America's biggest musical instrument trade show — NAMM — was bigger than ever this year, with 88,128 registrants from 100 countries ogling new gear from 1,560 companies. From didgeridoos to DSP, tomorrow's musical tools show up here first.


Digicam in hand, I spent four days canvassing the Anaheim Convention Center, stopping only when something caught my eye or ear. Here are some of my favorite discoveries; check back next week for more. (Tip: After you pop open a photo, you can drag it off to the side or press your arrow keys to see the next photo.)

Alesis iPod Mixer
The Numark group (which includes Alesis, Ion, and Akai) went to town attaching iPod docks to its gear. This compact recording interface features combination 1/4-inch/XLR mic jacks with phantom power. It records directly to an iPod or computer.
Amp Strap
Down in Hall E, you'll often come across some clever innovations, such as the Mighty Moe AmpStrap. With the level of ambient noise at the show, I could have used one of these three-inch speakers just to amplify my questions at other booths.
Avantone USB Mic
I didn't get to try it (not that I would have heard any nuance on the raging show floor), but the Avant Electronics Avantone CU-2 won my prize for best-looking USB mic. It's surprisingly affordable, too.
Waldorf Blofeld
Finally shipping, the Waldorf Blofeld packs the history of Waldorf's synths into a tiny white wedge of steel. The sound has the unique digital character you'd expect from the maker of the original PPG Wave.
Highslide JS
Turntable pioneer Grandmaster Flash spun the software at the Native Instruments booth.
HD MIDI
MIDI, the musical communications protocol that powers everything from ringtones to Las Vegas extravaganzas, quietly turned 25 this year, and its stewards are still expanding it.
IK Multimedia Guitar Wall
Guitars and computers converged at the IK Multimedia booth as attendees stepped up to the StompIO USB foot controller and AmpliTube modeling software.
KORE Player
Native Instruments packaged the best sounds from its high-end soft synths into the shockingly affordable KORE Player series. Each soundset costs about $59; the KORE Player itself is free.
Waves iGTR
Waves, best known for its pricey audio plugins, somehow popped its technology into this affordable headphone amp, the iGTR. List price? Just $99.
LinnDrum II
Roger Linn roared back with this LinnDrum II prototype, a collaboration with synth legend Dave Smith. Dave, meanwhile, celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Prophet-5 by showing a rackmount version of the Prophet '08.
Icon Controller and DSP Card
Icon specializes in combining unusual components. This touchpad responds to pressure as well as position, and the card runs up to four software synths derived from Creamware plugins.
Use Plugiator
In an unusual technology-sharing agreement, the Use Audio Plugiator runs the same Creamware plugin algorithms as the Icon card.
Highslide JS
Presonus showcased this exuberant band featuring singers from Tower of Power. The performance was recorded to PC through Presonus's latest audio interfaces.
VST 3
Steinberg's Rodney Orpheus introduced the next-generation VST 3 spec for audio plugins. The SDK is already available and the company bets the first user plugs will be out within a week.
Roland SuperNatural Fantom
Roland's new Fantom G-series synths feature a 3D drum animation that rotates and reshapes itself to follow your tweaks. It's interesting to see the line between computers and instruments continue to blur.
TASCAM DR-1 Recorder
Portable flash-RAM recorders were out in force at the show. TASCAM's upcoming DR-1 features rotating mics and a 1/4-inch external mic input. I requested a review unit for our series.
Highslide JS
For instant fun, my favorite instrument at the show was the Korg Kaossilator. This affable demonstrator told me he'd had his unit for only two days.
Spectrasonics Omnisphere
Renowned sound designer Eric Persing happily demonstrated Spectrasonics' upcoming Omnisphere soft synth, which features wild envelopes and great-sounding granular synthesis.
Yamaha Pocketrak 2G
The tiny Yamaha Pocketrak 2G adds some clever features to the portable-recorder field, including flip-up mics (to minimize tabletop reflections) and a pop-out USB plug. Look for an O'Reilly review of this one, too.
Zen Drum
Bruce "Sample Daddy" Richardson demonstrated his GigaSampler taiko drum library on this beautiful prototype Zendrum Zap. The unique trigger layout facilitates layering.
Zoom Guitar Software
Zoom showed the intuitive ZFX software, which lets you whip up monster tones by hooking up virtual stomp boxes and amps onscreen. The software comes with the C5.1t USB foot controller or S2t USB audio interface — each containing a real 12AX7 tube.