2002 - Mike Rivers – Useful Audio Stuff

2002 - Mike Rivers – Useful Audio Stuff

AES Show Report – October 2002

Mike Rivers

Copyright 2002

Los Angeles, California

A year has gone by since the post-9/11 show of 2001, and the industry is still not quite running on all cylinders. There were a lot of comments about this being a small show (the aisle numbering started at 1100 rather than 100, thanks to movable walls in the Los Angeles Convention Center), but there was still a lot going on. Like most shows in recent years, this was one of evolution rather than revolution, but in a productive way. We’re all using digital audio in some form or another now, and while sample rates continue to rise and make last year’s models obsolete, things seem to be leveling off as DVD standards get closer to being real. The flurry of “me, too” Chinese microphones has slowed, and the new microphone companies are demonstrating that they’ve learned something beyond the selling. Let’s take a look.

Microphones

Soundelux introduced the new “I” series, an interesting concept in multiapplication mics. The ifet7 is based on the German-made capsule that’s been used in other “47” style Soundelux mics, but the innovation is that the ifet7 contains two independent sets of electronics, one giving it the characteristics of a classic U47 – high SPL capability, a bit of roll-off on the top end, and the kind of sound people like for kick drums, amplifiers, and some otherwise untameable vocals. Throw a switch and the other set of electronics comes into play offering the coloration and more open top end of a U87. Electronics are solid state, with transformer coupling. It’s like getting two characteristically different vintage mic sounds in one case, at about half the price of either. http://www.soundelux.com

Brauner, known for their high quality hand made tube condenser mics, introduced their first microphone with solid state electronics, the Phantom C. This model is optimized for voice applications, with a distinct proximity effect and highmid response tailored to reduce sibilance. Build quality hasn’t been compromised, but the FET electronics, eliminating the need for an external high voltage power supply, has helped bring the Brauner sound and quality into the range of affordability for more studios - $1380 MSRP. The Phantom C comes complete with a shock mount and carrying case. http://www.braunerusa.com/phantomC.html

Hardly a year goes by these days without Shure releasing a new microphone, and this year is no exception. Previous years have brought new large capsule condenser mics from Shure, but this year, we saw three new small diaphragm condensers. The KSM141 and KSM137 are two versions of the same basic capsule. The KSM137 is a cardioid, while the KSM141 puts the same capsule

into a head assembly with a mechanically operated shutter. Turning a ring around the head raises an internal baffle which closes off the rear port, turning the cardioid into an omni. Both these models have a switchable 15/25 dB pad and a three position bass rolloff switch. The dual pattern KSM141 lists for $770 and the single pattern KSM137 is $575. Case, clip, and windscreen are included.

Both are available packaged as a pair for double the single price. The KSM109 is what they call their “value engineered” version in the series. It’s a cardioid with a switchable 10 dB pad listing at $305. http://www.shure.com/microphones/recording/ksm/default.asp

Seems like everyone who had anything at the show to say about microphones mentioned the new company Telefunken North America. Early Neumann and

AKG mics sold under the Telefunken brand have become legendary, and the now rare Ela (Elektroacoustic) 251 has been replicated by Soundelux as the

ELAM-251. A couple of guys down the road from Taylor Johnson (builder of the

T. H. E. mics) who have been repairing, restoring, and distributing high quality mics for a while decided to jump in with all four feet, purchased the Telefunken name and trademark, and went to work building brand new mics with the care and process of the original models. Wherever possible, they obtained parts and materials from the original suppliers, reverse engineering everything else.

Workmanship is top quality and those who have had a critical listen have reported that the sound of the vintage originals is there. Currently there are two models, the Ela-M 251, one of the highest priced and most sought after vintage microphones. The second model, the CM47 “CineMike” is a recreation of the work of Hollywood engineer Stanley Church, who custom-built a set of microphones based on the Neumann M7 capsule used in the U47 and U49 microphones of the time. The new version uses a German made capsule but everything else is hand made in the USA. While the 251 is essentially an exact copy of the original Ela microphone, the CM47 takes Mr. Church’s work a bit further with an improved power supply which includes a remote pattern switch.

Price is “less than vintage”. http://www.telefunkenusa.com

AKG introduced a special edition C414B-ULS/SE set with the classic nickel finish of the C414EB produced between 1976 and 1986. The capsule is the latest version of the CK-12 capsule which is used in the current C12VR and C414B-

TLII microphones, but the SE set has the vintage look. The C414B-ULS/SE is packaged as a pair of computer-matched microphones with windscreens, suspension mounts, and a stereo mounting bar, packed in a hard case. List price is $2100. Also new from AKG is their Mic Check CD, an interactive CD (it can be played as an audio CD also) which includes 89 listening examples of an intelligent selection of microphones on sources for which they’re appropriate.

