'Best in Show' Highlights Top Gear at 2015 NAMM Show
Best in Show, the popular Sunday-morning breakfast panel discussion at NAMM U, once again highlighted some of the coolest and most innovative gear and companies on display at The NAMM Show 2015.

Six retail-buying experts shopped NAMM and presented their top products in four categories. On the morning of Jan. 25, in the Anaheim Hilton Hotel, they discussed their choices in front of a packed house of NAMM attendees. The categories included:

Best in Show — The best product or service that panelists saw at NAMM
Company To Watch — An exhibitor with trendsetting products or services
Gotta Stock It — A product that retailers want to stock right now, if they haven't already
Best Accessories and Add-ons — A great product from the small-goods arena

This session's panelists included:
- Lee Anderton, President, Anderton's Music, Guilford, England
- Gayle Beacock, Co-owner, Beacock's Music, Vancouver, Washington
- John Grabowski, Senior Director of Merchandising, Sweetwater Sound, Fort Wayne, Indiana
- Victor Salazar, Owner, Vic's Drum Shop, Chicago
- Myrna Sislen, Owner, Middle C Music, Washington, DC
- Chris Tso, Vice President of Merchandising, Musician's Friend, Westlake Village, California
- Moderator: Frank Alkyer, publisher, Music Inc., DownBeat and UpBeat Daily magazines, Elmhurst, Illinois

Here are this year's selections:

Best in Show
Nuvo Band Instruments (Selected by Gayle Beacock)
"This is not a plastic instrument made to look really, really pretty. This is an instrument scaled for kids. They are filling the need of a market that doesn't currently exist. If a child is interested in woodwind instruments before they are capable of picking up a clarinet or flute, sometimes we lose them. The idea behind this is these are real instruments, scaled, lightweight and cleanable. And they really play."

Sonor Vintage Series Drum Kit (Selected by Victor Salazar)
Sonor is celebrating their 140th anniversary of making drums and they decided to bring back the iconic sound and feel and look of one of their teardrop kits from the '50s and '60s and '70s. I think they've really captured the essence of those kits, but they've also updated the mechanics and the quality."

Digitech Trio Guitar Pedal (Selected by Chris Tso)
"This pedal has adaptive learning technology. You play a few chords in it and it learns the key and rhythm that you are playing. You step on it, and immediately, bass and drums accompany you on whatever you're playing. So, it's not a drum machine. It learns whatever you're playing, and plays along with it. You can adjust the style of bass and drums to things like jazz, swing or rock. You can slow it down. And when you slow it down, the bass player adds more fills, like one would normally. When you speed it up, it does more whole notes."

Dunlop Cry Baby Mini Wah (Selected by Lee Anderton)
"This is the daddy of all pedals of all time. The sales of Cry Babies isn't measured in thousands, they're not even measured in hundreds of thousands. This is a pedal where they measure the sales of pedals in millions of pedals since it came out. Dunlop has taken that Cry Baby and redesigned it in a miniature pedal configuration. It's going to be perfect for all of those guys putting together the baby pedalboards with Mini Tube Screamers and Hotone pedals and all of that."

Akai Professional Advance Controller (Selected by John Grabowski)
"There's a lot of buzz about these out on the show floor. These are great controllers. They feel good. They've got the features that people have come to expect from a good controller in terms of knobs and pads. It's got a gorgeous color display that is about as big and crisp as the display on my iPhone. But the really cool thing about these is the software that makes it work. This software mapped the VST instruments. You can use the one VIP software, using metadata, it will dial down to presets on all of your VST instruments. And you can load up to eight at a time, and pick between these instruments."

Alfred's Billboard Top Tracks Series (Selected by Myrna Sislen)
"Digitally, you have the top tracks. You get a play-along from Alfred — MP3s, practice software, piano accompaniment parts. If you are a band and orchestra dealer and you rent instruments, you've got to have these tunes for kids to play."

Alfred's DIY Series (Selected by Myrna Sislen)
"All of this is going to be online. You have help with lessons. You have help with all of the online digital information. You can stream it anywhere that you want."

Hal Leonard's Decade Series (Selected by Myrna Sislen)
"Each one of these tunes has an online backing track. They are done in authentic style and on authentic instruments. This sells. If you have this out there, people will buy this."

Hal Leonard's How To Series (Selected by Myrna Sislen)
"Remember the speaker who said you need to go out to Google and search for what the trends are? Well, Hal Leonard did that and they found out the questions are most asked about books and what people want to learn. So, they started the "How To..." Series with titles like "How To Record on a Budget" and "How to Read Music."

Companies to Watch
Zither Music (Selected by Gayle Beacock)
"A buzz here at the show — at some of the seminars that we've attended — is a focus on the ultra market. We have good, better, best and ultra. And we have a lot of customers who we don't realize are willing to spend something. If somebody has a prized guitar, they're going to want a beautiful stand. This product is different and it's gorgeous and it works."

Drum Workshop (Selected by Victor Salazar)
"Earlier this month, they acquired all the percussion companies that were under the umbrella of KMC Music, owned by Fender Musical Instruments. They include Latin Percussion, Toca Percussion, Gretsch Drums, Gibraltar Hardware, Kat Electronics and CB. It's going to be interesting to see what they're going to do with all of these companies. I've always perceived Drum Workshop to be a highly innovative and forward-thinking company. They're very passionate about drums. I personally feel that these drums are in good hands with the folks over at Drum Workshop."

