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!Bring Ur Own Sombrero NAMM2023!

NAMM 2023

NAMM stands for BYOS or bring ur own sombrero. No seriously the Mariachi band was one of my favorites second to the ukulele orchestra. NAMM is one of the oldest conventions in America 1909, thats no joke. Originally Pianos, later guitars and the rest of the musical counterparts including accessories like music stands and batons for conducting. While there isn’t a big market for custom made conducting batons if you need one this would the the place. In the past iv worked the show floor a couple of times, but that was years ago. Allot has changed but some things remain the same. Awards shows and after hour drinks with lots and lots of musicians.

Last year I was fortunate to attend an awards show dinner at the Parnellis and this year I created a plan that had me on the show floor for one day and another at the beach, quick burn in and burn out. However plans change. I even used the app to bookmark some interviews and keynote sessions but that quickly changed. 

My first mistake was not attending the early breakfast session. Like other east coasters or others on different time zones, one wakes up early only to find a mostly empty convention center with lots of closed restaurants. Other than IHOP and Huckelberries there wasn’t much open for breakfast, next year I’ll be hitting that up for sure. Originally I only had four errands to run on the show floor mostly revolving around brass instruments, spatial mixing tools and then maybe a demo room or two followed by bad jokes and being picked up by friends and fellow trade show family members and running into those that might have fallen off the planet of audio but actually just simply survived COVID etc. How’s that for a run-on 😉

Arrogantly I was gonna mostly avoid the pro audio section thinking it wold be boring and slow but in actuality I think pro audio was more busy than the MI side of the convention and I really enjoy and appreciate how the two are separated. It creates trade show breathing room. I registered the night before, showed up early to avoid the line for badges and waited maybe two minutes, not even that, so no trade show badge anxiety. Lanyards were there and typically I try to upgrade my trade show lanyard but just stuck with the freebie, kudos to me for not losing my badge but if so, they can easily print another one. My errands to run were Audeze, spatial audio tools like Sound Particles, Sony and Yamaha brass instruments along with a few industry talks some of which I made it to.

After getting my badge about 9:30 doors open at 10, people generally gather outside the front doors giving exhibitors a chance to get to their booths before the swarms of people arrive. Walking around one gets a sense of where the lectures are being held at and where the demo rooms are located. Samia Scoda and Alan with American Music and Sound started with the first demo of the day with a large array from Ocean Way Audio after which I discovered that Eddie Kramer was giving a talk so I put that on my calendar and headed to the show floor.

Ocean Wave is a local California loudspeaker startup with a veteran loudspeaker design by Cliff Hendrickson. The loudspeakers might be some of the best in the cost effective large format loudspeaker category. Simple large 90 degree arrayable transducer arrays in a simple coaxial configuration with the HF centered in the mouth of a low frequency horn. Some of Cliff’s loudspeaker designs include the New Orleans Super Dome which has white stood the test of time.

I was going to attend the generator grounding for festivals workshop but got distracted by giant loudspeakers, beside the room was full ten minutes before it started. The upstairs floor had a fire alarm drill so everyone got to dance a little by exiting upstairs only to quickly return. This is common as lights hit plastic etc and set off smoke detectors but nothing beats having a fire sprinkler poor onto of a new 100k projector but that’s a story from another trade show. Much like the session on EQ at AES it was a packed room. I hope to attend next year as I hope it becomes a staple in time. Next I started with the MI section and cruised thru the guitars moving onto brass trumpets only to discover a new trumpet brand from Kansas I hadn’t heard of before and played some imported horns along with a carbon fiber horn from Switzerland. Somehow mixed in with MI I ran into MEZE headphones and Gryphon headphone amplifiers. Looks like there are several hi-fi planar headphones with external class A amplifiers on the market. 

Personally iv always had an interest in headphones, they accomplish allot and are way cheaper than a large PA or even speakers on sticks. For maybe a decade I listened to Sennheiser HD-25’s 1999-2009 before changing over the airline friendly Bose headphones and later Air pods. Now that spatial audio has replaced and succeeded over auralisations, one has a new reason to invest in good quality headphones or calibrated IEM’s. Recently after discovering and combating some stress due to Tinnitus it’s clear that higher quality sound has become therapeutic.

