NAMM 2013 Wrap-Up: New Products from Akai, M-Audio and Alesis

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This year at NAMM, three industry heavyweights released full product lines of fresh gear. Akai, M-Audio and Alesis have all come forth with new and interesting products for 2013, ranging from a tiny 2-channel USB interface to full-featured electronic drum sets and microphones. Let’s take a look…

Akai

The name Akai Professional is synonymous with beat creation and electronic music production, and their legacy continues with the new line of products that were released at NAMM 2013. Akai Pro also jumped into the headphone market with new MPC-branded headphones and wireless earbuds. In this article we’ll take a look at the new goods from the Kings of Beat.

There’s no shortage of hardware controllers that feature integrated drum pads for triggering samples and laying down beats from a connected computer, but the list of equipment that lets you trigger and play samples that are loaded locally on the device itself is much shorter. At NAMM 2013, Akai Professional announced the new MPX8, a stand-alone sample drum pad device that features eight backlit velocity- and pressure-sensitive pads, and an SD card slot for loading your own samples.

In addition to being able to play sounds from the connected SD card, the MPX8 also features a number of built-in sounds, so you can start making music right out of the box. MIDI ports are available for connecting and controlling external devices, and a USB port is included as well, for interfacing with a computer. Mac and PC-compatible software is provided for sample conversion and grouping clips into easily loadable kits. You can even apply reverb to samples with the software. The MPX8 is a compact new option for live and studio musicians, and it will also be beneficial for podcasters and DJs who want to be able to cue sounds in an instant.

Last year at NAMM, Akai Professional announced the MAX49, a  unique USB keyboard controller that featured eight backlit LED touch faders, as well as Control Voltage and Gate outputs. At NAMM 2013, the new MAX25 was announced, a 25-key version of the same model. Like the MAX49, the new MAX25 features a CV/Gate output, semi-weighted keys with Aftertouch, a built-in step sequencer and an arpeggiator. The MAX25 also has LED touch faders, but because there isn’t as much physical space on the keyboard, there are only four faders as opposed to the eight on the MAX49. Likewise, the MAX25 has the same backlit velocity-sensitive MPC-style pads as the MAX49, except there are 12 instead of 16. It also comes with AkaiConnect auto-mapping software with Mackie Control and HUI modes, so you’ll be able to fully control your DAW. 

MPC groove production workstations have a devoted following that has relied on these creativity-inspiring machines for decades, and more recently, producers, musicians and DJs have grown deeply attached to their APC40 and APC20, for their clip-launching grid controller needs. Now AKAI Professional is launching a line of headphones for the studio and the street, so fans of this iconic brand can hear their work with total clarity.

The new MPC Pro Headphones are the flagship model, and feature 50mm drivers with neodymium magnets, in an over-the-ear, closed-back design. The ear cups feature “overstuffed” leather cushioning and they are made with tough aluminum-and-steel construction. The output cable features a built-in mic for use with a mobile phone. Similar in style, yet somewhat more compact are the new MPC Headphones, which feature 40mm drivers with neodymium magnets, and an on-ear, closed-back design. The MPC Headphones feature the same build quality as the Pro model and also have a built-in mic.

The new MPC Earbuds are ultra-lightweight and feature clips for your ears and 13mm drivers. Best of all, they can connect to Bluetooth-enabled music players wirelessly. However, if you want to use a music machine the old-fashioned way, an 1/8” cable “medallion” is included to do so. The medallion also features a mic for making phone calls. The earbuds themselves have aluminum components and a built-in volume control. They also have a built-in lithium-ion battery that can be recharged via USB.

M-Audio

You have to admire a company that sticks by its principles. This year at NAMM, while every other company introduced Wireless This and iPad That, M-Audio kept it real—introducing a set of studio monitors, three audio interfaces and three microphones.