With this CD, you can audition several different AKG mics on a particular instrument or voice. Other than a full mix, everything here was recorded flat

(though of course under excellent conditions). Playing the Quicktime interactive section of the disk allows you to hear and read comments from the sessions. It’ll be available soon through http://www.akgusa.com

Ribbon microphones have long been a favorite tool of those in the know, and in recent years, Royer and AEA have brought us new models and introduced the sound of the ribbon mic to a new generation of engineers. At last year’s show,

Royer was kicking around the idea of an active ribbon mic, and now the R-122 is shipping. By building a phantom powered preamp into the microphone body, the mic’s sensitivity (output voltage for a given SPL) is comparable to that of condenser mic. In addition, since ribbon mics tend to be more affected by preamp input characteristics than other types of mics, presenting the microphone element with a known load makes their performance much more consistent from system to system. http://www.royerusa.com/activemics.html

A couple of years ago, Wes Dooley introduced his highly successful recreation of the RCA 44, the AEA R44C. This is for all practical purposes a newly build RCA

44, with just the updates that have kept them working all these years. Kind of under the counter this year was the R78, a mic that’s to the RCA 77DX what the

R44 is to the RCA 44. These are brand new vintage mics at pretty close to the vintage prices, because they’re all hand built using the same designs and manufacturing processes that were originally used. Some the folks who build some of the mechanical parts for Wes have suggested ways to manufacture them at lower cost, but he’s stayed the course until now because he wanted to make his mics just like the originals. Well, he turned them loose and the result is the brand new R84, a large ribbon microphone suitable for a wide range of instruments and voices. The R84 utilizes a large, low tension, low resonant frequency ribbon in a rather plain looking tubular case, but the good news is that this new mic retails for $999 and provides the sound of a classic ribbon to those who couldn’t afford a classic. One of the AES’s historical programs this year was a recreation of a radio broadcast of the Lux Radio Theater of the Air’s production of The Jazz Singer, and a couple of Wes’s new and old mics were up there along with some vintage models. They had all the warmth and clarity without the hum. http://www.wesdooley.com

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Preamps, Channel Strips, and Direct Boxes

What good is a mic without a preamp? The preamp-of-the-month club seems to have settled into the same comfort level as the mic-of-the-month, but this show saw the introduction of Speck Electronics’ new MicPre 5.0, a single channel halfrack preamp which can stand alone or which makes a nice channel strip (mic preamp plus) when combined with Speck’s ASC equalizer. Vince likes ribbon mics, so the 5.0 has plenty of gain as well as plenty of range – 5 dB steps from

20 to 60 dB, a 20 dB pad, plus a –10 to +10 dB trim. A 50 kOhm DI input, phantom power switch, and polarity switch (it’s marked “phase” – BOO!!) and a high pass filter that’s continuously variable from 30 to 250 Hz complete the conventional set of controls. The output is balanced of course, and with the press of a button on the front panel, you can select transformer balanced or active

(transformerless) output. A ten-step LED meter indicates level and a Mute button turns off the output. A unique feature of the MicPre 5.0 is the Mix Node. It’s a mono preamp, so what do you do with the left and right outputs in addition to the main (mono) output? You use the pan and level controls on the front panel, and you can stack up a number of these units, interconnected by an RJ-45 type cable. This is handy for stereo monitoring when recording direct, one mic per track. The MicPre 5.0 has an internal power supply, and there’s an auxiliary DC output connector that can power an ASC equalizer, eliminating the ASC’s line lump power supply. Speck has long been known for very clear and transparent signal quality and this is no exception. Class A discrete transistor front end, IC’s in the middle, and your choice of a transformerless or transformer-warmed output make it a really flexible unit. Price is $895 direct, more info at http://www.speck.com/mp50/mp50.shtml

Even though Dan Kennedy forgot to bring me my chocolate bribe, I’ll mention that the new Great River Electronics MP-1NV preamp was on display. This is a single channel half-rack sized version of the MP-2NV “vintage colored” two channel preamp introduced last year. Half the preamp at half the price plus a hundred bucks, ($1299) a good deal for a neat sound if you only need one channel. http://www.greatriverelectronics.com

Ex-Trident designer Malcolm Toft is back in the design business and has produced two new Toft Audio Design units. The ATC-2 is a dual-channel 2 rackspace mic preamp, FET compressor, and four-band equalizer with two sweepable mid bands, shelving high and low bands with switchable corner frequency, and a separate 50 Hz low cut filter. A meter on each channel indicates either output level or gain reduction, and the two compressor sections can be linked for stereo operation. Of course there’s the obligatory instrument DI input on each channel. The ATC is a single rack space dual channel mic preamp and equalizer, pretty much an ATC-2 without the compressor. Both units have line level inputs so they can be used with outboard mic preamps or in line with recorder returns for mixdown. Info at http://www.toftaudiodesigns.com

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Toft’s buddy at Trident, John Oram, added the S4 single channel strip to the line of Trident Audio modular console products. It consists of a mic preamp and high/low cut filters based on the Trident TSM circuitry, an equalizer based on the

Trident Series 80, and Oram’s own Sonicomp compressor. http://www.tridentaudio.co.uk

Universal Audio has combined their 610B mic preamp and 1176LN compressor/limiter into a single channel 2 rack space channel strip, the 6176.

