Held January 19-22, 2017, the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of the music products industry was on display among the 7,000 brands and record 1,779 exhibiting companies - a 3% increase in exhibiting companies. Even though we noticed less visitors during Saturday and Sunday (because of the bad weather), the NAMM association claimed that overall show registration increased by 5% to 106,928 from 2016. Certainly, the energy was there and the international presence could be felt - 17,964 visitors from 125 countries - a 13% increase over 2016. Even Yamaha, traditionally isolated in the Marriott hotel facilities said it had "its best NAMM show ever." Among the many sessions and educational events, the TEC Tracks offered a robust schedule of great interest to the audio community in general, contributing highly to the show's vibrant mood.
As I've previously stated, the NAMM Show - one of the oldest and best established trade shows in the world - is a unique event as an intersection of the music creation and entertainment worlds with the recording, performance, and sound reinforcement market segments. Add to this the opportunity for brands to reinforce their connections to the music community, enhancing marketing efforts in their lifestyle aspects, and we get a powerful combination that can greatly benefit companies and brands that understand how to leverage this unique convergence.
Undoubtedly, aligned with the markets in general, the Winter NAMM Show is facing tremendous challenges given the disruption of the musical instruments (MI) distribution channels, the very core on which NAMM was founded. Fortunately, in recent years the NAMM Show also reflected the growth dynamics originated by the home studio revolution, while the music industry transitions to completely new models, increasingly focused on live performances and creating a natural stage for a convergence with the professional audio industry.
All this is reflected in the way the trade show has been changing, creating significant challenges for the promoters. The ever-changing visitor profile, once centered almost exclusively on the retail channels and "trade buyers," evolved toward direct-access to musicians and the end-client, as the surviving "music merchants" and the manufacturers themselves are increasingly motivated to engage directly with the public, while the distribution activities retract to exclusive trade-only rooms. This results in a crowded (and increasingly noisier) show floor, with an increasing number of stands occupied by small companies and creators attracted by the strong direct-business opportunities, and the upper floors and restrict-access rooms occupied by the larger corporations (e.g., Fender, Gibson, Peavey, Roland, etc.) Not easy to reconcile, especially given that the show continues to grow and is larger than ever.
Fortunately, NAMM 2017 was another energetic and successful show, with lots of new products, vibrant business, more education and special events, and a positive feeling of community, innovation, and opportunity. As the NAMM association recognizes, where once guitars and drums filled the halls now the business of professional audio is becoming part of NAMM's DNA. There is no show in the US that better serves to promote professional audio technology to the live sound and entertainment industries. The NAMM Show could evolve in that direction, given the unique expansion opportunities scheduled for 2018, with the opening of the Anaheim Convention Center new North Hall, with two floors, larger than any of the existing halls, and enough rooms to lodge the equivalent number of conference sessions of an Audio Engineering Society (AES) or InfoComm convention, if NAMM so wishes.
As usual, audioXpress.com will continue to highlight all the product introductions and relevant stories. From NAMM 2017, I will retain the reinforced message by Avid's Chairman and CEO, Louis Hernandez, Jr., at the first press conference of the show. He said that the most important challenge for its business in this digital, cloud-based, "streaming age," consists of making sure that musicians and creators get paid fairly for their work. It makes sense. Even if Avid continues to push forward with the most advanced cloud-collaboration platforms, and to evolve its industry-standard Pro Tools systems, including promoting education initiatives, and open, tightly integrated and efficient media platforms, their business will be endangered if the creators are not at the core of the industry's economy.
As for show highlights, I will briefly mention some of the positive surprises on the studio monitor front - with smart, innovative, and affordable designs, as it is appropriate for a NAMM Show. Curious that most of the products worth mentioning are products first unveiled at last year's NAMM, now ready for market, or almost. I would first mention the new ADAM Audio S Series, which promises to shake things up in the product segment this year. I would also mention the new KH 80 DSP, Neumann's first studio monitor with digital signal processing in a compact nearfield format that might finally allow the brand some well-deserved attention. A new iteration of a previous design is the new JBL Professional 7 Series Powered Master Reference Monitors, a compact self-powered version of the existing JBL 7 Series line, with the same patented driver and waveguide technologies developed for the flagship JBL M2 Master Reference Monitor. The new 705P 5" and 708P 8" monitors feature a dual 250 W amplification system, onboard DSP-based room equalization, analog and AES/EBU digital inputs, with internal sample rate converters up to 192 kHz, developed with the modern control room in mind.
Among the other interesting products that we intend to explore in-depth in future articles, there were lots of great sounding monitors, including Pioneer's active RM-07 and RM-05, featuring TAD-designed coaxially aligned 1.5", aluminum tweeter and Aramid fiber woofers, with an acoustic tube inside the cabinet and bass reflex port. Another intriguing design was the Applied Research & Technology (ART) RM5 Active Studio Reference Monitors, featuring a new design for high performance near field use. With an aluminum "unibody" construction, high-resolution dual opposing passive ring radiators and unique center plug waveguide tweeter, these DSP-processed, 300 W studio monitors deliver an extremely wide "'sweet-spot" in a monitor system. They even feature Bluetooth connectivity and removable heavy duty monitor bases. Intriguing.
A major NAMM 2017 highlight was the unveiling of Keith R. Klawitter's new KD Elite Series Reference Monitors. Following last year's unveiling of the new Klawitter Designs' range of studio monitors, the man behind the extraordinarily successful KRK Systems monitors, presented a mature concept for the new generation of studios with the KD Elite Series. I didn't necessarily like the green and gold finishes of the displayed models, but from what we could hear on the noisy show floor, these will be serious contenders in the market. Active speakers designed to be as transparent as possible, with newly designed custom Kevlar drivers, high-power integrated amplifiers, and onboard high-resolution DSP (including an all-digital crossover), the monitors are available in 6.5" and 8" models, along with a complementary 12" subwoofer. The aim is to improve monitor performance in terms of linear frequency response, precise time-alignment with exact phase coherence, and ultra-low distortion. But perhaps as important for the market segment, the KD Elite Series features support for high-resolution audio sources with optional Dante/AES67 network card, and computer control.
In another NAMM-related product segment, I would highlight Harman's presentation of the Connected PA concept, introducing the same level of intelligence and personalization that we are seeing in home automation technologies, now directly targeted at musicians on stage, setting up live shows, and consistently getting a better sound. The Harman Connected PA enables users to establish and automatically carry their signature sound with them at all times, connecting products from AKG, dbx, JBL, and Soundcraft with a new central app and cloud technology.
In 2018, The NAMM Show, to be held January 25-28, will provide an enhanced show experience for all. As the NAMM states, "It's clear that the future of The NAMM Show really is about becoming the crossroads of many communities, all meeting in California to celebrate the business of music and sound." I fully agree.