For anybody that’s regularly read my pieces (or anybody that’s seen my home studio), it should come as no surprise that I’m somewhat of a hardware/tech/gadget junkie. Mix that with a love of music and you have a very expensive hobby. Nevertheless, there is something about mixer knobs, black and white keys, four by four drum pad grids, rows of faders, and blinking LEDs that just sort of soothes the soul for some people.
For people that can relate, the National Association of Music Merchants conference that happens every year in Anaheim is like a glimpse into the Chocolate Factory. NAMM 2017 just wrapped up a few weeks ago, and, fortunately for anybody that didn’t get a golden ticket (me), plenty of outlets have been posting news and reviews to make sure we’re all up to date. Here are some of the notable highlights from this year’s NAMM.
Shear Electronics Relic-6 Analog
Not everybody is into analogue hardware, but the Shear Electronics Relic-6 polysynth has an awesome story behind it. Besides being based on the Oberheim OB-X and deploying a very interesting color-correspondent value-bar interface (as opposed to traditional LED rings around the rotary bar or something like that) this product is created by Jacob Brashears, an 18 year-old-innovator. He’s been working on this product for the last three years, meaning he was 15 years old when he started innovating this design. That type of drive alone is worth writing about. He’s taking pre-orders now and hoping to release it sometime in Summer 2017.
In the synth world, a lot of people are pretty excited about the Dreadbox Abyss. This four voice analogue polysynth uses the same oscillators as the Erebus and Hades (other Dreadbox models) owing to the line’s very stable sound. The unique waveform manipulation, the twin ADSR envelopes, the LFOs–all of this lends to the Dreadbox’s gritty, but charactered sound. Check out the video above for more info.
Akai MPC X & LIVE
Akai has been a staple in Hip Hop since the 1990s, and I actually love their older analogue and standalone models. Unfortunately, the company started moving away from the idea of a “production center” and more toward the “controller” in the early 2010’s with the release of the MPC Renaissance (which is fine, but were it for the multiple software problems I’ve had with it). Now, in 2017, we’re seeing a shift back to the standalone models with the MPC X & the MPC LIVE. As with most things Akai, I have reserved excitement here–for all of the flash and the flare, the big screen, the lights, I have no faith that this thing is going to be without bugs. I hope I’m proven wrong, but my experience with Akai software means that I’ll be waiting a couple of months before I decide if these are dope or nope.
Teenage Engineering’s PO-32 & OP-Z
Disclaimer: I’m a huge Teenage Engineering fan. I own and use both the PO-X line and the OP-1, and I think they’re genius. That’s why this year’s TE announcements were bittersweet. On the one hand, I’m stoked to see the latest addition in the Pocket Operator line, the PO-32 tonic, a pocket-sized drum machine with a built-in mic and software capabilities. On the other hand, I was rather disappointed by the OP-Z coverage this year. In comparison to Sound on Sound’s NAMM 2016 coverage of the prototype, I would have hoped to see something new, or at least a smooth and visually pleasing interface (as opposed to the MS Paint looking interface that you apparently need an iPad to look at). I feel like part of the problem was that TE coverage this year was subpar, no fault of the channels covering, but rather because these two presenters really didn’t seem like they wanted to be there, regardless of the video you’re watching. Nevertheless, I’ll still advocate for their products–they’ve always done me well, and I’ll probably be picking up both anyway.
Alesis Strike Pro Electronic Drums
I wanted to include an electronic drum kit in here because I think they’re super dope. Beyond finger drumming, I’m not a drummer myself, but I’ve always wanted to try it out. This electronic drum kit by Alesis will likely cost a pretty penny (though you can find some decent sets for under $500 if you’re just starting out), and has all the perks of your analogue kit sans the sound. While an e-kit has a hard time standing up to the sound of an analogue, I thought the Alesis Strike Pro was pretty dope and sounds decent.
There were plenty of products that I left out because I couldn’t highlight everything, but if there’s anything that you’re just dying to grab, let me know about it in the comments below.