I went to NAMM… After two days my feet hurt. Here’s what I saw, in short, rather opinionated bursts:
NAMM by NAMM - Like The Blob, it just expands to consumes all available space. Add two new conventions floors to the Anaheim Convention Center? Filled! The vibe was mid-level, there didn’t seem to be any “OMGODHAVEYOUSEENX??” thing. Bootsy Collins was there, judging an amateur “funk-off”, so it had that going for it.
EuroRack Gulch - A big pile of EuroRack manufacturers were there, all crammed into a few booths. They stood out from rest of NAMM like a sore thumb: No-one seemed to actually be hawking their gear - much less even showing it off. Most people walked by shaking their heads, not knowing what to make of it. Those who knew, walked up and disappeared into the rabbit hole of patching. Compared to the booth-upon-booth rows of boutique guitar pedal makers, who had their stuff out, being played, and ready to get you interested… the modular folks mostly acted like the Goth crowd in high school. — Sorry, friends, that was harsh, and I know a lot of you are here… But I did find the vibe really down.
Exciting… but this stuff is all still in development…
Zoia by Empress - Highly configurable effects pedal, with a cool, novel tiny grid UI. I got UI concept the moment they showed it me. Alas, they had no synth to play with it, and the effects seemed a bit thin. But, it’s pre-release…? Spoke a lot with one of the two developers, and they are very keen for people to do wacky things with it. - Still not mentioned on the company’s website.
Pipes by Synthesia - Small custom sampler & DSP board married with a Raspberry Pi & a small touch display. Whole UI & MIDI processing done in PurrData, with DSP control done via a Pd plug ins. Developer more than happy to let people do what they want with the Pd side, and you have all the facilities of a Raspberry Pi. Would really tickle my fancy… but no audio in! Separate webiste: https://www.pipes.rocks/ - but the box shown there is concept, the real one was not as glitzy.
Jambé by Jambé - Finally, a percussion pad controller you can play with your hands that you could play for more than 10 min. without bruising. Feels great. Responds incredibly well… but drives a custom iOS synth (which is why it response so well), not MIDI out. Pros: Very low latency. Cons: you have to play their kits which aren’t bad, just limited. (Disclaimer: I worked with the developer many years ago.)
Morph by Sensel - If you ignore the overlays, and just touch the surface, it tracks up to 16 touch points with a lot of sensitivity. The slightest touch registers nicely… And it is just MIDI CCs over USB… So with some programming… hmmmmmmm
MiniBrute 2S by Arturia - I can’t say I ever liked anything we dialed up - either presets, or fiddling around with the patch controls. Arturia had exactly one patch cable in the demo area for four units! We nabbed it and patched… but really, it didn’t help much. All of the reasonable things you could patch are already normaled, and there isn’t much to “weirdly patch”.
Digitone by Elektron - The hype is real: You can start from the init patch, venture off into FM land in any direction, and always be having a good time. The addition of the filters and drive (per track) gives it a pretty wide palette for an FM synth. We had two good tonal lines, bass and chords, from init patches, and two nice percussive things tweaked from the sound library - in about 15 min. tops.
Manther by Malekko - No one even so much as nodded to me as I made my to the unit, sitting on the back table in the booth. Mucked around a bit until I figured out the sequencer, made a beepy fast line, and fiddled with the sliders on the synth part. It was fine for what it is, but stand alone, it doesn’t have much of a range. I imagine patched out to a pile of modules it could get interesting… but then why not just sell the sequencer separate from the simple analog voice?
Peak by Novation - Got to play this, finally. Very easy to program, very thoughtful UI. Controls are all very musical, and I could mutate patches into interesting territory easily, even the init patch. Whole thing sounds big and full. Polyphonic aftertouch (here played from a Launchpad Pro in isomorphic grid mode) was really fun.
Microvolt 3900 by Pittsburg Modular - Played with their new “let’s see if we can get you hooked on modular” mono-voice all-in-one unit. Found the sound uninspiring and range rather limited - perhaps I needed more time or more patch cables?
Blipblox by Blipblox - Toddler’s busy-box like toy… that is actually a groovebox with sequencer, and synth voice w/filters, LFOs and a mod-matrix. Buy it for your kid… then steal it back and circuit bend it when they’ve lost interest… go on, you know you want to!
MP Series In-Ear Monitors by Mackie - I tried all three models. The middle ones… Buy the middle ones. That said, I have no experience with any other in-ear monitors for comparison.
Old Things I Finally Got to Try
Octatrack MkII by Elektron - Oy I love scenes and the cross fader… but Oy it looks like it would hard to build those on the fly live, and really easy to get lost if you did. Playing this after the newer Elektrons makes you really appreciate the amount of effort it takes to get a good UI for this kind of thing. The UI here is noisy-pixels-too-many-metaphores-hard-to-read.
Analog Heat by Elektron - First time for me. Sounds intensely kick-ass… But I’m not entirely sure I want my music to sound intensely kick-ass so much of the time to justify adding it to my rig.
TouchMix 8 by QSC - I’ve long lusted after this from afar, and finally went to fiddle. The touch screen mixer idea is fine by me, but the implementation fails here on two counts: 1) It is sluggish. 2) It isn’t multi-touch. Why, QSC, Why??? It’s 2017 fer cryin’ out loud…
My opinions, your milage may vary, early to bed, don’t patch outputs to outputs, eat your greens…
Most of all: Stop reading equipment reviews and go make some music!