Best Standalone DJ System: XDJ-RX
Availability: March 2014 – Sign up for an email when preorders are in the DJTT store
Why It’s A Winner: There’s a lot of fair criticism of all-in-one DJ setups – but Pioneer has deftly managed to make a Recordbox standalone DJ system that’s very capable without entering the pricing territory of their own high-end mixers and media players.
After spending twenty minutes mixing on the only XDJ-RX at the Pioneer booth, it was clear that the product designers have taken the best elements of all of their DJ gear and packed them into this design. The most useful Color FX and Beat FX are built right into the mixer section. The pad modes from the DDJ-SX family are there as well – allowing cue, loop drops, and even a new loop slice mode. Slip mode is present and selectable on each deck.
At the same time, the controller goes beyond the competition in other ways – like having a large centralized screen (7″ diameter) that stacks the waveforms vertically (unlike the Numark NV or the Kontrol S8). Recording the mix directly to one of your USB drives means there’s no excuse to not be recording your sessions (we wish CDJ-2000s or XDJ-1000s would also gain this feature) Plus there’s the obvious win of having one ecosystem that works in almost every major DJ booth in the world, so every cue point, loop, and playlist moves with you from the RX to any CDJ or XDJ setup you find.
Best New High-End DJ Gear: Rane’s MP-2015
Availability: To Be Announced – as early as February 1st
Why It’s A Winner: Bringing rotary mixers back into the limelight, Rane has made a beautiful new DJ mixer that we hope might challenge some of the other high-end mixer options out there.
Rane has really put their all into this mixer – which harkens back to the days in which rotary mixers were the norm in clubs around the world. Dual USB soundcards mean that multi-DJ mixing sessions are simple – although we noticed that there’s no Serato DJ compatability announced yet, the mixer was being used at the Rane booth with Traktor, Ableton, and CDJs connected. Each soundcard has the ability to send an incredible amount of audio: 5 channels of stereo playback and 7 channels of stereo record at 32-bit floating point; 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz or 96 kHz.
Each channel has a dedicated switchable (LP, HP, dual) filter pass, which sounded incredible in our testing, and Rane notes that they are “high resolution, fast and artifact free, with all filter coefficients accurately calculated for the selected sample rate.” There’s also a master isolator at the top of the mixer (Not sure what that means? Read our introduction to DJ isolators here) which allows on-the-fly sculpting of the sound coming out. The isolators even have adjustable crossover for incredible precision in insolation.
Suffice it to say that this mixer sounds incredible – even when tested amongst the cacophony of the NAMM convention floor. We spoke to Slam Academy‘s James Patrick (who has been beta testing the mixer) and some of his highest praise came regarding the noisefloor – even when turning up every gain knob and master out, his studio PA system was completely silent – no buzzing or hissing as you’ll find with almost every other mixer out there.
Best Entry Level Synth: Teenage Engineering / Cheap Monday’s Pocket Operators
Manufacturer: Teenage Engineering / Cheap Monday
Availability: April 2015 – sign up for preorder notifications here
Why It’s A Winner: Teenage Engineering has combined retro design with advanced synthesizer functions into three low-cost products that are really fun and sound awesome.
There’s no doubt that analog synthesis continues to make an incredible comeback in the production world (more on that below), and Teenage Engineering has come up with a really clever new line of portable synths. Each of the three models have their own sound – Sub is the bass synth/sequencer, Rhythm is the drum synth/sequencer, and Factory is the melody synth/sequencer.
They all pack real synthesized sounds, and have their own unique digital Game-and-Watch-style display that reflect the parameters that you’re controlling.
You get parameter locks, punch-in effects (like filters, delay, and bit crush) and even the ability to connect other Pocket Operators together to pass audio through and sync BPM.
The Pocket Operators all work on just two AAA batteries and by default come as exposed circuitboards (they’re also going to be offering a case for a bit more durability). We’re convinced that these budget-priced synths are some of the best things to happen analog music production in a long time.
Best New MIDI Gear: Bome Box
Availability: Limited Run coming Spring 2015
Why It’s A Winner: Eliminate the need for a computer when connecting MIDI, ethernet, USB, and WiFi devices together in a performance environment.
Many MIDI mapping professionals will recognize what a powerful tool Bome’s MIDI Translator is for making advanced setups possible – but now the team behind the software has made a move into the hardware realm. We saw the unit demoed in a unique way – with a USB keyboard, Midi Fighter 3D, and basic synthesizer all connected together through a Bome Box. There wasn’t a need for a computer, because the MIDI Translator file uploaded onto the Bome Box took care of all of the routing and mapping.
Impressively, the Bome Box can run off of a USB battery cell (like used to charge your phone on the fly) for days or pull power over Ethernet. It also powers USB devices – another major issue for live performers as MIDI to USB converters won’t send power.
We even saw the Bome Box powering a Launchpad S with a script to play 4-sided Pong – click here to watch.
Best Live Performance Innovation: Tie!
