2012 Winter NAMM Show Report - Mike Rivers – Useful Audio Stuff

2012 Winter NAMM Show Report - Mike Rivers – Useful Audio Stuff
2012 Winter NAMM Show Report
Mike Rivers ©2012
http://www.mikeriversaudio.wordpress.com
Anaheim, California January 19-22 2012
After a couple of years of NAMM shows where the buzz was about how much
smaller the show was, how the industry was down, and how there were few new
innovative products, it was nice to see this year’s show start on a positive note. It
seemed that everyone was doing better and was enthusiastic, ready to show and
ready to buy. NAMM covers a lot of ground and I don’t – my report, as always,
focuses on pro audio products with a sprinkling of things that aren’t directly audio
related but are potentially useful in the studio or on the stage. You won’t read
about new synths, pianos, saxophones, drums, guitars, or basses here, but
there’s a sprinkling of unusual instruments that tickled my fancy. Let’s press on!
Mixers and Consoles
In the world of desktop and now handheld devices, there was no shortage of new
mixers, some traditional, some with a decidedly new twist or two.
The Yamaha 01V, introduced in 1998, was
one of the first digital consoles that was at
home both price- and feature-wise in the
emerging project and home studio based
around the digital multitrack tape recorders
of the time. In 2003 it got a facelift and
sample rate upgrade as the 01V96, and in
2012, has been updated again as the
01V96i. Perhaps the most significant update
for the DAW user who still wants a console
is the addition of a USB 2.0 port that
provides 16 recording outputs and 16
playback returns as well as bi-directional
MIDI for DAW control, and interface with
the included 01V96i Editor application that
gives a full view of the console setup on a
Mac or Windows computer, allows storage
and loading of the complete setup, as well
as off-line editing of all settings. The 12 XLR mic inputs sport new cleaner and
quieter preamps. In addition to the standard 3-band fully parametric equalizer in
two flavors, compressor/limiter, and gate on each channel, there’s a set of
modeling plug-in effects and processors including analog tape decks, classic
compressors and equalizers, as well as a couple of stomp boxes plus reverb
from the Yamaha SPX-2000 series stand alone reverb units.
There’s 8-channel ADAT optical input and output, coax S/PDIF out of the box,
word clock in and out, and the full line of YGDAI expansion cards available for
more I/O and alternate formats such AES/EBU, MADI, CobraNet, EtherSound,
Dante, and Aviom multi-channel network protocols. The 16 full length (100 mm)
faders are motor-driven so they jump into place when you select a preset or
switch layers, as well as follow MIDI automation data sent from a recorder or
DAW. The basic physical layout and user interface remains the same, so either
you already know it, you’ll love it, or you’ll hate it. DAW control templates are
included for Pro Tools, Nuendo, and Cubase, as well as full MIDI control for
integration (with a little work on your part) with other DAWs. The 01V96i is a very
capable and flexible mixer with a long history.
http://usa.yamaha.com/products/live_sound/mixers/digitalmixers/01v96i/?mode=series#
The Yamaha budget priced MG series mixers now have a new tier, the MGP.
The basic functionality and straightforward operation of the MG remains, but the
MGP has new mic preamps, a new equalizer section utilizing what Yamaha’s
dubbed Virtual Circuit Modeling (VCM) to emulate the EQ curves of their higherend mixers. There’s a single knob compressor on every input channel, two digital
effect processors, USB stereo input and output, and an I/O connector for an iOS
device which can be used for playback and (I think) recording of the main stereo
output. The stereo bus has some DSP that looks like it’s targeted to conference
applications – a ducker that can assign priority to a single mic input channel, a
volume leveler, and a stereo field width adjustment. The chassis is steel, it’s
rack-mountable, and has an internal power supply. These come in two sizes, the
MGP-12X and –16X with twelve and sixteen channels respectively (some are
line-only so check your requirements!)
http://usa.yamaha.com/products/live_sound/mixers/analogmixers/mgp/?mode=series#
The Behringer X32 digital console
has been brewing for the past two
years and it’s now just about done.
It’s quite a bit different from today’s
crop of budget priced digital
consoles, which, in my opinion is a
good thing. Unlike most of the digital
consoles on the market today which
are designed primarily for live sound
and tend to be a bit skimpy when it
comes to studio recording, the X32
seems like it’s pretty well equipped to do both tasks competently. It has 24
motorized long throw faders arranged in two groups on opposite sides of a center
section, but they’re all completely assignable. Each fader has a dedicated color
LCD that shows its currently assigned function, which can change, of course,
when switching banks, and which can have a text label describing the source.
The top left section of the
panel is dedicated to channel
strip controls which are active
for the selected channel.
Essential controls are
implemented with knobs, but
you can get to more detail by
popping up a screen on the built-in color TFT
display. One thing that I think I might find a
bit inconvenient is that rather than having
level, frequency, and bandwidth controls for
each EQ band, there’s one set of controls
with a set of buttons to switch them between
the six EQ bands. While each of the rotary
encoders have an indicator of its current
position, you need to look at the screen in order to see the numeric settings.
Perhaps this is good, encouraging you to mix with your ears rather than presetting numbers you expect will be right. I can support that philosophy, but not
everyone will be comfortable with it.
There are a bunch of effect processors built in. A nice feature is that they aren’t
limited to send-return routing, but alternatively can be patched in line with a
channel as an insert processor. This is useful for things like amplifier simulators
or a flange or chorus effect that you’re only going to use on a single channel.
Channels can be linked in odd-even pairs, as can auxiliary buses, for example, to
create stereo headphone feeds. Each channel has a dedicated smallish but
functional level meter with a pair of large LED ladder meters for the main outputs.
There are 8 mute groups and 8 DCA (digitally controlled attenuator) groups that
works like VCAs on an analog console. You can link channel levels together
using the DCA groups, or you can do it analog style with subgroup buses if you
wish. DCAs work fine for mixdown, but if you want to feed your subwoofers from
an independent bus or compress the drums overall, the subgroup buses allow
you to do that. The 16 output buses can be assigned to whatever function you
want – mains, subgroups, or auxiliaries. In addition, there’s AES/EBU and AES50
outputs (Klark-Technik, currently keeper-of-the-keys for AES 50, is under the
same corporate umbrella as Behringer), Firewire outputs for both channel direct
outputs and buses, and ADAT optical I/O. The X32 also integrates with the
Behringer P-16 personal monitoring system that allows individual players to
create custom monitor mixes with no iPhones required, though iDevice remote
control is in the “not ready yet” stack of features to come. There is, however, an
iPhone cradle (not a connected dock) at the lower right of the top panel to keep it
handy if you need to Tweet during a show.