InMusic (Selected by Chris Tso)
"In 1992, Jack O'Donnell founded InMusic and he and his team have built this into 12 powerhouse brands, including Alesis, Akai, M-Audio, Alto, Denon Professional, Denon DJ, Marantz and more. It's not just the brands, but what they do is leverage technology platforms across the brands to create products that are market-right for each brand and customer segment."

Hotone (Selected by Lee Anderton)
"These are little micro pedals that have a real big knob on the back that lights up when you turn the pedal on. It's the intuitive knob that you would go for when you adjust things. They have a big range of pedals from simple drive pedals and chorus pedals to some pretty clever pedals like harmony pedals and acoustic emulation pedals. They're about to launch a Bluetooth iOS pedal, where using your Android or iPhone, you can dial up a zillion different effects on your phone."

XCHANGE Market Platform (Selected by John Grabowski)
"My company to watch isn't a manufacturer, but a service that gives software vendors the ability to leverage the selling power of all the dealers. And it gives dealers access to a growing assortment of software to be able to sell software codes and not the actual box. All it takes is for the dealer to have a Web browser, and this service is available any time day or night, regardless of where that software manufacturer is based."

St. Louis Music (Selected by Myrna Sislen)
"I think it's important to focus on smaller companies and family owned companies. So, my company to watch is St. Louis Music. The reason is that they are very receptive to us. They are there to help us. They are very fast in turnaround. They're prices are very good. They’re really a good company."

Gotta Stock It
Presonus Music Creation Suite (Selected by Gayle Beacock)
"This is actually everything you need to start digital recording today. One of the things that I love about this product is that if you are a young person and just want to get into this market — you just want to create and write your own songs — everything you need is bundled into this box."

Evans 16-Inch Drum Heads (Selected by Victor Salazar)
"They've introduced all the popular models of bass drumheads with this tom-tom collar. And there is a trend toward smaller, compact kits. There are 10 models available."

Mackie Freeplay Personal PA (Selected by Chris Tso)
"I love manufacturer's who take chances. The Mackie Freeplay is a compact portable stereo P.A. system with three-channel, 300-watt power powering an 8-inch subwoofer and two 1-inch tweeters. I see this as a gateway product because this has a four-channel digital mixer. So, when a customer uses this, and they're ready to upgrade, they're not upgrading from analog to digital. They're already in digital."

Ibanez Mini Tube Screamer (Selected by Lee Anderton)
"I'm a massive fan of these new miniature pedals that have become popular over the last four or five years. Everybody has to have a Tube Screamer. It's the most iconic drive pedal of all time. It has been copied more times than any other pedal ever. And this is a pedal that I think is going to sell by the truckload over the next few months and forever, really."

Gator Frameworks ID Series Speaker Stand (Selected by John Grabowski)
"There are things that everybody needs and everybody buys. But you need to stock nicer versions of all of those products because you've got to give customers a reason to buy a nicer product. The Gator Frameworks ID Speaker Stand is one of those products."

Amahi Ukuleles by Amati (Selected by Myrna Sislen)
"Amati has been making violins for a very long time, but now they've started making ukuleles. It's the same company and the same quality and the same really good margin. These are really nice ukuleles. They're fun to look at. The kids like them. I put them in the mix of the other ukuleles that I have and they hold up very, very well."

Best Accessories and Add-ons
U-Mount Universal Portable Charger (Selected by Gayle Beacock)
"It will mount to your microphone stand, your boom stand or your music stand. Any stand that you want. And what makes this really special is that it has 13 hours of charge."

Vic Firth Universal Practic Tips (Selected by Victor Salazar)
"You can mount this to any tip of any concert or drum set stick and practice anywhere — on the floor, concrete, glass, you name it. The surface feels good — feels natural. It has a good rebound. It"s quiet. For the cost of $9.50 for a pack of four tips, that's about a quarter of the price of a practice pad."

Blackstar Fly Guitar Amplifier (Selected by Chris Tso)
"It's a compact, 3-watt guitar amp with technology inside that delivers amazing sound for its size. It has a built-in, digital tape delay circuit, so the guitar has that kind of echo that you want when you're soloing, AC or battery and MP3 so you can play along with tracks or for casual listening. I couldn't believe it. And you won't believe it either."

G7th Performance 2 Capo (Selected by Lee Anderton)
"I love things like this because I love when a customer comes into the store looking to spend $5 or $10 on a product and the sales guy can take 60 seconds to convince them why they should spend $25 or $30 on a product. The customer is happy because they've got a better product. You've put three times as much money in the till. And everybody's winning."

Singular Sound's BeatBuddy (Selected by John Grabowski)
"It's a drum machine in a pedal form. It's got 10 drum sets in it. These are really great-sounding drum sets with 200 songs built in. It also has USB, so you can go to their website and download other patterns."

Killer-Q Guitar Straps (Selected by Myrna Sislen)
"This is a family owned and run company. The straps are made here in America. There are no minimums, and you can put any design you want on these straps. And they will put, for free, your store logo on the back of the strap. The margins are excellent." MI