Effectively dwarfing the Winter NAMM show, the Frankfurt
Musikmesse Pro Light+Sound 2004 combines musical instruments, pro
audio, and lighting equipment into a single event that spans nine
halls. Major forces in the industry, such as Roland and Casio, compete
for floor space with small, individually run companies. Not
surprisingly, Yamaha occupies a hall of its own.
Although the halls are arranged around specific product
categories, the occasional overlap makes it necessary to walk the
entire event if you don't want to overlook something. Who would've
guessed that the booth for the MuseBook electronic score reader would be in the
same hall as the classical stringed instruments?
For those of us in the press, Musikmesse is a thrilling -- and
equally grueling -- four-day marathon, where you could wear out a pair
of shoes trying to visit every booth. To top it all off, on its last
day the show is open to the public, which increases the number of
people jostling for prime position at every product demo. Fortunately,
this year's event was held from March 31 to April 3, a few weeks later
than usual and well enough into spring to give us unexpectedly warm and
sunny weather -- perfect for attending the many post-show parties!
Although there were thousands of products vying for
attention, Musikmesse's temporal proximity to the Winter
(held in January each year in Anaheim , California ) means that many
of the products shown in Frankfurt have already been announced. Of the
dozens of items introduced in Musikmesse this year, I've chosen a few
highlights and arranged them by category. ( US prices are indicated
Soft and Virtual
Native Instruments announced several new products at
this year's show. Among them is Guitar Rig (Mac/Win), a
software/hardware package offering amp, cabinet, and mic modeling that
can be controlled with an included pedal board. Guitar Rig offers three
tube-amp emulations (a Fender Twin Reverb, a Marshall Plexi 50W, and a
Mesa/Boogie Rectifier), ten speaker models, and five mic models. In
addition, there are nearly two dozen effects, including models of
distortion and modulation pedals, dynamic effects, wah-wah, and spring
Native Instruments Elektrik Piano (Mac/Win, $229), due
in May, offers multisampled versions of vintage Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and
Clavinet electromechanical keyboards. NI also announced the Xpress
Keyboards (Mac/Win) series, which are simplified versions of B4, FM7,
and Pro53. Xpress Keyboards will be available individually for $49 each
or as a bundle for $119. Each instrument includes 64 presets, but they
do not load presets from the full versions of the instruments.
Speaking of B4, Native Instruments showed the B4D, a hardware
control surface intended for the virtual organ that includes 9
drawbars, 22 buttons, and MIDI inputs. B4D will cost $499 ($589 when
bundled with B4) and is scheduled for June release.
The company's latest metabundle, Komplete 2 (Mac/Win, $1,049), is
also scheduled for June release. The software package, which includes
every NI product except Traktor, comes on two DVDs and requires only
one install for everything.
The Italian software company i3 showed DSP-Quattro (Mac) version
1.5. DSP-Quatro can be used to record and edit audio, host and play AU
and VST plug-ins, and master and burn Redbook CDs. It's an impressive
application that has the caught the attention of a few of our editors,
so look for a review in an upcoming issue of EM.
Steinberg, which celebrated its 20th anniversary at the
show, announced that it will release Cubase SX 2.2 (Mac/Win) in May.
The free update includes three new VST plug-ins: Monologue, a mono
synth; Embracer, a pad synth that includes surround support in some of
the patches; and Tonic, a multimode filter. The update also adds
enhanced MIDI features and support for generic remote controllers.
For some, the bigger Steinberg news was the announcement of Wavelab
5 (Win), which is scheduled for release in mid-April. Version 5 adds a
video-thumbnail track, support for additional file formats, 8-channel
surround capabilities, and DVD-Audio authoring and burning
Steinberg's HALion 3 (Mac/Win) is set for release in the second
quarter of 2004. The update features 27 new effects, new triggering
modes, a file-browser-style database, and availability as a standalone
app. The nifty new RAMSave feature increases performance by unloading
unused samples from RAM.
In partnership with Yamaha, Steinberg also announced the Studio
Connections Initiative, which is intended to create an open industry
standard for integrating software and hardware devices -- beginning
with Yamaha hardware and Steinberg Nuendo and Cubase -- using Yamaha's
Studio Manager 2 software.
