We look forward to January’s NAMM show with some predictions of what to watch out for, including products from Roland, Behringer and a newcomer with serious pedigree.
The Winter NAMM trade show in Anaheim, California has long been one of the highlights of the year for anyone with an interest in music technology. The annual event typically sees hundreds of companies announce new products in their thousands. Not all are relevant to electronic music production, but you’re still almost guaranteed a few pleasant surprises. Last year alone saw the announcement of the Sequential Prophet-6, Roland JD-Xi, and Korg’s ARP Odyssey and MS-20m, among others.
With NAMM 2016 kicking off on January 21st, we’re expecting another bumper year so we’ve put together a short list of what to expect, including rumours of some intriguing additions to the Roland line-up and the return of a legendary name with a new company.
Japanese giants Roland have been busy over the last few years, what with the AIRA series, Boutique reboots of classic synths, plus the introduction of two separate Eurorack modular ranges, one analogue and one digital. Roland are always one to watch at NAMM, but the company’s recent direction has made their product releases increasingly interesting to electronic producers. Speculation is rife that NAMM 2016 will see a new sampler added to the product line-up, possibly as part of the AIRA series. Gearsluz forum user Tha Knoq, who previously leaked information on Akai’s MPC Touch, claims to have seen a new Roland sampler with built-in modes modelled on classic samplers including the E-mu SP-1200 and Emaxes, the Ensoniq Mirage and the Roger Linn-era Akai MPCs. If it’s true, it would be huge news for anyone interested in classic samplers but unable or unwilling to pay the huge prices they now command.
We’re also interested to see if Roland are planning something new based on the classic Space Echo series. The officially licensed Space Echo plugin for Universal Audio’s UAD platform quietly disappeared from the range a few months ago, leading us to wonder if there might be something new on the way. The RE-201 – which is set to be inducted into the TECnology Hall of Fame at NAMM – is the inspiration for Boss’s RE-20 pedal, but could there also be room for an official plugin emulation or even a Space Echo-inspired model in the AIRA range, perhaps incorporating the company’s new Analog Circuit Behavior modelling techniques?
The release of products like the Elektron Octatrack and Korg’s Volca Sample and Electribe Sampler over the last few years has proven that there’s still a market for hardware samplers despite the fact that it looked like they were all set for extinction thanks to the arrival of affordable computer-based sampling options. Aside from the rumoured Roland sampler, we’ll also be interested to see whether other companies have anything new to offer in this small but hotly contested section of the market.
Affordable analogue polysynths?
Back in 2012, the release of the Arturia MiniBrute ushered in a new wave of affordable analogue synths. With the subsequent release of products like the Korg MS-20 Mini, Novation Bass Station 2 and Arturia’s smaller MicroBrute, you can now take your pick from a pretty decent range of monosynths without breaking the bank, but polyphonic analogue synths still tend to be much more expensive. Even a relatively affordable option like the DSI Mopho x4 will set you back over £700.
With demand for affordable analogue synths now clearly established, it’s surely only a matter of time until a synth manufacturer introduces a budget polysynth, perhaps hitting the sub-£500 price range. There’s been speculation about the possibilty of an Arturia PolyBrute or a miniaturised version of another Korg classic, but we’re still waiting to see who makes the first move. We won’t be at all surprised if one of the big players unveils a budget polysynth at NAMM.
… on the same subject, budget hardware specialists Behringer announced just over a year ago that they were set to develop a polyphonic analogue synth. With their track record for affordable products heavily inspired by other companies’ bestsellers, it’s not hard to guess where this one could be going.
Uli Behringer previously claimed that his engineers had “invested a lot of time in the analysis [of] legendary synthesizers from Roland, Korg, Moog, Sequential Circuits, ARP and PPG etc. The Curtis and SSM [chips] are today virtually no longer available and we have therefore used a lot of time, to replicate these with modern and high quality VCA and OTAs… These circuits will now form the basis for our synthesiser.”
We’re hoping to see some kind of prototype at NAMM, if only to find out which classic keyboards have inspired Behringer’s contribution to the synth market.
You might not know this new company yet, but we’ve got a feeling they’ll be one to watch at NAMM. Dave Rossum was one of the founders of E-mu, the now-defunct California company responsible for bona fide classics like the Emulator samplers, the SP-1200 sampling drum machine and, of course, some mighty modular synths.
Rossum Electro-Music is Dave Rossum’s new venture, set to make its debut at NAMM. The company have revealed in Facebook posts that they’ll be releasing a range of Eurorack modules (and possibly more), but we don’t know yet whether that means analogue, digital or both. Will the modules be reissues of classic E-mu circuits, updated versions or entirely new designs? Will there also be standalone hardware units or is it all modular? We’ll be bringing you more information on this one soon, but for now we’re excited to see what’s unveiled at NAMM.
Hardly a new trend, what with the release of products like the Roland Aira and Boutique series, MS-20 Mini and over the last few years, but we can’t help thinking that 2016 might be the year we reach peak hardware nostalgia. Instead of faithful reissues, though, think reboots: why go to all the effort of painstakingly tracking down obsolete original components and retooling to manufacture imitations of your own back catalogue when you could just take inspiration from them and create something new with a broadly similar sound?
Cynical? Maybe. But there are still plenty of reboots that prove the approach is worthwhile. For every couple of dodgy cash-ins inspired by a long-forgotten ‘classic’ with a spurious back story, there are genuinely innovative products with bags of vintage heritage. Just look at Dave Smith’s excellent Pro 2 and Prophet-6, inspired by his 1970s Pro-One and Prophet-5 respectively.
Hardware sequencers were pretty thin on the ground a couple of years ago, but since the incredible rise of the Eurorack modular format and the widespread return of analogue synths, we’ve seen quite a few pop up, including Arturia’s Beatstep models, the Doepfer Dark Time and the Korg SQ-1. Whether at NAMM or not, we’re sure to see a lot of new step sequencers on the way in the modular world, with Sonicstate reporting that Malekko Heavy Industry, Sputnik Modular and Mutable Instruments are all working on new sequencer modules.
We also definitely wouldn’t be surprised to see more standalone sequencers joining the market. That could mean advanced, multi-track MIDI-based options like the Sequentix Cirklon or recently released Social Entropy Engine, or it could mean CV-based models from traditionally analogue-focused companies.
Speaking of analogue sequencers, Moog are a prime candidate. With a handful of keyboardless modules in the current range, it would be great to see a cheaper alternative to the $8,500 Complement B. There’s a step sequencer built into the Mother-32, so how about a standalone version of that?
With the release of the Sub Phatty in 2013, the Sub 37 and Werkstatt in 2014, then the reissued modulars and Mother-32 in 2015, it might be too much to expect another new synth from Moog. Instead, we’ve got a feeling we might see updates to the Moogerfooger and Minifooger ranges. Meanwhile, it seems a bit odd that we can buy Moog Eurorack cases but no Moog modules to put in them. Could 2016 be the year we see Moog enter the Eurorack fray?
Like Roland, Korg are active in so many areas that it’s hard to predict where they’ll go next. In recent years we’ve had miniaturised reissues of the MS-20 and ARP Odyssey, the hugely popular Volca series, refreshed Electribes and continued development of the Kaoss Pad/Kaossilator series. So where next? We’d love to see a miniaturised reissue of one of the company’s classic polysynths such as the Mono/Poly, but that might be wishful thinking. If we had to bet, our money would be going on some new additions to the Volca range.
Let us know what you’re hoping for in the comments below.