Category Archives for "Conferences and Exhibitions"

Winter NAMM 2017 Overview – Part 3

Today is the final installment of my Winter NAMM overview, and we’ll look at a few very cool products, but mostly at the oddities of the show. As you may know, downstairs in Hall E is where the newer companies and first time exhibitors dwell – the “mad inventors” as we like to call them.As a matter of fact, there was an overflow into Hall D this year, although that was much less fun do the fact that it’s near “drum world” and therefore subject to lots of noise. This is where you’ll often find the hidden gems, and there were certainly a few there this year.

Let’s begin, again, in no particular order.

First of all, here’s the hit of the show, at least for me. It’s called the Backbone and it’s simply genius. This block of aluminum connects to the neck of a Strat or Tele via the four bolts on the back, then connects to the bridge. The sound improvement is simply amazing. It takes an already good sounding guitar and turns it into a monster. About $60, it’s non-destructive in that it doesn’t harm the instrument, and it only takes about 5 minutes to mount.

The new Line 6 Spider V 240HC head is unique in that it has both midrange and hi-frequency drivers in it. You can use it at home to play along with your favorite tracks, then when you plug it into a cabinet get some frequency extension from the tweeters.

 

 

The GaffGun is brilliant in that it makes taping down those cable runs so easy. No longer do you have to peel off an individual strip, lean over and tape it down. Just let Gaff Gun do the work for you. It’s expensive at $269, but worth it if it saves your back.

 

 

 

The new CITES regulations mean that guitar manufacturers are going to have a difficult time shipping instruments with rosewood fingerboards, but there may be a replacement for the endangered wood. Believe it or not, it’s paper.  Richlite makes glued paper that feels just like rosewood or ebony, and it’s available in multiple surfaces and colors. Really, it’s hard to tell the difference.

It thought that this Smartwinder was a good idea in that it had a tuner built into a powered string winder, until I saw the guy who was manning the booth tuning his guitar by ear.

 

 

There were effects pedals everywhere at the show, and it’s no wonder – pedal sales were way up last year. You have to do something to stand out from the crowd, as you can see from this photo. Can’t say who the company was, just that it was in Hall E.

 

Believe it or not, boomboxes are back, like this one from Elemental.

 

 

 

Just about anything can be electrified these days. I saw an electric kalimba down in E, but what really caught my eye was this electric harp.

 

 

There were also a lot of devices with the amplification built in, like this guitar. Sort of reminds you of those really old Sears guitars with the amp built into the case.

 

And finally, if you’re looking for a robotic drummer then this is for you. It’s from Polyend and it will play the skins just the way you programmed it.

There was so much more at the show, some that I documented and much that I missed, but hopefully these three posts give you a flavor of what Winter NAMM really is.

Winter NAMM 2017 Overview – Part 2

Yesterday was a lot of fun looking at some of the major items that caught my eye at NAMM, but today we’ll look at some of the other audio products. Once again, this is in no particular order.

Digigrid displayed a couple of audio interfaces called M Cube that allow you to connect to a computer and to an audio network as well. They come in single and dual channel models. The MSRP starts at $549.

 

 

 

That clever Dave Derr at Emperical Labs made a 500 series module for his wife to take on live gigs that include a preamp, EQ and compressor, all with an easy setup. It turns out the DocDerr works like a champ on other instruments as well, so here it is for the world to enjoy. It retails for $799.

Electrodyne Audio is back and showed the new Summing Station, which is a 16 channel summing mixer complete with monitoring controls and real transformers. Price is around $3k.

Speaking of summing mixers, if you really want that Neve sound, then the Heritage Audio MCM-8 or MCM-32 might be fore you. You get either 8 or 32 channels of summing through a Neve-style 1073 output stage. The 8 channel model is only about $1,300.

 

Icon Audio showed some very cool control surfaces like this Icon Platform M.  Icon’s controllers start from around $350, and can be mapped to just about any DAW.