Guitar Tracks Pro 3. The new version, which comes bundled with IK
Multimedia's Amplitube LE, lets you record and play 32 audio tracks and
offers drag-and-drop looping capabilities and time stretching. Look for
this to ship in May.
demonstrated Max 4.5 (due in May) as well as the latest phase of its
Mode (Mac) plug-ins. The news here is that the initial five Mode
plug-ins have been broken down into individual modules, increasing the
plug-in count to 23! This is a powerful and cool collection that you'll
definitely want to check out. Look for it in late April.
Appearing in the Independent OS X AudioUnit Developer
booth were U-he.com,
showing its Zebra 1.5 modular software synth; Five12 with its
Numerology MIDI sequencer; Airy Speedster, a pitch and time shifter; and a
polyphonic soft synth called BuzZer by Alphakanal.de.
introduced OrangeVocoder3 (Mac/Win), which adds a number of new
features to this popular vocoder, including a mono mode with glide,
support for sound files, formant freeze, a filterbank sample-and-hold,
and a vocal synthesizer that uses a "phoneme dial" to create words and
sentences without requiring an external speech signal. It's scheduled
for a May release. Prosoniq also showed Morph (Mac/Win), a real-time
audio-morphing plug-in, and Rayverb (Mac/Win), a reverb plug-in that
combines convolution using sampled impulse responses and inverse
VirSyn showed its impressive new 8-part vocal
synthesizer, Cantor (Mac/Win), which lets users enter words in English
and play them melodically from a MIDI keyboard in real-time. According
to the manufacturer, Cantor's Voice editor lets you edit the character
of the virtual singer by defining the base spectrum for vowels and
consonants. The application also includes a Phoneme editor and offers
real-time control over vibrato rate and depth as well as the gender of
the singing voice. Cantor supports VST 2, AudioUnits, RTAS, and
Multimedia, in collaboration with Sonic Reality, introduced
StudioPhonik (Mac/Win), a comprehensive virtual-instrument plug-in that
includes keyboards, guitars, basses, drums, percussion, and horns, as
well as a large number of effects (delays, reverbs, EQs, compressors,
and an array of virtual stomp boxes). The plug-in, due for release in
July, supports VST, RTAS, MAS, DX, and AudioUnits.
In addition, IK Multimedia showed its Sonik Synth 2 (Mac/Win)
synthesizer-workstation plug-in and the Sonik Capsules sound module
libraries. The libraries, each of which includes Sampletank 2 LE,
include the Studio Drums Capsule, the Acoustic Guitar Capsule, and the
FX Drums Capsule.
of RT Player 2.5, demonstrated an application that allows VST hosts to
stream audio and MIDI data between a pair of PCs over a single FireWire
cable. Although still in development, the technology is very
Ultimate Sound Bank presented Ultra Focus (Mac/Win,
$399), which combines an 8 GB sample library with a virtual synth
engine. The samples represent a wide variety of synthesis methods,
including analog, FM, vector, wavetable, additive, and formant. In
addition, each of Ultra Focus's four LFOs offers seven waveforms and
can be synced to your sequencer's tempo.
Although the company didn't officially exhibit at the
show, Digidesign unveiled the Command|8 control surface
for Pro Tools TDM and LE systems. The controller offers eight faders,
ten rotary encoders, a shuttle wheel, MIDI I/O, a backlit LCD, and a
USB port. Remarkably, the Command|8 can also be pressed into service as
a standalone MIDI controller for third-party products. The
Focusrite-designed monitoring section offers two stereo inputs (+4 or
-10 dB), stereo speaker outputs (+4 or -10 dB), and a headphone
On the subject of analog controllers, MIDIsoft introduced the Midimax hardware control
surface, which is based on the Moog Minimoog. The Midimax is available
in desktop, rack, and keyboard versions, and I noticed them being used
to control Minimoog emulations in the Arturia and Creamware booths. But
these babies don't come cheap: the keyboard version costs well over
Emes, distributed in the United States by Synthax, introduced
the Kobalt (approximately $690 a pair) close-field active studio
monitor. The Kobalt, expected to ship in August, has a 5.5-inch woofer,
a 1-inch tweeter, and 70W going to each driver.