Everything on the individual units is right here, with the controls of the compressor slightly compressed to fit it into half a rack width. The ratio buttons have been replaced by a single rotary switch with one position for Bypass and one position marked “ALL”, the equivalent of pressing all of the compression ratio buttons on a conventional 1176. The “All button trick” has finally been put on a knob! http://www.uaudio.com

What’s an AES show without a few tubes? And what’s a Drawmer without a tube? The Drawmer Tubestation One (TS-1) is a single channel Class A mic preamp followed by a stereo compressor. Unusual, but unusually clever. When tracking, you can configure it so that one channel of the compressor takes its input directly from the mic preamp output (you can bypass it if you insist) to add smooth compressor to the mic signal. A Tube Drive control adjusts the amount of tube distortion. For mixdown, you can feed both channels of the compressor directly from the line inputs. They’ll work independently, or you can link them for stereo operation. The Tubestation 2 (TS-2) is a dual compressor modeled after the soft knee compressor in the Drawmer 1969. The two channels can be independent or linked for stereo. The Tubestations are available with an optional

A/D converter and digital output. $749 each or $999 with the digital output. http://www.drawmerusa.com

Last but not least in this category we have the Millennia Media direct box.

Underneath that sophisticated purist recording and winemaking persona, John

LaGrou is a guitar player, and this is his ultimate direct box. Built like a tank (but in my opinion far too nice to put on the floor where it can get dirty and kicked about), this has more features than you can shake a whammy bar at. First, it’s based on Millenia’s Twin Topology, so with the push of a button you get the choice of a FET or tube front end. Switchable input impedance from 20 K to

2 Megohms covers the range from active electronics to piezoelectric pickups and lets you try different loadings for the best sound. A two band fully parametric equalizer follows, and then there’s a transformer coupled output. A line input connector allows you to turn the box around for re-amping, but with an interesting twist. There are two instrument-level outputs on ¼” jacks. These are fed from two separate transformers with different output impedances. One is presents the instrument amplifier with the source impedance of a Les Paul pickup, the other looks to the amplifier like a Strat. This lets the amplifier input “see” the inductance of a pickup rather than a generic transformer or low impedance output. Pretty

cool, and I’ll bet it makes a difference. No info yet, but check http://www.mil-media.com

Signal Processors and Effects

There’s always a heap of these and nobody can possibly address them all other than with a pile of press releases, and you’ll read those in the magazines and web sites. Here are a couple that were standouts for me:

Crane Song’s Ibis is a dual four-band Class A equalizer that gives “musical EQ” a new meaning. Each of its four bands has switch-selectable frequencies that are centered on the notes of the musical scale from 32 Hz C to 22.35 kHz F. The bands are labeled with note names as well as frequency so a musician can more easily relate to the operation of an equalizer. The bandwidth controls are calibrated from 0.1 to 4 octaves. Like most Crane Song products, the Ibis includes an adjustable “color” control which can operate broadband or within any of the four frequency ranges. Price is $4,500, info at http://www.cranesong.com/ibis.html

The Fairchild 670 mastering limiter has risen from the junkpile into the “absurdly unaffordable” category in recent years, prompting a few sound-alikes and a couple of build-it-yourself articles. Anthony DeMaria Labs (ADL) now brings us the ADL670, a perfect copy of the original at about half the going price of a used one. Two modules fit side by side in a rack with a separate power supply below, about 90 pounds total, made up of 20 tubes, 14 transformers, and no ICs. If you know what a 670 is, you probably know whether you need one or not. Since an original is nearly impossible to find, you might as well get a brand new one with a warrant, hand built in the US by a company with a lot of tube experience. http://www.anthonydemarialabs.com

Lexicon has introduced a stereo version of the popular 960L multi-channel effects processor. The 960LS brings the algorithms of the 960L to the users who have no need for multi-channel surround processing functions or digital I/O. The

960LS is an 8-channel unit which can be configured as four stereo units at 48 kHz or two stereo units at 96 kHz. Digital I/O, a second DSP card, and additional algorithms can be added when desired, allowing the LS to be upgraded to a full

960L. While not inexpensive, this opens up the 960 functionality and sound to facilities that only work in stereo, and give the live sound folks an opportunity to get into the 960 without paying for features that they won’t use. http://www.lexicon.com

Princeton Digital is a new company, and their first product is the Reverb 2016, a functional replacement, warts and all, for the Eventide 2016 digital reverb processor. It’s not a multi-effects box, it’s a straightforward reverb with algorithms identical to those used in the original Eventide unit (Stereo Room, Room Reverb, and High Density Plate), a unit that’s still in demand even though it’s long been

out of production and beyond factory support. While the math is vintage, the electronics are state-of-the-art 24-bit hardware, with dedicated, clearly labeled controls. Well, there’s one new algorithm (labeled “New”) with more early reflections and higher density reverberation, for those who wished they could squeeze just a little bit more out of an Eventide 2016. If you have an Eventide

2016 and your maintenance engineer is whishing he didn’t have to fix it any more, this unit’s for you. http://www.princetondigital.com

Plugzilla from Manifold Labs is the industry’s first stand-alone plug-in player.

