USITT Expo – St. Louis March 8-11

And speaking of St. Louis, the USITT (United States Institute of Theater Technology) will be holding its annual conference at the St. Louis, Missouri America’s Center Convention Complex from March 8 through 11, 2017. I’ve never attended this one and don’t plan to attend, but there are three days of workshops and conferences, along with the Expo trade show. The full conference costs some bucks, but if you’re in the area and are interested in kicking tires on some live sound and theater production gear, you might want to take advantage of VUE Audiotechnik’s offer for free Expo registration. And as an adjunct to the show, VUE, who makes live sound speaker systems, is offering a four-hour demo and training session where you can learn, among other things, about how a line array speaker system works and how to set one up.

Click VUE Free USITT Expo Pass for free USITT Expo registration (use the non-member registration. VUE’s promo code is pre-inserted)

Click here for info and registration for the VUE Demo/Training session (registration is separate from the USITT Expo)

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Prism Sound Mic To Monitor Seminar Midwest US Tour March 25-31 2017

Prism Sound is again bringing their free Mic to Monitor seminar to the US for five sessions in March. This is a roughly 4 hour program with several presenters on a variety of topics, explaining jargon, clarifying myths, and explaining techniques that will help you to make better recordings. Topics include but are not limited to: room acoustics; microphone technology and techniques; loudspeaker technology; interface and converter technology; hearing safety and in-ear monitoring as well as dipping into psycho-acoustics and perception. Guest topics include recording techniques, mixing, remixing and mastering and much more.

Here are the dates and locations for this round of seminars:

  • March 25 – Webster University, Webster Grove MO (St. Louis area)
  • March 28 – Ball State University, Muncie IN (2 sessions)
  • March 29 – SAE Institute, Chicago IL
  • March 31 – Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland OH

And if you just happen to be around Dublin, Ireland, there’s a session on March 25 at Windmill Lane Studios, featuring VIP guest Rob Kirwan

The Webster University session is part of the school’s AES Student Summit for which there is a registration fee. Click on the link for details. The first Ball State session is for Ball State students only, which means that if you are one,  you probably already know about this one. The evening session is open to all.

For further information and registration links for each of the sessions, visit this Prism Sound web page.

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Winter 2017 NAMM Show Report Posted

Oh, man, these things are taking longer to write every year. I need an intern! This is the full report, 26 pages, I think. There are some things in here that weren’t in the tidbits, and some things in the tidbits that I decided not to preserve for posterity and didn’t include here. PDF, pictures, links, you know the drill.

You can find it on the Trade Show Reports page or just jump right to it here

 

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NAMM 2017 Tidbits – Day 4

These are the dribs and drabs, and reminders of what I forgot to include and what I want to dig into a little more before writing about them.

 

The press release from T-Rex said they were introducing a real analog tape based effect device that was similar to the Binson Echorec, and indeed they did. When I first saw it, I saw a sticker on the back of the tape cartridge assembly that said that the reels might not rotate during operation, and that this was normal. My first thought was that the tape mechanism was a dummy and that it really did everything with electronics inside, but, no, it really works. The “reels” are part of the tape guiding system and not actually part of the tape loop, which is under pretty low tension and depends on pressure pads against the heads for good contact and wrap. It has two playback heads which can be switched to provide two delays, or once can be switched to feed the record path for feedback to achieve repeating echoes. Delay is adjusted by varying the tape speed, which suggests that long delays might not sound as good as short ones, but it adds a potentially useful function – tap tempo delay setting. The motor speed controller detects the tap rate and adjusts the tape speed accordingly. Although it uses cassette width tape, it appears to be nicely built and, with reasonable maintenance, should work well.

 

Samson’s Go Mic Mobile is a wireless microphone system that’s sized to clamp on to the back of a mobile phone. It connects to the phone via USB (a Lightning adapter cable is provided for new iPhones) and allows the camera operator the freedom to move around while having the subject close-miked.

 

Chameleon Labs introduced a couple of updates to their rack mount analog processors, all of which feature their transformers and are designed around iconic sounding gear. The 7603 Xmod mic preamp offers 300/1200 ohm mic input impedance with 48v phantom power, a high impedance instrument DI input, and inductor-based EQ. The 7720 stereo compressor includes peak or RMS detection, hard/soft knee, and an input/output blend control for what’s become known as “parallel compression.” Also new this year is the 560 inductor-based 3-band EQ and low cut filter in a 500-series module.