ADAM announced several new monitors at the show.
The passive ANF10 ($700 a pair), due to ship in May, is the company's
smallest studio monitor. It features a 7-inch woofer, magnetic
shielding, and the new ART tweeter. I also got a glimpse of ADAM's
Apple ($1,450), an active studio monitor housed in an aluminum cabinet
that has a 5-inch woofer and two 50W amps. At the upper end, ADAM
displayed the active P33-A ($2,950) monitor, which has two 7-inch
woofers and puts out 100W per channel.
introduced the DS-series of active two-way digital close-field
monitors. The monitors feature 1-inch dome tweeters, an analog input,
and digital inputs that support AES/EBU (on XLR connectors) and S/PDIF
(on coaxial and optical jacks). The D-8 is a 120W system with an 8-inch
LF driver; the D-7 is a 60W system with a 6.5-inch LF driver; and the
DS-5 is a 45W system with a 5-inch LF driver. The monitors support
24-bit, 192 kHz digital audio.
The stylish Bulgarian-made Terra II monitor also caught
my eye. This attractive two-way speaker includes a 1-inch tweeter and a
4-inch LF driver, and it has a frequency response of 69 Hz to 25 kHz
(+/-3 dB). The Terra II is scheduled to be distributed by AS Pro Audio.
Analog and Beyond
One of my first destinations at Musikmesse is the analog-synth
superbooth, this year called Analog Village . The booth includes a
number of small manufacturers and boutique items, many of which never
get proper US distribution. Nonetheless, there is always a handful of
gems here, not to mention fun to be had in the land of knobs and patch
The biggest name in the booth is Doepfer, which not only makes the popular and
affordable A-100 modular analog synthesizer and several standalone
sequencers, but also supplies the European market with a variety MIDI
keyboard controllers. Doepfer unveiled over a dozen new products for
the show, such as the new version of its A-198 Trautonium/Ribbon
Controller, which includes an interface with MIDI and analog outputs
(CV1, CV2, Gate). The ribbon's sensors read position and pressure,
which can be assigned as Note On, Note Off, Pitch Bend, Velocity, and
Aftertouch. The MIDI channel can be selected for each parameter, and
several user presets will be available shortly. The controller will be
available in May.
Doepfer has also announced a number of analog synth modules for its
A-100 line, including the A-107 Multitype Morphing Filter, the A-101-3
Modular Vactrol 12-Stage Phase Shifter, and the A-101-1 Vactrol Steiner
Filter. My personal favorite was the A-137 Voltage Controlled Waveform
Multiplier, which allows you to add interesting harmonics to a sound
while keeping the pitch constant. Doepfer products are distributed in
the United States by Sonic Highway.
In the same booth, the USB-programmable X-IST MIDIGlove was
being used to trigger and control the massive Doepfer analog system.
Each finger was mapped to a different CV input so that the player
could, for example, open and close a filter by merely bending a finger.
According to its Web site, the company also offers a FaceTracker,
DataGlove, and Fullbody Tracker. If the build-quality of the glove is
any indication, this is a line of products worth keeping an eye on.
Other notables in Das Analoge Dorf was the Vermona Retroverb and
Cross Filter. The stereo Retroverb contains an Accutronic spring reverb
with controls for VCF, VCA, EQ, and an envelope generator, as well as
jacks for CV input, audio trigger, and gate. The stereo Cross Filter,
due for release in May, includes controls for panning between filtered
and unprocessed sounds.
This year, the village included a darkened passage
between the aisles that took visitors from the Doepfer area into the Eowave booth. The
passageway included a gutted upright piano filled with a Doepfer MIDI
controller and plenty of analog goodies. Tidal showed its
4-channel Quad Filter, the Distorture stereo distortion box, and a
turntable preamp. I also viewed one of the very few Macbeth Moroco
stereo filter processors. To the right of this was a wall-mounted demo
station that included the Spectral Audio Neptune analog synth module,
which offers three oscillators, ring modulation, and highpass and
lowpass filters, and the Analogue Solutions Semblance, which is based
on the Oberheim SEM module.
