Hardware innovations

As quickly as software is advancing, hardware developments also had a strong turnout at NAMM. One of the most notable examples was the integration of 32 bit floating point recording technology into select handheld recorders and audio interfaces. For context, most DAWs currently run 32 bit floating point processing already — this is why you could be in the red on every track and still not hear any clipping on the master. Put simply, there’s enough resolution to handle the quietest and loudest levels without any audible distortion or noise floor.

The same resolution is finally being integrated into recording technology, which means that no matter how loud your source material is, it won’t clip, and you can also pick up the quietest sounds cleanly in the very same audio file! As cool as this all is, if it doesn’t click for you immediately that’s completely normal as this is all still quite new ... the one thing you should definitely take away though is that these recorders have such high precision that they literally don’t have a gain knob. Crazy times! (For more info, this article goes into a ton of detail)

Soon you’ll also likely see some new DAW controllers entering the market — there are some new ones in production that offer an unprecedented level of control and are pre-mapped to certain native plugins, saving a ton of time that you now spend clicking and dragging (and making the entire experience of working in a DAW more tactile and fun). This is great news if you enjoy a more hands-on workflow that borders on working with analog hardware.

MIDI 2.0 — a complete overhaul

You might be familiar with MIDI MPE, a technology that gives much more data precision and flexibility to certain parameters on synths and other virtual instruments, along with MPE controllers that allow you to take advantage of this. MIDI 2.0 takes this much further though, offering a level of controller depth far beyond the traditional 127 steps we’re used to with 8-bit MIDI data.

Imagine having exponentially more expressive power with velocity, continuous controllers including mod wheel data, and plenty more — Logic Pro X is already beginning to incorporate MIDI 2.0, and it’s likely only a matter of time before an increasing number of third party developers begin incorporating it into their plugins! This new MIDI protocol is even being implemented in hardware, so you should expect to see controllers coming onto the market specified as MIDI 2.0-compatible, which may give you a level of control and precision you never imagined possible.

The future of synthesis & virtual instruments

Romplers, or sample-based synthesizers were popular for quite some time before going out of style, though they’ve made a significant comeback in recent years; NAMM has made one thing quite clear, though: the line between synthesis and acoustic instruments is blurring more and more as time goes on. Many plugin developers are blending the two together seamlessly using techniques like mod matrices, while others are pushing the boundaries of physical modeling to create incredibly realistic instruments with little to no sampling involved.

UJAM is no exception to this — in fact, under the hood of our Usynth modules we incorporate different sound design techniques that include wavetables, physical modeling, sampling, and plenty more, endeavoring to morph between them as seamlessly as possible. The future of synthesis is looking less like an either-or scenario and more so one that incorporates many different methods into one. Some synthesizers even give you fine control over the most minute details — UVI’s Falcon is one of the most detailed examples of this, though it makes up for its intense learning curve with the sheer number of possibilities it provides to the ambitious sound designer.

Is the AI age finally here?

AI’s applications in music tech are still in their infancy, but more companies are beginning to take it seriously, incorporating it into rhythm games, sound design tools, music theory plugins, and more. It’s worth noting that this wasn’t a huge focus for plugin companies at NAMM, though, with only a few explicit mentions of AI throughout the entire convention. New feature sets and new possibilities abound, but most of those came in the form of creative applications of the same tools used for years: sequencers, crossfading, physical modeling, wavetable synthesis, and all the other usual suspects. However, that’s just this year — 2024 may very well feature far more AI developments as its role in the production process is further cemented!

One interesting use (which we mentioned briefly in a previous article) is Dreamtonics’ Synthesizer V, a virtual singer sample Library that uses AI to shape more realistic and expressive vocal parts in multiple languages, with tons of different voices to choose from. If you‘re not confident as a singer or simply want to give a reference point to a live vocalist, this plugin could very well come in handy — and it’s an excellent example of just one of the incredible possibilities AI is beginning to offer music producers!

Wrapping up

We’ve only scratched the surface in this article — there were just too many cool updates and technological advances to name! If you want a single key takeaway, though, it’s this: the music industry is progressing faster than any one person can keep up with. Right now, there are tons of new tools coming out with the potential to completely transform the way you work and help you move faster and create music you never could have conceived of before.

Invest a little time into familiarizing yourself with some of these new technologies — knowing what’s available and getting the gist of how it works will help you budget for the most useful tools for you and even get more mileage out of the ones you already have. So spend some time looking into 32 bit recording, artificial intelligence in the music industry, and the numerous methods of synthesis available to you. Have fun, stay curious and go make some great music!