I’d probably best stop here before this starts to sound like a review, which it isn’t,
because I haven’t spent nearly enough time with it. Perhaps I will after it ships. I
can tell you, though, that this is a very flexible console, but, as you might
suspect, flexibility comes at a price of convenience some times. There are a few
ways of accessing some functions, only one way to access others, and the
control surface is large enough so that, at least on first impression, thing are
spread around in ways that made me have to look twice to find what I’m looking
for. Still, there’s a lot here for this price, which is under $3,000.
http://www.behringer.com/EN/Category/Mixers.aspx?s=A400
Mackie has been in and out of the digital mixing console business for about 15
years now and they certainly know the ins and
outs of it. This year they’ve jumped back in with
the DL1608 sixteen channel digital mixer. I
thought I’d scream if I saw one more product with
the claim “… and you can control it remotely from
your iPad . . . “ but for this product I had to
restrain myself because an iPad is integral to the
design. The DL1608 looks and connects like a
conventional mixer, but its only hardware controls
are the input gain trims on the top panel and AC
and phantom power switches on the back. The
top surface is slanted like a mixing console,
providing a mounting tray and dock for the iPad.
The iPad, running a custom Mackie app, serves
as the control surface and user interface, which saves Mackie a heap of money
both in design and manufacturing. It’s only a controller, however - mixing and all
other signal processing is handled by the mixer itself. The iPad need not be
docked in order to operate the mixer, but the mixer needs at least one iPad with
the app running in order to be able to mix. On the iPad, you get a fader view,
auxiliary sends, a “channel strip” view which controls the EQ, compressor, and
gate offered on every input channel. There are also two effect processors, and a
set of pre-programmed channel presets that serve as starting points for typical
sources. Graphic EQ is available on the main and all aux buses.
The DL1608 It has 16 mic inputs with Onyx preamps and globally switched
phantom power. All of the channel inputs are on XLR connectors, with the last 4
channels using XLR-TRS combo jacks for those who need some ¼” holes. A bit
surprisingly, there isn’t a high impedance instrument DI input or two. The preamp
gain controls have sufficient range to cover line levels so with the proper cables,
you can use more than 4 line level sources. Outputs are left and right main mix
and 4 mono auxiliaries.
When the iPad is plugged into the docking connector, you get a 17th fader for
stereo playback (backing track or break music) of audio stored on the iPad.
Of course there’s remote control and support for multiple iPads (up to 10 I think).
The application in the version on display here at the show still had a few
unfinished features, one being quick access to the aux send faders, another
being the full implementation of the remote iPad “permissions” and probably a
few more, but those will be in place when it’s released (currently projected for
June). While it’s not my favorite way of operating a mixing console, everything
that I saw worked and was pretty intuitive. There are a few cute things like icons
that you can use to identify channels in lieu of text names, and you can even
display a photo (stored on the iPad) as the channel label.
Most of what Mackie designs starts off with price being a primary design
parameter. I expect that adding a couple of Dis with the independent input circuit,
switching, and jacks would have busted the $999 price point, so you’ll have to
bring your own DIs if you need ‘em. And if you don’t already have an iPad, it’s a
$1500 mixer, though Mackie is quick to point out that 5 million people have iPads
and at least some of them need mixers.
To get the most out of this mixer, you’ll also need to set up a WiFi access point
(which could be a $15 wireless router) and connect it to the Ethernet jack on the
mixer. It’s going to be necessary to understand a bit about computer networking
technology, but Mackie expect that the users who want to have iPads scattered
about will already have some experience in setting up a wireless network. This
brings to mind a favorite quote of mine from John Watkinson: "Today's
production equipment is IT based and cannot be operated without a passing
knowledge of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a
passing knowledge of audio."
When I was working at Mackie in 2000-2001, I never really warmed up to their
d8b digital console, but when I see most digital consoles today, I can’t help think
“Why didn’t they do that like the d8b did?” – there was a lot in the d8b that made
a lot of sense and it’s good to see that Mackie didn’t throw that all in the
dumpster, but retained some of the good user interface features that they
designed more than 10 years ago. Digital processing has changed a lot in that
period, but human brains still work pretty much the same way.
http://www.mackie.com/products/dl1608/about-the-dl1608/
While PreSonus didn’t introduce any new mixers this year, they showed a couple
of long awaited features for the StudioLive series - QMix, an iPhone app to
control auxiliary mixes, and integration of a subset of the Smaart analysis
software from Rational Acoustics into the Universal Control companion
application for the StudioLive. In addition, the StudioLive Remote iPad app has
been enhanced with track naming, tap delay setting, and access to effects
muting from the master page as well as from the effects page. Also new in the
Universal Control mixer application software are permissions for remote iPods
and iPads so that only designated mixes can be controlled from a given remote,
naming of auxiliary buses so names show up on the remotes as “Keyboards” or
“Joe,” and (speaking of good ideas in the Mackie d8b) the ability to copy the
main mix or an auxiliary mix to an auxiliary mix, which should save a lot of time
setting up custom monitor mixes. I don’t know if they listened to me, but this was
a feature that I was lobbying for since I reviewed the StudioLive a couple of years
back.
Crowding a whole StudioLive on an iPhone screen is a little silly (at least I think
so) but adjusting a monitor mix right from the stage is a function that can sensibly
fit on an iPhone, so that's what the new QMix
application offers. To prevent one player from
inadvertently changing another's mix, the updated
Universal Control application for the mixer
(required for QMix) allows each iPhone to control
one and only one auxilary mix. With the phone
held horizontally, you get a screen of sliders, 8 at
a time, with text labels if you've bothered to enter
them.
Turn the phone vertically and you get what they call the
"Wheel of Me." This is really clever. The display is two
vertical bars to indicate the level of a selected submix of
channels (which can be one channel for "MORE ME")
and the level of all the other channels in the aux mix.
Between them is the "wheel" which adjusts the balance
between ME and the rest of the mix by sliding a finger up
or down on that area of the display. As you turn it up, you
get more ME. If you continue to try to turn ME up when
it's at maximum, the level of the rest of the channels
drops. This is kind of a sneaky way of teaching the users
that if something isn't loud enough in the mix, consider
turning something else down. The new version of the
iPad app and Qmix are available now (free) from the Apple App store.
