December 28, 2016

2016 Music Tech Report Card

Music Tech Report Card

Music Tech Report CardTechnology moves ahead, sometimes quickly and sometimes more slowly than we would like. That said, we’re all beholden to it more than ever, and that trend shows no letting up. Because tech is such a big part of our lives, here’s a report card on some of the tech products, companies and issues from 2016.

Apple

Another year has gone by and our favorite company has again failed to deliver on a new Mac Pro. The company seems to be fixated on iPhones these days, which brings in way more revenue, but Apple’s resurgence was on the backs of the creatives, and it would be a shame if we were ultimately abandoned. That said, there’s a lot of DAWs out there still running on iMacs and older towers, so that says a lot about Apple’s product lifespan.

GRADE: D+

 

Avid

Depending upon which end of the market you’re in, Avid is either the devil or the savior. If you’re in post-production, the new hardware and Pro Tools features are just what you need. If you’re in music, you’re probably hating the yearly subscription that you have to pay just for the privilege of using your DAW. And then there’s the company, which seems to be more aware of its stockholders than customers, but at least the new hardware products are pretty slick.

GRADE: C-

 

DAWs

Digital Audio Workstations are getting more and more sophisticated, and the differences between them are beginning to blur. That said, most concentrate on music creation, and few look at postproduction, which means that Pro Tools is still king of the hill in that realm. I can’t help but feel that PT’s lead is tenuous though, and its users would jump to another DAW in a flash if and when a suitable alternative finally appears. This might have graded higher on this report card if the next great DAW was clearly on the horizon

GRADE: B

 

Plugins

The next generation of plugins are upon us, and this time a lot of the thinking is being done for us with automatic adjustments. Plugs like iZotope Neutron and Soundways Reveal and Low Leveler are a big step in the right direction when put in capable hands (and that’s the caveat).

GRADE: A

 

Microphone Modelers

Once looked upon as a marketing gimmick, mic modelers like the Slate VMS and Townsend Labs Sphere are proving that they’re a real alternative to the classic mics that most of us can’t afford. These are real tools, not toys.

GRADE: A

 

Amp Emulators

The guitar amp’s days are numbered as amplifier emulators are now so good that even seasoned pros with huge amp collections use them instead of the real thing. And with in-ear monitors so prevalent on stage, there’s no need to move air any more. A decade from now, a generation of guitar players and engineers may not like the sounds they hear coming from a real amplifier compared to a hardware or software emulator. Line 6 Matrix and BluGuitar Amp 1 may be the final pieces to this major transition.

Grade: A

 

Tablets

There was a lot of high hopes for the tablet to replace the laptop, but in most cases, it’s just not possible. The iPad especially is a great output device, but not so great for input. Microsoft’s Surface fares a little better, but the possibilities originally envisioned just haven’t materialized. That said, Avid’s Dock does a good job making it do what it does best.

GRADE: C

 

Smart Phones

While a good portion of the world relies on their smart phone for much more than communication, it still remains a flawed device. It’s a lot slower than a laptop (drives me crazy), and like the tablet, it’s a much better output device than input. While there are a few pro applications where it shines (tuner, bpm calculations, remote control of cue mix), it still hasn’t lived up to its potential in the professional realm.

GRADE: B

 

Virtual Reality

Everyone thought that this would be the year, and especially the Holiday, where VR took off. Too bad that’s not been the case. VR has a lot of potential, and from an audio standpoint, there are a lot of great tools being developed, so there’s hope. My feeling is that Augmented Reality (AR) will end up being the killer app though. The good news is that there should be a lot more interesting work for audio professionals based around this technology.

GRADE: B

Undoubtedly there are some things I missed in this year’s report card, and remember that the grades are strictly how I see it, but I come away generally optimistic on the direction that music tech is going. I’d say the future is bright indeed for tech in 2017.

Any additions?

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