The M3-8 Three-Way Active Studio Monitors are very easy on the eyes, with their real wooden speaker baffles. Each monitor features an 8” woven Kevlar low-frequency driver and inline high- and mid-frequency drivers. The mids are supported by a 5” woven Kevlar driver, while the highs glisten through a 1” silk dome tweeter. The enclosures are powered by Class AB triamplification, providing 220W total per side. M-Audio makes connection easy, providing XLR and 1/4” TRS balanced connectors as well as an unbalanced RCA input. Each speaker has an integrated 3-band EQ and a switchable lowcut filter, for use with subwoofer(s).

M-Audio’s new USB interfaces all provide I/O for both audio and MIDI. We’ll begin with the smallest and work our way up. The M-Track features resolution up to 24-bit/48 kHz on two versatile channels of audio as well as MIDI input and output connectors. Each audio channel has an XLR microphone input with selectable Phantom power and a 1/4” TRS line/guitar input. An input source switch, gain knob and 1/4” send/return jack are provided on each channel. Outputs include dual 1/4” TRS balanced jacks as well as a stereo 1/4” headphone jack that can be easily blended with DAW playback via the Monitor Mix knob, providing a zero-latency reference. The M-Audio DAW, Ignite by AIR, is included, as well as Ableton Live Lite.

The M-Track Plus keeps the same channel count and feature set, but incorporates digital functionality with a S/PDIF coaxial input and output. The Plus version also upgrades from Ableton to include Avid Pro Tools Express software.

The M-Track Quad stretches out a bit wider, but adds channels and functionality. With resolution up to 24-bit/96 kHz on four XLR/TRS/guitar combo inputs, the M-Track Quad maintains the versatility of this new series. Although it doesn’t have any S/PDIF ports, it expands upon the other models with two additional 1/4” TRS outputs and a powered 3-port USB hub. It includes Ignite by AIR and Avid Pro Tools Express.

M-Audio’s three new microphones fill a former gap in their product line. Sold in a matched pair, the Pulsar II small diaphragm condenser microphones feature a 0.75” diameter gold-sputtered Mylar diaphragm, a cardioid polar pattern and a brass body with internal shockmounts. Their Class A, FET transformerless design has integrated a 10 dB pad and 80 Hz high-pass filter—both switchable. The pair includes a stereo mounting bar, mic clips, risers, windscreens, protective bags and a wooden travel case.

Sporting a classic look, the Nova large-capsule condenser microphone features a 1.1” evaporated gold-coated Mylar diaphragm, a cardioid polar pattern and a solid brass body. The Class A solid-state electronics achieve a 20 Hz to 18 kHz frequency response. The microphone is packaged with a hard mount, a soft case and an XLR cable.

The flagship of this new microphone series is the Sputnik, a tube condenser microphone. The brilliantly named Sputnik features a 1” evaporated-gold-coated Mylar diaphragm, a hand selected military-grade 6205M vacuum tube (hopefully NOS from the former U.S.S.R.) and three switchable polar patterns. The dual-layer steel grille tops the solid brass body and provides cardioid, figure-eight and omnidirectional operation. A switchable 10 dB pad and 80 Hz high-pass filter can both be toggled from the microphone’s body, while the polar pattern is selected from its dedicated power supply. Sputnik ships with a shockmount, protective bag, 7-pin cable, power supply and a flight case.

It seems like M-Audio made a wise decision to not follow the wireless trend and focus on how to benefit the traditional user. Their new audio interfaces offer expansive functionality in small form factors. The microphones are built of quality components and suit a variety of applications.

Alesis

This year at NAMM, Alesis unveiled a variety of new and updated pro audio gear including controllers, monitors, electronic drum kits, iPad-compatible mixing devices and more. While most of their announcements were updates and improvements on existing products, they did release a few creative and inspired pieces of audio equipment.