The Smaart
integration has a
way to go yet and is
expected to be
ready before
Summer. What was
working at the show
was a scrolling
spectrogram
display with the intent that feedback will appear as a single frequency and in a
bright color so you’ll be able to identify the feedback frequency and grab an
equalizer knob to tame it. The initial release version is expected to include an
RTA (frequency vs. amplitude) display as well as an implementation of what I
think is the most important feature of Smaart, the ability to time align speakers
and live-to-speaker sound.
http://www.presonus.com/products/SoftwareDetail.aspx?SoftwareId=48 (Qmix)
The last couple of consoles I reported on from Allen & Heath have been analog
recording consoles with digital I/O. This year they’ve added a new digital console
primarily aimed toward live applications where a smaller and less expensive
console than their iLive series is called for. The GLD (digital version of the long
standing GL series) borrows from both the GL and iLive, offering up to 48 inputs
assignable to 30 buses (aux, subgroup, matrix, effects, and main) which can be
routed to 20 outputs with 16 mute/DCA groups. The 20 faders are split in two
sections of 12 and 8, and there are four layers for each group. Like the Behringer
X32, the faders can be assigned to anything, so you can have a layer of 8 aux
sends that stays put while you switch the 12 other faders through layers of up to
48 inputs. A dedicated “channel strip” offers controls for EQ, compression,
gating, high pass filter, mic preamp gain/pad/polarity/phantom power, and
routing. A color touch screen offers a visual display and access to all functions,
and a color (switchable) display for each fader labels its function.
There are a handful of connectors
on the mixer’s rear panel, but the
main audio I/O comes from a
remote stage box connected to the
mixer with up to 120 meters of Cat
5 cable. There are a couple of
versions of the I/O box, the
standard system providing 4 XLR
inputs and 4 XLR outputs on the
mixer and 24 XLR inputs and 12
XLR outputs on the remote box.
There’s a smattering of stereo digital I/O The remote box has an Aviom personal
monitor mixer output as well as an Ethernet port for up to two 8 in by 4 out
smaller expander boxes (which can be used on their own if you don’t need the
big box. A USB flash drive can store all presets and scenes as well as record and
play audio files. A selection of option cards provides connectivity to Dante,
EtherSound, MADI, and a multi-digital output including 24 ADAT optical outputs,
Aviom, or HearBack monitor systems.
http://www.allenheath.com/UK/Products/Pages/ProductDetails.aspx?CatId=GLDSeries&ProductI
d=GLD80&SubCatId=
Line 6, long known for their guitar amplifier modeling systems, has taken a leap
into live sound, and in a pretty novel way. They had two goals in designing the
Stagescape system, one to simplify the setup and mixing process for the novice,
the other to make the system scaleable so that as you need a larger system, you
can just add more speakers. The system includes the M20d mixer, L3t three-way
powered speaker system, and L3s subwoofer. Mix and match, use as much or as
little as you need.
The L3t speaker (input and control panel shown at the
left), probably the most basic system component, has a
built-in mixer with two combo XLR mic/instrument inputs,
an XLR line input, and stereo RCA input, a 3-band EQ,
an acoustic guitar modeler to reduce the “quack” of some
piezo pickups, a feedback suppressor, and an effect
processor. With the speaker standing vertically, it has a
fairly broad horizontal radiation pattern with a narrow
vertical pattern, controlled by an internal processor that
adjusts the amplitude and phase of the audio fed to the
speakers in the array. Lay it down on its angled side (it
detects the orientation automatically, just like an iPhone)
and it changes the radiation pattern to serve as a
monitor, narrowing it in along the long dimension of the
array and spreading it from the floor upward to standing
height. Connect a second speaker through the
proprietary linking system and the mono mix of
instruments and mics (you can plug more into the second
speaker) remains mono but if you’re using the stereo input or a stereo effect,
those come out the pair of speakers in stereo.
The M20d mixer comes into play
when you need more inputs, more
outputs, and more control. It has
12 mic/line inputs, four line-only
inputs, 2 main and 4 monitor
outputs. I can’t resist calling this
the Mixer for Dummies, though it’s
really quite sophisticated. As soon
as an input is plugged in, it’s
detected, and its channel pops up
on the touch screen. You can
name the channel and assign an
icon to it to display it on screen as an instrument or mic. Touching any input icon
brings up a full screen display given you access to EQ, aux (monitor) send levels,
and effects in a simplified mode (drag an icon toward “Bright” boosts the highs,
for example) or you can select the Tweak display mode, the icon for which is a
mortarboard hat, and you get a more detailed display of each selected
parameter. Each mic input has its own multi-band feedback suppressor, which is
the preferred way of doing it rather than applying EQ to a full mix.
The whole system networks intelligently, and with the addition of a wireless
router, mixes can be remotely controlled from an iPad. The 16 direct (pre-EQ/FX)
inputs plus the main stereo mix can be recorded in 24-bit resolution direct to an
SD memory card, USB memory stick, or direct to a computer via USB 2.0.
Another clever feature is a quick way to record a 20 second loop of any selected
input so you can play it back to work on EQ tweaks. It takes a while to get the
hang of what the pictures mean, but the point is that the user doesn’t need to
know what’s going on internally, he just drags things around on the screen in
ways that make pretty good sense.
http://line6.com/stagescape-m20d/
Personal Monitor Systems
In addition to all of the mixers that offer remote control for monitor mixing,
personal multi-channel monitor mixing systems were still in abundance. I can’t
help but wonder where these things are going, and where they’ll stop. The basic
idea is that the players on stage, mostly likely using in-ear monitor phones, can
fine tune their own mix on stage. They probably don’t really expect much more
than levels to give them more of what they want to hear and less of what they
don’t, but the new breed includes three band EQ on each channel and the
feature set goes on from there. Is this getting too complicated for
Mamba MIX is a new company with a modular system design. There are two
versions of the input module, the MMX16M with 16 mic/line inputs and the
MMX16L with 16 line-only inputs. The mix is controlled remotely with an iPad.
The somewhat unfinished version on display required a wireless router or access
point to talk to the iPad, but the final version will have that function built in. The
line-only input module can take its inputs from a mixer’s direct outputs.
Alternatively, you can feed it from the main mixer’s channel insert jacks. It
includes 8 insert pass-throughs so, with some careful planning, you’ll probably be
able ot work it out so that you have inserts available on the channels where you
need them.
The input box with the mic preamps is a little different and it’s really designed to
be used in conjunction with a mic splitter. Should you want to get the preamp
outputs back to the house mixer, you’ll need an expansion box that connects to
the MMX16M via an Ethernet cable. It’s a pretty complete mixer, with each
channel having a 3 band EQ and four independent stereo output buses. Scenes
can be stored, and up to (I think) four iPads can connect to the mixer, with each
one password protected so it can control only one mix. It’s a bit pricey though.
