The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) holds its annual trade show in Anaheim at the convention center every January. These are the folks that make or sell retail musical instruments (from tubas and violins to guitars and drum kits), recording equipment, lighting equipment, synthesizers (digital and analog), sheet music, and music accessories (if you’ve ever wanted a bust of Mozart or Beethoven). The show is restricted to the trade but any sufficiently creative private individual can get in.
I headed down to the show on Sunday morning. Saturday is typically the busiest day and I had planned to get there on Saturday afternoon and then attend the TEC Awards that evening (Don Was was the honoree) but after cranking out a 16-mile run with my L.A. Marathon training group, I just couldn’t manage it. I always run into people that I don’t see regularly and of course, the new equipment and software are the main draw.
So what did I see? There were a lot of analog synthesizers, alternative controllers, audio consoles with flat panel touch screens, and plug-ins with very exotic names. I chatted with Rory at Benchmark Digital, saw Stevie Wonder checking out a new synthesizer, tried to convince Peter Chaikin from JBL to support my AXPONA 2016 effort with a set of JBL Studio Reference M2 speakers (doubtful), and nudged Dave O’Donnell (engineer for the recent number 1 selling James Taylor album) about finishing up the questions I sent him back in the summer. But I didn’t see much high-resolution audio.
I’ve been lusting after the JBL Studio Reference M2 speakers for over a year now and popped into the Harman area to check them out once again. In a corner of their large room, I found Nat holding the controls to a Mac Laptop (music server), a pair of M2s, and a couple of pairs of smaller speaker models based on the same drivers. Nat played files from a folder labeled NAB…a variety of movie sound tracks and some familiar pop tunes. He played a large orchestral selection, which sounded good but not great. It was a traditional distant miked recording and the specs on the Mac screen displayed on a monitor at the front of the room showed 44.1 kHz/16-bit PCM. A good recording but not special.
However, the same Mac had a couple of additional folders including one labeled “Waldrep Classical” and another “Walrep and Chesky” (yes, they did misspell my name…but promised to fix it asap). So I urged Nat to play “Mujaka” from my The Latin Jazz Trio project. It sounded absolutely amazing! The other guys in the booth immediately turned their focus to the M2s. It’s the high frequency metallic sounds that make that track shine AND the rich immediate sound of the 9-foot piano. What a treat to hear one of my favorite recordings through these spectacular speakers. The deliver high-resolution audio better than any speakers I’ve every heard…including models costing 10 times as much. If you ever get the chance to audition a pair, don’t miss it.
The hi-res audio logo showed up at the Sony booth. The Sony representative was very nice and demonstrated a couple of recordings that he made using a new portable hi-res audio recorder that Sony was introducing. Interestingly, it doesn’t support DSD. I listened to a “Magnificat” he recorded with just the two mics on the device through a set of HRA headphones…very nice. But that the first and last time that I saw the logo or any mention of high-resolution audio. The creative/production community seems to be more interested in controllers, beat boxes, sample libraries, and ways to make new sounds than improving the fidelity of the audio that they produce.
A great sounding recording for this group is one that is bass heavy, lacks dynamic range, and is mixed in mono. I left the show early and went home in time to take a sunset mountain hike with my wife and Charlie.