Next stop for me is Audeze and Sony but in between convention halls one can get lost in the sea of stages. For certain best of sound goes to Nexo not only best sound but best system design. The large stage had a large line array but the circular stage in the middle of the concourse stole the show. Architects and Event Planners could take note. Best sound system design that just made sense. The sound system was largely in a circular format using new columns from NEXO that sounded really good competing with the other hi performance columns that have been used in production environments like Adele’s and the LA observatory. Other interesting notes about stages at NAMM is that that bands get appropriately sized stages with appropriately sized sound systems and all the FOH engineers know exactly what they are doing. Not allot of newbies most of the mixers here are pros with more than a decade under their gig belts. That’s the average, imo. Lots of iPads in the field and a few iPad minis.

After making my way to the pro audio booth I skipped lunch to go find Audeze and then got distracted by Sony. Sony has a new 360 virtual mixing plugin for producers and a new headphone but the best demo came near by. Sony had a noise proof booth with a simple 5.1 system and a way of measuring HRTF’s doing in ear measurements. The process as I understand is one begins with putting microphones in the listeners ears, recording a measurement using external LCR speakers, creating an inverse curve and then repeating the same process with headphones on using the in ear microphones. The result is building a system for the listener doing listener in-ear compensation. The result is that what you hear in the headphones exactly what you would hear with external loudspeakers but with sources in a 3d space! In this case a 5.1 system that sounds like a 5.1 system using headphones vs external speakers. The benefit is it replaces a whole complex system. Congratulations to Sony for even attempting to do this on a trade show floor and for being patient with those trying to understanding the demo.

-Future potential industry buzz words, HRTF, AES69, Ambisonics, Spatial and Immersive audio-

Stoping by the Audeze demo booth after listening to their wireless headphones which can take multiple sources such as bluetooth and an 1/8th inch mini to mix them together I declare that for 299.00 they are giving those headphones away at least for what they do and sound like etc. After giving them a listen I tried on the LCD’s and some other exotic headphones. The LCD’s and MEZE headphone and maybe Sensaphoncs where likely the best sounding sources on the floor. I think I either went to the sound particles booth before this or after but its interesting the future of what is being called spatial and immersive. Right now broadcast and recording are leading the way but live audio is not far behind. The spatial options on the floor were limited but quickly growing with examples from D&B in a near by demo room. About 2 o’clock I showed up to listen to Eddie Krammer and went looking for more spatial audio tools and then started running into usual suspects and listened to a few demos. I think everyone appreciated the awards shows starting early and finishing early the first night was the TEC awards of which “Best Christmas Party” was once a possibility maybe someday one will get the “Best Sound Check Award” from the TEC. The following night was the Parnellis which also give recognition for audio engineers that have past away and honored Marty Garcia with a life time achievement award. Years past included audio engineers and some who others only associated with over the phone and others which were well known in the industry such as the late Blair McNair and recently Doctor Eugene Patronis and Don Davis, but this year the un expected passing of Mike Adams was very unfortunate and surprising. While I only met Mike a few times much like many other audio engineers we share many commonalities. Mike and others will be missed for years to come. 

Swag this year came in the form of stickers from Fulcrum Acoustics, Shure Bros Microphones and the United States Marine Core band. Both the Air Force and Marines were present representing mostly brass instruments. Both offer great gigs mixing the good ole US of A’s armed force bands. 

Of course no trade show would be complete with out a parking ticket. Originally I planned on staying in a hotel one night and two at a friends but plans change and while grabbing a second hotel night I left my car in the parking garage luckily wasn’t towed and well…. I still need to pay that ticket. Diner the first night came in the form of near by tacos and the next day catering from loudspeaker demo rooms in the form of finger food. I should compliment the show which had an army of food trucks unlike other trade shows their were lots and lots of small areas for folks to gather and talk etc very similar to a music festival.

Further lessons learned, be careful leaving musical instruments in rental cars. Im sure others have better stories than I. But, if my rental car had been towed my beloved Calicchio (hand made in Los Angeles trumpet) would be spending he night in the impound. 

