New Gear 2011: The Best from NAMM

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.

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 change programs.
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 |


Nord STAGE 2

CONCEPT The much-loved Stage gets an organ transplant, a sample injection, and extensive pianotherapy.
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 |

Casio WK-7500


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 |



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 real world.
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 |

Kurzweil CUP-2


CONCEPT It only looks like a boring digital upright piano.
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 |



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 bitchin’, too.
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 |

Fairlight CMI-30A


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 subwoofer.
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 full review.
Est. street: $4,000 | |



CONCEPT Unison detuning as primary musical expression.
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 |

Dave Smith and Roger Linn TEMPEST


CONCEPT Analog drum machine co-created by the Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro of synth design.
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 | |

Arturia SPARK


CONCEPT Software 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 phantom power.
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 |



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 |



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 |

Spectrasonics OMNISPHERE 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 your iPad.
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 |



CONCEPT Stephen Kay’s celebrated generative music technology isn’t just for Korg synths anymore.
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 synth tweaker.
Direct: $199 |



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- bit/192kHz resolution.
WE THINK They nailed it. This a real secret weapon for any track you want to make pop.
List: $250 |

Universal Audio UAD-2 SATELLITE


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 the road.
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 digital recorder.
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 CoreMIDI.
WE THINK Nothing else does what this box does. Absolutely one of the coolest things at the NAMM show.
List: $199.99 | Approx. street: $180 |



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 |

Radial Engineering WORKHORSE


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 stems.
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 |

Mic Check

The first of our two favorite new mics from NAMM is Blue Microphones’ Reactor ($499 street,, 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,,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, 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!