 

Those clever boffins at OWC exhibited the DEC, an expansion chassis that screws on the bottom of your new Apple laptop and gives you back all the connectors that are missing. What’s more, there’s room for up to 4 solid state drives as well. Starts at about $300 but isn’t available yet.

 

Believe it or not, Tascam is still making some pro-level legacy players for CD, DVD, cassette and BluRay. Good to know. Tascam also showed a couple of large diaphragm mics as well. Why not? Everyone else is doing it.

 

Trident came out with a little brother to its successful Series 88 console and this is the Series 78. It has fewer features, but the same mic amps and signal path and a much lower list price as well.

 

 

If you need to easily break out some 3 phase 220v power, Whirlwind has a quick and easy way to do it with its new Powerlink.

 

 

And finally, Dynamount has finally begun shipping their robotic mic stands. They have one for every situation and start at around $279.

That’s it. Tomorrow I’ll look at some of the music-related products as well as some of the oddities spotted at the NAMM show.

 

Winter NAMM 2017 Overview – Part 1

Winter NAMM 2017Winter NAMM just ended and as usual there’s a lot to talk about. I’ll be covering the various new products and oddities over the next few days, as well as a big picture overview on my podcast.The show was generally filled with enthusiasm and everyone was feeling pretty prosperous. Hope it stays that way in the age of Trump, as things could fall apart quickly if we get into a trade war with China. Let’s dig in.

On the audio side of things, this was a show dominated by in-ear monitors. So many companies large and small are trying to get into the space (even Fender), that the future on stage amplifiers and floor monitors is looking pretty dim. I won’t even begin to touch on that here because we could spend a couple of days just on the subject, but I did see one outstanding product in the space that I’ll cover on the next New Music Gear Monday.

Let’s get into the audio products at NAMM, in no particular order. Some of them might not be exactly new, but I never spent much time looking at them before so they’re new to me.

Maag Magnum KProbably the coolest audio product that I saw was the new Maag Audio Magnum K compressor. Cliff Maag (who’s a great engineer, by the way) has been talking about this for a while, and it’s now a reality. What makes this compressor so different is that it’s really 4 units in 1. It has a standard compressor with most of the features you’d expect, which feeds into another special compressor just for the midrange, with a EQ 2 in parallel to put back the lows and highs that might be lost during compression. Finally there’s a soft limiter on the output. Sounds wonderful. It’s around $2,400 for a single channel, but no other compressor on the market does what this one will do.

I love JST plugins and Joey Sturgis has come up with a couple of great new ones. The first is Soar, which is a very realistic tape echo, and the second is Toneforge which may be the best, most intelligently laid out guitar simulator on the market. There are a lot of parameters in Toneforge that can be tweaked, but they’re all easy to get to and just make sense the way they’re presented, which can’t be said for many other similar plugs. Toneforge is available for a NAMM special of just $79. Soar will be released later in the Spring.

Lynx Aurora (n)Lynx showed its new Aurora (n) interface, which will go up to 32 channels in a single U rack mount unit, in 8 channel increments. It can be connected via USB, Dante, Pro Tools HD or Thunderbolt. The prices start at $2,799 up to about $6,600 with all the options, which is pretty good for that many channels of high quality conversion.

Apogee GrooveApogee showed a neat little device called the Groove that’s one of the best sounding computer headphone amps you’ll ever hear. It connects via USB and can handle sample rates up to 192kHz. It can be found for around $265.

 

 

 

Barefoot Footprint01On the speaker front, Barefoot Sound showed their new Footprint01’s, which sounded great. There’s so much sound coming from such a small speaker that it’s hard to believe, especially on the bottom end. They’re only around $3,400, which is a pretty good price for this quality of speaker.

 

 

 

Chandler Limited presented the new RS124 compressor, which is a reproduction of the Abbey Road version of the old Altec 436C compressor. EMI boffins did a lot of technical upgrades to the original Altec unit and rechristened it the RS124, and now you have have that same legendary sound for around $2,900. The company also showed its REDD .47 mic preamp, a reproduction from the famous Abbey Road tube consoles, which is available for around $2,300.