Believer it or not, there are still some people who don’t do all of their audio processing in a computer, but they secretly drool over some of the plug-in processing power available to the mousers. Plugzilla allows you to convert plugins to hardware that can be patched into a mixing chain. The hardware has two independent four-channel machines, so as many as eight plug-ins can run simultaneously. A front panel LCD and knobs allow you to adjust the parameters of the plug-in, and settings can be saved to internal or external flash memory.

There are some limitations of course – you can use only as many instances of a plug-in as the box has gozintas and gozoutas, unlike using it with a DAW where you can open it on channel after channel until you run out of horsepower. On the positive side, the Plugzilla will always run what you expect it to run. Some issues of copy protection need to be resolved before this one is ready for the street, but it’s an interesting idea. Keep up to date at http://www.plugzilla.com

Mixers

The usual suspects were there, and it was refreshing to see a new large analog

24-track studio console, the Audient ASP-8024. It’s a very clean looking, uncluttered console, and since it’s distributed by the ATI group which also handles API, it’s in good company. Available in sizes from 24 to 60 channels, it can be fitted with Uptown automation. In-line monitor design, of course. http://www.audient.com

On a smaller scale, we have the S100 from Trident Audio. This is an 8-channel

6-bus rack mountable or free standing mixer with 3 band EQ and 5 auxiliary sends (3 post, 2 pre), solo, pan, and level controls on each channel. Each channel has a mic or three line inputs so that mics, line level sources, and recorder returns can be connected and selected by a switch. This could be a useful mixer for those who prefer analog mixing, but want the power of a digital audio workstation. http://www.tridentaudio.co.uk

Got a Sony DMX-R100 mixer that you want to use for live sound or remote recording but want to get away from a long mic snake? The Sony SIU-100 is a remote input box that connects to the mixer via the MADI interface, allowing a single cable run of up to 300 meters, for up to 48 channels. The SIU-100 chassis provides slots for eight I/O boards – a basic configuration for live sound might be three 8-channel mic preamp cards and one 8-channel line output card, but digital

I/O cards as well a channel insert card are also available. Front panel controls set the routing for each slot, and the entire unit is remote controllable from a PC via an Ethernet cable. An accessory remote controller, the SIU-RM101 allows remote control of preamp gain, phantom power switching, and insertion of a

30 dB pad. Up to 8 preamp cards can be controlled from a single remote, or if knob-per-channel control is desired, up to 8 RM101’s can be cascaded. For mission critical applications, the unit is available with redundant power supplies as the SIU-100T. Information some time in the future at http://www.sony.com/proaudio

Yamaha was showing their brand new DM1000 small format digital mixer.

Looking like something between the 01V and 03R (and not clearly replacing either, at this point anyway), it shares a lot with the DM2000 and 02R96, providing 48 channels of full 96 kHz 24-bit audio mixing capability with dynamics and effects on every channel. The basic mixer is designed as a rack mount unit, with a meter bridge and side trim panels optional, making a nice desktop unit.

Basic I/O is 16 mic/line inputs, 4 line-only inputs, and 12 analog XLR outputs.

Additional digital inputs are available through two YGDAI card slots for ADAT

Lightpipe, TDIF, AES/EBU, or analog expansion. 16 channel faders and a master can be switched to any of the 48 inputs. The faders are touch-sensitive and automation is fully integrated, including a cute little built-in joystick for surround panning. Full transport controls are said to integrate fully with ProTools, Nuendo, and Logic Audio as well as stand-alone hard disk recorders. The basic console is

$5,000, the meter bridge is $900, and the side panels (genuine wood) are $300 for the pair. http://www.yamaha.com/proaudio

Recorders

It was amusing to watch people study the Studer A827 standing all on its lonesome in the Studer booth. It might be the first and last time they’ll ever see a

2” analog recorder. But there were more than a few digital recorders there too.

Here are some of the more interesting ones:

Fostex has always been active in the field of professional portable recorders for the film and broadcast field. The PD-6 DVD Location Recorder is their latest entry. It records up to 6 tracks of industry standard BWF files directly to the small size DVD-RAM disks. Optional SDII and AIFF formats are planned as future options. It includes what amounts to a basic multitrack console with a 6-channel mixer for the inputs, and a 6 channel mixer for multitrack monitoring and mixdown. There’s a built-in time code generator and reader, a telephone keypad style keyboard for alphanumeric entry to identify takes and recordings, and a built-in slate mic and tone generator makes it easy to aurally identify takes.

Sample rate is up to 96 kHz for 2-track recording and 48 kHz for up to 6 tracks.