Docks for the iPad

There are two new products from Alesis that both support iPad integration—the iO Mix and DM Dock. The iO Mix is a four-channel recorder, with a built-in iPad dock, that also performs as a stage-ready mixer. (The mixer layout reminds me of my old four-track tape recorder with its individual EQ, pan and volume faders on each channel.) Its rear panel is equipped with four XLR/TRS combo input jacks, as well as stereo 1/4” main and monitor outputs. It also features a direct switch for zero-latency monitoring. Additionally, the iO Mix features Lightning connectivity, so it works with the latest 4th-generation iPads. The iO Mix will even charge your iPad while it’s docked. Other features include 48V Phantom power and a DI switch for guitar recording. Alesis promises that it will work with practically any audio app available from the Apple App Store.

The other new device with complete iPad integration is the DM Dock. The DM Dock basically turns your iPad into a 10” multi-touch surface drum module. The built-in iPad dock is compatible with Lightning connector-equipped iPads and it works with the Alesis DM Touch app, which facilitates easy drag-and-drop drum kit editing, as well as instant downloading of new drum sounds. It’s also compatible with GarageBand and most other Core MIDI applications. The DM Dock is equipped with twelve 1/4” TRS jacks as well, so you can connect all your drum pads, cymbal pads and other triggers. It also features assignable footswitch, MIDI in/out and USB MIDI ports.

Controllers and Electronic Drums

If you’re a fan of the new DM Dock, then the new electronic drum kits from Alesis should interest you as well. This year at NAMM they released the DM Dock Pro Kit and the DM7X Kit. The DM Dock Pro Kit is an iPad-integrated electronic drum kit that includes the DM Dock. It also includes five RealHead dual-zone drum pads, a StealthKick 2 compact kick trigger with a Pro X Kick pedal and four cymbal pads. The RealHead snare pad and two tom pads are both 12” pads, while the other two RealHead tom pads are smaller 10” pads. All of them should offer a natural response and feel that closely resembles an acoustic kit. The cymbal pads include a 12” hi-hat pad, a 16” three-zone ride cymbal pad and two 14” crash cymbal pads. The Pro Kit rack is a chrome-plated, four-post X Rack with an adjustable snare stand, which gives you the setup flexibility you’d have with an acoustic kit.

The DM7X Kit is a six-piece electronic drum set that features a DM7X module with a large, backlit LCD panel and an intuitive menu system that is easily accessible and navigable. It offers 385 total sounds with 40 pre-programmed, ready-to-play drum kits. This being the more modest of the two new kits, it includes smaller 8” dual-zone trigger pads for the snare and all four toms. However, it features the same StealthKick 2 compact kick trigger. It has an X Kick pedal, and four 10” single-zone cymbal pads for the hi-hat, ride and two crash cymbals. It also includes all the necessary cables, hardware and power sources needed for immediate hook-up right out of the box.

The new controller released at NAMM 2013 is the Q88 piano-style USB/MIDI controller. It features 88 responsive, velocity sensitive semi-weighted keys, as well as pitch bend and modulation wheels. It’s similar in design to the Q61 and it also supports stand-alone operation with a DC input. It has a traditional MIDI output for connecting MIDI sound modules, synthesizers and samplers. You can easily integrate it into your Mac, PC or iOS setup as well. It works with most software and hardware devices. Alesis also ships their own version of Ableton Live Lite with each unit.

Mixers and Audio Interfaces

If you don’t have an iPad or are just interested in more traditional mixing options, then the new Alesis MultiMix 16 USB FX mixer should be on your radar. This 16-channel mixer and USB audio interface offers multi-functionality, eight types of onboard effects and eight individual sends. This board could easily be marketed for both live and home/project studio use. It features eight mono channels with XLR/TRS combo inputs that support Phantom power and TRS send/return inserts. It also affords four stereo-paired channels with 1/4” inputs, as well as a guitar/line-level input switch on the last channel. The MultiMix 16 doubles as a two-channel USB audio interface for direct computer recording using 16-bit, 44.1/48 kHz sampling rates. Each unit ships with Cubase 6 LE as well.

