January 24, 2014

winter namm, winter namm 2014, namm 2014, anaheim convention center, namm anaheim
NAMM as viewed outside the Anaheim Convention Center
namm characters, characters at namm, comic con, comic con girls, wonder woman namm, wonder woman
These patrons are in character and ready
for action!
The NAMM organization and the Lippin Group have done another knockout job with Winter NAMM 2014. This is the third show I have attended, and I must say it is by far the most lively yet. There is a very positive and collaborative vibe despite a little friendly business competition, and the overall feeling is that the industry is working together towards something bigger each year.

There is a definite vibe of energy and progress, and it's contagious. Everyone here is serving a purpose, providing value to their fellow musician, and participating in something extremely special. I have been to tons of trade shows across many industries over the course of my career, and NAMM is certainly one of the most fun and upbeat.

Endless booths line the many large halls in the Anaheim convention center, almost impossible to get through in a single day. Thousands of exhibitors, artists, and other patrons are exchanging information, sharing ideas, networking, and enjoying the thing they are all here for: Music.

The most impressive new item I have seen so far today was an amplifier/computer at the Orange booth. I had the opportunity to meet Charlie, who designed and built this masterpiece himself. Later I will be posting a video where he explains the purpose behind it -- it allows an individual to interface with their DAW, playback their music, and of course play regular guitar through a 15 watt amplifier. For a home-studio guy or gal who plays guitar and wants to make some recordings, this is an affordable all-in-one style solution. Extremely impressed.

orange amp computer, orange computer amp, computer amp
Are you serious?  This is Awesome!  Great job Charlie.
I also want to give a quick mention to Celestion, where John Paice (marketing) did another excellent job this year showing me the new equipment and speakers. He will be sending me one of their new American style speakers (just revealed and still being developed) in April later this year to demo and review, and I couldn't be more excited to see what a British company like Celestion can do to challenge classic American cleans!

Next, for those of you who have not heard of Toni Cotoli, he is an incredible mediterranean guitar guru. I was able to speak with him for a few minutes after taking a video of his classical guitar demonstration, and he had a lot of inspirational insight to give about his playing style, songwriting process, and involvement with the NAMM show. One of my biggest goals on this web site is to promote good music and get the word out about folks like Toni who are doing truly excellent work, so I would encourage you to check out his website at www.tonicotoli.es when you have a moment. You may need to use google to convert the page to English, though, so beware!

toni cotoli, mediterranean guitar, spanish guitar, classical guitar
Toni Cotoli
Last but not least, Steven Slate of Slate Digital gave us an impressive overview of his new microphone modeling (and preamp modeling) hardware and software. After speaking with him at length and capturing his demonstration in the video below, I concluded that his team has actually done a really good job emulating classic mics like the Neumann U47. It's an old mic with a slower transient response, so his strategy (and secret) is to use a more transparent microphone with a faster transient response, then use the software to slow it down, adjust the phase, manipulate the EQ, and do some other black-box magic to turn it into something nearly exactly like the real thing. There were a lot of skeptics in the crowd as he went through his demonstration, but out of a group of more than 20 individuals, nobody was able to identify the difference between the actual U47 --> Neve Pre signal chain ($30,000 chain, by the way) and his modeling microphone, preamp and software (a $2,000 package).

Slate Digital, steven slate, microphone emulation
Steven Slate discussing mic emulation.
The funny thing was, he actually stated that it was harder to get the SM57 emulation to sound right than the U47 due to the fact that the SM57 is a dynamic microphone and he's converting from a small-diaphragm condensor. Again, the strategy is to start with a fast transient response, non-colored sound, and of course a full-spectrum/full-frequency input, and then remove (sculpt) the signal from there. That way it's a process of removing things to achieve the goal rather than trying to artificially add -- certainly an interesting concept. There will still always be folks who don't believe digital modeling can approach analog greatness, and I've always been an analog guy myself, but let's face it: $30k vs $2k is a significant difference, so would you really rather spend all that money just to get a wee bit better and have the real thing?

The way the music and recording industry is changing, which is so rapid by the way, is that it's leading to more individual studios, home studios, and smaller-scale professional studios. In fact, a lot of the so-called "larger" studios wouldn't even be in business right now if it wasn't for their teaching programs, so while they do have all the Big Boy gear (like U47s and original Neve pres), wouldn't the average studio-phile rather pick up something more cost-effective? At the end of the day, having a superior knowledge of mixing audio and adopting a creative approach to processing the dynamics of a particular work will have a larger impact on the final sound than a marginal difference in microphonic input. Some may argue this, but it's true -- after the signal gets compressed three times, EQ'd, distorted, reverberated, and layered in with double tracks and other music, it's highly doubtful to me that anyone would really be able to hear the difference between "Real U47" and a very close digital model used in conjunction with specifically-designed analog gear.

I'll leave you with a few more photos from the show floor before checking out. Stay tuned for more updates from the show, multimedia content, and more over the next few days as the team captures more information. Thanks!

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Playboy Playmates are the gold standard at the Clayton booth.

Can you guess this brand?

Marcus Miller, marcus miller namm
Marcus Miller, a nice and sociable guy.

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A beautiful view of the Ludwig booth.


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