The Best of NAMM 2018
We wrap up our favorite pieces of kit from this year's gear convention.
Another year, another NAMM show, full of wondrous, blinking new gear designed to whet the appetites of gear nerds around the globe (and, most likely, distract them from actually making music). This year saw continued interest in the Eurorack ecosystem, along with plenty of buzz about machine learning, cloud-based libraries, and subscription-based services. The show remains a bewildering combination of inspiring ideas, gear, and people, as well an overwhelming, slightly disheartening look at how the sausage gets made (or, in this case, sold and distributed).
Fortunately, a brand new wing of the Anaheim Convention Center made this the physically largest NAMM show to date, creating a bit more space between booths and attendees. Though it’s only a sampling of the seemingly infinite hardware and software strewn about the various expo halls, we’ve gone ahead and plucked out some of the most exciting, standout new kit from this year’s show.
Strymon Magneto Echo, Looper, and Phrase Sampler
Long a go-to for its external delay FX pedals, Magneto – Four Head dTape Echo & Looper Eurorack Module
” target=”_blank”>Strymon has finally brought its sensibilities to the Eurorack world with Magneto – Four Head dTape Echo & Looper Eurorack Module
” target=”_blank”>Magneto. A stereo, multi-head tape delay that also functions as a looper, phrase sampler, vintage spring reverb unit, phase-aligned clock multiplier, chaotic oscillator, zero latency sub-oscillator and more, it sounds amazing and is full of extensive CV I/O. For those that have been looking for that Strymon sound and all the benefits of CV control, the mothership has finally arrived.
Available for preorder Magneto – Four Head dTape Echo & Looper Eurorack Module
Arturia MiniBrute 2 and 2S
Arturia’s analog MiniBrute gets a sequel that returns with two oscillators (with waveform mixing), a multi-mode Steiner Parker filter, and a “Brute Factor” feedback circuit. In addition, the synth features two LFOs, ADSR, and AD envelopes, along with a hybrid step-sequencer and arpeggiator, similar to Arturia’s Keystep devices. The MiniBrute 2 has 25 full-size velocity-sensitive keys with aftertouch (adding pitch and modulation wheels not found on the original), while the 2S swaps the traditional keyboard for performance pads and a sequencer that can be recorded in real time. As well as saving note data, the sequencer saves LFO, envelope, gate, control voltage, and pitch changes, and can hold up to 64 sequences that can be chained together.
Available for preorder now. $649.
Build into the same case and using much the same workflow as Elektron’s own Digitakt, the Digitone is an FM synth, implemented into a classic subtractive synthesis signal flow. The onboard sequencer offers four tracks for the internal sounds, as well as four dedicated MIDI tracks for controlling external gear, which you can use probability settings to create note and length variations. There’s also MIDI In/Out/Thru, an arpeggiator, and Overbridge support. There are plenty of modulation and alternative algorithm options, making this one of NAMM 2018’s more exciting unveils.
Available for preorder now. $759.
Pittsburgh Modular Microvolt 3900
The Microvolt 3900 is Pittsburgh Modular’s second take on a standalone, semi-modular synth, full of heaps of patching opportunities and even more versatility than the company’s Lifeforms Blackbox SV-1. It’s got a wavefolder, a VCA with a low-pass gate mode for added pluckiness, and a main output with a dedicated overdrive circuit. It also has MIDI input, a built-in arpeggiator, and some extremely cool square, blue-lit LED buttons.
Available in March/April. $629.
The king and creator of Eurorack modular was in full swing at what was easily the format’s biggest NAMM show to date. This year, Doepfer’s NAMM presence was focused on bringing polyphony to Eurorack with five new modules: a Quad VCO, Quad VCF, Quad VCADSR, Octal VCAm and a Polyphonic MIDI/CV/Gate Interface. Bringing proper analog polyphony to what has largely been a monophonic format is nothing to sneeze at: all together, these modules are going to eat up a fair amount of HP (horizontal pitch). But after hearing the results, it feels like exciting new territory for modular.
Available now. Prices vary.
Apple Logic Pro
Apple’s latest update to Logic adds some great new FX to the mix via the return of the Camel Audio technology—a company Apple bought several years back, and which is responsible for the popular Alchemy synthesizer—including a reverb they’re calling ChromaVerb, and a multi-effect called Phat FX. Logic owners will want to download the update based on the particle-based, adaptive visual readout of ChromaVerb alone, which looks (and sounds) fantastic in motion. But the big new feature this year is something Apple is calling Smart Tempo, which allows users to record without a click track and retain a human feel while maintaining adhesion to the beat grid of your DAW via algorithms that detect and adjust the tempo of the track to match your input. It’s territory that’s been largely owned by Ableton Live, and will certainly be a boon to Logic owners looking to get away from the metronome.
Available now. Free upgrade.
Erica Synths Graphic VCO + Black Resonant Equalizer
Latvian Eurorack manufacturer Erica Synths has some exciting new modular gear for 2018. The Graphic VCO lets you draw in your own waveform to be manipulated by the onboard FM, phase distortion, ring modulation, wavefold and bitcrush, with effects that can be modulated with an internal LFO. Onboard “snapshots” let you store your creations for instant recall, including all settings for waves, wavetables, FX and more. The Black Resonant Equalizer also makes use of an onboard screen, and offers an impressive amount of sound sculpting and modulation with 12 CV-controllable bands, with analogue filters and digital controls that bring a new style of interaction to live EQ-ing.
Available in February. Prices TBA.
While Moog didn’t have a booth at NAMM 2018, the company showed off their new DFAM (Drummer From Another Mother) drum synth in an offsite house. it had fully kitted out with synthesizers from across the Moog spectrum. Like the Mother-32, the DFAM has a 24-point patchbay that allows it to be patched internally, to a Mother-32, or of course other Eurorack modules. While the internal sequencer is only eight steps, a white noise generator and two wide-range analog oscillators (with hard sync and FM cross-modulation) allow for a huge amount of variation and immediate transitions between sound types.
Available now. $599.
Continuing the semi-modular trend at this year’s show, SSF’s Bantam synthesizer was designed to fit perfectly with a Moog Mother-32. The Bantam sports two main VCOs, an LFO, a waveform mixer (with two aux inputs), and tons more. The VCF is a Polivoks-style that gets pretty aggressive, and the three-mode ADSR and three-mode/ three-speed slope look nicely varied. There’s even a delay, as well as a built-in sample-and-hold circuit rounding out the package.
Vermona Cross-Point Switch and Virtual Patch Manager
Vermona’s 16×16 cross-point switch essentially functions as a patch manager. There are 256 analog switches which can be programmed and stored; settings can be changed or recalled and re-routed by pressing a button or sending a CV trigger. Still in prototype form but looks like it could be a nice addition to the Eurorack ecosystem. It’s an exciting avenue for “saving” patches in Eurorack, particularly for opening up possibilities in and variety for live performance.
Price and release date TBA.