March 30, 2012

Musikmesse – Top 5 Product Announcements

Once a year, around this very time, all eyes in the pro audio / music world find themselves drawn to Frankfurt. You’re thinking it’s some kind of sausage thing, and why not? However, I am actually talking about the European equivalent of NAMM known as Musikmesse. In addition to having a rad Euro name that makes me think of the average synth goon’s noodle infested studio, Musikmesse is often regarded by those in certain quarters as the trade show where vapors become real and all the coolies trot out the next enviable piece of tech candy.

I always dream of attending it myself, but there seems to be some reason I can’t go every year. Last year, I believe I was in Germany not too long before, not too long after, but not at all during. This year, I was in Miami, watching the culmination of years of EDM erupt in a scene of shirtless dudes, neon wrapped bras and the endless quest to find Molly. Other people call it Ultra, but I like to think of it in the context of the long game. It almost seems like a conflict of interests to have WMC/ ULTRA and Musikmesse overlap; but it probably isn’t. The fact is that the majority of ULTRA attendees couldn’t care less how the music is made, they just want you to know that they are really, really, feeling it. That and they want you to either know or think that they must be rich. “I have bottle service at Mansion!

At Musikmesse, attendees are more likely to want you to know that they turned a coffeemaker into a controller for Ableton and they’d like you to partner up with them. I’m not going to lie, these are my kind of people. I personally see nothing in Mr. Coffee that can enhance my own performances, but that could be a lack of vision on my part. I am totally open to discussing it. All that said, as the guy who loves to talk about vapors and wares and trade shows around here, I have been selected to bring you my quick rundown on things that caught my eye.

This will be my “top five” from Musikmesse. I want to preface this, however, with two things: 1. Our friend Phil at Digital Dj Tips has done his own rundown of “the best of the rest.” So I am not going to hit those things. Phil is a powerful man and I do not mess with him. I also think he’s pretty rad. 2. I am not so jazzed by everything that I saw this week that I can introduce things without criticism or whining. It’s my thing, I have needs. So, all that said, rather than a top five: this is a best of the rest that Phil did not test. Let’s kick it off.

1. Roland Jupiter 50

Here’s one that comes complete with both complaints and applause. Last year Roland launched the Jupiter 80 with fanfare and a lot of attempts to relate it to its namesake synthesizer. Well, I’m not buying that. In fact, the release of this slimmer version of the previous behemoth synth wearing the Jupiter name kind of flies in the face of the simplest thing Roland could do to get me all aflutter. I ask and I ask, but seriously; Roland, you made the machines that define electronic music for most people. They were simple analog devices and were just fine the way they were. They were better than fine, they were, and still are, classics.

Yes, I am talking 909s, 707s, 606s and all that Jazz. SH synths, Jupiters, Junos, and all the rest from Roland’s catalog were just amazing and fine the way they were. People didn’t seem upset back then that they lacked a touchscreen or 50 different engines for accurate modeling of violins played by people standing on a mountain with the sun hitting their back just so. I will never get it. The price point is so obvious. The GAIA SH-01 seemed like they were almost starting to think about their good old days and I bought one solely to support that decision. It also isn’t too shabby for kicking plugins out of the studio.

However, much as I grumbled at NAMM, I grumble now. Roland seem to think the market that cares about analog synths isn’t interested in them; possibly judging this by the fact that no one buys their emulations? I don’t know. I feel like someone over there has to see it. If you ever catch me drunk in a bar somewhere and want to set me off, ask me what I think of how Roland has handled their own legacy.

To be fair, Roland have obviously overlooked my “synth geek” demographic, but are all about performing musicians. This has been their target market for a while now, and I am quite sure that between churches and all manner of performing acts, there is something profitable in their decision to break my heart again and again.

The Jupiter 50 doesn’t disappoint here either; bringing over the heart and soul of its big brother (SuperNatural sound with all the trimmings) in a lightweight 76 key package. You might have guessed they ditched the iPad reminiscent display from the 80 in favor of a simple LCD display more like the Junos they have been pushing in the $500-1000.00 market. I have yet to discover what the price difference will be, but one can only hope that those models I just mentioned might be a clue.

