Erik Hawkins

Winter NAMM 2015 in Los Angeles, CA.

Hawk’s NAMM 2015 Report

Erik Hawkins

Each year, for the past several years, NAMM seems to draw bigger crowds and more manufacturers announcing more amazing toys. This year’s NAMM convention was in keeping with this trend.  Indeed, it was totally off the hook!  I saw so many fun products and exciting new gear and software, yet I’m sure I only saw a fraction of all the goodies.  Here’s a list of the new stuff that made my head turn.

Biggest Announcement

Avid has announced a fully functional, 16-track free version of Pro Tools called, Pro Tools|First.  Yes, you heard me right, I said free!  Personally, I think this is a game changer.  I’ll let you consider all the possible markets Avid will be able to tap with this wicked maneuver.  Here are the slides they had on the screen at the Avid booth during the demonstration of Pro Tools|First.

The Pro Tools|First features.

The Pro Tools|First features.

The Pro Tools|First benefits.

The Pro Tools|First benefits.

Most Innovative

Ever see something that just makes you go, hmmm . . . this really makes you think?  Indeed, I think Keith McMillen Instruments has something totally unique here, a new audio interface and mixer control surface called the K-Mix.  It’s really different with controls that sit somewhere between traditional faders and dials and a touch screen.  It’s clearly not going to be for everybody, but it’s a refreshing new spin on the old audio interface and mixer control surface rolled into a fun and creative package.

The K-Mix by Keith McMillen Instruments.

The K-Mix by Keith McMillen Instruments.

Best Guitar Accessory

This gizmo has been floating around for most of 2014, from an early prototype that was introduced at the last Winter NAMM, and the successful Kickstarter, crowd funding campaign that was completed last February.  I believe this product officially shipped sometime in August last year, but it’s still worth mentioning in the context of this year’s NAMM because over the course of 2014 it’s really grown wings.  I’m referring to Livid InstrumentsGuitar Wing, of course.  If you’re looking for handy, wireless MIDI control over your DAW right from the face of your guitar this product rocks.  It also does so much more, especially when combined with a DAW like Ableton Live, allowing you to do everything from manipulate effects to trigger clips.  Let your fingers and your imagination fly!

Best Product Update

One of the first questions I’ve continually asked about clip launching control surfaces for Live, such as Novation’s Launchpad is, “Are the pads velocity sensitive?”  For the past few years the answer has always been, “No.”  Until now!  I’m happy to announce that the new Novation Launchpad Pro introduces velocity- and pressure-sensitive pads.  Now you can add another dimension to your clip launching performances, from playing melodies on the pads, to applying pressure on a pad to create real-time effect swells.  I’m excited for this Launchpad! (Future Music filmed a great demo of the Launchpad Pro right at the Novation booth.)

Novation's Launchpad Pro featuring pressure and velocity sensitive pads.

Novation’s Launchpad Pro featuring pressure and velocity sensitive pads.

Best New Drum Machine

Who needs an analog drum machine?  Who knows?  But I’ll tell you what, analog drum machines are a lot of fun, and Akai’s new Tom Cat is a winner.  It’s solidly built, features plenty of knobs and buttons, it’s intuitive to program, sounds great, and retails for just $199.  For that price it’s hard to beat and I would be happy to make space for it on my desk, even though I don’t really need it.

The Tom Cat drum machine by Akai is too much fun!

The Tom Cat drum machine by Akai is too much fun!

Best New Electronic Drum Kit

A full Roland V-Drum kit will cost you in excess of $2,500, dependent on the set you choose.  But the V-Drums feature some of the best feeling electronic drum heads around, so it’s hard to argue with the price tag.  That is, until now.  The new Alesis DM10 X Mesh Six-Piece Electronic Drum Kit features mesh heads that play and feel amazing.  Indeed, I wanted to trade in my old DM10 set as soon as I started playing these drums.  I’m no pro drummer, but I know I would thoroughly enjoy playing these mesh heads for hours on end.  It retails for $1,699.

The new Alesis DM10 X features great playing mesh heads.

The new Alesis DM10 X features great playing mesh heads.

Best New Keyboard Controller

For deep control over your DAW the new Akai Advance controller keyboards look fantastic.  They come in 25, 49, and 61 key sizes and appear to offer a lot of visual feedback and control directly on the keyboard’s face over the state of your DAW and virtual instruments.  If you’re a control freak this keyboard has potential.

The Akai Advance keyboard gives you a lot of control over your DAW's instruments.

The Akai Advance keyboard gives you a lot of control over your DAW’s instruments.

On the other hand, if you just need a mini keyboard controller that will fit in your backpack, check out the Novation Launchkey Mini.  Now that’s what I call compact!

Check out how tiny the Launchkey Mini is compared to the Launchkey 25.

Check out how tiny the Launchkey Mini is compared to the Launchkey 25.

Sexiest New Synth

There were so many cool new synths on display that it’s impossible to choose just one.  A couple that really stood out are the Roland JD-XA Analog/Digital Crossover Synthesizer.  To be released later this year.  Look at all those pretty lights!

The Roland JD-XA. Look at all the pretty lights!

The Roland JD-XA. Look at all the pretty lights!

Also, Korg’s recreation of a classic, the Arp Odyssey.  If spending hours adjusting controls to concoct your own homemade synthesizer patches is your thing, this is right up your alley.  Look at all those pretty data sliders!

The Arp Odyssey, Korg brings a classic back to life.

The Arp Odyssey, Korg brings a classic back to life.

Craziest Gear

Did I hear you say you want more things to tweak and adjust for potentially bigger, fatter, real analog sounds?  If so, you’re in luck.  Moog has completely outdone themselves by releasing a series of reissued, modular synths right out of the 70s, complete with patch cables.  Price tags for these outrageous sound machines start at $10,000, for the Model 15 Limited-edition, and go up to $35,000, for the Moog System 55 Limited-edition.  If you’re a gear geek who has just won the lottery, thank goodness, now you’ve got something to spend your money on.

For more of the amazing new gear introduced at this Winter NAMM, Sweetwater Sound gives a great run down: http://www.sweetwater.com/insync/show/winter-namm-2015.

 

 

 

Erik Hawkins
Erik Hawkins

Erik Hawkins is a composer, producer, remixer, and author whose talents and technical expertise have leaders in the music industry calling him a "taste maker." He has worked with and remixed a variety of top artists, including Scatman Crothers, Irene Cara, Digital Underground, Conscious Daughters, Strypper, Brenda Russell, and DJ Sasha. His own progressive dance music tracks have been used by major television networks and film studios, including ABC, CBS, FOX, MTV, Nickelodian, and New Line Cinema. His articles and columns have been published in Remix, Mix, Electronic Musician, MC2, Keyboard, and DigiZine. He has also written several books, including The Complete Guide to Remixing (Berklee Press), and Producing Drum Beats (Berklee Press). His Berklee Online course, Programming and Producing Drum Beats, won the UPCEA Best Online Course Award for 2011.