If you’re into music gear enough to have this issue in your hands,
you probably want to read yet another introduction about why it’s cool
to go to NAMM about as much as we want to write one. We’re off to a
good start. Since you can get A-to-Z regurgitations of specs from any
number of websites, we won’t do that, either. Every product in this article
is one that we actually tried at the big show, went back to try again,
and thought was so cool that we requested it for a full review. While we
wait, here are some first impressions.
CONCEPT An OASYS for today. A leap past the
specs of current hardware keyboard workstations—
but priced to compete with them head-on.
BIG DEAL Nine distinct sound engines handle
and sound like soft synths on the large
touch screen. These cover grand pianos, modeled
vintage EPs, tonewheel organs, virtual
analog, FM and digital waveshaping, vintage
Korg MS-20 and Polysix models, plucked string
modeling, and general-purpose sample playback.
Has enough DSP muscle to run several
of these engines at once. Has KARMA, plus
the vector movement and wave sequencing of
Korg’s Wavestation synth. In Set List mode,
sustained sounds won’t cut off when you
WE THINK The next era in workstations has
begun, with Korg setting the competitive bar.
Though software jocks may point out that their
favorite plug-ins still have higher specs, the Kronos’
stability and integration make it much
harder to argue that a computer rig is “better”
for stage-going keyboard work.
61 keys: $3,750 list/approx. $3,000 street
| 76 keys: $4,350 list/approx. $3,500
street | 88 keys: $4,750 list/approx.
$3,800 street | korg.com/kronos
Nord STAGE 2
CONCEPT The much-loved Stage gets an organ
transplant, a sample injection, and extensive
BIG DEAL Nord added the organ modeling
from the their best clonewheel yet (the C2), full
compatibility with the library for the Nord Piano,
and the sample-playback of the Wave. MIDI
over USB and a host of requested tempo sync
features are now onboard as well.
WE THINK We thought the last version
sounded great, but with nothing to envy about
the rest of Nord’s product line, the Stage 2 is simply
a stunning gig machine.
76 keys: $4,299 list/approx. $4,000 street
| 88 keys: $4,500 list/approx. $4,200
street | nordkeyboards.com
CONCEPT Multitrack, 76-key songwriting and
gig workstation at an alarming price.
BIG DEAL Over 800 sounds including Priviaderived
stereo grand piano, gritty vintage EPs
and Clavs, and clonehweel organ with individual
drawbar control. You can record everything
the keyboard does, plus audio from a pluggedin
mic or instrument, as a stereo mix to an SD
card. CTK-7000 offers the same features with
61 keys for $100 less.
WE THINK If you’re ever trapped by evil
androids, play this keyboard, then tell them how
little it costs. This will short out their logic circuits,
allowing you to escape.
List: $699.99 | Approx. street: $500 |
Roland V-PIANO GRAND
CONCEPT The V-Piano (reviewed Sept. ’09)
in an acoustically matched grand piano cabinet.
BIG DEAL Multi-channel speaker system
sends sounds to the locations from which
they’d emanate on a real grand piano, letting
you forget you’re hearing speakers at all.
Physical modeling can emulate famous
pianos or create ones that don’t exist in the
WE THINK The space previously occupied only
by the Yamaha AvantGrand (reviewed Aug. ’10)
now has a BMW and a Mercedes. We haven’t
figured out which is which yet, but we’ll let you
know when we do.
List: $22,999 | Approx. street: $20,000 |
CONCEPT It only looks like a boring digital
BIG DEAL Of course, Kurzweil’s much-loved
stereo triple-strike piano is present, but so are
a total of 88 sounds taken right from the PC3.
You can split or layer, play along to 78 interactive
drum patterns, and wake the neighbors with
a 140W, four-speaker sound system.
WE THINK Unlike your other axes that make
this many cool sounds, your spouse will allow
this one in the living room. That’s the killer app!