USB midi/audio functionality and an included copy of Sonar LE as well as the Jupiter control plugin for Sonar round out the features Roland seems to be angling as the standard in the great Cakewalk partnership. It’s a nice unit, but no matter what you add or take away, it isn’t a Jupiter in the way I’ll always wish it would be. So, awesome for some, less so for Lonely Paul. You’ll notice I never give any brand as much crap as I do Roland, because they made the toys that made me fall in love with electronic music and I miss those toys terribly. It’s like a long relationship where it is just never going to be like the “first time” again.

I suppose I give guys from Yamaha as many grumbles about never revisiting their 4 and 6 op synths like the DX series, but I can still pick those up by the truckload. I just want them to revisit them and put sliders and knobs all over them. If Roland ever listen to me, they might get the wrong idea; but hopefully they will notice no other company gets so much attention for not making stuff I want as they do. The ones we love hurt us the most.

2. Nu-Desine Alphasphere

Remember what I was talking about with the Mr. Coffee? This is more refined, but not so far off from what I am talking about. The Alphasphere is a new take on performance interfaces. Sphere’s and circles seem to be the theme here. Capable of polyphonic aftertouch, sending OSC and MIDI, NuDesine’s product is a software paired controller made for flexibility. The company are tight lipped on the price, having said it will be similarly priced to “decent MIDI keyboards.” However, in the immediate future, and at the ‘Messe, the item was on pre-order, but not firmly priced.

It looks to be an interesting controller, and who doesn’t see the stage presence value of playing your tunes on a glowing blue ball? On the other hand, despite looking cool and making me think of new frontiers in mixing team sports and performance art, I am not inspired on sight by the device. Then again, the demo stuff I have seen seems limited to a drum and bass/ dubstep vibe so I could just be reacting to sounds, I am kind of (read completely) over.

Like so many products in the same vein, I feel like these have to be touched to be evaluated and I will be sure to make a point of grabbing the first one I see. Hopefully, by then, they’ll have some sounds on the demo model that don’t make me want to walk around the club with a bat and tell people to stop humping the speakers. Either way, this was Nu-Desine’s introduction to the world as a company and it seems like it was certainly an eye catcher. So good for them, but can it make coffee?

3.  Avid, the Mbox and ProTools Express

I’m not 100% sure how I feel about this, but it is probably good news. If you all recall, not too many months ago I wrote about the October announcement by Avid of the Pro Tools 10 and an admittedly confusing pricing scheme. Looking back, I almost think the post should have included an info graphic, but I was kind of confused and I think visually depicting things that you are confused about is a good way to start an entire artistic crisis outright.

What I was certain of at the time was that the new estimated cost of Pro Tools 10 left us free to choose our own hardware, but paying for quite a pricey license. In the months since, I have become acquainted with version 10 and I am kind of in love. It almost feels like they heard me bitching about it for the past three or four years and really rushed up to meet me with some modernized features and flexible routing improvement. Let’s not forget the Channel Strip plugin and the greatly improved midi workflow. I still have some niggles here and there, but overall am very pleased with the work I’ve been getting done in PT 10 on the MobileStudio.

That said, with the cost of entry raised and the track counts upped, it was only a matter of time before someone noticed the effect this would have on the entry level customers. Combine that with Logic’s price drop, the affordability of Propellerhead’s Reason 6 and all the other competitive packages out there, it is probably not shocking that Avid  found themselves looking for where to woo the customers who had been into the older MBox price schemes and the M-Powered types out there.

Enter Pro Tools Express. Now for $499 (MBox) and $299 (MBox Mini), there is a lower priced point of entry that will get you up and running with AIR instruments, Elastic Time and 16 tracks of recording at up to 96khz. I think it is great that they aren’t forgetting the penny pinchers in the market, but I feel like 16 tracks is just, restrictive. I personally can blow six tracks in a mix just for making delays feedback and freak out or side chaining invisible elements for ducking and pumping mixes; so I can’t even wrap my brain around the kind of Beatle bouncing this would leave me doing.

On the other hand, limitations are good. This is a great package for the songwriter or someone who knows they are heading to a studio and just wants to knock out a bit of preproduction before they head into work with the big toys. We’ll see how the rest of the world reacts to said track count. I think this is a problem solver for those who can’t be convinced that anything is as good and want something small on the cheap for their project studio.

One thing I like about Avid announcements is that they always come with the price point clearly stated. This allows people to go ahead and get into rage or rejoice mode without the wait. With so many other items in the “it should cost something between the distance to the moon and the weight of a duck” area at trade show time, I suppose Avid should get some kind of award for always bringing their notes to class.