Last year Fostex released the DV40 DVD stereo master recorder, and an option is now available for the DV40 to allow it to play 6-track recordings made on the

PD-6. In addition, files from the PD-6 can be imported directly into Avid Film

Composer, including information such as scene and take number, reel number, event, etc. http://www.fostexdvd.net

The HHB Portadrive is a portable 8-track hard disk recorder that records either

AES31 (Broadcast WAV) or ProTools Sound Designer II formats on a removable

2-1/2” drive. Six multi-function rotary encoder knobs on the front panel operate the mixer controls as well as other functions corresponding to labels in an LCD panel above the controls. The top panel contains a larger LCD with a multiplicity of setup menus. This isn’t a push-Record-and-go recorder, but setups can be saved to minimize the number of things a field recordist needs to know. For emergencies, a default setup assures that something gets recorded and you can sort it out later. There are six mic/line analog inputs, a SPDIF coax stereo input, and an 8-channel AES/EBU input on a DB-25 connector. There are four XLR analog outputs, one AES/EBU XLR output, and 4 AES/EBU output pairs on the

DB-25 connector. A SCSI port allows backup to an external device such as a

DVD, and Ethernet and USB ports provide a connection for direct file transfer to a computer or network. Like the Fostex PD-6, this is tailored for film sound recording but lends itself well to location surround or straightforward multitrack recording also. http://www.hhb.co.uk

I’ve been hoping for a hard disk replacement for my portable DAT recorder and, while it’s not exactly what I was dreaming about, the Sonifex Courier might come close. This one isn’t new for the show, but it was new to me since this year I was tuned in to this sort of product. It’s a portable 2-track recorder that records in linear PCM (WAV) or MP3 formats. Recording media is a PCMCIA card, which can be either flash memory or a hard disk. This unit is designed for the broadcast industry, so it interfaces with devices that get your audio out of the recorder and back to the studio as well as to a local computer. A jog wheel, graphic LCD, and some editing controls allow you to do cut/paste editing in the field without resorting to a computer, and it will connect to a modem, a mobile phone, or even a telephone hybrid or ISDN codec. Battery life is often a problem in the field, and the Courier has an internal battery that takes over when you remove the main battery, allowing you to hot-swap batteries without interrupting your recording. http://www.sonifex.co.uk/courier/index.shtml

There were two new approaches to 2-track master recorders, DSD from Mytek and 96 kHz PCM from ESI. Both of these units are similar in concept – a front end with analog (and optional digital) inputs and outputs, a set of transport controls, and a hard drive. Looks and feels like a stereo tape deck, records on hard disk. What could be simpler? The Mytek Digital D-Master DSD recorder records to any SCSI or IDE (with optional adapter) drive from an analog source using Mytek’s high grade converters. The goal of this recorder is to replace the ½” analog mastering recorder. Since this is DSD, it doesn’t accept standard PCM digital input, but an optional daughterboard provides downconversion to all the standard PCM formats. http://www.mytekdigital.com

ESI (the WAMI Rack folks) introduced the M-Fire MF9600 2 track 24-bit 96 kHz capable DVD recorder for stereo mixdown. It supports uncompressed audio in a modified DVD-V format known as DVD2496, which allows disks to be played on any standard DVD player. It will also record to CDR’s and CDRW’s in standard

44.1 kHz 16-bit format. It has analog inputs and outputs as well as S/PDIF coax and AES/EBU digital I/O. What’s not clear to me is whether the recorded format is suitable for transferring to a mastering lab’s workstation without playing in a

DVD player and making a real-time transfer. I didn’t get all the details, but if you’re interested in this, follow the developments on the web site. This is apparently a new format which I guess they’re hoping will become a standard.

Heck, the recorder’s only $1995, a whole lot less than a ½” Ampex ATR-100

(which also has only analog I/O). Info on the M-Fire recorder at http://www.esi-pro.com

, and on the DVD2496 format at http://www.dvd2496.org

.

Finally, for the tape head tubeheads, perhaps the worlds best tape head preamps from Manley Labs were on display at the JRF Magnetic Sciences booth.

These are single channel preamps with vernier controls on the front panel to trim equalization. Two channels come with a separate dual power supply and the preamps can be ordered with an input impedance to match any heads. This is for the mastering room that has everything else. http://www.jrfmagnetics.com

and http://www.manleylabs.com

Monitoring Stuff

You can’t record good if you can’t hear good (at least you shouldn’t), so here are some hearing aids. Surround sound is a hot topic these days, but most consoles haven’t caught up and there’s usually some kludge involved in monitoring in a surround format with the console that was perfectly good last year. Generally the way it’s done is that instead of channels being assigned to the left-right bus, they’re assigned to subgroup busses, and you monitor those busses. This usually involves reconnecting your main left and right monitors to different outputs, as well as connecting the surround speakers to places where you might normally have your recorder inputs connected. Then you have to figure out how to control the volume. Confusing. There are several devices on the market which help you to manage this. Martinsound was probably first on the scene with their

MultiMAX, and this year they introduced the Multimax EXR, a lower cost version.

Connect it between your console’s surround outputs and speakers (or power amplifiers) and you can control the overall monitor volume, mute any speakers, configure for two, three, or five front channels, with two, three, or four surround channels as well as calibrate the SPL of your speakers.

