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Home > Features > General: Winter NAMM 2015

Winter NAMM 2015 Special Report:
Keyboards & Mobile


Akai introduced their Advance Keyboards line. Available in 25, 49, and 61 keys, they feature a color LCD screen and multi-color input pads. More than the pretty colors behind the pads, what really impressed us was the feel of the keyboards themselves, which had a high-quality (i.e. expensive) feel to the action, unlike so many typical, cheap, controllers, and a feel that we definitely prefered to previous Akai controllers. Perhaps even more impressive is the bundled software: not only the AIR Creative Collection Suite (awesome!), but a virtual instrument player that lets you run all of your VST plugins within a single host application. An interesting application is that the virtual player can also run as an RTAS or AAX plug-in, which means that you can use it as a VST wrapper in Pro Tools!

Akai also released the Timbre Wolf, a four-voice, analog, 25-key synth, the Rhythm Wolf, a five-voice drum machine and bass synth, and the Tom Cat, a true analog drum machine.

What’s old is new again, and it was easy to miss this one if you weren’t eagle eyed… or old enough to have owned the real deal back in the ‘80s. Casio introduced an emulation of the classic CZ-101 Synthesizer for iOS. Not only does it look great, with its retro color scheme, but it sounds pretty darn cool, too. Check out Casio Japan’s demo video.

Dave Smith Instruments… err… Make that Sequential
Dave is unstoppable! Right on the heels of his excellent Prophet 12 and Pro2 synths (reviews here and here, respectively), a NAMM Show jaw-dropper was certainly Dave’s prototype of the new Sequential Prophet-6 Synthesizer. This six-voice synth is being labeled under the brand name, Sequential, which marks a change for the company. Apparently, Yamaha relinquished the brand name back to Dave this year. As for why another Prophet, to quote Dave himself, “No one else is doing it, so we might as well compete with ourselves!” It’s a 100% analog synth that has no menus, and pays homage to the Prophet 5, with voltage controlled oscillators, filters, and amplifiers. Not a mere reissue, it’s a vintage synth with modern features. There’s even a “slop” knob to allow you to purposely bring back some classic tuning instability.  We got a quick demo, and we heard that sound… you know it… the sound of money fleeing from our wallets. This is sure to be another winner for Dave Smith and company.  Expect to see it shipping before summer.


IK Multimedia
IK Multimedia’s mobile line continues to expand with the iRig UA, a universal guitar effects processor and interface for Android mobile devices. It appears that IK Multimedia is the only company offering this for Android. They also released two new mics: the iRig Mic Studio, a large-diaphragm digital condenser microphone for iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android and Mac/PC, and the iRig Mic Field, an ultra-compact audio/video stereo field mic for iOS devices.  The market for “high quality” mics for mobile devices is getting pretty crowded, so we’ll reserve judgement for now as to how these will stack up, but the hardware itself was pretty rugged.

Hinted at a year ago, Korg this year re-issued the classic ARP Odyssey synthesizer. Originally produced between 1972 and 1981, there were three versions, and Korg actually released three different versions of the synth in order to remain faithful to the original internal circuitry. The Odyssey is a duophonic unit with two VCOs, and while Korg did re-create the classic analog synths, these new ones have reduced-size keyboards—86% scale, similar in size to their popular MS-20 monosynth. We think they just want pre-teens to be able to out-shred their parents! Adding modern technology such as MIDI, USB, and headphone jacks, these classic recreations are sure to find favor with many players.

Also on display was the slightly refreshed Korg Kronos. Version 3.0 software is just a free download away for existing users of the Kronos and Kronos X. But the new keyboard includes a 9GB Berlin Grand piano that features escapement (you can add this to your older Kronos, too, as an optional purchase). Other changes are minimal and mainly cosmetic: new wooden end caps, gold audio jacks, backlit logo, etc. If you’re an existing user, definitely download the 3.0 software for a host of feature improvements.

While not entirely new, Kurzweil was showing off their Artis synthesizer, an interesting 88-weighted key marketed as a stage piano but actually contains a subset of sounds drawing upon their VAST sound engine present in their K2 and PC3 series. While not highly editable from the synth itself, you can use a SoundTower editor on a computer or iPad to delve into your sounds, turning this keyboard into a more powerful studio tool. And, you can import PCx and SPx sounds, too.