4. Stanton DJC.4 DJ Controller 

Virtual DJ has clearly captured some hearts and minds out there. We all have our favorites and I personally rock out on Traktor in the modern times. That said, I suppose I am pretty locked into my own habits, but would be stupid not to sit up and take notice of the rapidly evolving line of products for this package. With the DJC.4 Dj controller, Stanton have really sought to create a flexible device that can work with laptop software or hardware outright, and to that end it is a flexible MIDI controller, Mappers rejoice! Demos on site given by B-Side make it clear that the focus of this thing is interchangeable functionality, which B Side demonstrated by flipping the functionality of the faders and the effect knobs. We’ll be revisiting this unit in the future and discover the possibilities for ourselves, but there are some promising features to this thing.

I always try to view new controllers with an open mind. My personal love of them is the way they have become something more like a guitar or synth in their consolidation of controls and decks in a single surface. In our rarefied “talking about gear” position, we have a responsibility to approach each one and not worry about how it compares to our own system of choice. There are enough arguments being started over surfaces by people who are invested in whatever they bought and want to think it is the best.

I operate more on a “best for me” imperative and am never afraid to see someone else changing the game. I am not sure if I see that here, but it certainly looks like a fun surface to play with. The only thing I will say is that the platters (which are swank and look like Pioneer types) seem to be a little too close to the front of the control surface. The first thing I thought of when I saw this was that I would likely reach for a button and nudge the platters with my palm, inventing a new dance interrupting technique that I would have to call the “palm scratch to fail maneuver.”

However, the evolving Virtual DJ package and this flexible controller could easily be a match made in heaven. Maybe that fader knob switching thing would open up methods I haven’t even considered for finessing the effects. I am interested to hear other people’s reactions to this one as well as to get my hands on it and see what kind of mistakes I really make with it. It doesn’t really matter anyway; the bottom line, fellow DJ types, is that the girls keep dancing and the dudes keep drinking. In my own humble, that’s something too few of us remember when taking in the latest and greatest.

5. Alesis iO Mix 4-channel iPad mixer/interface 

I think the iPad as a recording device is really coming of age. I am not sure what is going to push guys like me over the edge to using it as more than an app within my larger process; but Alesis seem to really be gunning for those with different requirements than my own. I think this might be an iDevice for the books. The new iO Mix 4-channel iPad interface gives away it’s biggest selling point in the name.

Four inputs is going to be a dealbreaker for a number of people who have been quite happily plugging tunes into their iPad and might just open it up as the acoustic/solo songwriter type’s platform of choice. Four combo XLR-1/4″ inputs allow simultaneous recording in the lighter than laptops and minimal cabling world of the ubiquitous tablet. Gain, pan and EQ controls as well as high pass filters accessible from the hardware make for a very functional mixer; and that’s not even mentioning the phantom power available onboard the unit as well.

The design of the thing is styled very much to make the user feel like they have their hands on a mixer and the unit stores the iPad with simplicity and ease so much so that they almost appear to have never been separate devices. There is also an onboard video output that is meant to turn the iPad into a presentation machine or a VJ’s travel rig. Balanced outputs, headphone out, guitar DI switch and core audio compatibility make this thing a pretty solid choice for anyone looking to kick out the laptop and move into the tablet for their portable or project recording needs. I am a fan of this kind of development that makes toys into tools. I think the life of this thing will be interesting and fruitful, and I am very interested to see who uses it that I have not accounted for yet. Oh, and yes, the power supply does charge the iPad.


So that’s really the best stuff I have uncovered from Musikmesse besides an awesome video in which Kris Menace goes around hassling people at the event. My major observation here is that it almost seems like a slow year or something. Did everyone blow their wad at Winter NAMM? Does it all seem like nothing huge happened because the world is keeping a secret from me? Have I simply already seen all the gear for this year? Will I remain unimpressed after Nashville NAMM comes and goes? I simply don’t know, but you might. What devices did you guys see out there that had you itching to be at the Messe? Drop us a line and tell me how bad my sleuthing is. Make me excited.

The other possibility I have been considering is that so much of what we have been salivating on from Musikmesse in recent years are the strange control surfaces and all manner of customized MIDI shenanigans. Seeing such a lack of hype, with the Alphasphere being the only one of these kind of surfaces to appear in my field of view, I am starting to wonder if even Mr. Coffee is over it.