The version with the mic preamps is about $3K, the line input module and the
expander are about $2K.
http://www.mambamix.com/dev/
Pivitec is another new monitor mixing system that uses an iPad or iPhone for the
control panel, a 16-channel input box, and a personal mixer box. The input box
has 16 balanced line level inputs with pass-throughs. Its Cat5 output goes to an
Ethernet switch, which distributes the 16 inputs (or 32 if you have two input
boxes) to multiple personal headphone amplifier units. The headphone box
includes a 32 channel mixer with three band EQ on each channel, 3 band EQ
and limiter on the stereo output. There’s a local line input on the box for
connecting a metronome or, I suppose, you could listen to a ball game or an MP3
player.
http://www.pivitec.com/
Mics and Preamps
History lesson time for the uninitiated. in the mid 1950s MGM
engineer Stanley Church custom built a set of microphones for
for in-house use. He used a Neumann M7 capsule and
designed electronics around a 6072 tube, creating a mic that
had characteristics of the Neumann U47 and AKG C12. There
were only about 200 of these mics built (movie studios had a
LOT of microphones) and the originals, known as the CineMic,
have become legends and collectable. Pearlman Microphones
has accurately re-creasted the original "Church" microphone
using a Blue Line M7 capsule with the original PVC diaphragm
supplied by Thiersch Electroakustik (a former engineer and
repair technician for Microtech Gefell GmbH). Dave Pearlman
uses a new old stock (NOS) 6072 tube and he even got Triad to
re-make the original transformer that was custom made to
Church’s specifications. There are other modern versions of the
Church mic, one from Telefunken (not sure what capsule they
use) years now, and there’s also one from Tab-Funkenwerk
using a Thiersch Red Line M7 capsule with the modern mylar
diaphragm.
Also new from Pearlman is the TM-250, an accurate re-creation of the
Telefunken 250 using an AKG C12 type capsule made by Tim Campbell in
Denmark.
http://pearlmanmicrophones.com/
We can always count on Blue Microphones, when they come up with something
new, to come up with something different as well. They’ve always had their own
approach to design, both functional and visual. They have a couple of new mics
that fit more into the pro audio realm, so here we have the Tiki, another USB
microphone, but this one is constructed such that it plugs directly into a laptop
computer’s USB port which is typically on one of the side edges. This puts the
mic in a good position for things like podcasts and Skype calls, though it comes
along with a cradle and “extension cord” for use with computers that don’t have
side-mounted USB ports.
The thing that makes this mic special is that it
contains some DSP, controllable from a pop-up
window, that offers what they call “Intelligent
Speech Mode” and “Natural Recording Mode.”
The speech mode provides background noise
cancellation, but unlike the noise canceling
communications mics or a pair of mics taped
together and summed with the polarity inverted
like the Grateful Dead used in the Wall of
Sound tour which require talking very close in order to get the full cancellation
effect, the Tiki is able to steer its directivity by adjusting the phase and amplitude
of its two capsules. This keeps the voice up front, and the background noise
pretty well attenuated. It has the ability to “track” the position of the voice so you
can be some distance away and have some freedom of movement and still get
respectable background noise reduction. It also uses some intelligent muting to
suppress key clicks if you’re typing while talking or recroding, as well as reducing
fan noise by the same (I guess) technology used for continuous noise reduction
in iZotope’s RX-2 Restore program – since iZotope was one of their partners in
crime for this one.
Also new from Blue is the Spark Digital mic. This is a version of the studio grade
Spark bottle-style condenser mic introduced last year which offers, instead of the
old boring XLR connector, a USB interface as well as a direct Apple 30-pin
interface to an iPad for direct recording into Garage Band or any other
application. It comes with an adjustable shock mount desk stand and cables
including a split on the Apple cable to provide a headphone jack for playback.
The mic has a gain control ahead of the A/D converter for optimizing the record
level without clipping the preamp stage.
http://www.bluemics.com
Colin Broad designed a number of classic audio products for Audio & Design
Recording back in the 1970s including the Vocal Stressor, PanScan, and A&DR’s
Scamp line of modules. He was sharing a booth with Wes Dooley’s Audio
Engineering Associates (the ribbon mic folks) and showing a new four channel
remote controlled preamp that Wes likes a lot. The CB Electronics MA-104
provides up to 69 dB of gain for mic inputs and up to 42 dB of gain on an
independent set of line inputs. Maximum output power of +26 dBm. There’s a
front panel gain control with a display for the current gain settings. Remote gain
control control is via MIDI over USB or RS-422 with a stand-alone application for
gain adjustment or direct plug-and-play with Pro Tools. CB has a number of time
code and remote controller products in his catalog, but this appears to be his first
analog design as an independent company and he’s planning a line of A/D and
D/A converters and monitor controllers.
http://www.colinbroad.com/ (no info on the mic preamp there yet)
Computer Audio Interfaces and Connectivity
Universal Audio’s Apollo was a hot item around a few forums. This is their new
high quality audio I/O interface which integrates a lot of the company’s designs
and adds a couple of new twists. It provides four mic preamps, 8 channels of
analog I/O, 8 channels of optical I/O, stereo S/PDIF, two front panel mounted
high impedance DI inputs, and a couple of pairs of outputs dedicated to control
room monitoring and headphones. They come up with a count of 18-in/24-out
distributed among a plethora of connectors. Computer I/O is on Firewire 800 with
a slot for an optional Thunderbolt port when your computer is ready for it. Both
the Thunderbolt option card and Thunderbolt availability for Windows are
predicted for the Summer of 2012. Until then, it’s Mac compatible. Windows 7
support will come along with the Thunderbolt option.
The box is built around UA's classic line of analog and digital designs (no claims
of “all new” preamps or converters). The thing that takes Apollo ahead of the rest
of the pack is that it includes the ability to run UA's powered plug-ins via a built-in
UAD-2 DSP co-processor. The big deal that they’re pushing here is that you can
use the plug-ins real time during recording. For example, you could get their
Studer plug-in and pretend that you’re recording through a Studer recorder. This
is contrary to the usual DAW way of recording as transparently as possible and
then mucking it up during the mixing process so the idea may turn a few heads.
On the other hand, it might bring some folks around to simply making an
equipment choice (a good one, this, for sure) and working with it.
Apollo ships with the UAD 1176, LA-2A, and Pultec EQ-1A plug-ins to get you
started, and of course there are plenty more UAD powered plug-ins available.
You can get it with two or four DSP processors depending on your needs and
budget. $2,000 for the dual processor model, $2,500 for the quad model.
http://www.uaudio.com/apollo
The new RME Fireface UCX is the latest in a family of half-rack sized computer
I/O interfaces in the Fireface series. It’s essentially a UFX scaled back in size
and number of inputs and outputs, offering two mic/line/instrument inputs, 8
analog line level inputs and outputs, S/PDIF coax or optical I/O, 8 channel ADAT
optical I/O, and word clock in and out. Computer connectivity includes both
Firewire 400 and USB 2.0 compatible with a USB3 port (though it still only runs at
USB2 speed).