Also in the booth, European distributor Schneiders Buero had a clever wooden kiosk with
instruments attached to its walls. There I found the SND FB-14
parametric filter, an extended-range fixed filter bank that is tuned in
quints and offers +/-20 dB of boost/cut at each frequency. I also got a
chance to see the diminutive MFB-Synth Lite II, which combines digital
oscillators with analog filters and VCA.
A number of tube-amp afficionados sent me to the guitar
hall to check out Randall's series of MTS tube preamp modules. The
modules, which contain a pair of real tubes and recreate the circuitry
of classic amps, slide into slots on the MTS-series amp heads. For
studio use, Randall offers the RM4, a 2U rack that comes with four
modules, an effects loop, and MIDI In/Thru, allowing you to switch
between the modules with a foot controller. Over a dozen amp modules
are available, including emulations of a Fender Blackface Twin, a
Marshall Super Lead, a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, and other
While in the guitar hall, I came across the Avantair,
created by Pagelli
Guitars. Switzerland-based Italian luthier Claudio Pagelli, who is
known for his exotic designs, built an Alesis AirFX into this custom
instrument, allowing you to control the effects by moving your arm or
hand over the dome-shaped Axyz controller. Priced around $5,000 and
made one at a time, this baby probably won't be showing up in your
local guitar shop any time soon.
Just when I think I've seen it all, Roland introduces
the stylish V-Accordion. Available in two models, the FR-7 and FR-5,
the V-Accordion uses Physical Behavior Modeling algorithms, which the
company says "faithfully reproduce the characteristics and nuances of
an authentic accordion." As far as I can tell from a demo on the
trade-show floor, the V-Accordion sounds as good as it looks. Expect it
to arrive stateside early next year.
Roland also introduced the SP-606 Sampling Workstation,
which includes 16 pads, D-Beam and V-Link control, and USB/CompactFlash
support. It comes bundled with Cakewalk's P606 phrase generator/virtual
groovebox, which adds editing capabilities and a sample library.
Mics, Preamps, and Audio Interfaces
AKG unveiled the C 414 B XLS and B-XLII, which
takes the former ULS model transformerless with the new XL indication.
Although the new versions retain the C 414 profile, they are larger
than earlier models and include a number of interesting new features:
an extra pattern (subcardioid), three low-cut settings (40, 80, and 160
Hz), and four pad settings (0, -6, -8, and -12 dB). The new mics have
increased sensitivity, lower self-noise, and a greater dynamic range
(134 dB) and are available in factory-matched pairs. One noticeable
change in the design is the inclusion of tiny lights that indicate
switch positions, input overload, and whether phantom power is being
received. AKG says that the new mics will be priced the same as the
previous models and will be available in June.
AKG also announced the return of the Hearo digital wireless surround
headphones, which can be used for up to five hours on one battery
displayed the Nova ($129.95), a side-address cardioid condenser
microphone based on the company's Luna mic. According to M-Audio, the
Nova has a 1.1-inch diaphragm, Class-A solid-state electronics, and a
frequency response of 20 Hz to 18 kHz.
RME showed its
impressive FireFace 800, a 24-bit, 192 kHz FireWire interface that can
handle 56 channels of audio. The FireFace 800, scheduled for a July
release, includes four Class-A mic preamps with 48V phantom power, an
instrument input (with speaker emulation), two FireWire 800 ports, a
FireWire 400 port, eight balanced 1/4-inch line-level inputs and
outputs, S/PDIF I/O, two sets of optical I/O (Lightpipe or S/PDIF
configurable), word-clock I/O, and MIDI I/O. RME also showed the ADI-2,
a 2-channel A/D/A converter that supports 24-bit, 192 kHz audio and
includes two Neutrik combo analog inputs, XLR and unbalanced 1/4-inch
outputs, S/PDIF I/O, and optical I/O.
John Oram celebrated his 40th anniversary in the music
and pro-audio business with the release of the 4T Celebration Channel
Strip ($999). The 1U device combines a mic preamp, EQ, dynamics, and an