List: $5,995 | Approx. street: $4,300 |
Akai SYNTHSTATION 49
CONCEPT Audio dock, MIDI interface, and
keyboard controller for Apple iPad.
BIG DEAL Works with enhanced SynthStation
app for iPad, as well as many other CoreMIDIcompatible
music apps. USB over MIDI for connection
to Mac or PC. Nine MPC-style drum
pads are velocity sensitive.
WE THINK If you’ve been craving a keyboardshaped
place to park your iPad, crave no more.
The improved Synthstation iPad app is totally
List: $299 | Approx. street: $200 |
Vintage Vibe EPC
CONCEPT Real electro-mechanical tine piano
that sounds like a cross between a vintage Rhodes and a vintage Wurly.
BIG DEAL They’re light—the 73-key model is
60 pounds and the 64-key version is 53 pounds.
They’re handmade and utterly gorgeous to play
and look at. Passive and active models are available,
with mono or stereo tremolo.
WE THINK If the new Rhodes company is
pissed, we can hardly blame ’em. But healthy
competition is good for the customer, and we
love it when small shops make beautiful things.
$TBD | vintagevibeepc.com
CONCEPT Thirtieth anniversary replica that
sounds and plays like a CMI Series II, the sampler
that launched a thousand ’80s hits.
BIG DEAL Replicates the sound library, green
screen, light pen, and Page R sequencer of the
Series II. Emulates vintage bit depths or goes up
to 36-bit floating-point resolution.
WE THINK Why spend five figures on wellexecuted
nostalgia? Because you can. But wait—
the CMI-30A contains the same Crystal Core
processor as Fairlight’s high-end audio workstations,
which is what people who flick boogers
on Pro Tools HD buy. So there’s intriguing potential
under the hood.
Approx. $20,000 |
CONCEPT After a few false starts since 2007,
this retro-tastic modeled electric piano is ready
for prime time.
BIG DEAL Near-full polyphony. Models
Rhodes, Wurly, Yamaha electric grand, and
Clav—Waldorf doesn’t name names, though.
Also can load sample-based grand pianos via
software. Built-in EMES speaker system with
WE THINK With real electro-mechanical pianos and keyboards like the Nord Stage
available near this price point, its hard not to
be skeptical. Then again, we’ve heard some
top session and touring keyboardists are flipping
out over it, so we’ll save judgment for the
Est. street: $4,000 | waldorfmusic.de |
CONCEPT Unison detuning as primary musical
BIG DEAL Eight real analog oscillators. Top
ribbon determines center pitch; bottom one pulls
the oscillators towards pitches offset at equal
intervals across the spectrum. The large central
“span” knob sets the maximum interval.
WE THINK Trent Reznor used it for The Social
Network’s soundtrack. It got written up in The
New Yorker. It’s boutique, impractical, and
expensive—and we totally want one.
$3,250 | dewanatron.com
Dave Smith and Roger Linn
CONCEPT Analog drum machine co-created
by the Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro of
BIG DEAL Six voices each employ two analog
oscillators and two sample-playback ones.
WE THINK The price feels high, but only until
you realize that this is actually the next Poly
Evolver, only with a beat-oriented interface and
sequencing that’s both more advanced and easier
to use on the fly. Please, don’t tell.
Approx street: $2,000 |
drum machine with
cool hardware controller.
BIG DEAL Arturia’s
Total Analog Emulation
is used to create
such classics as the
TR-808 and 909, Simmons
SDS, Oberheim DMX, LinnDrum, and
more. Sampled/modeled acoustic kits as well.
WE THINK It’s incredibly fluid to create beats
on this puppy. If you have Tempest tastes but a
teapot budget, this is the one to get.
List: $599 | Approx. street: $550 |
Muse Research MUSEBOX
CONCEPT A hardware VST instrument and
effect host for the rest of us.
