Resurgence of Hardware Music Synthesizers at the NAMM Music Show
By James Grahame
The recent development of stupidly powerful and stunningly affordable personal computers caused many people to loudly declare that hardware music synthesizers are a dying breed. It's true that software has virtually obliterated the low end of the market, but there were some fantastic "real" synthesizers at the 2007 Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim last week.
Moog's Little Phatty Stage Edition: Moog might be the only company in the world still capable of successfully marketing a $1375 monophonic analog synth. This new version costs slightly less than the Bob Moog Tribute Edition that preceded it. It features rubberized end-caps rather than the sleek (and easily scratched, dented and chipped) wood on the original.
Waldorf returns: Renowned German synthesizer company Waldorf returned from the grave last year. They unveiled two all-new synths at the show, both named after characters from James Bond films. Their flagship is the $3999 Stromberg, featuring analog modeling synthesis with 100-voice polyphony. The tiny $799 Blofeld packs 1000 sounds and editing capabilities into a sleek desktop unit. So what's next? The Octopussy patchbay?
Korg revives the M series and goes after the low end: The Korg M1 was one of the most popular wavetable workstation synths of the late 1980s, and several of my recordings from the era are bathed with its cavernous reverb and thunderclap drums. Korg is back with the M3. This time around, they unleash KARMA II synthesis and quite a few features from their incredibly expensive OASYS synth. This one looks to be a winner, as long as the price is somewhat reasonable. Speaking of reasonable, their little R3 synth/vocoder looks to be a great value. It has a clean and simple hands-on front panel, powerful synthesis algorithms borrowed from the Korg RADIAS, a formant vocoder and an arpeggiator for those 'Tangerine Dream' moments we all go through. I wouldn't be surprised to see this one priced under $700.
Arturia Origin: Arturia is famous for their brilliant soft synth recreations of vintage instruments. Therefore, it comes as somewhat of a shock that they've introduced a rackmount/tabletop synth powered by two Analog Devices TigerSHARC DSP chips. It's capable of emulating the minimoog V, ARP 2600, the Yamaha CS-80, and the Moog Modular. Includes built-in effects, a step sequencer and integrated coffee machine (just checking you're still awake). The $2999 price tag isn't out of line for a machine of this caliber.
Roland: Oh, Roland. I raved about the simplicity of your SH-201 analog modelling synth unveiled at last year's winter NAMM. It looks like you ignored everything I said and followed up with the baffling V-Synth GT Advanced Elastic Audio Synthesizer. It offers a beautiful color display and lots of nice knobs. Unfortunately, I haven't a clue what it really does. What on earth is a "proprietary Elastic Audio Synthesis engine plus Vocal Designer?" Or "Sound Shaper II?" And check this out: "VariPhrase multi-core synthesis." 10 stars for the most impressive buzzwords. The retail price? It's still elastic, apparently.