A similar unit, the model 51A was shown by a new company, Bader. This one is designed specifically to integrate with Digidesign’s Pro Control, to integrate stereo cue monitoring along with multichannel surround monitoring. TASCAM has another entry in the field. Their DS-M7.1 supports formats from LCRS up to

7.1, including 5.1 and 6.1, and it can downmix to L/R from any surround format.

Standard inputs to the DS-M7.1 are digital from the console and/or multi-channel mixdown recorder, and monitor outputs are analog or AES/EBU. Further info at: http://www.martinsound.com

http://www.baderllc.com

http://www.tascam.com

With today’s complex sessions, everyone wants a different headphone mix.

There have been a number of studio cue systems that allow you to send several

“stems” or submixes (or even solos) to the studio, and allow each player to create a custom mix for his own phones. New on this scene is Hear

Technologies, debuting the Hear Back system. The Hear Back Mixer is a personal monitor mix controller allowing control of a stereo mix plus six mono

“more me” sources. It’s small enough to be mounted on a mic stand. Outputs are two ¼” and one 1/8” headphone jacks, and two balanced TRS line outputs. While I think of this as primarily a studio system, there’s no reason it can’t be used on stage, with the ¼” outputs driving powered monitors or passive monitors through on-stage power amplifiers.

Mixer input comes from the Hear Back Hub on a single Cat 5 Ethernet cable which provides both audio and power. The Hear Back Hub has 8 audio inputs, either analog or ADAT Lightpipe, or it can be fed from another hub for daisychaining. Each hub can supply up to eight mixers. Since the Ethernet cable can run at least 100 feet, a potential application is distribution of multi-channel audio to remote locations in a building such as a church. The hub is $499, the mixer

$199, and four- and eight-packs are available for the price of the hub and mixers with a 50 foot cable for each mixer included at no charge. http://www.heartechnologies.com

Another “hearing aid” from Hear Technologies is the Talk Back. Available in two models, the 200 and the 600, these units connect in line with cue or monitor outputs from the console and mix a microphone with the source. There’s also a

“dim” function which drops the level to the control room monitor when the talkback mic is engaged to avoid feedback. The 200 accommodates two stereo feeds, the 600 accommodates six mono feeds. In addition, the 600 allows you to switch between two control room monitor systems (the big ones and the little ones) and has optional wired and wireless remote controllers. The Model 200 is

$299, the 600 is $499. http://www.heartechnologies.com

ADAM control room monitor speakers have been around for a while, but this year, David Bryce took over distribution and finally got the product line so that it’s available in the US. These are really smooth sounding speakers, with all but the subwoofers featuring an accordion-pleated ribbon high frequency driver that’s much more linear than the typical dome tweeter and can handle more power.

Nearly everyone (including me) who’s heard them has been impressed. New this year is the MP-1, a powered tower configuration that’s designed to go in a

mastering room. It has a side-firing 12” woofer, a pair of ceramic cone low midrange drivers, and ribbon mid-range and tweeter. http://www.adam-audio.com

A/D, D/A, and Other Digital Interfaces

Universal Audio has two sides (two brothers, actually), the vintage analog side that we know for their faithful recreation of vintage compressors and microphone amplifiers, and the digital side that we know for their DSP cards and software plug-ins. The two branches have joined forces to produce the 2192 two channel

D/A and A/D converter. It supports sample rates up to 192 kHz, and has interfaces for AES/EBU (single and double wire configurations for high sample rates), S/PDIF, and ADAT Lightpipe (S-MUX interleaving for high sample rates), with outputs active simultaneously. Since this converter comes from a company that specializes in Class A analog designs, extra care has been taken on the analog sides of the interface so a good converter design isn’t compromised by mediocre front and back ends. The price hasn’t been announced, but watch http://www.uaudio.com

Aphex has been in the digital and analog worlds for quite some time now, so it’s no surprised that they’ve introduced a new A/D and D/A converter. The major selling point of their new model 212 is automatic compensation for DC offset in the A/D converter and jitter stabilization (they describe it as “asynchronous conversion”) on the D/A side. Sample rates up to 96 kHz are supported, and the

24-bit A/D converter can be set from the front panel for dithering with or without noise shaping at the 20, 18, or 16-bit word length. Analog I/O is balanced on both

XLR and ¼” TRS connectors with operating level selectable between +4 dBu and –

10 dBV. Digital inputs are AES3 (XLR) or S/PDIF optical and coax, with single and double wire AES3, S/PDIF optical and coax outputs. There doesn’t seem to be a standard for word clock level, so the 212 provides a switchable word clock output level to accommodate both internally terminated and unterminated inputs.

There’s a built in headphone amplifier with its own high resolution D/A converter so that you can monitor the converter’s analog output (normal operation) or monitor the digital output after sample rate, word length, and dither settings.

