Every January, the music tech world descends on Anaheim, California to show off its new gear at the annual NAMM show.
The past few years have seen companies like Korg release compact synths and Roland and Yamaha revive classic hardware in new forms, but the overriding trend at this year’s event was modular synths – and lots of them.
Formerly a niche concern, Eurorack format modular gear has been growing in popularity with affordable, entry level systems like the AIRA System-1m being released over the past year. At NAMM there was no shortage of products aimed at making the modular leap easy for newcomers, from high-end all-in-ones by boutique companies to keyboard starter cases.
Alongside the modular gear, there were plenty of other unexpected announcements: Korg’s Minilogue, Arturia’s MatrixBrute and Teenage Engineering’s intriguing audio and video synth, the OP-Z to name a few. To help you sift through the many new products launched last week, we’ve collected some of FACT’s most anticipated pieces of gear from NAMM 2016.
Released: Spring 2016
If the awestruck collective reaction to Arturia’s MatrixBrute is anything to go by, then the French company stole the show with its monstrous new analog synth. Like a lot of other gear at NAMM, it has a modular architecture, but replaces the jumble of patch cables with a 256-button modular matrix for re-routing sounds. It’s not cheap, but if you want a large-format analog synth it’s less expensive than buying a Moog Voyager.
Released: Spring 2016
Even from the videos that have been released, it’s difficult to get a sense of what Intellijel’s Rainmaker module actually does without getting to grips with it. In short, it’s capable of pitch-shifted delay sounds, complex filtering and chord effects that sound like it’ll be capable of sounds your average modular system sound disappointing in comparison. If you want to turbo-charge your Eurorack, Rainmaker is the module to go for.
Released: Out now
Korg has been the market leader in small, affordable synths for the past several years, but the Japanese company has outdone itself with the Minilogue. Polyphonic analog synths have long been out of affordable reach, but the Minilogue offers four-voice polyphony and an OLED oscilloscope for just $499. If you’re put off by the virtual analog of Roland’s AIRA System-1 synth, this looks like the next best thing.
Korg Volca FM
Korg’s Volca series has made analog synthesis so affordable you’d be hard pressed to find a producer that hasn’t at least played with one. The latest addition to the family looks set to do the same for FM synthesis, taking inspiration from Yamaha’s iconic DX7 synth and letting you program your own FM presets. If you’ve got a floppy disk of old DX7 presets you’ll be able to upload those too.
Make Noise 0-Coast
Released: Spring 2016
Make Noise’s Eurorack modules are arguably the most beautifully designed on the market, but not everyone wants to invest in a huge system to enjoy them. For everyone on the fence about modular, Make Noise is making 0-Coast, a compact, patchable, single-voice synth that offers a taste of the format on a reduced scale. You can get a Korg Volca for less money, but there’s no way it’ll sound this good.
Roland A-01 controller module
Released: February 2016
Price: $599 (with K-25 keyboard)
If the amount of modular gear announced at NAMM is anything to go by, we’ll be awash with CV devices by the end of the year. But what do you use to control it if you don’t have a sequencer or MIDI module? Roland’s A-01 controller and K-25 keyboard accessory is one solution: it features CV in and out as well as MIDI over Bluetooth, meaning it can control modular setups and mobile apps from the same device.
Strymon Generalissimo digital tape echo module
Released: Summer 2016
If you like the Roland Space Echo and synth modules, the Strymon Generalissimo is a no-brainer: it’s a four head tape echo emulator with a sound-on-sound looper, spring reverb and clock multiplier with the ability to self-oscillate. Its array of CV inputs and “speed knob” means you can “play your delays like an instrument” if you want, and it even comes in a fetching shade of Space Echo-inspired green.
Teenage Engineering OP-Z
Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 is five years old, but the quirky synthesizer has lost none of its shine. It’s why the OP-Z is one of the most promising devices to be revealed at NAMM this year; it isn’t a successor, but a different instrument entirely based around the idea of audio and video synthesis. It’s still in the prototype stages, but if the Swedish company can veer away from dodgy iTunes visualiser-style animations, it could be even more fun than the OP-1.
Waldorf KB37 modular keyboard case
Released: Autumn 2016
Modular synths offer possibilities regular synths don’t, but the lack of a keyboard can be enough to put novices off. Waldorf’s KB37 modular keyboard case offers the best of both worlds: it’s got keys, pitch and modulation wheels, and enough space to fit a small modular system with a few patching sockets built in. It’s not the first case of its type, but it looks like it might be the best.
Yamaha wireless MIDI adaptors
Ableton’s new Link technology lets us connect with other musicians and apps wirelessly, but what about our wired MIDI gear? Yamaha’s new wireless MIDI adaptors could be the answer to some of those problems: they plug into existing gear and let it communicate via Bluetooth with iOS, Mac or PC devices up to 10 metres away. Think of it as a Google Chromecast for your MIDI keyboard.