NAMM 2017: Day One

The NAMM Show in Anaheim is a pretty big deal for manufacturers, dealers and artists alike. I believe only the Frankfurt Musik Messe can rival it in terms of size and scoops. But I doubt the Messe boasts as many A-list musicians. NAMM is where you can literally bump into Stevie Wonder or another legendary musician of your choosing. Oh, and I say day one, but I’m not even sure I’ll be able to go back tomorrow or over the weekend, as I’ll be pretty busy.

I’m covering NAMM from my own perspective, which is as a keyboardist and computer music producer. I won’t be talking about guitars, drums, or kazoos.

With major new products already having been announced the day before, my first stop was the Roland booth, where I got my hands on the new RD-2000. It looks great and seems thoughtfully designed, but I’m not sure just how new it is under the hood. It sounds good, but it all felt very familiar. Not to say that’s bad, though. What is new is deeper computer integration, which is an area where Roland had some catching up to do. At $2499, this keyboard seems like excellent value. I finished my Roland visit with a demo by Omar Hakim, Scott Tibbs, Jerry Brooks and Mike Phillips. It was a great mini-concert, despite some technical difficulties.

I veered off to the 88 lounge, where the acoustic piano manufacturers reside. My parents are both proud Bechstein owners and I was hit by a wave of nostalgia as the first thing I saw when I walked in was a pristine looking pair of their grands. But when I sat down and played one, I was disappointed. The sound, the action, this is not how I remember them.

Next stop was Korg, where I hoped to get my hands on the mysterious GrandStage, but all they had was a non-playable prototype. But it is amazingly compact, with the right features, and if it has the acoustic and electric piano sounds from the Kronos or even Krome, at a price close to the SV-1, this would be a total no-brainer. I could see this replacing my aging Nord Piano. I took a look at the Odyssey with full-size keys, and was surprised at how big it was. People were crowding around it so I didn’t get to play it. I’m not much of an analog guy, but this is the synth that is all over ‘Headhunters’, and for that alone I want it.

I really looked forward to getting my hands on Kurzweil’s Artis SE and Forte SE, as they are impossible to find in the LA area. I wanted to love it, but came away a little dissatisfied. At the same booth (AM&S), I got hands-on with the Studiologic SL88 controllers, both the Grand and the Studio version. They are identical except for the action, and I had my eye on the Studio as it is temptingly cheap at $499. Alas, I didn’t get on with the action, but the Grand felt really good. It costs more, but I’d say it’s worth it.

Right next door was Nord, where I got to noodle on the Nord Piano 3. It feels different from my first-gen NP, the action is a little lighter but with more snap at the bottom. I like my NP, but somehow I don’t see a 3 in my future.

Then I got to see some studio stuff, like the next-gen Aurora converters from Lynx Studio Technologies. The old ones have a stellar reputation, but the new ones are going to cost a lot more. An Aurora 8 USB retails for $1995, with the new one coming in at $2599. With Thunderbolt, it is $2195 and $2999 respectively. Ouch.

Apparently they have been around for a while now, but I hadn’t heard of HEDD, a German speaker company headed by ADAM Audio founder Klaus Heinz. I spoke with his son, who told me they have two guys at the factory in Berlin who do nothing but fold ribbon tweeters all day. When I commented that must be boring work, he shrugged and said they used to be watchmakers. Love that story.

I dug into a Silvertop at the Vintage Vibe booth, which really is as good as any Rhodes I have ever played (except maybe the short-lived and ill-fated Mk7). I would love to have one of these in my home studio, but I’d call this a luxury purchase.

I wanted to try Dave Smith’s Rev.2 but it was impossible to get near one. DSI seems to be very popular these days. But I was really touched by the Moog booth. Rather than having all their products set up, it was a sort of memorial/tribute to all the synth pioneers and legends who passed away in 2016. It seemed out of place and appropriate in equal measure.
Then I visited the Yamaha hall in the hotel next to the Convention Center, where Robert Glasper was having a little fun with the Montage. But in terms of products there was nothing new there, so I didn’t stay long.

After a long line and a short lunch, I descended into the basement where I found a couple of interesting things. First I found the booth of Schertler, a Swiss company making combo amps with gorgeous wooden cabinets. They specialize in amplification for acoustic instruments. Unfortunately, I missed the demo, just for that I may have to go back today or tomorrow. They have no US distribution at this time, but they will ship from Switzerland, with shipping and import duties on their dime, AND a 30-day money back guarantee. I fell in love with the cabinets and can’t wait to hear them.

Next I found Isovox, a Swedish company with an unusual product that almost completely encapsulates your head and microphone, giving you an actual vocal booth just about wherever you go. Interesting product, retails in Europe for 799 Euro. They await US distribution.

Another clever idea is the BomeBox. A small MIDI hub that connects to DIN, USB, Ethernet and WiFi, and allows configuration via a web app.

The Valente is a 61-key electro-mechanical keyboard (like the Rhodes and Wurlitzer) weighing just 50 pounds. It is made in Brazil and looks absolutely superb.

My perennial quest for the right keyboard amp led me to stop by the booth of Elite Acoustics, which had an ultra-compact combo amp with nifty features. First, it runs off an internal rechargeable battery, it has a USB charging port, and plays back bluetooth audio. It’s not really powerful enough fot the type of band situations I deal with, but I can think of scenarios where this would come in really handy.
Last stop in the basement was Shi Tuo, Taiwan-based manufacturers of studio furniture. Unfortunately, the rep spoke no English, but indicated someone who did would be there tomorrow.

Back on the main floor, I was surprised to learn about this keyboard manufacturer I had never heard of, Dexibell. Their Vivo S7 and S3 stage pianos felt like mature products. Hard to tell just how good they were from a brief encounter on a noisy exhibition floor, but I would like to try them out in a more appropriate setting.

I once again marveled at the sheer number of Chinese manufacturers with clone products, and next thing you know it was 6PM. There’s a bunch of other stuff I still want to check out, so I may have to come back tomorrow. If I do, I’ll post a follow-up report.

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