Speaking of tubes, Teegarden Audio presented its Fatboy DI and Magic Pre 4100 mic preamps. I love tube mic DI’s, and most bass players agree that they’re really hard to beat. This one goes for around $700.

 

 

 

Nugen Audio showed one of the coolest plugins at the show with its Mastercheck Pro. The plugin goes across your master buss and will tell you the best settings for numerous distribution sources like Youtube, Spotify, Pandora and just about anything else you can think of. Not only that, it will also send it through the appropriate codec so you can hear what your mix might sound like on the service so you can adjust accordingly. This seems like it should be a must have for today’s mixer. It’s available for $149 until the end of the month.

Warm Audio had a number of new products, starting with the updated WA-12 MKII ($469) that now has an output control and socketed chips, the WA-412 ($1,199) with 4 channels of old-style API preamps, and the WA-87 U 87 clone. At just $599 it’s hard to beat if it sounds as good in the studio as it did on the show floor.

 

Speaking of mics, EveAnna Manley revealed her new Manley Silver tube mic. It will retail for around $4,000 when it begins to ship later in the year. It falls directly between the company’s Reference Cardioid and Reference Mono Gold mics.

 

 

 

 

MOTU demonstrated some new additions to its audio interface family, as did Slate Digital with its VRS-8. The company also had a new virtual mic, the MLS-2, which is the first with a small diaphragm.

That’s it, more on NAMM tomorrow.

Outstanding Audio Software From AES 2016

Audio Software AES 2016As I said in my post yesterday, there were fewer audio software companies at AES than one might have expected. The reason is that many software companies are boutique operations with only a few employees, so taking time away from development and spending a lot of money on a show is a critical decision. When it comes down to it, it’s either exhibit at NAMM or AES, and since NAMM reaches more people, that’s the show that usually wins. That said, I did see a couple of plugins at AES that might change the way you mix.

Izotope Neutron

Izotope has always been a company on the cutting edge of audio software development, and it’s constantly coming up with new and useful plugs. The latest is Neutron, which may change the way you mix forever. Neutron does a couple of things – first, it analyzes a track and finds the EQ problems and automatically fixes them for you. Then, it will analyze multiple tracks and find where one track may be masking the other frequency-wise, and sets the EQ and compression. The company is quick to point out that the plug’s suggestions are only starting points, but that certainly performs much of the heavy lifting that sometimes takes years of experience for a mixer to achieve. Check out the video below.

The price for Neutron Standard is just $249 with a $199 introductory price.

I should also point out that I was approached by another company at the show that was in beta test for a plug that did much the same thing but with a different approach. More on that when it’s released.

Eiosis E2 De-esser

De-essers are a necessary evil in audio. We generally don’t like to use them, and when we have to, they’re sometimes finicky in setup. The Eiosis E2 de-esser takes de-essing to the next level, making it a dead-easy setup yet with plenty of flexibility to be able to tackle just about any problem area that you might have. What’s even better is that it has a dynamic EQ built in, which again makes tweaking easy, especially on a vocal. Works great on instruments as well, which isn’t the case with all de-essers. All in all, the results are some of the smoothest you’ll find from a de-esser anywhere. The Eiosis E2 is a bargain at its current sales price of $99. Check out the video below for more details.

There were certainly other fine plugin releases at AES, but these two are the ones that caught my eye.

New Gear Overview From AES 2016

aesThe AES Conference was in Los Angeles at the end of last week, and there was new gear everywhere. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much that you’d call “revolutionary” (which is the norm at gear shows these days), but there were a few things that caught my eyes and ears that I thought I’d share.

The Show

This was a pretty upbeat show in general that was fairly well attended. There was a feeling of optimism in the air and people were spending money, even on large hardware purchases like recording consoles. That said, a number of hardware manufactures didn’t show. Universal Audio, Trans Audio Group (importers for the likes of Drawmer and ATC), Audient, and and other hardware manufacturers, and a host of software companies that you normally see at NAMM didn’t exhibit.