BIG DEAL New host interface by renowned
designer Axel Hartmann makes it very easy to
use. Ships with lots of high-quality sounds,
including 800MB stereo grand piano. XLR
combo inputs take mics or guitars and provide
WE THINK Though announced over a year
ago, this was our first opportunity to spend real
time with it. It’s very stable, and the price positions
it to be a laptop killer for taking soft synths
onstage. More Muse news: The “Plus” designation
of the full Receptor line ups the specs considerably,
but keeps the prices the same.
Approx street: $899 | museresearch.com
MOTU MACH FIVE 3
CONCEPT Major upgrade to MOTU’s UVI
engine-based soft sampler.
BIG DEAL Huge new sound library. New scripting features make for instruments that
handle more like standalone soft synths, with
such features as graphic placement of virtual
mics and re-voicing of keyboard parts to imitate
how a guitarist plays.
WE THINK It’s a huge step up from Mach Five
2, and is definitely going to give Kontakt its first
meaningful competition since GigaStudio
jumped the shark.
$TBD | motu.com
iZotope STUTTER EDIT
CONCEPT Buffer-dividing plug-in that makes
it easy to create the sort of stutter effects pioneered
by electronic composer BT.
BIG DEAL BT designed it. Massively temposyncable.
Supports stutter values from quarter
to 1024th-notes. Includes delay, gate, quantize,
filter, and lo-fi effects.
WE THINK Anything this addictive will probably
get overused, but don’t let that stop you.
This is the mo-mo-mo-most fun you can have
with a computer without having to wipe your
browser history afterwards.
List: $299 | Approx. street: $200 |
Steinberg CUBASE 6
CONCEPT This left-of-decimal update makes
it easier to work with audio.
BIG DEALNew quantization features work on
audio tracks, and can apply decisions based on
one track to all tracks in the same folder. Can
detect audio tempo and set project tempo accordingly.
New guitar amp and cabinet modeling.
WE THINK Debating which DAW is best is so
ten years ago. Tons of pros swear by Cubase, and
if you’re one of them, these upgrades make your
life a lot easier. Upgrading is a no-brainer.
List: $599.99 | Approx. street: $500 |
1.5 and OMNI TR
CONCEPT Major upgrade for Omnisphere
users—and it’s free!
BIG DEAL Library adds 780 all-new patches.
Expanded Harmonia, Waveshaper, and Granular
modes. Receives polyphonic aftertouch.
New “Orb” screen does crazy sound morphing
and can record your motions. Free Omni
TR app wirelessly controls Omnisphere from
WE THINK More than ever, Omnisphere is the
one soft synth we’d choose to be marooned with
on a desert island. Orb is really a blast on the iPad.
Full version list: $499 | Approx. street:
$480 | spectrasonics.net
Karma Lab KARMA MOTIF
CONCEPT Stephen Kay’s celebrated generative
music technology isn’t just for Korg synths
BIG DEALWorks with the Yamaha Motif XS
and XF on Mac or PC. Supports up to six
KARMA modules and two keyboard layers per
Performance. Advanced velocity response editing
and stutter feature.
WE THINK Think of this like a highly customizable
arranger keyboard, only with
absolutely no hit to your credibility as a serious
Direct: $199 | karma-lab.com
Waves APHEX VINTAGE
CONCEPT Before the single-rack Exciters you
may know about, Aphex made a rare tube version
in the ’70s. This models it to a tee.
BIG DEAL Increases presence and detail in
the signal by emphasizing certain harmonics.
Stereo or mono operation at up to 24-
WE THINK They nailed it. This a real secret
weapon for any track you want to make pop.
List: $250 | waves.com
CONCEPT Serious Powered Plug-In muscle
for your iMac, Mac Mini, or MacBook.
