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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter NAMM 2010 Overview - Part 3 - Audio And Recording

In the final part of the 2010 Winter NAMM overview, we take a look at the audio and recording side of things. While there were no blockbuster products again this year, there were quite a few useful boxes. Let's look at some.

First of all, SM Pro Audio lived up to their monicker of "clever audio solutions" with a variety of great boxes that were truly clever audio solutions. One of them that I really liked was the DiDock (pictured left), which featured an iPod or iPhone dock complete with balanced and unbalanced outputs with level controls and a headphone amplifier. This is the perfect box for any kind of live applications that include an "i" device. SM also had a number of other boxes that I liked including the Jackeroo all-in-one tester/generator and gender bender, and a number of volume controllers, summing amps and outboard VU meters. Every item had a really substantial feel to it and the "bang-for-the-buck factor" was very high.

And speaking of clever solutions, Lehle had a number of cool guitar-oriented pedals that solve the problem of switching between amps, guitars, pedals, or just about anything else you can think of.

Speaking of fixit boxes, Tascam came out with a number of boxes that had you thinking, "Why did this take so long to come to market" Balancing up an unbalanced line (and vice-versa) has always been a royal pain, but here were a couple of 8 channel rack-mountable boxes, about 15 years too late. Better late than never, I guess.

Tascam also featured a number of "trainer" boxes for guitar, bass and even vocals, that allow you to play or sing against existing tracks or loops, record it, slow it down, add effects, and do all the things that help you to increase your skill level fast. Once again, where was this when I really needed it?

Portable solid-state recorders were everywhere again but one of the coolest was the Xacti XPS01M (totally Japanese model number) by Sanyo.  The unit was incredibly small and light, maybe too much so since it might be easy to lose because it feels like a feather. Even so, it had a pretty nice display, enough functions to do what needs to be done, and a 150 buck price tag.

This has nothing to do with recording (at least in the traditional sense), but it seems like the  next big thing in guitar pedals is to make them look well-used. I guess this company figured that if players would pay big bucks for a beat-up "relic" guitar, they'd do the same for a "relic" pedal. It's true that the only thing that counts is how it sounds, but sometimes you just want something to look brand new so you feel like you got your money's worth for a second.

A cool device that I really liked was a plug-in battery meter that really tells you the battery strength while it's under load, which is the only way to know for sure how much life the battery has left. All you have to do with the Batt-o-meter is plug it in, although it tests batteries outside of the device as well. Good idea.

Stepping back into the recording world, Movek's myMix is a new twist on the personal headphone mixer, adding a built-in digital recorder along with virtual mixer. Up to 8 units can be connected together for 8 different mixes via ethernet and an ethernet switch. Nice form factor, but I had a little trouble navigating. From experience, the last thing a player wants is something complicated when mixing his headphones. Perhaps I didn't spend enough time with it.

For quite a few years now, the vast majority of new microphone models have been made in China. Some of the biggest microphone brands have even resorted to having some of their mics made there, or at the very least, some of the parts. Chinese manufacturers have now apparently decided that it's OK to put out their own versions of these mics, so at the show it was common to see knock-offs of Shures, Neumanns, Sennheisers and just about any other major brand you can think of. I find it hard to imagine that the IP attorneys of these companies are sitting idly by, despite the difficulties of international justice. Wanting to do my part, I started to play a game with these Chinese imitators, going on the booth and checking out the mic details closely, taking some pictures, and then covering up my badge and scurrying away when approached, giving them the illusion of some American industrial espionage. They did it to us for a long time and now deserve the return favor.

Here's another blatant example of a Mackie console rip-off from China. Once again, I hope there's a team of IP attorneys working on this. After all, these things are plenty cheap already compared to what they used to cost. At least with an American company you have some home-grown QC going on.

Enough of the rant - one last product that caught my eye. It's called Mic Check and it's used to clean and disinfect microphones. A really good idea that probably can done for a lot less money with just a typical drug store-bought handi-wipe, but give them points for the packaging.

That's it until the next trade show (NAB in April). Next post - back to our regularly scheduled program!

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