The Fireface UCX
offers a classcompliant USB
mode for up to 24bit 96 kHz
recording to an iPad through the Apple Camera Connection Kit or other
compliant USB adapter. It will even do multitrack recording in this mode if the app
supports it. A basic remote control included with the interface provides a big knob
for monitor volume control plus a couple of buttons for level storage and recall
and programmable access to functions in the included TotalMix FX software
application. An optional remote control with additional programmable buttons is
available.
I love RME’s straightforward and honest attitude toward Firewire vs. USB.
Question: “What is better, USB or Firewire?
Answer: “Depends on your specific system. Just try it.”
http://www.rme-audio.de/en_products_fireface_ucx.php
TASCAM has been busy in the “i” world too, introducing
the iU2, which is essentially a TASCAM US-144 built
into a smaller and lighter case and equipped with an idocking connector (as well as a standard USB port). In
an attempt to make it as small as possible, the line and
mic inputs, which can provide 48v phantom power, are
on ¼” jacks, though the kit includes a pair of short XLR
adapter cables. There’s also S/PDIF coax and MIDI in
and out (on mini phone jacks,
with adapter cables supplied)
and an a high impedance
instrument input jack. There’s
a control for blending the direct input signal with
computer playback for true zero latency input
monitoring when tracking and overdubbing, though you’ll still have to deal with
monitor latency when playing a virtual instrument unless you’re playing from a
keyboard that can provide a “placeholder” sound for monitoring during recording.
Because it’s so tiny, the rear panel is festooned with switches, but most of these
aren’t ones that you’ll need to access frequently. Just don’t forget that they exist.
http://tascam.com/product/iu2/
DigiCo has been including a MADI interface with
their digital live sound consoles for a while now.
This show they introduced a pocket-sized MADIto-USB converter, making it simple to record up to
48 channels from any MADI source to a fairly
basic computer. A couple of years ago, Prism
Sound’s SADiE LRX2 location recording system
proved to us that USB2 is up to the task of
recording and playback of 48 channels, so here’s
one more entry into the game. The DigiCo
UB►MADI interface is about the size of a cigarette pack with BNC In and Out
connectors on one end and a USB connector on the other, providing bidirectional transfer of 48 channels up to 24 bits at 96 kHz sample rate. It comes
with an ASIO driver and is compatible with Windows and Apple Core Audio. Price
is around $1500, which make it an economical way of capturing live audio from a
console with MADI direct outputs.
http://www.digico.biz/docs2/products/UB_MADI.shtml
Recorders and Recording Devices
TASCAM showed a couple of almost
ready new products, the DP-24, a
replacement for the 2488 24 track
Portastudio. The new model records to
flash memory and has a color touch
screen as well as dedicated controls
for the usual channel strip functions. It
can record up to 8 inputs
simultaneously at 44.1 or 48 kHz
sample rate at 24-bit resolution from
its eight XLR combo jacks. It has the usual complement of effect processors for
mixdown including some amplifier simulators. A CD burner is included for those
who still have friends with traditional sound systems and for checking out your
mix in your car.
http://tascam.com/product/dp-24/
TASCAM’s DR-V1HD hand held video recorder (this one was still under plastic,
hands-off) has a feature that’s particularly attractive to me – the mic and lens
assembly rotates 180 degrees so you can shoot a video of yourself and watch
what you’re doing. Coming soon.
The R26 is Roland’s most recent entry in the portable flash memory recorder
market. Over the past several years they’ve had both handhelds designed for
grab-and-go recording as well as multichannel small tabletop recorders for
professional applications. The R26 blurs the line, being a handheld recorder,
though a fairly hefty one, but offering such professional features as up to 6 track
recording, omni and crossed-cardioid mics, 96 kHz sample rate, combo XLR-1/4”
input connectors for external mic and line sources, and a touch screen display for
setup and file operations, with the most common
controls being dedicated knobs and buttons. A few
interesting features are: A voice memo function that
allows you to quickly add a 30 second audio “note” to
an existing recording to remind you of what it is, a file
“repair” function that might save a corrupt file (I don’t
know what it does, nor did the guy who was showing
me around the recorder), and playback speed
adjustment from 50% to 150%.
The manual is required reading for this one in order to
find your way to the correct submenu sometimes. For
example, I couldn’t figure out how to switch between
the cardioid and X-Y mics, or even how to tell which
set was active. When I finally asked for help, the
Roland guy blundered through menus for a couple of
minutes before finding the one where that selection is
made (and you can select to use both). It sort of made
sense once we found it, but you have to know that it’s
there. Also, there are two record level knobs, but
they’re not for left and right channels, they’re both stereo controls, one for the
internal mics, the other for external mic or line inputs or the mini stereo jack with
plug-in power for an external “consumer” mic. There’s a USB interface for file
transfer and for direct recording (using the recorder like a USB mic), and it’s
bundled with a copy of Sonar LE.
http://www.rolandus.com/products/productdetails.php?ProductId=1178&ParentId
=109
Signal Processors and Controllers
Dangerous Music introduced their first non-rack-mounted product, the Dangerous
Source monitor controller designed specifically for field recording. It’s the perfect
size to fit underneath a 13” laptop controller and has outputs for two sets of
powered speakers, one on XLRs, the other on ¼” jacks. Either set of speakers
can be selected or one pair of outputs can be used with a subwoofer by selecting
both outputs simultaneously. There are two front panel headphone jacks with
independent speaker and headphone volume controls. There are two pairs of
analog line level inputs, one on combo XLR jacks, the other (consumer level) on
a mini stereo phone jack. There’s an AES/EBU input, and a USB input for
playback directly off the computer. Dangerous’ rack mount monitor controller has
a really excellent D/A converter and I trust this one follows in those footsteps.
http://www.dangerousmusic.com (no info on the web for this one yet)
Electrodyne is an old
company name,
manufacturing a line of
well respected consoles
in the late 1960s. The
name and circuit designs have been revived with first products being a version of
the Electrodyne console mic preamp and equalizer in 500-series modules. At this
show, the new Electrodyne has introduced the RC-3 Channel Strip, a 2 rack
space unit that incorporates the Electrodyne 501 mic preamp and 511 equalizer
circuitry combined with an 1176-style FET compressor.
http://www.petesplaceaudio.com/electrodyne.html
Software
I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to software because I don’t have a compelling
need to keep up. I have what I need and it still works. So at shows, I usually
breeze through the booths, smiling and nodding, unless someone calls my
attention to something particularly interesting. What brought me to the Waves
booth was a couple of announcements for things coming soon. Waves V9 will
offer across the board 64-bit support for all plug-ins. That’s going to make a lot of
folks happy. But the big deal there is that they’re ditching the iLok license in favor
of a new activation and licensing system that you can authorize directly to your
computer or carry authorization on a USB drive for portability. It’s “cloud” based (I
think that’s a fancy name for on-line registration and authorization) and they
promise one-click license recovery in case your license-carrying device is lost or
damaged.