Availability: Spring 2015 – sign up for preorders in the DJTT store
Why It’s A Winner: The missing mixer from the AIRA gear has arrived – and it loads in a lot of advanced features and connectivity.
We’ve already done a write up of this mixer, but it’s worth awarding a NAMMie because it’s the first mixer we’ve seen designed for this new-wave of modular performance gear like the other AIRA products. Connecting audio and MIDI clock sync via USB is an impressive-but-obvious feature that we hope doesn’t stay proprietary to Roland gear, as it eliminates the need for manual syncing and additional audio cables.
Availability: April 2015
Why It’s A Winner: Top-of-the-line step sequencer to control analog gear or digital instruments
Best New Controllerism Gear: Launchpad Pro
Availability: Spring 2015
Why It’s A Winner: The iconic MIDI controller gets a much-needed upgrade to the hardware and firmware, with new lighting, additional buttons, and advanced modes.
Novation’s Launchpad was the controller that rocketed Ableton pad-launching controllerism into the stratosphere, from M4sonic to Madeon and many others. The truth is that the original controller was an affordable alternative to similar offerings from Akai, and the price point made the controller attractive to users of all skill levels.
With the Launchpad Pro, most of the features that stood out as lacking have been addressed. There’s now RGB lighting on all of the pads that looks way better than any of the other Launchpad models. Every pad has velocity sensitivity, and there are two more sets of circular buttons on the bottom and left of the grid that allow for advanced mixer and playback control. Our favorite features are the MIDI output (letting you send signals directly to hardware synthesizers) and the new Note Mode (which has built-in scale modes just like the Ableton Push). Read more about the Launchpad Pro in our full writeup here.
Best Movement In Production Gear: Modular Synthesis
Manufacturers: Doepher, MuffWiggler, AnalogueHaven, Mutable Instruments, WMDevices, Noise Engineering, QU-Bit, AniModule, Koma Elektronik, Eowave, MF Berlin, TipTop Audio, and more.
Why It’s A Winner: These companies are all incredibly small and boutique, but are clearly seeing a rush of interest in the last year – bringing them to the spotlight at this year’s NAMM.
There’s a huge new corner of the upstairs main hall that’s been taken over by 10-15 independent modular synthesis companies, many of whom we’ve never seen showing gear at NAMM before. They banded together to rent out a large swath of the convention floor, setting up right next to each other with stations demoing their latest innovations.
Throughout the show, the pavilion seemed packed with interested buyers and musicians – some of whom clearly were well versed in modular synthesis, while others needed a complete introduction. We’ll see how much modular gear starts to make it into the mainstream music production culture in the next year, but this was a clear indicator that there’s an analog storm coming.
Best Collaborative Project: Serato + Allen & Heath + Pioneer Working Together
Why It’s A Winner: Any project that knocks down walls of proprietary software/hardware pairing is a win for every DJ.
Look, we understand the utility and desire for proprietary systems – Apple is a great example of how locking software to compatible hardware can result in some of the best feeling products ever made. However, in the DJ world, people have always been able to bring their own gear to the table and customize their workflow however they like.
The new Serato DJ Club Kit unlocks Serato DJ when you’ve got a Pioneer DJM-850/900NXS or Allen & Heath Xone DB2/DB4 plugged in, all of which are top-tier four channel club mixers found in booths around the world. Why would you not want your software to work with these mixers? We’re glad this is finally an option – and we think that other software developers should take note here and follow suit. Read more about the Serato DJ Club Kit download here.
Coolest NAMM Novelty: Pioneer’s CDJ RC Car
Why It’s A Winner: A truly portable CDJ that you can also rally-race?
Pioneer seems to have new novelty CDJs every year at NAMM – and this year was no exception with a bright red CDJ-2000 mounted on the frame of an RC rally car. Both the CDJ and the RC car components work, although that doesn’t mean that the CDJ is wireless, so forget driving your playing deck around stage.
Other Fantastic Finds At NAMM
Dubs Earplugs: Stylish Musician’s Earplugs
Availability: Now – soon to be in the DJTT webstore
We’re excited to see other companies enter into the realm of quality low-cost earplugs without the need for custom molding, and Dubs seem to have things figured out. Using dynamic attenuation, it filters out sound across the spectrum, allowing you to reduce the volume of sound around you by 12db. Just as importantly, they look pretty good for earplugs – with a minimal form factor that sits flush with your ear.
The Stokyo booth at NAMM always has a few interesting Japanese products on display that they’re distributing in the US – one of which was the Frisk Fader. We’ve seen the website for Frisk Fader before, but it looks like the carry-everywhere fader with a passthrough 1/8″th cable will soon finally be coming to the US later this year. It’s a pretty simple concept – plug in your scratch medium of choice (phone app or turntable) and gate the sound with the fader just like you would normally when scratching. We’ll have more details on availability soon!
Want to read all of our NAMM 2015 coverage? Click here to see it all!