BIG DEAL Dual- or quad-processor boxes hook
to your Mac via FireWire 400 or 800. Core, Flexi,
and Omni purchase levels start you out with
progressively more Powered Plug-Ins, which are
second to none when it comes to emulating vintage
audio processors. If you have a desktop
UAD system, these let you take your licenses on
WE THINK Professional engineers and producers
who have to mix on laptops while traveling
will be in heaven. Note: Unlike the UAD-2
Solo/Laptop, these are Mac-only.
Duo Core: $1,149 list/approx. $900 street
| Quad Core: $1,899 list/approx. $1,500
street | Flexi and Omni versions extra |
CONCEPT Stereo handheld
BIG DEAL Unique dual-file
recording either writes second
file at lower gain as insurance
against overloads, or
records separate files for the onboard mics and
stereo line inputs, which you can then mix down
later. Goes up to 96kHz.
WE THINK The sound quality and features
raise this recorder above what has become a saturated,
me-too product category.
List: $449.99 | Approx. street: $250 |
iConnectivity iCONNECT MIDI
CONCEPT Interconnects MIDI controllers
(USB or old school) to iPhone, iPad, and iPod
Touch devices, without the need for a computer.
BIG DEAL We saw multiple keyboard and
drum pad controllers playing a multitimbral app
off a single iPad, with no detectible latency. Can
also handle multiple iOS mobile devices via
WE THINK Nothing else does what this box
does. Absolutely one of the coolest things at the
List: $199.99 | Approx. street: $180 |
JBL EON 515XT
CONCEPT User-requested loudness, clarity,
and noise floor improvements to their popular
EON 515 powered speaker, which we reviewed
in the February 2011 issue.
BIG DEAL Bi-amped design with 525W to the
woofer and 100W to the tweeter.
WE THINK At a trade show, you can’t crank
one of these up to see what it’ll really do. So look
for a full review soon, where we’ll test it out as
a keyboard amp.
List: $899 each | Approx. street: $700
each | jblpro.com
CONCEPT Powered frame in which you mix
and match Radial’s 500-series audio modules to
create a dream channel strip, an audiophile-quality
multichannel mixer, or anything in between.
BIG DEAL It’s not just a backplane. A built-in
stereo mixer and flexible routing support applications
from live recording to re-amping to summing
WE THINK This puts the formerly esoteric
“lunchbox” approach in the hands of any project
studio owner who’s serious about sound quality.
Radial may well make the most underrated
preamps in the business, too.
List: $1,500 | Approx. street: $1,400 |
The first of our two favorite new mics from NAMM is Blue
Microphones’ Reactor ($499 street, bluemic.com), a multipattern
condenser that uses Class-A circuitry and the same
B6 capsule as their $2,000 Kiwi. Blue’s industrial designs just
keep getting bolder, and we think the Reactor is one of their
most beautiful yet.
Then there’s the IK Multimedia iRig Mic ($59.99 street,
ikmultimedia.com),which plugs into your iPhone or iPad. Since the
1/8" jack is an input as well as an output, an included Y plug lets you
use mic and headphones at once. The harmony, pitch correction,
voice-morpher, effects, and four-track recording features sound
great and are addictively fun to experiment with. IK seem to be positioning
themselves as the “serious musician stuff for iOS” company—
a smart move in our opinion.
Who’s Got the Remote?
You do—iPad apps that wirelessly control your gear are gaining ground.
PreSonus StudioLive Remote (shown, presonus.com) talks to a Mac or PC
running Virtual StudioLive software, which in turn controls a StudioLive
mixer via wired connection. This is a boon at gigs where the mixer must be
placed somewhere less than ideal. It even supports multiple iPads so band
members can dial their own monitor mixes.
If you’d rather control your new Motif XF, Yamaha is coming out
with four iPad apps that talk directly to it—just plug a USB WiFi
stick into the back of the Motif. Print-quality screenshots aren’t yet
available, but Yamaha’s Athan Billias treated us to a video demo.
Special thanks to Zoom and Samson for the Q3HD camcorder, with which we shot all our NAMM gear videos. Click here to see the videos!