Passport Music Software
Back in the ‘80’s, Passport released Master Tracks Pro for the Macintosh (after being available for the Atari and Apple II platforms). Still considered a great MIDI sequencing program, it hasn’t been updated over a decade, and the company has opened and closed its doors a few times as well. Finally, Passport has a pulse again, and at NAMM they showed us a demo of Master Tracks Pro running on Mac OS X. Still roughly a year away from completion, we’ll be curious to see how this old favorite develops. If it can import our 1980’s MIDI files from the classic Master Tracks Pro (once we find a USB floppy drive), we’ll be ecstatic.

We were thrilled to see the new ProD2 Direct Box: a stereo version of one of Radial’s classic direct boxes, ideal for your keyboard rig. Besides quarter inch inputs and XLR outputs, the DI also has quarter-inch passthrough jacks to run your signal to a personal amplification system if you’re still relying on one. This belongs in the back of your rack, or in your gig bag.

Roland was showing a somewhat different mini-synth, the JD-Xi. Featuring a 128-voice Supernatural synth section, an analog monosynth, a gooseneck mic for vocoder, autopitch and other vocal effects, a sequencer, and 37 mini keys, it has a little something for everyone.

Much more interesting, but sadly only showing in a soundless prototype box, was the future flagship of the JD-X line, the JD-XA. Featuring full size keys, it is supposed to be a hybrid synth with analog filtering and digital (SuperNatural) sections. Given the features and red LED backlighting (especially along the pitch/mod wheels), though, we couldn’t help but feel it was trying to look a bit too much like a DSI Prophet 12 instead of being something a bit more Roland-specific. 

it’s hard to miss Studiologic’s Sledge synthesizer. The synth is big and yellow! While the synth itself—reportedly made with Waldorf and based on Waldorf’s modeling PPG engine—is not new, the synth has been updated to version 2.0. This adds a wealth of features, including 24-voice polyphony, layering and split modes, a sample player utilizing an internal 60 MB flash memory.  Combining samples, wavetable synthesis, and FM synthesis, this yellow beast sounded pretty nice! Hopefully we will get our hands on a review unit soon.

UVI announced BeatHawk, their new portable music production studio app for iPad. A complete music production environment, users can create beats, sample, pitch and time stretch, layer melodies, mix, arrange, and export full songs, stems and MIDI.
BeatHawk includes a library of sounds and instruments which can be expanded with user content or through additional UVI expansion packs available via in-app purchase. BeatHawk launches with 15 available expansions including; Acoustic Grand, Brass Riffs, Choirs, Disco, Electric Piano, Electro Pop, Funk, Guitar Loops, Scratch, Talk Vox, Trip Hop, Atlanta Urban, West Coast Urban, Latin Percussion and World Percussion, with more expansions slated for release during the following months.

While we were at their booth, we checked out the UVI EGP, a soft-synth version of a Yamaha CP-70 piano. As we actually have a CP-70 in our studio, we thought this was pretty cool. The plug-in even had an effects section featuring BOSS-esque pedals, which was an integral part of the CP-70 sound in the ‘80s.  Waverunner was another nice treat: a collection of soft-synths that model classic wavetable synths from the ‘80s. If you’re looking for classic digital sounding synth stuff to compliment your retro analog gear, this is a great sounding collection to round out your sound library.

Tom Oberheim
Forty years ago, Tom Oberhiem created the Two-Voice, a programmable polyphonic synth, by combining two SEM modules. This apparently was Tom’s favorite synth, and it has been updated and re-released now as the Two Voice Pro. Featuring two 16-step sequencers, with the ability to transpose sequences in real-time, it also now features MIDI (which hadn’t been invented back in 1975), a 37-key keyboard (velocity sensitive with aftertouch), and the ability to split the keyboard. A song mode also allows the sequencer to play all 32 steps of the sequencer, which you can (naturally) tweak as it plays. Up to 99 sequences can be stored in flash memory, and while there are no presets, you get a 100% analog synth that’s all about real-time manipulation. Best part: it sounds great.



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