Vol. 24 Issue 3 Reviews
NAMM 2000 International Music Market
International Music Products Association, Los Angeles Convention Center, Los Angeles, California, USA, 3-6 February 2000

Reviewed by Frode Holm (Santa Barbara, California, USA)

What follows is a very quick snapshot of some items that caught my attention at this year's International Music Products Association (NAMM) show in Los Angeles. There is far more to see and hear at NAMM than one can take in with a short visit, so I'm sure I have missed quite a few important announcements.

If it wasn't obvious already, then certainly this year's show brought it home once and for all: the magic numbers 24/96 (24-bit/96 kHz sampling rate) were attached to just about everything you could cast your eyes upon. Among the more curious manifestations of this stampede was a new mastering and CD-burner unit from Alesis, the ML-9600 Masterlink. It proclaims a "revolutionary new CD24" format, apparently squeezing 24/96 onto an "ordinary audio CD". When pressed, the company representative was unable to explain how this was different from just writing an ordinary audio file onto a CD-ROM ISO 9660 formatted disk. Ah, the wonderful world of market-speak! This aside, the unit has an impressive set of features, including a full complement of mastering functions such as compression, limiting, equalization, and normalization. Sixteen different playlists can be stored with individual track settings for gain, fade-in and fade-outs, and pause. And of course, the usual set of analog and digital in/outs is included. All for a suggested retail price of $1699.

Speaking of mastering, Yamaha was upping the ante in the "all-in-one-box" sweepstakes. Their new AW4416 audio workstation turned quite a few heads. It contains a complete recording studio with 16 tracks, the guts of an O2R console with motorized faders, and a complete mastering section with a CD-burner. Additionally, it has a slot-based I/O architecture with your choice of ADAT, Tascam, converters, etc. Curiously though, this is one of the few units that decided to forego the 96 kHz rate, settling instead on the more compact 24/48 format. Unfortunately, they only had a partially-working prototype on the show floor, but from what I could hear it sounded excellent.

Over in the other corner, Tascam and Mackie were battling it out for the removable drive championship. The new contender, Mackie's HDR24/96, is a very impressive unit, and its stated purpose in life is to end the era of tape-based recorders, digital or otherwise, once and for all! That's a pretty big stake to claim, but who knows, they might just pull it off? A key ingredient to their strategy is the introduction of a new hard-disk cassette format they intend to market and sell in the same fashion as VHS tape in music stores and maybe your local supermarket. No more megabytes for these people: hours and minutes is the only information you'll get here. Apart from their marketing strategy, Mackie certainly didn't miss a beat with this attractively designed 24-track recorder. Attach a monitor, mouse, and keys to the unit, and you have full access to its very comprehensive editing features. You can chain as many of them as you want, with sample-accurate synchronization, of course, using an ordinary TRS cable (or so they claim)! Other features of note: compatibility with just about every synchronization method known, Apogee converters, slot-based I/O architecture, and a remote control unit are available. All this for a suggested retail price of $4999.

If you are anything like me, you will probably agree that the mouse is probably the worst device for controlling software faders and knobs on the screen. If not hastening an impending carpal tunnel disaster, then at best it is simply cumbersome, finicky, and downright unmusical. Sure, there have been MIDI controller boxes before, but in my opinion these just haven't lived up to the demanding task of interfacing to digital audio workstation (DAW) software. Well, finally some manufacturers have caught on to this rather obvious idea. The unit that caught my eye (and hands) at the show was the SAC-2K from Radikal Technologies. It interfaces automatically and seamlessly to all the major software brands through fast USB ports, has smooth and professional feeling motorized faders, automatic readout of track names, etc., on a number of LCD screens, and generally maps just about anything you need onto its control surface. This unit soared right to the top of my wish list!

CM Automation is also in this game, announcing their new 2000 Dashboard Digital Editor Worksurface, a companion to their Motor-Mix fader box released in 1999. This unit is designed to do editing work of the cut-and-paste variety. Combined with their motorized faders, all of which can be linked to form an impressive "console"-like surface, this makes for an impressive interface to the software of your choice. My only reservation is that the computer connection is via MIDI only, which in my experience has not been fast enough for transparent fader control.

The big splash at this year's NAMM show was generated by Rocket Network who chose this venue for their official launch of the "Internet Recording Studio," a set of software modules and protocols that enables seamless transfer of synchronized audio over the net. If you have done any kind of distance collaboration, you will immediately appreciate the enormous amount of hassle this could save you and your partner(s). In a rare show of cooperation, arch rivals Steinberg and Emagic both showed Rocket working within their audio sequencers. Digidesign has also entered the fray, and Euphonics has announced support as well. No doubt more players will come on board as this ride is sure to gain some serious momentum.

Rocket intends to be much more than just a behind-the-scenes software provider, however. It is now busy setting up a world-wide network of studios and individual Rocket-enabled sites. You need a track of Norwegian fiddle tuned to quarter tones for your ongoing session? Just post it and reel in the tracks. During the big launch party, we were treated to a live studio recording occurring in three different locations. On hand were jazz greats Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, Wah Wah Watson, and Chico Freeman. Amazingly, the tracks came together perfectly synchronized, with no crashes, outages or terminally slow downloads. Backed by super-millionaire Paul G. Allen's Vulcan Ventures, there is enough muscle behind this enterprise to make it a force to watch very closely in the months ahead.

One nice addition to NAMM this year was the "museum of vintage synthesizers" (or something to that effect). Of special note to us old synthesizer freaks was the very first prototype of the MiniMoog. I just can't help being somewhat in awe over an object of such uniqueness and historical importance. Bob Moog himself was on hand to deliver a spirited recounting of the days when it all happened.Born in 1942 in Rio de Janeiro, Jorge Antunes is, with Reginaldo de Carvalho (Guarabira, 1932), Gilberto Mendes (Santos, 1922) and Willy Corra de Oliveira (Recife, 1938), one of the earliest practitioners of electroacoustic music in Brazil. His first experiences go back to 1962, when he had built several generators, filters, modulators and other electronic equipment. Mr. Antunes is presently Director of the Electroacoustic Music Studio of the University of Brasilia and President of the Brazilian Society for Electroacoustic Music. These three mini-CDs present an opportunity to listen to a selection of his compositional output, including both early and recent works.