The second day I wasn’t able to make my first appointment till 12:30 but was able to at-least clean up a bit so I didn’t smell like the bar from the night before. I met with Tom of New Audio Technologies for a couple of hours having a coffee outside the trade show exhibit. Tom has one of the few spatial audio tools similar to Flux and others being offered from Meyer, L-acoustics, D&B and Adamson. Exploring the demo rooms I really enjoyed hearing DAS at the show from Spain as my local watering hole in New Orleans has a nice pair of DAS loudspeakers at the Maple Leaf. LD Systems had the best band at least when I stopped by, only short of the Nexo stage, and had products that just made since for small venues. QSC had their new line array and Meyer was showing off their new TEC award for the Panther box. Next was Neumann showing off a B-format microphone and more surround sound mixes similar to D&B. My last stop was with dB Techonologies to check out their boxes running Open Sound Control along with Yamaha.

Yamaha had a huge presence on the third floor and with the outside stages. In the main demo room they had Rivage consoles and the new columns from Nexo and some other new smaller loudspeakers. I spent some time on the Xeno trumpets and a custom horn while discovering a silent mute they offer with a microphone. The biggest description I could offer is lots of appropriately sized sound systems on lots of stages with talented musicians like a mini SXSW. Having point sources for some demos vs line arrays was appreciated. Surround all that with industry professionals and the conversations become dense and complex faster than one would think.

The conversations held at the Event Safety Alliance Sessions were likely the most important happening at the show and again I hope those get repeated next year and was sad not to attend only from the many distractions surrounding a typical trade show floor.

Elsewhere in other demo rooms it almost felt like other musicians could get together and jam and a few times that did happen. The spirit of the show is extremely musical and has that Southern California vibe.

If I was a musician and wanted to get discovered and my promo material began with a performance at NAMM then a band like the mariachi band from Las Vegas would have no problem getting gigs in the future. 

My last stops of the show floor included saying an Irish good bye and swinging thru the Shure booth. As it was busy the entire show. Shure continues to lead the industry in Wireless resources and introduced new products and support services.

With that said ill give my own awards out.

Best Sound, NEXO (Great columns!)

Busiest Booth, Shure (Not a bad problem)

Most Popular mixer gaining traction, Allen and Heath (Y’all just seem to be everywhere)

Most Important demo, D&B (SPATIAL/HEADROOM CALC Why didn’t I think of that!)

Most Useful demo, dB Technologies (Demo!)

Best Sounding product, Audeze LCD-X (Just Listen)

Best Show vibe, Yamaha (Great jam band, properly sized room with good people)

Best Demo, Sony (We need more demos just like that)

Required Technology Knowledge, Direct Out (System Techs)

Best Coffee, B&C (Grazie)

Best Music accessory, TIS silent plug required for ALL guitarist (Its a buzz, or rather no buzz)

Best “Flying Junk Yard”, Ocean Wave (That’s a Compliment)

Best Missed gig/event, NAMM Ukulele Circle (Blue’s Jam?)

Best of Brass, BAC Music (I like my Colicchio but urs was fun)

Best Rational Hang, Rational Acoustics (New annual award?!?)

It was an amazing show. Missing from years past was the line of cars and limos the back line assistants and shouts for drinks at the bar and handfuls of short lived business cards. All of this has been replaced with Linked-In and Facebook adds with small medium solo artist and medium sized bands which mostly reminds me of New Orleans on a Wednesday ;-). 

Last but not least-

Best Spirit of Music Award, REMO!

While I certainly appreciate Evans drum heads (sharing the same name) giant hugs go to REMO! Drum circle for providing percussion to the public! I only wish I spent more time.

The only award not given out is best bolo because no one wears a bolo like Rupert Neve!

Plans change, a quick pop over the NAB to celebrate 100 years wasn’t exactly the best way to have fun but did offer an excuse to drive an electric car thru the desert which added extra fun before. After returning home I was able to organize some thoughts and pay that parking fee.

Congrats to the show organizers, looking forward to January 2024. I enjoyed discovering a new trade show or a new version of an old show and look forward to comments from others. If anyone mentioned doesn’t want to be mentioned in this article im happy to make edit.

Josh Evans is a Trumpet player based in New Orleans and an active member in professional audio.