 

Softube showed their Console 1 Mark II. To refresh your memory, Console 1 is a hardware controller for DAW signal processing. It comes with a growing set of plug-ins, it supports many third-party plug-ins, and the new model support Universal Audio’s DSP-based plug-ins as long as you have the hardware that goes along with then. Initially it was designed around Pro Tools (of course) but now is fully integrated and tested with Cakewalk Sonar and PreSonus Studio One.

 

Ehrlund from Sweden is a condenser mic manufacturer that’s new to me. The thing that makes their products unique is that the diaphragm is triangular. They have a few fairly conventional looking mics for the conventional purposes, as well as a stubby one designed for close-in drum miking, and a contact mic for acoustic instruments. They also have a dual-capsule model with individual outputs from each capsule. This is a feature that’s starting to show up and we may be seeing more of it if it catches on. The idea is that you can mix the outputs of the two mics to shape the directivity pattern to your liking. While it’s a good idea to figure out what you need before you press the Record button (a wide cardioid, an omni, or maybe a figure-8) you can make tweaks afterward.

 

Your next guitar may be made from paper, or maybe your newest guitar already is. At NAMM, there are always plenty of exhibitors that supply wood to instrument builders, and Richlite joined that aisle this year. They make a composite building material from highly compressed and processed paper that works very much like real wood and can be made in any color. Martin, along with other guitar builders, has been using it for fingerboards and bridges. It seems to work fine, looks good, holds frets, and probably wears better than real ebony.

 

As there has been at the past few shows, there was a large section of analog synthesizers – not the big “desert island” setting they had last year, but at least as many displays and enough patch cords to run a small town’s telephone exchange in the 1880s. Moog offered a tribute to the many pioneers of analog synthesis that we lost in 2016. Their listening station consisted of a bunch of handheld cassette players loaded with their music – a fitting tribute, I think.

 

 

Come back next week for a more organized report with more details, pictures, and links.

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NAMM 2017 Tidbits – Day 3

Little Labs has a new little problem solver, the Monotor. This is Jonathan Little’s take on what’s become a popular product, the headphone amplifier, that again shows that his products do what you expect and do it well, but add some useful features you never thought you needed, and that make them unique in the field. The Monnotor offers switching for mono (left + right), left/right reverse, left or right channel only to both ears, and left minus right for a quick listen for out-of-phase material or hearing one of the detrimental effects of MP3 data compression. There are switches for bypassing the volume pot (both or one channel only) if you have a D/A converter with a very good volume control. There two headphone outputs, each with both a ¼” and mini phone jacks. Each pair of jacks, though sharing a single volume control, is driven from a separate amplifier so that plugging in the second set of phones doesn’t affect the level of the first set, though each of the output pairs can adequately drive two sets of headphones of any of today’s wide range of impedances. Finally, there’s an pair of ¼” TRS jacks in parallel with the two combo XLR input connectors for a pass-through to your monitor speakers.

Following in this theme, Mackie has re-introduced their Big Knob monitor controller, this time in three versions. The Passive is a true passive pot in a box offering a selection of two stereo input sources and two stereo outputs, mute and dim switches, and a big volume control knob. The Studio and Studio Plus offer 3 inputs and two outputs and 4 inputs and 3 outputs respectively with independent trims on all of the inputs and outputs. The Studio models include a USB recording interface with to Onyx mic preamps, an input/output mix control for true no-latency monitoring when recording, and two headphone outputs with independent volume controls.

Antelope Audio’s new Orion32 HD 32 channel in/out interface features both USB3 and Avid HDX ports for compatibility with both HD and native versions of Pro Tools as well as just about any other DAW (through USB). More details will follow in the final show report.

Lynx introduced a new version of their Aurora 8- and 16-channel converters that incorporate a lot of the technology from their Hilo stereo converter. There are several models in the pipeline but they continue with the Lynx L-Stream slot to offer several different flavors of connectivity. The first models include mic preamps, an analog sum for monitoring, and direct recording and playback from a micro-SD card.