If there was a theme to the show, it was immersive audio, and there were exhibits and demos everywhere, although this was helped by the fact that the Audio For Virtual Reality sub-conference was also held at the same time upstairs. All in all, it’s an exciting time for this side of the business, although in many ways its still the wild west, with new tools and techniques being made up as we go along. Sort of reminds me of the early days of surround sound around about 2001 or so.

The Gear

As usual, the gear that caught my eye might not be what was most popularized at the show. Something jumps out if it’s unusual in any way or I can see an immediate use in my workflow, which might not be anything like yours. With that in mind, let’s get started.

little-labs-monitor

Little Labs Monitor – High quality headphone amplifiers are big this year, and other manufacturers have jumped in the game, but I saw these little boxes everywhere at the show. What makes Monitor unique is the ability to swap input channels, listen to one side only, go to mono or invert the phase at the flip of a switch. It’s expensive at $540, but it sure does sound good.

 

dynaco-st-70xHafler-Dynaco ST-70x – For those of you who go way back in the business, you’ll appreciate the fact that Radial Engineering, who purchased both the Hafler and Dynaco brands, is reintroducing a new version of the the famed Dynaco ST-70. This was and still is a revered tube amplifier in many hi-fi circles, and it’s back once again. No idea of the price though.

 

primeacoustic isolation productsPrimAcoustic TriPad, HeadRest and CrashGuard – Speaking of Radial, the company seems to come up with something new and useful every month. Here we find three new products from its Primacoustic division that you’ll find you’ll be able to use every day in the studio. The TriPad is a mic stand isolator, HeadRest is a mic stand headphone holder, and CrashGuard is a drum mic shield to protect your precious snare drum mic from getting wacked.

manley-nu-muManley Nu Mu – Manley showed a new compressor called the Nu Mu (along with ELOP+) which takes the tube vari-mu backbone and marries it with solid state electronics. It’s around $2,500.

 

unfairchildUTA Un-Fairchild – Speaking of vari-mu, UTA’s new UnFairchild is basically a reproduction of the hard-to-find Fairchild 670 but with a lot of extra parameter control that goes way beyond a typical 670. How much? Less than $10k.

 

 

electronaut-m97Electronaut M97 – Speaking of the 670, Electronaut showed its M77 which is like a 670 on steroids (complete with NOS tubes if you want) that incorporates a Dorrough peak meter instead of VUs. Looks pretty cool at $7,777.

 

jbl-lsr705iJBL LSR705i – I’ve never heard a small speaker with a 5 woofer sound as big as the LSR705i. The low end that comes out of these little boxes defies the laws of physics somehow and the demo that I heard by Peter Chaikin and Frank Filipetti was truly outstanding. AT $687 each, they seem like a bargain until you realize that they’re passive and require an amp and DSP processor as well. That said, they’re truly impressive..

 

 

oceanway-ribbon-micsOcean Way RM1 ribbon mic – Ocean Way Audio showed off their monitors, which always sound great, but also introduced the new RM1 ribbon mic, which incorporates a newly designed pop shield so you don’t have to worry about popping the ribbon when working with a vocalist. $2,250.

 

sennheiser-ambeoSennheiser Ambeo surround mic – If you want to record immersively, B-format is the way to do it, and Sennheiser showed it’s new Ambeo mic that’s very much like a Soundfield, but a lot cheaper at $1,650.

 

 

visisonics 5/64VisiSonics 5/64 – Speaking of immersive recording, the VisiSonics 5/64 features 5 cameras and 64 microphones. What’s amazing is that it outputs 64 48/24 PCM channels over a USB connection, along with the video. A lot of money at $64k though.