While I was there, I had a look at their new NLS (Non Linear Summing) plug-in.
This is an attempt to model the distortion (non-linearity) of the analog summing
bus of three famous consoles, a Neve 5116, an SSL 4000G, and the EMI
console on which Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was recorded. I think the
concept of taking a highly accurate digital recording and applying the “sorry, it’s
the best we can do with the parts we can get and the budget we have” sonic
character to it, but these things seem to do something that people like. There’s
no info on the web site yet, but check in later and see what you think.
http://www.waves.com
Roland’s R-Mix is a new software application that can be used for a multitude of
things that I'd broadly characterize as messing around with recorded music. If
you've ever used a spectral
editor, the concept will be
familiar to you. A graphic
display of the music currently
playng shows pitch running
from top to bottom, pan
position from left to right, and
volume by color. You can
"lasso" an element in a mix
and then start playing with it.
You can adjust its level, adjust the level of everything else, add a reverb or delay
effect, pan it to a different position in the mix, and save your work as a new file.
There's also a noise reduction tool with presets for hiss, hum, wind, and air
handling noise, and you can adjust pitch and speed of the playback. R-Mix
seems to work best on lead vocals or solo instruments, or instruments with a
limited range of pitch, and I can see it being useful for learning and
woodshedding or making “music minus one” tracks. It's for both Windows and
Mac, and there's also a simplified iPad version.
http://www.rolandus.com/products/productdetails.php?ProductId=1176
Acoustics and Related Things
We have MoPads and Recoil Stabilizers, and now
IsoAcoustics brings us yet another vibration isolating stand
for studio monitors. The ISO-L8R155 allows adjustment of
both height and tilt of the speaker while mechanically
isolating it to avoid coupling of low frequencies from the
cabinet to the desk or table. The L8R155 fits most tabletop
sized monitors, though there’s a larger and a smaller size to
accommodate a range of popular speakers. The height can
be set to either 3 or 8 inches above the table by assembling
the parts using the long or short vertical supports supplied
with the kit. Interchangeable end caps for the vertical tubes
allow tilting the speaker platform slightly off horizontal to
better aim the tweeters toward the listener.
http://www.isoacoustics.com/
It seems that more and more companies are entering the field of easily installable
acoustic treatment. Two new ones this year that showed designs a bit different
from the typical foam wedges and glass fiber absorbers are Yamaha and Aural
Sonic. The Yamaha acoustic panel design is sort of a cross between a resonant
trap, a panel absorber, and a diffuser. Sandwiched between two fairly thin panels
are a series of square tubes of varying length similar to the quadratic diffusers
that are often attached to a studio or control room wall. The room side of the
panel has several perforations to allow sound to enter the internal chambers
where, presumably, the energy is absorbed or disbursed. They don’t have a very
high absorption coefficient, but according to their graphs, it’s remarkably flat from
4 kHz down to 125 Hz. Because of where these were displayed in the Yamaha
showroom, I suspect that their intent was for installation in school practice rooms
rather than studios.
http://usa.yamaha.com/products/soundproofing/acoustic_conditioning_panels/ac
p-2_g/?mode=model
If the Yamaha material is a sandwich, the Aural Sonic material is like an open
face sandwich consisting of a dense fiber absorber attached to a thick flexible
vinyl backing. Their mumbo-jumbo is about how when sound hits the panel, the
compression wave is converted to a transverse wave where it is slowed down
substantially by the absorbent material. Whatever gets out and is reflected back
into the room is delayed, causing the room to sound like the walls are further
away. However it works, it’s really effective and also, because of the thick dense
backing, does a decent job of isolation.
http://www.auralsonic.com/AS/Home.html
American Recorder, an accessory company that’s a good resource for useful
stuff, showed a new microphone anti- reflection baffle quite small, about 6 x 7
inches. Mounted close to the microphone, it’s big enough to give a little help in
keeping reflections from a wall from getting into the rear of the mic, but without
giving a sense of isolation.
Also, and somewhat acoustics related, last time I checked the Radio Shack n line
catalog, I was shocked to discover that they no longer carry a sound level meter.
Theirs had been the standard for thousands of live sound engineers who had no
need for a laboratory certified meter (though the Radio Shack meter was always
pretty accurate) but just wanted to know when the sound level was getting into
the danger zone. Sure enough, American Recorder sells a couple. Their mini
SPL85C meter is about the equivalent to the Radio Shack digital SPL meter at
about the same price, the SPL8810 is more expensive, more accurate, and
conforms to IEC60651 which means you can probably use it to keep The Music
Police happy.
http://www.americanrecorder.com
Technology
Eminence is one of the major manufacturers of speakers used in instrument
amplifiers, and a company that’s pretty hip to technology. A couple of years ago
they came up with a speaker with an adjustable magnet assembly to vary the
efficiency of the motor, allowing you to crank the amplifier without damaging the
driver or the audience’s ears (assuming you stayed below the melting point of the
voice coil). This year’s cool technology product from Eminence is D-Fend. It’s a
circuit board assembly connected between the power amplifier and speaker
that’s designed to protect the speaker in a different way than what’s usually
done. It’s not uncommon, particularly in powered PA speakers and control room
monitors, to have some sort of overload protection, perhaps a poly-fuse, a light
bulb to limit current, or a compression circuit. D-Fend takes a different turn on
this. It limits the current to the speaker by changing the load that the amplifier
sees. When the power threshold is reached, D-Fend’s input impedance goes up.
The result is that the amplifier actually delivers less power. Look at the specs for
a power amplifier when driving 2, 4, 8, or 16 ohm loads and you’ll see what
happens, or just do the Ohm’s Law calculations. Since the speaker always sees
the same driving source (the D-Fend circuit board), raising load impedance on
the amplifier side of the box doesn’t affect the speaker damping. That’s pretty
clever. Also clever is that the electronics takes power from the incoming audio so
there’s no need for a power supply.
There’s a USB port on the board, and a computer application that allows you to
configure a lot of different things. You can set a broadband power limit and be
done with it, or, if it’s going into a 2- or 3-way box, you can define power limits for
each frequency band. If you’re send a bass-heavy mix to a speaker and the
woofer is in danger, the amplifier power will be reduced, saving the speaker, but
still keeping the mix in balance. Same if something goes haywire and the tweeter
is about to fry.
At the moment, they’re looking for applications – manufacturers who want to
build it into their cabinets or perhaps a manufacturer who wants to build it as a
stand-alone box. They might do so themselves.
http://www.eminence.com/d-fend/
Antares, the folks who brought us Auto-Tune, for better or worse, have partnered
with Parker and Peavey to produce an automatic tuning electric guitar that’s all
electronic and based on Antares’ pitch shifting technology, It consists of a small
DSP board implementing the Auto-Tune process, which can be built into an
electric guitar. Strum across the open strings, press a button, and the processor
spits out each string in tune regardless of the physical tuning.