Roland introduced the Rubix series of three new low cost USB audio and MIDI interfaces, the 22, 24, and 44. They’re all iOS class compatible and differ in the number of inputs and outputs that follow the model numbers. The 24 and 44 include a compressor, and one of the pair(s) combo XLR input jacks can be switched to a high impedance DI instrument input. Also from Roland is the Go-Mixer, a hand-sized mixer designed for smart phone recording.

IK Multimedia showed their new Acoustic Stage microphone system which consists of the iRig Acoustic clip-on mic that they introduced last year coupled with a preamp with ‘DSP processing. There are three presets for each for steel and nylon string guitars plus a “cancel feedback” button that inserts some preset notch filters. There’s also an auxiliary input for connecting a guitar’s built-in pickup and blending it with the iRig mic. The product description states “iOS connectivity which is a bit misleading by itself. What it has is a jack that serves the same function as a channel insert jack on a mixer or mic preamp, wired to connect directly to a mobile device’s TRRS headphone jack (which complicates its connection to the latest iOS devices). The idea is that you can use your phone, running an application such as IK’s iRig effects and apply it to your acoustic guitar. Where “iOS” comes in, and why they describe this connectivity as such, is that Android devices, other than the latest high end ones from Samsung, have too much latency for real time playing – which is why there’s very limited support for audio signal processing on Androids. However, with a bit of cable construction and level matching, you could use the “iOS” jack to put a hardware equalizer or compressor into your guitar signal path.

I usually keep as far away from the main drum area of the show, but I had to stop and look at the Polyend Perc Pro. It’s a system of motorized drum beaters. You set up your drum kit, mount the beaters where you’d hit the drums, feed them MIDI, and your drummer is always in time, on time, and sober. What’s next? Use them to hit pad controllers that can trigger MIDI to play drum samples? That’s the Rube Goldberg way. They also have a companion step sequencer.

Jocavi is one of the many suppliers of prefab acoustical treatments. New to me is their Abstract, a membrane absorber with the low frequency diaphragm absorber part being tuneable between 50 and 250 Hz. There’s an inflatable bladder behind the panel that adjusts its stiffness, and therefore its low frequency absorption peak. They didn’t have any curves there at the show (I’ll check the web site) so it’s not clear what kind of range it has, but it’s an interesting idea.

Tempo Technologies makes inventory tracking systems using RFID stickers. This is kind of a business thing, but it could have applications for musicians or touring groups. When packing the truck, you could scan each box to be sure it’s loaded, and who it belongs to. One thing that I didn’t know (and I’m still unsure of how widely implemented this is) is that Android phones (but not Apple, yet) have a sensor for scanning RFID tags, so you don’t necessarily need a dedicated scanner. The company maintains a “Find Me” data base that could be really useful to musicians. If you have an RFID sticker on your instrument and it’s registered on the data base, if your instrument is stolen and you report it, there’s some chance that it could be found, for instance, if it’s pawned and the pawn shop scans for RFIDs.

The Tone Dexter from Audio Sprockets (see my 2016 NAMM report for a full description) got a bit of a makeover based on input from early testers and users. Briefly, it’s a device that compares the sound of your acoustic guitar played into a good quality mic with what comes out of its pickup. Processing in the box does its stuff and matches the pickup sound with the mic sound pretty closely. The new version replaces some of the menu-selected items with dedicated switches, and they tweaked the algorithm a bit.

That’s it for Day 3. I’m about to head out in the rain to pick up some of the dregs and then I’ll be off on a two day vacation.

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2017 NAMM Show Tidbits – Day 2

From the introduction of the cassette-based Portastudio, TASCAM has maintained a strong product line of integrated recording and mixing systems. This show they introduced Track Factory, which could be the next generation after the digital Portastudios. a complete system-engineered and turnkey computer-based music production system. The package includes a TASCAM US-2×2 interface, along with an Intel NUC (Next Unit Computing) tiny computer , plus a TASCAM TM-80 mic and TH-02 headphones. The computer, with a 2.7 GHz i5 CPU with 4 GM of RAM and a 256 GB solid state disk drive. Cakewalk’s Sonar Professional is pre-installed and the operating system is optimized for audio by PC Audio Labs, a well respected supplier of turnkey music computers. It includes a keyboard and mouse, but you’ll need monitor speakers and a video monitor in order to complete the system. Target price is $1300, which, when adding up street prices of all the pieces, means that you’re paying about $250 for the integration and packaging, but for that you don’t just get a ready-to-play recording system, but one that’s expandable as your needs grow.