It does seem like the glut of manufacturers in the midi and dj controller area have been rushing to meet user demands. Maybe the world simply isn’t really into hexagonal surfaces and new entry methods. I personally look at so much of it as rabbit holes for losing productivity; but I also tend to think that it is a great time to show up knowing nothing and choosing your own path.

With that in mind, I always like to be encouraging about such trends. I am starting to wonder if manufactured crazy controllers were just rejected by the Tim Exiles of the world in favor of home rigged machinations. Either way, it seemed to me like I was under an ULTRA shaped rock, or Musikmesse went off pretty quietly this year. Maybe it’s a mix of both?


  1. Dj Highblood says:

    I just want get my hands on that alphasphere for house parties… the aborting controller would be an interesting conversation starter.

    1. LonelyPaul says:

      The real question, in my mind: When are we going to see the Mr. CoffeeSphere?

  2. You can only do so so much with what u know until inspiration kicks in, then the possibilities are endless.. It’s great to see you have an open mind..

    1. LonelyPaul says:

      Thanks Derrick- and agreed.

  3. Timo says:

    As old school sound techie who still loves analog gear all this digital this and digital that is like approaching unployment far in the horizon.

    But then some of these new guns comes and asks “..why this and that happends when I …” They don´t read manuals I won´t learn new tricks but vand handle basics by my heart.

    So maybe I´l just hang on here. For bit longer.

    1. LonelyPaul says:

      Old school skills will remain in demand in my humble opinion. I keep working. Manual reading separates the casually familiar from the precision ninja.

      AKA: Agreed, don’t plan that retirement just yet!

  4. Ben Dunn says:

    I’m all for making great sounds. That’s what music is about, getting a feeling from what you write, produce, play or have an input into whats being created. But, even though toy’s like Mr. Coffee controllers seem nifty or Ipad integration is the new fad, I feel like really good music has always been made even when there wasn’t a lot of “cool” attention grabbing equipment around. I understand that new technologies are letting us make music in ways that we never could have when the Beetles were busting out their albums, but when I see so many gadgets and musicians scrambling after the next thing, I think they’ve lost sight of making music and have simply become consumers persuaded by ingenius marketers. I’ll get off my soapbox. Good article.

    1. LonelyPaul says:

      Thanks for the article props, Ben. I like to be liked.

      I agree that people often lose sight of the fact that music retail is just like any other retail: Every product release is going to be the “end all, be all, best thing ever” according to the marketing. That’s what marketing does etc. etc. Somehow, people seem to want music retail to exist on some higher level or for the companies to be intrinsically “good.” I think most companies are; or at base level have pretty great intentions. If for no other reason than the fact that users gravitate towards the industry and try to create the things they want to see.
      I spend a lot of time torn on whether or not gadgetry is convoluting things, simply because every so often I get a new toy that cuts two more hours out of my process and makes me that much more productive. I also see so many fresh faces able to change the game using new tools and not knowing the old rules. I don’t know what’s right; nor do I reject your soapbox. I just think I might be more likely to shrug a few times and say “who knows?” I certainly can’t quantify it beyond what I know.

  5. Josh E says:

    I agree with DJ Highblood, that new alphasphere would make parties and performances epic. I’m sure there’s millions of uses with this new technology. I can’t wait to demo one out here in the U.S.
    I don’t own an iPad, but if i ever get one, then i’d definitely pick up that Alesis mixer for a sweet mobile production setup.

  6. Mario R. says:

    I know i the OP Lab from teenage engering was covered at NAMM but id like to see a litle more of it in this great blog..

    The Alphasphere looks awesome no matter if is xmas or 4th of july or a startreek convention i think it could fit in any party or dancefloor!

    1. LonelyPaul says:

      Mario- I’ll see what I can do. I want to do some hard time with one as well.

      1. Mario R says:

        May be some set up examples eg. Ipad (iElectribe), Drummashin (Akai MPC or Maschine) & hardware synths…

        thanxs bro….

  7. Brian M says:

    I’ve been trying really hard to use my Ipad towards my DJing but find it really hard. The knobs are obviously the biggest deal so the Alesis seems very helpful. On the other hand, I’m not sure if it’s not just worth buying another controller at that point.

  8. [...] prices, and this controller looks to carry on that tradition.  We know this was just recently announced at Musikmesse this year, but as soon as this is available and we can get our hands on one in the studio we will [...]