 

 

 

 

rackfxRackFX – One of the most interesting things I saw at the show was a service by RackFX. In a nutshell, if you want to have your tracks processed through some analog gear that you don’t own, the service will find a studio with the gear, download your file and play it through the device, then send you the processed file back. It even has a set of robot knob twirlers that allow you to dial in the settings yourself if you want. It’s pretty out-of-the-box thinking, but we need more of that in this industry.

That’s it for hardware, tomorrow I’ll get into some of the software from the AES show.

New High-End Audio, Same Old Sound (Almost)

On Saturday I attended the The High End Audio Show in Anaheim, my first hi-fi show in probably a decade or more. Normally I don’t go to these things, but my friends at Wireworld Cable Technology (thanks Larry and David) were gracious enough to supply a ticket, so I braved the traffic (unusually bad for a Saturday) to see the latest in the world of high-end audio gear.

First let me say that the hi-fi world has changed in some ways and not in others since I last tasted it. One thing that was surprising was that the players had changed a lot, meaning most of the company names were new to me. The big thing that didn’t change was that most of them were pedaling way-overpriced gear that really didn’t sound that good.

Most of these were speakers, and many were in integrated packages complete with the amplifier and/or “controller head” where one couldn’t be used without the other. What I noticed was that most speaker manufacturers tended to concentrate on one part of the audio spectrum only. In other words, the speaker would have a lot of lows because that’s what they felt was important, or lots of highs, because high-end sparkle was their specialty. Very few had a good balance across the entire audio spectrum. Now considering that many speakers where powered by amps that were well in excess of several hundred watts (many above 1,000 watts) per channel, you’d think that they’d sound at least as good as the normal mid-priced powered speaker monitor used in the studio. That wasn’t the case though, as there were very few that I’d even consider to grace my control room, especially since the price was on average $10k and up.

Another thing that was interesting is that most company’s used a test audio source that varied between good old fashioned audio tape from a reel-to-reel tape machine, to a vinyl record played from a very hi-end turntable, to the streaming network TIDAL. I was very surprised that none used any of the 96/24 files that you can download from HDTracks, iTrax, or ProStudioMasters, which would have been the best choice in most cases.

magnetic cablesThere were 2 very intriguing companies that I spotted at the show, however. One was a company out of Canada called highfidelitycables.com which made cables that were made out magnets and waveguides (pictured to the right) with no actual wire involved. They also had a prototype speaker systme there that was equally interesting in that it didn’t use wire between  the speakers, had no crossover between the woofer and ribbon tweeter, and had an open back like a guitar amp. I have to say it actually sounded pretty good, but I’m not so sure about the “cables.”

MBL driver

The unique MBL driver

The other was the high-end audio company MBL out of Germany, which had the only speaker system at the show that I’d ever consider using in the studio, since it was absolutely stunning – the closest thing to “being there” that I ever heard! The problem was that a pair of these baby’s will set you back $256,000, but I’d have to say that if you wanted to have the absolute finest audio reproduction, this would be it (although I don’t know how well they’d hold up under normal every day production pounding – the achilles heal of all hi-fi speaker systems) The company also has less expensive speakers that run only in the tens of thousands of dollars as well, but these weren’t on display.

The speakers are built around a very cool new driver that has a lot in common with normal old-fashioned speaker technology in that it’s built around a couple of voice coils that point upwards to energize some strips of paper-thin composite material (see the figure on the left). This means that the speakers are omnidirectional. Frankly, I would’ve placed them on the sides of the listening environment instead of in the front, but that might’ve been too outside for the attendees.

Speaking of the attendees, I was surprised that the turnout was so high. I was told it was around 6,000 and I believe it based on the fact that it was difficult to find a place to park. It also wasn’t composed mainly of older rich white guys, which is what I expected. Sure there were lots of them, but there were more 20-somethings and women than I would’ve ever imagined. It’s a good sign that more people are into audio quality, although they might not being getting their money’s worth thanks to the many $100k+ plus systems on display.

In the end, I’m glad I braved the traffic to attend the T.H.E. Show, but I think I’m good for another 10 years now.