s the coolest part. The Ui series (currently including two models, the Ui12 and Ui16, with appropriate companion I/O) is built upon SM Pro tech, mated with processing from dbx, DigiTech and Lexicon.

One more: Last year, we covered Ultimate Ears’ move to 3D printing of custom ear molds, hinting at direct laser scans of the inner ear that would preclude the need for taking silicone ear impressions. The future is here. Link to a scan of staffer Steve Harvey’s ear being taken in realtime at This is a game changer. No audiologist is required; an hourly employee can be trained to make the scans. Coupled with UE’s product selector app, now ported to the iPad, the stage is set for retail level sales of fully custom IEM products.

Finally, on an internal business note, Assistant Editor Kelleigh Welch has outgrown us and moved on to become managing editor of sister title SCN. We thank her for all her hard work and we miss her already. Still, we congratulate Kelleigh on a well-earned promotion.