Hiro Shimozato is a product manager for M-Audio. He manages a portfolio of innovative products designed to support computer based music creation and recording. Products range from USB MIDI keyboard controllers, digital audio interfaces, reference monitor speakers and studio microphones. Responsibilities include management of the products’ life cycle from concept to end of life.
We had a chance to catch up with Hiro Shimozato discuss M-audio joining the InMusic family, new products, such as the Axiom AIR, on the horizon and a bit about his background as a trained musician. Let’s get into it.
It seems that M-Audio has some exciting new and even reintroduced products. How has the transition to InMusic been so far?
It’s been a very exciting, challenging and promising transition for me professionally and for the brand. Unlike Avid which is involved with a variety of media businesses, InMusic is mostly focused on the MI industry so it’s been very easy to communicate across the company. Everyone seems to be passionate about the gear and technology and many are experienced users. The culture is very action oriented, people expect a lot out of each other and there seems to be a never-ending supply of interesting ideas for products.
There have been a lot of operational and logistics issues to deal with since the acquisition was finalized so we’ve being doing the best we can keeping a supply of products and support available. As we get deeper into 2013, most of the issues have been resolved or on track to be addressed.
Not all of the M-Audio products and technology were included in the acquisition so we’re very focused in building new products that keep us in categories that have historically been successful for M-Audio. One of the great legacies of M-Audio was the breadth of products they produced and in recent years, that range of products had become relatively small. At inMusic, we have been given an opportunity to resurrect products that Avid was not in a position to continue. We have also been encouraged to consider new product types to grow the presence of the brand.
It could have become a situation where with new owners, M-Audio was completely redefined but inMusic has been very astute about identifying what is and was great about the brand. They have given us the opportunity to leverage our history to take the brand into a new era. As a product manager, you can’t ask for much more than that.
You were product manager for 11 rack, has 11 rack been discontinued or are there plans to revamp?
Since I’m no longer and Avid employee, I don’t have access to any information specific to what’s going to happen with Eleven Rack. That being said, I’ve heard that the product continues to sell very well and I noticed at NAMM the the only audio interface that Avid built a specific display for was the Eleven Rack.
It was a magical set of circumstances that led to the development of Eleven Rack and when we started, Avid was a different company. Not better or worse but focused on different things. 3 years after it’s launch, customers continue to buy it and while Avid may have different priorities, there’s no arguing that Eleven Rack is doing positive things for their business.
I am so proud of the work that went into Eleven Rack and sincerely hope that this is enough to convince Avid to build a successor. There were so many great ideas based on Eleven we left on the table. I wish I could continue to be a part of it. It’s funny how many people have approached me and asked, “I know you don’t work for Avid anymore but could you just make the new one?”
Are you a musician as well? Whats your instrument?
I am a guitarist and before taking up that instrument, played piano and trumpet as a kid. Like a lot of our customers, I’ve been in several bands and have had a lot of opportunities to record and compose music with DAWs. I spent a few years writing and producing music for commercials, institutional films, documentaries and even electronic toys. These days, I play in a band covering a funk and r&b tunes and anything done on DAWs is all for my own amusement.
In high school, I stumbled on the first version of Mark of the Unicorn’s Performer in the Mac lab which turned me on to MIDI. If it wasn’t for that program, I probably would have taken up drums. It took about 5 minutes for me to realize how technology could enable someone who didn’t know how to play drums, to create a drum track. DAWs and Pro Tools took that mentality even further and for a while, I honestly believed that this technology was the silver bullet to what my hands could not accomplish on an actual instrument.
For some reason, that perspective on MIDI and computer based recording never infiltrated my thinking about guitar. It’s an instrument that I always knew I had to work on. Technology was never going to provide a short cut for making the sounds I want to hear. You would think that was a pretty contradictory statement from someone who brought Eleven Rack into this world but I’ve got an elaborate perspective on that I will have to save for some other interview. 😉
These days, I’m try to have a more balanced outlook. I’m less interested in having total control and instead having a better mix of actual people and technology to influence what I do musically. Technology is still a great enabler in my eyes but you still have to learn to use it effectively and musically just as you would approach any instrument.
How does the Axiom Air line differ from the Axiom pro line?
The Axiom AIR series has some specific advantages:
Illuminated drum pads and knobs which allow you to identify multiple banks of control assignments
Longer faders for more mixing precision
More than 8 pads (12 on the Axiom AIR 49 & 61, 16 on the Axiom AIR 25)
Control groups can independently be used in an automap mode (HyperControl) or with your custom MIDI assignments and switching between these functions can be done with dedicated buttons
The keyboards come with Ignite software and can control the software from the top panel controls
The keyboards also include Pro Tools Express software.
In general, the Axiom AIR series was designed with DAWs and Vis in mind and less consideration for using it to control a bunch of external MIDI hardware (although it does that pretty well). It is easier to configure and provides more flexibility for those who like using a mix of auto mapped and custom mapped controls. Finally, with the Ignite and Pro Tools Express software, we wanted to provide a complete set of tools that gives customers the ability to capture and share musical ideas quickly and then do more production related tasks.
