by Frank Wells.
Anaheim in January might not be the optimum time to visit Mickey and the gang at Disneyland, but it's a welcome respite for those from colder climes as they stroll to the Anaheim Convention Center, just across the street from the theme park, for the annual NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Show extravaganza of music making (and recording and reproducing paraphernalia).
One of the standard industry jokes is that NAMM stands for Not Available, Maybe May (all the major trade shows with three- and four-letter acronym names have similar nicknames). Like most jokes, that's amusing because there's some truth in the humor, as products are often debuted prior to their shipping date for a number of reasons. While malicious motives such as spoiling the market in anticipation of a pending product are often cited, more often it's just to take advantage of the anticipated audience and maybe getting some early product feedback (though I have seen "products" debuted early in their development that were nothing more than a prototype chassis with a couple of light bulbs inside). The ones getting mentioned here were fully functional, proof-of-potential demonstrations.
For instance, Shure introduced its upcoming Axient wireless system, a traditional TV band analog wireless microphone system where the innovation is in performance, control, active spectrum analysis, flexibility, redundancy and automated signal monitoring and switching affording unparalleled signal integrity.
Let's face it; most audio gear demos on the floor of a trade show have their limitations. Two product launches at NAMM 2011 proved that doesn't have to be the case. First, Electro-Voice actually incorporated a decently quiet demo room into their booth, I'm guessing with a great deal of effort, care and expense. It didn't hurt that the EV Live X speaker system debuted at NAMM sounded good, and consistently voiced across the range, but effectively demoing all of the speakers in the line, with two tempos and genres of music each, in well under 10 minutes? That was quite the feat. And while I've had demos on headphones in the past, the introduction by Lectrosonics of its truly groundbreaking Quadra digital wireless, low-latency, white-space-issue-free, companderless, 4-channel personal monitor system was done via the new system itself.
The Anaheim Convention Center's Hall E (the "basement" hall with low ceilings and, when the show is hopping, a minimum 10-minute hike from the "audio" hall—Hall A—through the "spandex" halls of the heavily tattooed and variously costumed endorsees of guitars, amps and drums) is where new NAMM exhibitors have to first put in their time, some preferring to stay put, others longing for a slot in the upper levels. Hall E can be a lot of fun, and a place to discover the new and innovative (you can also meet offshore companies, that for a nominal investment, will ship you crates of Your-Name-Here branded microphones so you can personally join the burgeoning field of brands).
Among numerous others, Rycote, though a decidedly established company, made its first showing at NAMM in Hall E, demonstrating its better mic trap, a unique suspension shock mount we first reported on after last year's Frankfurt Musikmesse/ProLight + Sound, now a part of a system including a companion pop screen. Nearby, mic maker MicW (well established in Asia and Europe) introduced its extensive line to the American market. The young but industry-veteran-owned and -staffed On Point Audio also debuted to the U.S. market at NAMM, with a product line that includes speaker systems with innovative features such as an angled LF baffle board that allow slimmer enclosures without compromising performance.
I'm still processing all I saw, so apologies to those who feel neglected by not getting mentioned here (I didn't make it all the way through my list, which includes offerings by the likes of Sonnox and Focusrite, or mention my favorite new product name from the show, the Akai EIE I/O). Chances are you are already mentioned in our February issue, and there will be plenty more products featured in months to come.