Retail price is $995. Info (so far just a press release) at http://www.aphex.com

The Prism Sound Dream ADA-8 A/D/A converter has been around for some time now, and is popular with Pro Tools users (among others) who want a premium sounding converter to replace the Digidesign hardware. At this show, Prism introduced a new interface card for their ADA-8 which allows it to be connected directly to the new Pro Tools HD interface card. If you’re presently using a Mix24 system with a Dream converter, upgrading to 96 kHz requires only installing the new card in your present converter and replacing the Mix24 card with an HD card. http://www.prismsound.com

Lynx Studio Technology makes some really great sounding sound cards. I have one myself. At this show, they introduced two new expansion cards for the

LynxTWO and L22 I/O cards. The LS-ADAT is a PCI card that contains two

ADAT Lightpipe I/O ports providing 16 channels at 48 kHz, 8 channels at 96 kHz, and 4 channels of I/O using the S-MUX format for the higher sample rates. The card also provides an ADAT sync port for sample-accurate transfer between an

ADAT (or Alesis HD24 or possibly a Mackie SDR24/96 when they get the ADAT sync implemented on that model) and a DAW. The LS-AES is a similar card with four AES/EBU I/O ports providing up to 8 channels up to 96 kHz (single wire) or four channels at 192 kHz (double wire). The cards plug into the computer’s PCI bus for power and connect to the LynxTWO or L22 with an internal cable. Up to two expansion cards can be connected to a base card. http://www.lynxstudio.com

Newest in the Mobile I/O line of Firewire interfaces from Metric Halo is the

ULN-2, an ultra high quality two-channel I/O interface. The two ultra low noise

(ULN – get it?) mic inputs provide up to 73 dB of gain, phantom power, polarity switch, and direct outputs for true no-latency analog monitoring. In addition, each channel has an insert send and return which can be used for patching an external equalizer, de-esser, or compressor/limiter into the recording path.

AES/EBU, S/PDIF coax, and ADAT Lightpipe inputs and outputs are also provided. Analog output is balanced, on ¼” TRS jacks. There’s a separate control room monitor output with a front panel volume control, as well as a front panel headphone output with independent volume control. An extensive routing matrix and internal low latency mixer (controlled by the connected computer) allows you to mix the input with the playback for overdubbing. The ULN-2 teams with the multi-channel Mobile I/O 2882 for a couple of extra high quality inputs. http://www.mhlabs.com

Software Stuff

I must apologize here. This is of nearly zero interest to me because I only use my computer for 2-track editing. Since Magix hasn’t yet brought me the $500 version of Sequoia that I’m dreaming about, I really haven’t kept up with this side of the world, but continue to use recorders that whir and plug-ins that have cables attached.

Anyone who’s following multitrack production software surely knows of Nuendo and the successful impact it’s had on the industry. Just about everyone who needs a sophisticated DAW system and doesn’t need to have Pro Tools in order to attract or support business has been tickled with the power and open architecture of Nuendo. Now there’s Version 2 with full surround capabilities up to 10.2 format, more networking options, and a new mix engine. One of the key features for me (if I used this sort of thing) is the ability to keep track of plug-in throughput delay and adjust the “unplugged” channels automatically to keep things in line. Steinberg has also been working with Euphonix quite a bit these days. They had a Euphonix console connected to a Nuendo system at the show for those who want real hands-on control and a console feel and sound, and they

have a packaged transfer station (based on a computer with Nuendo) for translating the Euphonix R1 recorder files to AES31 format, retaining edits, cross-fades, and time-stamped punches and overdubs so that a project can be seamlessly moved from an R1 in the tracking phase to Nuendo (or any other

DAW that supports AES31 as completely as Nuendo) for tweaking and mixing. http://www.steinberg.net

for the latest developments as they happen.

Kind of like Plugzilla only bring-your-own-computer is Universal Audio’s new

UAD-8 I/O. This is a version of their UAD-1 powered plug-in DSP card with ADAT

Lightpipe I/O added. With the card and appropriate plug-ins, you can turn that old

PC that’s gathering dust in the corner into a stand-alone signal processor which you can connect to other equipment, including other analog equipment with the appropriate Lightpipe A/D/A converters. Along with this card, UA announced

Version 3 software for the UAD-1 series which supports multiple cards, as well as a new equalizer plug-in, Cambridge. Cambridge is the first UAD-1 plug-in that’s being sold separately from the card, perhaps a predictor of things to come. This line is being marketed by Mackie, so check http://www.mackie.com/virtualstudio/index.html

Crane Song, who’s been combining digital technology with analog hardware for a while now has introduced their first all software product, Phoenix. This is a TDM plug-in for analog tape modeling, something which designer Dave Hill has incorporated into several of his hardware devices. Phoenix models analog tape compression which adds realism missing in modeled soft synths or samplers.

The plug-in offers five variations on the model. http://www.cranesong.com

A couple of interesting business notes. Edirol is a division of Roland that makes a rather complete line of computer audio, MIDI, and video controller interfaces, but their distribution in the US has been rather weak. At this show, Roland US has announced that it is not distribution this line, so you can now get all the Roland music products from a single source.

