NAMM 2019: New Gear for Making Beats
I walked away from NAMM’s 2019 show full of inspiration and ideas. I’m excited for the future of the music technology space, especially when it comes to making digital instruments more fun and intuitive to play and perform. NAMM is absolutely massive: there were 2,000 exhibitors representing 7,000 brands. Nearly 100,000 people descend on Anaheim California each year to check out the spread of instruments and gear.
One of the most exciting developments I saw was the creative range of MIDI controllers that are geared toward performance, with sleek form factors and responsive interfaces. This is just a taste of the most innoavative beatmaking hardware we tested out at this year's show, along with a few other highlights of the weekend.
Joué’s board is a controller that got me very excited. It’s a simple board base with a polyphonic sensor, and you choose between modular rubbery covers for multiple control surfaces—guitar, keyboard, pads—all highly pressure sensitive and fun to play.
I also loved the look and feel of ROLI’s suite of modular BLOCKS, including the high-powered Seaboard and the flexible, multi-function Lightpad. Integration with Logic Pro and GarageBand makes sample foraging easy and computer-free.
The Model:Samples, a 6-track sample based groovebox from Elektron, has dedicated knobs for quick and easy beat creation that’s intuitive and sound great.
Expressive E’s Touché controller promises to make music production more fun. The physical action of the interface is great for performance- who really wants to watch someone sit in front of a computer?
The sensory percussion system from Sunhouse is perfect for the drummer who wants to play a digital instrument with an analog feeling. Sample triggers are blended nicely for a uniquely organic yet digital feel.
German synth distributor Alex 4 deserves a shout-out for the awesome modular synth playground “laboratory” they set up. It was a great way to get to know the products in their stable.
Built for the young and young-at-heart, Sphero’s Specdrums are a blast to play with. The light-sensing rings trigger MIDI samples keyed to the colors around you, so you can jam out using an orange and a banana as MIDI instruments.
MIDI controllers weren’t the only gear, of course. One standout was the Core from Soundbrenner, a 4-in-one smartwatch for musicians that combines the functions of a watch, decibel meter, and magnetic twist tuner with the vibrating metronome that Soundbrenner debuted with their Pulse wearable.
NAMM's DJ section has steadily grown from a small area into a massive hall as electronica and DJ culture gets more mainstream. Hercules DJ is innovating the space by making pro-level hardware accessible. Their software also teaches you to DJ with lights on the controller that pulse with the beat, volume, waveforms or synch points. Beat matching and song selection is a breeze.
After test-driving new gear all weekend, we got a fascinating glimpse of where music tech was born. We toured Universal Audio, thanks to Drew Waters, VP at VEVA Sound, located in the same building. In the 1960s at Universal Audio (and sibling companies UREI and Teletronix), Bill Putnam Sr invented cutting edge audio amplification and compression technology that is still the standard today. Bill Putnam is a legend- he literally invented artificial reverb! The Universal 1176 and Universal LA-2A compressors were built by hand above the United Recording Studio on Sunset Boulevard, where legends like Ray Charles and the Rat Pack laid down tracks. Bill Putnam’s sons are still shaping the sound of modern artists after re-establishing the Universal Audio name.
Hardware companies weren’t the only ones with exciting new ideas for music tech at NAMM. Next up, I'll be sharing the companies we met at NAMM who are innovating music creation and discovery through software and data.