The processor uses a polyphonic acoustic
pickup so each string gets its own Auto-Tune
processing. The output of the pickup itself
doesn’t sound very much like what you’d
expect from a guitar that looks like one of the
models that was shown with the automatic
tuning setup, so the processor also includes
guitar modeling which turns the crummy
pickup sound into something that sounds like it came from a guitar pickup. With
the Peavey guitar that I played with, switching between the Auto-Tuned output
and the pickup made very little difference in what I heard coming out of the
amplifier. The technology allows for several models, so not only does your guitar
stay in perfect tune, but it can sound like a variety of guitars. But what about
bends and playing with a slide? It’s smart enough to figure that out. The SolidTune Intonation System constantly monitors the pitch of every note played and
makes corrections to intonation but ignores bends and vibrato. You needn’t stick
to standard tuning, either. You can tell it to put out any note for any open string,
so you can program in your favorite off-brand tuning. You can also fool it for a
quick tuning change by having a string fretted when you press the “tune it”
button. For example, if you fret the 6th string at the second fret and tell it to tune,
it will think that’s an E. Un-fret the string and it drops to a D and stays there until
you tell the guitar to re-tune. If it works as well as I saw in a quick demo, it's really
amazing. No, they don’t have an acoustic model (yet) nor is it available (yet) to
install on a guitar that you own. Peavey says that their auto-tuning guitar which
they expect to release in July 2012 will sell for “under $500.” The Parker models,
which include more options than the basic Peavey, will be in the $3500 to $6000
price range depending on the guitar and options.
http://guitar.auto-tune.com/index.shtml
While we’re on the subject of guitars and technology, TC Electronic's Beam It! is
a really clever marriage of new and old technology. This is an iGizmo application
supporting their TonePrint pedals (described in my 2011 NAMM report) which
allows you to load new TonePrints into your pedal directly from an
iPhone/Pad/Pod Touch or Android device without a needing a computer and
USB connection. The way it works brings to mind the old acoustic coupler
modems that those of us older than the Internet used back in the dark ages. The
TonePrint data gets encoded as a modulated tone which is stored as an MP3 file
on the portable device. To load a new TonePrint, you just bring the speaker of
your phone next to the pickup of your guitar with the guitar connected to the
pedal. The bleeps and bloops "play" are coupled from the speaker to the pickup
through magnetic induction. The output of the pickup which is connected to the
pedal contains the data and instructions to load the new tone setup. That's a darn
clever way to use an iPhone. The app is now available on the Apple iTunes store
and the Android Market web sites. For direct links and a link to TonePrint, check:
http://www.tcelectronic.com/toneprint-app.asp
I keep looking for the first USB3 audio I/O box, but it’s not here yet. I had a chat
with the Archwave folks who make one of the most popular USB and Firewire
bridge chipsets asking if USB3 was in their plans. Nope, they said. Not enough
demand to set up manufacturing for a new chip. Of course they’re not the only
ones doing this, so someone might eventually come up with one, but most of the
end product vendors are starting to look at AVB, MADI, AES-50 or Thunderbolt
for getting multichannel audio in and out of computers in the next few years.
Musical Stuff That Doesn’t Fit Anywhere Else
Audio-Technica has been making fine
phono cartridges for nigh on to 50 years,
and has made a couple of turntables in
the past, at least one for DJing and one
for home listening.
At this show, they introduced a new
turntable That appears to be intended
for DJ use but it looks like it might turn
out to be a decent table for personal and
semi-pro digital archiving because of the very complete feature set. It has a 3phase direct drive motor and covers the standard speeds off 33-1/3, 45, and 78
RPM with both coarse and fine speed adjustment. The tone arm is fully
adjustable (it doesn’t come with a cartridge though A-T will happily help you
choose one or two for your application), and the built-in preamp provides either
both line-level RIAA equalized and phono cartridge level unequalized analog
outputs plus USB (equalized, I’m sure though maybe you get a choice).
http://www.audio-technica.com/cms/turntables/4351850e750a2f93/index.html
Yamaha introduced a new series
(currently consisting of two models) of
instrument amplifier, the THR5 and
THR10. These are intended to be
played when you’re off stage, though I
wouldn’t be surprised if some of them
end up on stage or in the studio with a
mic. They’re small and portable, the
right size to take to the beach, or even
keep on your desk. Both can be either
AC or battery powered. The 10 is a bit
larger than the 5 and has 5 user memory locations to save setups. Both use
amplifier modeling to provide a range of tube amplifier sounds with the 10 adding
a bass amp model, a model optimized for amplified acoustic guitar, and a clean
flat response that can be used with instruments other than guitars. Both have two
speakers so that stereo effects come out in stereo, there’s a USB port and
analog auxiliary input for computer playback and backing tracks, and the USB
port can be used for direct recording to a computer. It even has virtual tubes – an
orange glow coming from the front grill. The THR amplifiers are bundled with
Cubase AI and a computer-based editor for deeper editing of the models and
effects than what you can do with the controls on the box.
http://usa.yamaha.com/products/musical-instruments/guitarsbasses/amps/thr/?mode=series#tab=product_lineup
Remember the Buttkicker? That’s a voice coil driven weight which attaches to the
drummer's stool. It’s triggered by the kick drum to give the drummer a kick in the
butt to supplement the never enough kick drum in the monitor. The Porter &
Davies tactile monitoring drum system takes this a step further by making the
driver sensitive to dynamics (the Buttkicker is a one-kick pony). They're offering a
complete system with a stool and driver amplifier in either a rack mount or stand
alone case. When I tried it, it felt to me like there was too much sustain (take that
as you will), but there are a couple of controls on the amplifier that allowed me to
tune it to more like what I thought it should feel like.
http://www.porteranddavies.co.uk/index.html
Slaperoo - Bass? Percussion Instrument? This is a square metal
tube about 5 feet long. That’s the body. The string is a metal band
sort of like the steel packing bands used to hold crates closed
stretched between bridges along the tube's length. There's an
acoustic pickup at the bottom end. You can fret the band with a
finger to get pitches, and slap it against the tube for percussion. It
can even be played with a bow. It never really sounds like a bass,
but it's pretty interesting when played through the string of pedals
that the inventor was using with it. Watch the videos on the web
site.
http://www.slaperoo.com/index.htm
man
and he
videos on the web site.
