Perhaps it has something to do with Baby Boomer demographics, or maybe people are just looking for something different, but classic analog synthesizers are all the rage at this year's NAMM music industry show in Anaheim, California.
Moog Music takes the crown with some absolutely breathtaking recreations of Bob Moog's groundbreaking modular synthesizer from the 1970s. They range from the suitcase-sized Moog System 15 (150 units at $10,000), the mid-range System 35 (35 units at $22,000) all the way up to the System 55, a massive $35,000 machine featuring 36 handcrafted analog modules in two walnut cases. There are no microprocessors in these monoliths.
Only 55 copies of the System 55 will be built, based on original documentation and design files. Each module is hand soldered and mounted behind photo-etched aluminum panels, just the same way it would have been done when first unveiled in 1973.
If Moog's high-end recreations are a bit much for your pocket book, KORG has created a scaled-down $1000 (street price) version of the ARP Odyssey. This compact instrument went head-to-head with the Minimoog in the 1970s. The new 86% size dual oscillator machine includes modern niceties such as MIDI and USB, along with the classic dual oscillator analog voice that made the Odyssey a mainstay of many bands from 1972 until the company's demise in the early 1980s. There were three different filter designs used by ARP throughout the instrument's production run, and they're all included in this new version. Even the case is a slightly miniaturized version of the final revision (the previous two designs are available as special editions, too).
ARP wasn't the only brand resurrected for the 2015 NAMM Show. After decades of ownership by Yamaha, Sequential Circuits -- one of the creators of the MIDI music interface protocol -- is back in the hands of veteran synthesizer designer Dave Smith. His response to the news is the $2799 Prophet-6, a modernized version of the first massively successful Sequential Circuits polyphonic synthesizer that has appeared on thousands of records and soundtracks since its introduction in 1978.
The show floor is packed with noticeably more synthesizer manufacturers than in years past. Many are tiny operations that make boutique modules for the immensely popular Eurorack modular synthesizer format, while others like newcomer Modal Electronics have created stunningly sophisticated digital/analog hybrid instruments that sell for thousands of dollars.
Perhaps there's more to the resurgence of hardware synthesis than just nostalgia. While it's true that computers are now capable of running software-based instruments that rival even high-end hardware, there's something ephemeral about a virtual instrument. Without the physical controls and physical permanence of hardware, something is missing from the musical experience.
Whether or not the hardware trend continues, it looks like the music industry is in for some very interesting times in years to come.