Alesis also revealed a new straightforward, two-channel audio interface for iOS devices and Mac/PC computers via USB connectivity. The iO Hub is designed for multi-functionality with your iOS Lightning port-equipped mobile devices and your Mac or PC computer. It features dual XLR/TRS compo inputs with individual gain controls and Phantom power. However, a 9V battery is required to supply the Phantom power. The iO Hub can be powered via USB bus power or directly from your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. Plus, like the iO Mix, it features a mic/line switch for connecting a high-impedance instrument and a switchable direct monitoring option with zero latency. It has a stereo pair of 1/4” outputs with dedicated level controls and a 1/4” headphone jack as well.

Similar to the iO Hub, the Control Hub was also unveiled at this year’s NAMM. It’s a MIDI interface with iOS and USB connectivity. The Control Hub provides one MIDI input and one MIDI output, as well as a stereo pair of 1/4” outputs and a headphone jack with independent level controls for both. It’s compatible with Lightning-port-equipped iOS mobile devices and Mac or PC via USB. The Control Hub can also be powered using USB bus power or through your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.

New Wireless Products

One common theme that a lot of the Alesis NAMM announcements shared was the introduction of wireless connectivity. The MultiMix 10 Wireless Rackmount Mixer appears to be a pretty straightforward 10-channel rackmount mixer, except for its Bluetooth wireless capabilities. The MultiMix 10 seems like it would be a good fit in smaller venues, clubs, places of worship and mobile rigs. It features four mono channels (1-4) with XLR inputs with selectable Phantom power and balanced 1/4” TRS inputs with 1/4” send/return inserts. There are also two stereo-paired channels (5/6 and 7/8) that feature left- and right-balanced 1/4” TRS inputs. One of the stereo paired channels offers RCA inputs as well. The last two channels (9/10) are designed for streaming a stereo signal from Bluetooth-enabled devices. Plus, there is a front-panel button for quick and easy pairing with compatible Bluetooth devices.

The front panel also affords a master section with dual XLR/TRS combo inputs, as well as a stereo 1/8” auxiliary input and stereo 1/8” mix output that provides access to the main mix directly from the front panel. Other features of the MultiMix 10 include peak LED indicators, trim knobs, two-band EQ, pre and post sends, panning and slim 60mm faders. It provides 1/4” auxiliary sends and balanced stereo returns as well. Whether you’re streaming audio from a Bluetooth-enabled device or using the MultiMix 10 like a more traditional rackmount mixer, its varied channel input sources should make everyone happy.

Another new wireless Alesis product for 2013 is the TransActive Wireless portable powered speaker system with Bluetooth streaming capabilities and single-button pairing. This model joins the popular TransActive family, so this wireless version should be a hit. It also features a cradle with a USB charging port for your smartphone, iPhone, iPad or tablet. The TransActive Wireless has an integrated rechargeable battery as well, which Alesis claims will provide up to 50 hours of playback on a single charge. The device provides recessed wheels and a telescoping handle, making it a truly portable wireless speaker system. It even has a socket for speaker stand mounting.

The GuitarLink Wireless was another newcomer to the Alesis line for 2013. It’s a portable wireless guitar system that uses 2.4 GHz technology for a reliable, interference-free signal. The compact unit is battery powered for ultra-portability as well. However, it does work with an AC adapter.

Although Alesis unveiled a variety of different audio gear at NAMM this year, there are a couple of reoccurring themes, the first being iPad integration and the second being wireless connectivity. With devices like the iO Mix, the DM Dock and the iO Hub, Alesis is carrying on the legacy of their original iPad-integrated device—the iO Dock. The wireless connectivity offered by several of their new products this year provides another more convenient way to connect audio devices to traditional mixers and speakers.

In Conclusion

Thanks for checking out this B&H InDepth announcement. If you have any questions about the new equipment from AKAI, M-Audio or Alesis, you are encouraged to submit a Comment below. You can also speak to a B&H Sales Professional by visiting our SuperStore in New York City, giving us a call at 1-800-606-6969 or joining us online for a Live Chat.

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I'm curious to know how well the DM Dock will work with other virtual instruments/synths. What bit depths and sample rates can it handle, etc... They aren't very forthcoming on their website. Maybe they talked about it at NAMM?
I appreciated your help.