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Winter NAMM 2016: Keyboards



AIR Group
AIR makes fantastic sounding virtual instruments that were once exclusive to the Pro Tools RTAS platform, but today, they are 64-bit compatible with support for AU, VST, and AAX plugin formats.
New is the AIR Instrument Expansion Pack, featuring seven of the company’s premiere plug-ins:

• Hybrid 3.0 – High-Definition Analog & Wavetable Synth
• Loom – Modular Additive Synthesizer
• Vacuum Pro – Polyphonic Analog Tube Synthesizer
• Structure – Multi-Timbral Sampler Instrument
• Strike – Ultimate Virtual Drummer Instrument
• Velvet – Vintage Electric Piano Instrument
• Transfuser 2 – Melodic & Rhythmic Groove-Creation Instrument

Purchase price is $299.99, a great value when you experience just how great these instruments are (our favorites are Hybrid and Strike in particular). 15-days free trials are available. Also check out the Xpand!2 synthesizer for just $99. — JB

Adding to its hardware line, Arturia unveiled the MatrixBrute analog synthesizer. The MatrixBrute analogue synth features three custom Brute oscillators, Steiner-Parker and ladder filters, three envelope generators and a selection of analog effects, and a modulation matrix. It’s modular, using a physical grid array to create patches without the need for physical wires, which means… you can save presets (up to 256)!

You can assign sixteen modulation sources to sixteen modulation destinations (in MOD mode) and set the amounts of each modulation routing using the dedicated data encoder.

The MatrixBrute’s interface can also be used as a 64-step sequencer with separate STEP, ACCENT, SLIDE, and MODULATION options (in SEQ mode). The MatrixBrute also includes true analog effects. Awesome! — JB

Dave Smith Instruments
One of the major stars of the NAMM Show was easily Dave’s latest synthesizer, co-developed with Tom Oberheim… the new OB-6! This six-voice, analog poly synth has all the character and tone of a classic Oberheim, but with the modern appointments that Dave has been imparting in his other keyboards: tuning stability, arpeggiator, effects, MIDI… we can unquiviquably say that this synth does NOT sound like another Prophet. — SK

Also recently introduced was the “new” Prophet 12. We have to say “new” because the recently released firmware update adds true FM synthesis to this already capable beast. We heard the first new bank of FM presets and were very impressed. Imagine taking a DX-7 like sound and being able to run it through the Prophet’s Curtis filter… yes, you get the idea. It radically expands the tonal variety already on tap… and if you already happen to own a Prophet 12, this goodness is only a free download away. — SK

While the mighty Kronos 2 was on display—in a limited edition platinum color scheme (88-key only), Korg had a few new offerings as well. The Minilogue is a four-voice true analog synth with 37 mini-keys, 200 presets, and a 16-step polyphonic sequencer. Forty-one panel controls (mostly knobs) give you real-time tweaking of the sounds, and the OLED display (one of the tiniest we have ever seen) gives you not only patch names but also functions as an oscilloscope to give you visual feedback on what your sound is doing. At a price around $500, this little box packs incredible power for the price. — JB

Moog had an interesting presentation at NAMM. Their theme was a desert island with sand and cacti, with all of the instruments placed at ground level, with beanbags or simple rugs for you to sit on and play them. Most of the booth showcased restorations or prototypes of vintage synths, but the real star of the booth was the Mother-32, an analog, semi-modular synth. It has a single oscillator, but it’s common to see it combined into sets of two or three, which Moog provides enclosures for. It has a Moog ladder filter, switchable between high pass and low pass. It also has a 32-step sequencer and extensive options for CV patching and external input. The instrument is configured so that no patching is necessary to start playing, but the real power is integrating into a larger system with other synth modules or external gear. — JB

Nord released the Nord Piano 3. Featuring a new virtual hammer technology, the 88 weighted keys allow you to re-sound a note without fully lifting the key for added realism. A new OLED screen makes navigation around sounds much easier than before, 1GB memory is reserved just for Piano sounds, and another 256MB is available for the Nord sample library. The Factory Bank features six grand pianos, five upright pianos, and eleven electric pianos, clavinets, and harpsichords. Replacing the sounds in the Nord Piano 3 is simply a matter of dragging and dropping files via the Nord Sound Manager for Mac and Windows. Plus, you can create your own samples and transfer them to the Nord Piano as well. — JB

One of the more interesting plug-ins we came across was the Exhale Modern Vocal Engine by Output. This is a playable vocal engine that operates in three modes: notes, loops, and slices. Voices are turned into instruments and effects, and a combination of sampling, synthesis and effects are used to create a completely new kind of instrument.

This is not designed to sound like a backup singer or choir. Rather, futuristic and textured sounds are Exhale’s strenghts, and as such, it’s wonderful for EDM and film scoring. It runs as a Kontakt library, includes 500 presets, and we saw it paired with an NI Kontrol keyboard, which provided for easy tweaking in real time. We were impressed with the lush original sounds, and look forward to exploring it in our studios. — JB

Roland’s big product launches happened between last year’s NAMM Show and this one—the JDXA synth and Boutique series keyboards in particular, as well as the Juno DS. But there were a few new toys sure to appeal to the modular synth crowd. The A-01 MIDI controller is made to be a workhorse that plays nicely with every bit of MIDI gear (Classic MIDI I/O, USB MIDI, and Bluetooth MIDI), similar in concept to Arturia’s Beatstep, particularly when paired with the K-25m keyboard unit (from the Boutique series).

We saw the A-01 paired with the System 500 modules. The System 500 is based upon the venerable System 100M, now in Eurorack form. Five modules: the 512 Dual VCO, 521 Dual VCF, 530 Dual VCA, 540 Dual envelope generator and LFO, and the 572 Phase shifter, delay, and LFO are now available, and can be mounted side-by-side in Roland’s SYR-E84 Eurorack case.

Roland also launched an Accessories product division, which will be selling Roland-branded cables, instrument stands, and more. — JB

Drawing from two historic successes in the world of synthesizers, Yamaha introduced the impressive Montage synthesizer. Featuring two synth engines (AWM2 from their Motif line) and FM-X (an improved version of what powered the venerable DX-7), 128-voice stereo polyphony, and “Motion Control” for truly impressive real-time control over your sound, this new product was a huge surprise (No pun intended. The 88-key model weighs 63 pounds.). It comes with 1.75 GB of memory to load your sounds into (it includes all of the original Motif XF content). Later this year there will be a software converter that will enable you to use/transfer original DX-7 patches into the Montage and then take them to another level. We’re intrigued, and thrilled to see big guys like Yamaha investing in pure synthesizers. We can’t wait to review this monster synth! — JB





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