Well, we survived NAMM, and a number of trends emerged as sort of overarching themes of the show.
Everything Old Is New Again
You could populate a dream keyboard rig
entirely with stuff you would have seen in a copy of Keyboard
magazine from, say, 1978 — only it would all be new stuff that does
exactly what the old stuff did, but for the most part, does it
better. We’re not talking about just the same brands, but
individual instruments where there’s a one-on-one correspondence
between a storied vintage axe and its modern counterpart. Below is a
table of what we would have picked to be in a “centerfold” in the
late ’70s or early ’80s, and what we’d pick today.
We’re Sick of the Recession, So Let’s
Stop Having It
NAMM 2009 fell right on the heels of
the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression: the subprime
mortage market disintegrating, “too big to fail” financial
institutions going belly-up, a massive taxpayer-funded bailout of
America’s high-finance caste, and a wrist-slittingly slow holiday
season for retailers — especially retailers of musical instruments.
NAMM 2010, by contrast, came right after a year of prudence due to
the above factors. Consequently, the overall mood was that
manufacturers, distributors, and buyers for retail stores were ready
to reap at least some benefits of that prudence. Everyone we talked to
indicated that commerce was on the uptick.
“I signed seven new dealers on
Wednesday, before the show was even officially open,” beamed Dennis
Capiga, president of Hammond-Suzuki USA.
“If the interest shown at NAMM is any
indication, my biggest challenge in 2010 is going to be keeping up
with demand,” said Joseph Brandstetter, CEO of Rhodes Music Corp,
who’s making the new Rhodes electric piano you’ll find on the
cover of our Feb. 2010 issue.
Chuck Surack, founder of online music
store Sweetwater, summed up the show, “People are upbeat. Our
people are writing orders and seeing lots of great products, and I
have a good feeling about 2010.”
Getting It Right
You expect that manufacturers will
release updated versions of software instruments, DAWs, and OS’s
for keyboards at NAMM. What stood out about the ones at this year’s
show was the uniform theme of these upgrades directly responding to
user requests and/or complaints.
Synthogy Ivory II, for example, doesn’t
just double the velocity layers (a major but predictable quantitative
improvement), it adds stuff users have been screaming for since Ivory
first came out: sympathetic string resonance and support for
half-pedaling being the biggest two.
hardware-machine-that-plays-plug-ins area saw more than its share of
improvements of this sort. Would-be Receptor users wanted a more
affordable, more easy-to-use version, and they got it in the form of
the MuseBox, which we saw demo’ed with impressive results. SM Pro
Audio’s V-Machine moved in the other direction: last year, it was
cool proof-of-concept but didn’t quite have the muscle to run a lot
of the most popular soft synths; this year, a new version
substantially ups the memory and CPU power.
Our pick for the most improved product,
though, is the Infinite Reponse VAX-77, which has now been on the
radar for a couple of years as a MIDI controller keyboard that folds
in half, fitting into a carry-on sized airport roller. It also had
polyphonic aftertouch and was deeply programmable via a touchscreen.
The problem was the action. Though it used a very innovative
constant-force leaf spring and was available in a variety of weights,
even the heaviest didn’t have enough heft for serious piano
playing, and some musicians thought it felt just plain weird. The VAX
we saw at NAMM 2010 (and will be reviewing soon) had a much better
action — everyone who tried it thought it was suitable for piano,
and we were blown away by the textured satin-like finish and the
quick key return. Machine-gun trills a la Billy Joel’s “Scenes
From an Italian Restaurant” were really easy to play.
Below is a video playlist of our picks
for the most improved products at NAMM 2010.