http://footdrums.com/
Enhance Your One Man Band Act With the
Farmer Footdrum. You've probably seen
street musicians with a tambourine attached
to a shoe, or a hi-hat or kick drum, but the
Footdrum is pretty much a full drum kit with
kick, snare, cymbal, and interchangeable
hand percussion, all of which can be operated
by foot pedals. Inventor Pete Farmer also has
a high tech harmonica rack to complete the one
band setup. I asked if he was fan of Jesse Fuller
just smiled, which made me smile. Check out the
Better Things for Better Living Through Chemistry
Light your guitar on fire, or your wireless microphone, or your trumpet, or your
drum set, or your hands. Pyro-Fire USA, who has apparently been around for 30
years doing pyrotechnics for shows, is now
offering a system that's safe enough to be
used by bands without having a technician
come along to keep from burning down the
house. They have a water based fuel and a
series of "flamethrower" hardware (that they
wouldn't show it to me - said it was a trade
secret) that can be adapted to whatever you want, on a custom basis. For $750
they'll equip your guitar and teach you how to use it safely. I wouldn’t try it on
your Pearlman Church mic, but maybe it would go well with a Blue.
http://rockstarpyro.com
The best named product at the
show has to be eGloop, from
Fitness Audio. This company
makes a line of sweat-proof
headworn mics for fitness
instructors as well as wireless music players, and even a waterproof system for
swimmers. eGloop is a water repellent coating for connectors which they use inhouse on all their products and sell as an end product for protecting any
connector that’s likely to get damp. It’s neither petroleum nor silicone based
(gloop-based?) and a little dab, they say, lasts a long time. It’s $30 for a tube but
that looks like a lifetime supply for most audio users. I think it would be useful for
those of us who set up live sound systems at folk festivals where it always rains
and the stage box usually ends up in a puddle.
http://www.fitnessaudiodistributors.com/E-Gloop.html
My Sunday
The highlight for me Sunday was watching the movie
The Wrecking Crew. It’s a documentary about the loose
group of session musicians in Los Angeles who made up
the band for just about every pop record that came out of
California from the birth of rock and roll in the late 1950s
through the late 1970s, by which time bands had
become self-contained and didn’t need backup musicians for recording. These
were the people who played behind The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Neil
Diamond, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Jan and Dean, Glenn Campbell (who was a
Wrecking Crew member himself), Elvis Presley . . the list goes on.
There were, in the words of a few of the members of the group, 20, maybe 30,
maybe 40 of the regular gang who were called in for sessions, and in those days
there was full time work for all of them. It’s very different today, of course. Mostly
these folks were invisible to the record buying public since their names didn’t
appear on the records. Some that you may have heard of because they’ve
become legends in the later years are Tommy Tedesco, Al Casey, Glenn
Campbell, Hal Blaine, Plas Johnson . . .
The film was produced by Denny Tedesco, son of Wrecking Crew guitarist
Tommy and is full of interviews, photos, film and video clips, and lots of music.
While the film has been essentially finished for a few years now and has made
the rounds of film festivals and private showing such as at NAMM and received
wide acclaim, there’s still about $200,000 needed to clear (and pay royalties on)
all of the music. At the moment, they’re in a fund raising phase, with the plan to
put out a DVD with the full film plus a lot of bonus material and hopefully get
distribution. They’re under the umbrella of the International Documentary
Association, which gives donations tax deductible status. Send ‘em a buck or a
grand and help get this show on the road.
http://www.wreckingcrewfilm.com
Ramblings
If this year’s report seems to be kind of shy on studio gear, it’s not that there
wasn’t anything new, it’s just that there’s so much that’s so little different from
what’s already out there that, at least in certain categories, it hardly matters what
you buy. There are good reasons for preferences, of course, but many of these
are personal (which is absolutely OK) rather than technical. The new microphone
this year that looks just like the new microphone last year except perhaps for a
different case color and “slightly smoother response.” If you want some particular
preamp, equalizer, or compressor in a 500-series package, it’s probably there by
now and all you have to do is ask for it.
The industry certainly isn’t dying, it’s flourishing. 2012, the 110th NAMM show,
was a record year for registrants, almost 96,000, with more than 1400 exhibitors
with 236 new exhibitors. No wonder my feet and ears were tired. The exhibit halls
were crowded this year, probably more on Friday than ever, and all of the
vendors who I know well enough to ask about how they’re doing responded very
positively. People are buying stuff, and while each year there are more
newcomers buying new entry level gear, more of them are maturing and looking
for, not necessarily the $10,000 D/A converter, but they’re starting to recognize
that they can hear their mixes better through a $1,000 converter than what’s
coming out of their $300 I/O box, and they’re spending the money. That has to be
a good thing.
Technology trends? IDevices everywhere, which to me means that we’re going to
have to get adjusted to operating things with touch screens, which I don’t think is
always appropriate. I was a bit disappointed that it looks like as far as audio
goes, USB3 is going to take a pass. With Firewire connectivity fading into the
sunset we’ll be living with USB2 for a while, but that’s really not so bad given that
I’ve seen two systems here that are pushing it to 48 bi-directional channels at 96
kHz sample rate. Thunderbolt is probably a year or two away from the
mainstream yet. Still, we’re seeing plenty of growth in the audio field and people
are having fun with music. That’s all good.
What is it about M-80? That’s a firecracker, isn’t it? There were at least three
products displayed at the show that were named M-80. There’s a Telefunken mic
which has been around for a few years, though they introduced an M-81 this year
which is a little flatter in the midrange. Then there’s an M-80 guitar pickup from
L.R. Baggs, and finally, Mackie co-developed a new op amp chip with JRC that
will carry the Mackie “Running Man” logo that will give them a consistent supply
of a known part that they’ll be using across the board in their products.
NAMM has always been about music, and music is frequently the vehicle for
social commentary. There was an action group (with music, of course) from
Mozambique outside the convention center bringing the “Gibson Guitar Raid”
story to the public. They’re losing their forests to wood harvesters and they
recognize that their own government is too disorganized to control forestry and
export of native woods, so they’re encouraging the US and other countries to do
it for them. Although the Lacey act doesn’t specifically target the instrument
building business, that’s where a lot of the wood goes. NAMM is indeed
concerned both for the state of the native forests and the security of the industry
that they support and has their own lobbyists working on Capitol Hill. They don’t
want to get the law repealed (as most musicians do), they want clarification on
what it covers and how it’s enforced. Obviously raiding a major instrument
manufacturer and confiscating tons of material makes a point, but doesn’t solve
the problem.
Finally, just because I like the art of musical
instruments as much as the music, see if you
can find out how to play the Due Capi. This is
from a display at the show of hand made
instruments brought in from the NAMM
Museum of Making Music. One of these days
when I have some free time and I’m around
Carlsbad, California, I’m going to have to check
the museum out myself and see what other
musical wonders dwell there.
And in closing, here are some pedals that probably sound great, but look even
greater. Next year, next gear.
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