How many times have you read that such-and-such hardware is only recommended or supported on Intel hardware? ESI, who make very economical computer audio I/O interfaces, has announced a collaborative effort with AMD to fully exploit the capabilities of the Athlon processors, which many DAW builders have found to be superior to Intel in many respects. It’s good to see someone who clearly supports the other side of the fence.

Hands On

Control surfaces have been a popular addition to computer based recording and mixing systems. People have finally realized that they can mix better with their hands on knobs, and there are plenty of knobs available to twiddle now, from simple fader and switch boxes to fully functional consoles that can double as

controllers for a software program. TASCAM’s latest software for the DM-24 console provides full control of Pro Tools.

Mackie has expanded their line of hardware controllers by expanding the compatibility of the Mackie Control from Logic (it was initially introduced as an accessory to e-Magic’s Logic) to just about every other DAW program. A smaller version, Baby HUI, provides 8 short touch-sensitive faders and assignable rotary controllers as well as track arming and transport control through MIDI. It’s currently configured for Pro Tools, Digital Performer, Digidesign 001 and M-Box,

Nuendo, and of course Mackie’s own Soundscape line.

JLCooper was the pioneer in control surfaces, having been in the business when there was a demand for controlling MIDI sequencers. They’ve been conspicuous by their absence at trade shows over the past several years, but they were here with two new control surfaces, one large and one small. The small one was the most interesting, being just slightly larger than palm size (it doesn’t take up any more desk space than a mouse pad) but it has 32 dedicated channel faders and three knobs associated with each fader for controlling panning, auxiliary sends, or plug-in parameters. In addition, there’s a complete transport control section including a jog/shuttle wheel, and a small meter bridge. It even has a jack for plugging in an assignable foot switch. It’s available with a MIDI, USB, or RS-232 interface. Check out the CS-32 at http://www.jlcooper.com

but not yet.

My Awards – Cool Stuff I Wish I Had

My award for the most beautiful product at the show (excluding the models at the

Gibson booth) goes to SPL for their MMC1 surround mastering console. I don’t need it, I didn’t even have to ask how much it cost, but geez was it beautiful.

What it does is routes 8-channel inputs to outputs with two huge multi-channel rotary level controls which track to 0.1 dB accuracy. Both analog and digital metering are provided, as well as an RTW surround vectorscope. It has relay controlled patch points for external equipment, and you can store and recall insert combinations. SPL’s 120 volt op-amp technology is used throughout for an amazing 34 dB of headroom. While it’s available in 29 colors, I really liked the gold that was on display. This is just beautiful and if I wanted to have a surround project mastered, I’d be happy to have it mastered in a facility that had one of these. http://soundperformancelab.com/MMC1/in_detail.html

Something that’s just darn clever and I must have a few for my workbench is the

LPA-1 D-sub adapter from A Designs. It’s a D-subminiature connector (9, 15, and

25 pin versions are available) mounted on a piece of circuit board material with

Phoenix screw terminals along each edge. How many times have you brought something into the shop that has a DB-25 connector for audio input or output and you want to hook up just one or two channels to your generator or scope? I don’t know how many times I’ve soldered up a piece of cable to a connector from the junk box. Now I won’t have to – I can just clip right on to the terminals, or attach a

piece of cable if I want to make something that will work for more than a few seconds. These are actually designed for sound contractors (so if you’re one, pay attention) to convert D-sub connectors to the screw terminals that are common on older installed sound equipment. A Designs also makes a number of other products for sound contractors, as well as a line of mic preamps. http://www.adesignsaudio.com/lpa-1_1r.html

Last but not least, a book. Anyone who’s been around the forums for a while knows Bob Katz, and his book, Mastering Audio, the Art and Science, is about ready to come out. Bob’s main activities these days have centered around his mastering business, and this book explains the important techniques, processes, and how-to’s. Bob goes into all of the steps from master preparation to final pressing, describes the philosophy of mastering, and understanding what it means to be a mastering engineer. It’s technical but not loaded with math. Like

Bob, it’s full of practical information on the tools, their use, and even tips on making digital interfacing work (and why it sometimes doesn’t). A copy will be on my shelf before long. Check www.focalpress.com

for the release date.

Wrap Up

I can’t do one of the AES show reports without recognizing the great program put together by the Historical Committee. For the past several years, they’ve put together a combination exhibit and discussion called When Vinyl Ruled, and this year’s show was no exception. Lots of cool old stuff (and new stuff, too, including an ATR modified Ampex ATR-102 with 1” heads) and a steady stream of engineers, producers, and designers who were active 40 years ago (many of whom are still active) talking about their experiences and sharing their knowledge. If I hadn’t been so eager to see the exhibits and hear a couple of papers, I could have spent the entire four days there. Anyone who attended and didn’t at least drop in and look around missed a great experience. Kudos to Wes

Dooley and Dale Manquen who did the lion’s share of the work on this program.

That’s about it. Of course there was lots more that I didn’t write about. Sorry if I didn’t mention your product or what you were looking for, but there are other reports and there are always web sites. I enjoyed visiting with all of you folks, both exhibitors and fellow tire kickers and I’m looking forward to the next one.

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