../ The 2005 WMC Gear Report
Miami Becomes Fertile Testing Ground
The Winter Music Conference has proved to be a great opportunity for manufacturers to road test their latest gear directly to the DJ/Electronic musician community.
From the get-go the organizers stated publicly that the WMC
Exhibit Hall would be completely open to the public. However, that was not the case. No one was being admitted without a WMC registration badge. We protested,
but they were not budging, so we ventured up to the Remix Hotel that was
being held in a galaxy far, far away at the Eden Roc Hotel. The Remix Hotel is a great concept and really allows the exhibitors to do some quality research by
addressing the market directly. The manufacturers who embraced this concept (see below) gained some incredibly valuable feedback that they plan on implementing in
new products or updates in the near future.
The layout at the Eden Roc was horrendous for several of the exhibitors. Universal Audio and EKS were sequestered in a back room that many attendees didn't even
know existed, even with the provided Mickey Mouse Map.
Having the Remix Hotel at the Eden Roc was a terrible choice and hopefully the organizers will learn from this major blunder. From all accounts, the
attendance was way off from last year's numbers, and ultimately it was the dance music artists who suffered the most by missing out on a great showcase.
This year we were graced by a significant product launch by Mackie who had long been
rumored to be cooking up a gourmet DJ dish. It seems that Mackie has had a DJ mixer in development for over four years, but was hampered by delays since the engineering
team was constantly getting pulled off the project for other endeavors. Mackie chose to display a few working prototypes of a two channel, Firewire scratch mixer dubbed
the D.2. The mixer featured a balanced layout with individual metering on the two channels and connections for hooking up two CD players and two turntables.
Mackie contracted Infinium Technologies to provide the completely contact-free optical
crossfader. The optical technology offers long life, which Infinium claims may never wear out, and digital precision with 128 possible positions in a 45mm throw. There
are also adjustments for friction and crossfader curve that can be completely customized for your own personal technique. An optional Firewire connection also raised many eyebrows
for computerized mixing possibilities. Could Mackie be developing DJ software for the market? We certainly hope so since no product has challenged the analog DJ paradigm and
the majority of offerings are uninspired.
Mackie had pictures of a 4 channel, Firewire mixer, but no working prototype. What I loved about the Mackie booth was the vibe. Everyone there was interested in
receiving feedback from the industry. We piped up with our never-ending request for a mixer light bridge that would illuminate the entire mixer surface. It seems none
of the developers or engineers has ever DJ'd in a small club with minimal, if any, ambient light. I'm sick of cleaning off candle wax from my records or burning my thumbs
from overheated lighters just to see what I'm doing. Another perennial request was for a stereo line input, (RCA, Minijack and 1/4") on the top of the mixer for laptops,
iPods, electronic percussion, etc. How many times have I been forced to go fishing around underneath a mixing desk to find a free input at a venue? I can't even count.
Well, we were certainly not the only ones to offer up some suggestions, seems like every DJ and their brother has a suggestion and the Mackoids sucked it all up like a
sponge. Some of the ideas will definitely make it into the final version of the D.2, like fader instead of a knob for the Cue (see picture above), but what's most important
is that Mackie is listening.
and Allen & Heath were all grouped into one confusing room. Allen
& Heath and Novation never seemed to have anyone minding the store -- their products were haphazardly laid out and stacks of literature that you could
obtain at any retailer were substituted instead of a true demonstrator. Why even bother getting a booth? What a waste of money. Thankfully, the room wasn't a total wash,
Vestax had Joe "Jack" Giacopelli on hand to answer questions and provide a meaningful demonstration of Vestax's entire line including the under-marketed Carl Cox Mixer.
Many were interested in the QFO which combines a scratch turntable and mixer into one unit. Designed by Q-Bert,
the QFO has been a sleeper of a product. The overlooked, but very innovative, turntable arm allows the unit to play records while in a vertical position without skipping.
This allows Q-Bert and others to play the QFO like a guitar. However, at $1399 street, it's not for everyone. Look for an entry level QFO model under $1000 retail this
Christmas or at NAMM 2006. Also, Vestax will begin shipping a black face QFO and possibly some other colors this summer.
Vestax's Joe Jack demonstrates the QFO in "Guitar Mode"
Stanton put a lot of effort and care into their display and it paid off for everyone
who came by to check out their new products and redesigns. Their booth consisted of several demonstration stations for hands-on try-outs and an artist demonstration area
for FinalScratch2. We were psyched to catch Roni Size working the 1s and 2s for an
intimate performance that was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone lucky enough to attend. Roni played cuts from his new album, as well as some works-in-progress to the
enthusiastic crowd. The new ScratchAmp2 sounded great, but the FinalScratch offering is still being held back by the
Traktor DJ software. The weak computer interface
has allowed Serato to gain a lot of ground on FinalScratch in the past year, and Stanton
and Native Instruments are starting to feel the pinch. Native Instruments, which recently updated Traktor to version 2.6, is feverishly working on a completely new build
that will hopefully feature four or more sources, surround sound, and a comprehensive effects section.