What is Ignite all about?
Ignite was originally started when we were still part of Avid. We knew that Pro Tools and many DAWs in general were difficult to use when you just want to get your ideas recorded fast. There are too many things to configure just to get started recording. The whole concept of sessions, plug-ins, routing, the timeline, tracks and channels are deeply rooted in the paradigm of the traditional recording studio. All that technical context is distracting and can get in the way.
When you’re trying to be creative, uninterrupted flow and being able to capture and ideas as quickly as possible is essential. You don’t want to be thinking like an engineer, you want to be thinking like a musician. So Ignite tosses that whole convention of a recording studio and gives you a straightforward means to capture a musical idea. You simply pick an instrument, press record and then you play. Unlike a DAW, there is no timeline or tracks. Every bit you record is represented by a colored block in this open window of space and here you collect and arrange the parts you recorded by freely connecting them.
Once you have ideas captured and organized, you can then share this work with others via email and social networks. If you want to more with the ideas you have captured and you’re ready to do more production related work, you can export it all to a DAW like Pro Tools Express.
Ignite is not a replacement for a DAW like Pro Tools. DAWs will always be fabulous tools for when the ideas are there and you are focused on more production related work (mixing, editing and mastering). Ignite is the compliment to the DAW in that it allows you to have the mindset of a musician and record your musical ideas quickly.
If you purchase or already own a currently manufactured M-Audio keyboard, you can download Ignite today.
Does Axiom air come with any other AIR soft synths in addition to protools express?
Within the Ignite software there are over 270 instrument sounds designed but the AIR software development group who are responsible for all those great Pro Tools plug-ins like Strike, Velvet, Transfuser and Hybrid.
Is it true that the Axiom Air line was initially created for the AIR team to test their software?
Ignite began development at a similar time as the Axiom AIR series and the AIR team was quick to realize all the advantages of having the keyboard work specifically with the software. From there, we worked together to make sure that we built a total creative solution for keyboardists.
You also have the Axiom Air Mini 32 as well. What are the huge differences between this and the rest of the axiom air line?
The Axiom AIR Mini 32 is for the mobile musician. This keyboard has a lot of the features that you find on much larger controllers like assignable knobs, pads and transport control. However, it’s sized to be highly portable and can fit into a backpack or laptop bag. We’re all leading more mobile, on-the-go lifestyles so it’s incredibly handy to have a highly capable controller that can conveniently travel with us.
Tell us about the M-Audio M3-8 Active studio monitors. Who is your target for these monitors? Price point? Release date?
We wanted to provide a higher class of monitors above our best selling BX series . Unlike the BX monitors, the M3-8 features a 3 way design. With separate bass, midrange and high end drivers you get more accurate frequency response and imaging, particularly in the midrange. The concentric design of the midrange and high frequency drivers allowed us to keep the cabinet size appropriate for project studios and time aligns the sound waves for better imaging. This type of technology and design used to be exclusive to the most expensive pro monitor brands but we managed to design this in a speaker that will have a street price of around $299 ($598/pair). For a customer looking for monitors in the price range of the BX series, this is an opportunity to get a more professional sounding (and looking) monitoring solution for not that much more money. We were very pleased to see Pro Sound News award the M3-8 their Best in Show award at NAMM. We hope to have these available by the end of Q2.
I see that the Sputnik VACUUM TUBE CONDENSER MICROPHONE is back. I’ve used the Sputnik for years. why did it get discontinued and what prompted it’s return? What preamp would you recommend for use with the Sputnik?
The reasons for discontinuing the product aren’t entirely clear but I suspect that while at Avid, there was a lot of effort to consolidate and focus businesses on the product lines that were considered “core”. Microphones have great value for a brand like M-Audio but on paper, it may have been hard to convince the execs at Avid that they were worth continuing relative to other pursuits.
The Sputnik was such a favorite of our customers and so many have taken the time to reach out and ask to bring it back. As I mentioned earlier, as part of inMusic we have the opportunity to expand the number of offerings branded M-Audio and reintroducing Sputnik is a nice reminder to the market that we have started making mics again.
Obviously, with a mic of this design, the higher quality preamp will yield superior results. However, the vacuum tube circuit and the design of the included power supply will deliver a very consistent quality of signal. We recommend your preamp have an input impedance 1kΩ or greater.
If you had to recommend a set up made up completely of M-audio and In Music products for a beginning beat maker what would you include?
Axiom AIR 25 Keyboard Controller
Mtrack Plus Audio Interface
Lastly what are you most looking forward to for Maudio this year?
We’re on track to introduce more products in 2013 than we have over the last 2 years. We admit it was getting a little too quiet in the last years with Avid and we’re looking forward to making up for lost time.
Also, our relationship with AIR and Avid is tight, so software is going to be a big part of what sets our products apart. And it’s not just about throwing some discs in the box. We are committed to designing in features and capabilities that makes the software and hardware work together in a very effective way.
Finally, we’re about to get through a lot of operational issues that resulted from the transition. There are some great people at inMusic getting us back on track so as a business we can consistently supply and support the products our customers need.