NAMM 2016 - Portrait reviews

Kitmonsters NAMM Show 2016 Review, by Portrait (Rania Kim).

Portrait (centre), at Universal Audio, NAMM

Future Scoping Boutique Favourites

This was my first NAMM experience and it was intense. Sonic improvements and innovative technology are shaping the future of music.

Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for NAMM

This year’s NAMM was the largest one ever, with 5,100 music brands. This is my take on it, through a future scoping lens, featuring the top five products that stood out for me.

Dave Smith Instruments OB-6 - pic by Portrait

Dave Smith Instruments - OB-6 - “Best in show”

The refined Polyphonic analog synth.
Retail price: $2,999
Available: March, 2016

When you have legendary Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim collaborating - two of the most iconic influencers in the synth world - you can only expect the best. It’s not a surprise this 6-voice synthesizer won ‘Best in Show’ at NAMM this year. It carries bright, warm, and softer textures compared to the Dave Smith Prophet series, but still delivers a huge sound. You can instantly recognise the classic iconic sounds of Oberheim’s original SEM with all the joys of filtering, modulating, oscillating, and phasing with a traditional high quality Dave Smith design.

If the sounds of the OB-6 could be translated into visual form, it’s a refined synth with a lacquered varnish you want to play and listen to with a glass of whiskey. It’s not that this synth lacks crunch - far from it. There’s just a fine blanket-like softener that makes this possibly the most ear warming synth, even at high frequencies.

Zoom ARQ Aero RhythmTrak - pic by Portrait

Zoom - ARQ Aero RhythmTrak - “a great device”

All-in-one wireless performance device with an accelerometer.
Retail price: $599
Available: April 2016

An interesting new move from Zoom - mainly known for their audio and video recorders - here’s a new tambourine-like bluetooth performance device: drum machine, sequencer, looper, synthesizer, clip launcher, and MIDI controller all in one. The Base Station (468 percussive instruments and 70 synthesizers) allows you to program your beats and synths while docked. Once you’re programmed and ready, you can remove the ring and tap it like a tambourine to play leads; trigger clips and beats. The built-in accelerometer allows further expression allowing up to 5 effects, simultaneously.

Minimal in design with 96 velocity and pressure sensitive pads, 160 programmable LEDs, 531 oscillator types, and 16-voice polyphony - there’s a lot of flexibility and potential. As it’s so easy to grab and hook to a stand or place on a table, it could be a great device for a multi-instrumentalist who likes to switch between many. For the true minimalist, this zen-like aesthetic could be the all-in-one.

Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators #PO20 - pic by Portrait

Teenage Engineering / Cheap Monday - Pocket Operators #PO20 - “addictive”

Three new pocket synths: office, robot, and arcade.
Retail price: $59 each
Available: Now

Just as addictive as their predecessors, everything about these synths is hard to not love. They’re compact, affordable, and sit on both sides of the fence: for serious music makers and enthusiastic electronic music lovers. There’s an 80s theme with these new additions featuring 8-bit sounds and graphics that hook you into their game-like appeal.

The aesthetic of these synths is just icing on the cake - their sounds tested on big speakers are just as impressive with a lot of depth: finely crafted sound design; sequencers for lead synths and beat making. Their interface is so easy to use and jam out. If you grab one now, I’m sure you’ll be back for the rest soon.

ROLI Seaboard RISE 49

ROLI - Seaboard RISE 49 - “like playing the future now”

Four octave MIDI controller with 5D touch.
Retail price: $1,199.99
Available: February, 2016

The keyboard that makes you play like an octopus: ROLI, deemed the ‘future of keyboards’, continues to push boundaries and set new standards of innovation. Just like its smaller sibling RISE 25, RISE 49 offers more of its sleek, portable, and wireless over bluetooth MIDI controller with a silicone surface and 5 dimensions of touch: strike, pressure, glide, slide, and lift. It comes with Seaboard’s Equator software which can be used stand-alone or as a plug-in with other DAWs, plus Bitwig 8-track digital audio workstation. It also works with their free mobile app, NOISE. The app is playable standalone too - working especially well with iPhone 6’s 3D touch screens. Although it resembles the look of a standard keyboard, it’s a very different experience. The closest thing to this is the Haken Continuum Fingerboard which behaves in a similar way, but with less precision for pitching like a keyboard.

ROLI blends elements of the traditional piano aesthetic with game changing technology underneath, which hits the sweet spot between old and new. As ROLI requires a very different style of playing, finding your own solid flair may require some time learning, but with something this addictive, you’ll happily slide and glide away with your new obsession for hours on end. It really feels like playing the future, now.

Tribal Tools KADABRA - pic by Portrait

Tribal Tools - KADABRA - “creating music with your entire body”

Wireless wooden MIDI instrument with motion sensors and digital radio.
Retail price: $1,890 - $2200
Available: Mid-Late 2016

Keytar’s great-great-great-grandfather time-travelled to the future and stopped by NAMM. This complex MIDI controller introduces an interesting way of creating music with your entire body. What makes it even more interesting is, it’s wireless with zero latency - and it’s not bluetooth or WiFi (yet to be revealed). The weight is similar to a guitar and it comes with a large list of features: motion sensors, sequencer, looper, arpeggiator, harmonics and vocoder (you can replace the head with a mic), viber, FXer, sampler, and smart scaler.

There’s definitely a tribal aesthetic just like the name suggests - another instrument embracing elements of familiar and new. Just make sure there’s plenty of space to swing around for full-body accident-proof music making.

  • Portrait is a self-produced experimental pop artist. She experiments with innovative music technology, synesthesia, storytelling, and communicating at the intersection of art, music, science, and technology. Collaborating with the most cutting edge inventors, she discovers new forms of creativity with the most diversity, and is sponsored by AUUG.