Roni Size plays some new cuts on Stanton's FinalScratch2
For many who haven't seen the new Stanton design overhaul, the booth was an opportunity to interface with the line tactically. Obviously influenced by Apple, the
new meters, curvy aluminum cases and tasty knobs made an excellent impression for everyone who stopped by.
Many of us were very glad to see Roland attend the
Remix Hotel this year. Roland's demonstrators are some of the best in the business and they put on an excellent showcase
of the killer MV-8000 and the brand new V-Synth XT. Individual stations allowed the punters to get up-close-and-personal with each product line. As we mentioned in our
NAMM 2005 report, the XT has a sweet vocoder effects section and tons of sonic tricks up its sleeve. In the right hands, this synth is a monster. The MV, now up to software
version 3, basically came up to Akai when they weren't looking and kicked them right in the groin. When you wanted an all-in-one beat box, there were only three letters in
you vocabulary, MPC. However, Roland saw an opening. The Akai's dated technology and work flow were ripe for an upset. Just when Akai went through US distribution woes,
Roland pounced. The MV has really caught on with the Hip-Hop community and now beatmakers have expanded their language to include the MV moniker.
Speaking of Akai, Numark showcased all of their lines including Alesis in their Hotel Room.
Unfortunately, there wasn't a big, hands-on display of their new VJ gear like we hoped, but we did get our grubby fingers on their new 5 channel flagship mixer, the 5000FX.
The unit was more cluttered than we expected, but the plethora of effects and sampler options made us salivate. The Alesis dog 'n' pony show featured their sexy, new Photon
controllers and the Best-Value-For-Your-Virtual-Analog-Money Ion synth, but unfortunately no Fusion Workstations.
EKS Founder Antero Ramsay thinks he's selling Crest Whitening Stripes - Bling!
EKS attended all the way from Finland, but were relegated to an area far off the beaten path.
The attendees who did find the room (along with Universal Audio) were rewarded with an
all-in-one, customized EKS DJ suitcase that looked like something "Q"
would give James Bond if he had to save the world by quickly beatmatching two cheesy Oakenfold tracks. Two EKS MP3 Audio players were successfully hooked up to a
modified laptop running their proprietary Bison DJ Mix software. The software is very immature and only offers rudimentary features, but was running flawlessly during
our demo. For fans of Virtual DJ, the EKS players can interface with this DJ software as well.
Whatever you do, don't hit the self-destruct timer...
Tascam was set up on a card table in the hallway, but they couldn't have picked a better
spot to demonstrate their underrated TT-M1 turntable based CD player controller. Part of the problem was that when the TT-M1 debuted, it could only be used with Tascam's
own CD players. Now that list has expanded to Vestax and hopefully they can license the technology to others including club installation leader,
Pioneer. The TT-M1 attaches to a turntable and lets you precisely control a CD by
manipulating a record or slip-mat. It's very cool and works better than you would expect. The Tascam DJ web site blows, so you'll have to go to a store for a real demo.
Finally, Edirol has got a brand new VJ product called the CG-8 Visual Synthesizer.
It's a performance-based, visual manipulator that lets you take JPEGs and PNG images and turn them into motion graphics. Starting with a simple image you can add over
200 different photo and overlay effects to create stunning eye-candy. But that's just the first step. Once you've created a mind bender, you can add an image modifier
which allows you to modulate the control rate, depth and waveform of the image. Assign the modifiers to the Time-Trip pad (lifted from the V-Synth) and/or the D-Beam
infrared controller for real time manipulation. Wow. However, at a rumored $3000 dollars this piece is not for your average VJ. Weighed against a laptop purchase,
the CG-8 becomes less attractive, but it does offer crisp graphics that allegedly trump most software/computer programs. Couple of obvious problems with the CG-8
include: no Video In for effecting video feeds in realtime and no real MIDI Input. True MIDI implementation would have allowed the CG-8 to receive a MIDI generated
by a DJ mixer, such as the Allen & Heath Xone:92, and sync it to the CG-8's internal LFO.
It will be interesting to see if Edirol addresses these two issues before Korg debuts their rumored "Visual Sythesizer" which will have a Video Input.
The fascinating thing about the VJ market is that it is still completely underground. Yes, you have some name guys out there, like
Vello Virkhaus of V Squared Labs, but for the most part, you've never even
heard of or, better yet, experienced the majority of talented artists out there. Check out Benton Bainbridge,
Feedbuck Galore, Grant Davis
or Psyberpixie to name a few. With Edirol, Pioneer, Numark, Korg and other large
manufacturers making new products for VJs, its only going to be a matter of time before this market explodes and you have big-time VJs demanding the same fees as top-ten DJs.
Are you ready??
>>> Digihear? April 2005