TASCAM also introduced a couple of new rack mounted 2-track solid state recoreders, the SS-CDR250N and SS-R250N. The CDR250N includes a CDR transport for transferring audio files to audio CD or vice versa. Both have balanced line level analog I/O and both offer an optional Dante card. There’s also an optional remote.

MikMe showed a different approach to portable recording. Its form factor is block about 2-1/2” square and a bit under 1” thick that records to 16 GB of internal memory. Their bragging point is that it contains a 1” condenser mic capsule, but there’s only one, so it’s a mono recorder.

Aapen Pittman, the father of Groove Tubes, long ago developed a single box stereo speaker that uses the M-S principle. It didn’t get a lot of traction but Fender made an amplifier using the technology and Pittman himself brought out the Spacestation, a compact version. At this show, he introduced the Spacestation XL and Super XL, a larger version which includes a minimal mixer.

Big Bear Audio takes a creative approach with their new 500-series mic preamp. It’s a clean and flat preamp with hardware plug-in modules to add “color.” There’s a DIY electronics group of forum folks who have evolved a common circuit board form factor and connector for swapping out various processing modules and that’s where the “color” board for the Big Bear MP1 are (at least for now) coming from. There’s an 1176-style compressor, a couple of equalizers, a tape saturation emulator, a pentode tube stage, and a transformer.

Schertler’s Arthur Format 48 system is a mixer frame and a series of channel and summing modules that allow you to custom-assemble your own console. There are two mic input modules, one “ultra low noise,” a DI input module, a stereo line input module, a talkback module, and a stereo output module. It’s a “flat” mixer with all the connections on the top of the panel, and the modules look and feel very good. I’m going to try to spend a little more time with this one and see what kind of configurations are possible.

PreSonus has a new version of their StudioLive console. Series III follows the same theme of their original and 2nd generation mixers, but this one replacing a row of mult-purpose knobs with a large color touch screen with a set of master hardware controls. Another new feature is the inclusion of several component-modeled signal processing plug-ins to supplement the perfectly functional EQ and dynamics that they’ve had since the initial version. Also new from PreSonus is the Faserport 8, a control surface with eight motorized faders, a transport controller, channel mute, solo, and track arming.

Following the introduction of the Red 8 preamp at AES, Focusrite showed two 8-channel 2nd generation Scarlett series mic preamps with analog and ADAT optical outputs for expanding the input capability of smaller Scarlett (or other) audio interfaces with ADAT digital inputs. One is a straight preamp, the other adds a compressor on each of the eight input channels and eight direct analog line outputs.

Zvex makes a bunch of effect pedals, but this year they showed the Vibrophase, a Rube Goldberg contraption that’s candle powered and provides phase-based effect. The candle heats air in a chamber which drives a Sterling cycle piston engine that rotates a disk with an optical mask that interrupts a light sounce (also powered by candle light on a photocell) that modulates the audio signal. It’s a beautiful piece of mechanics, something that might have been built by a metalworking hobbyist, but the darn thing actually works. Don’t wait for the final version of my report. You gotta see the video:
http://www.zvex.com/zvex-candela-vibrophase

There’s a new source for audio transformers from an old US-based transformer manufacturer, Hammond. Not necessarily better or worse that the standards like Jensen and Lindhal, Hammond offers mic input, mic splitter, line input, line output, and a direct box transformer with Mu metal shielding and common form factors.

Off to Day 3. At least it’s not raining today.

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NAMM Show 2017 Tidbits – Day 1

This is going to be really sketchy. Seems like the days get longer every year and I’m staying in a hotel with an odd desk that doesn’t let me really spread things out very well, so mostly what I’m doing here is sharing notes to myself about things I see that I want to spend more time describing than I have now. Be sure to check out the full report in a week or so.

As usual, I spent a fair amount of my first day in Hall E. This is where they put all of the new exhibitors with new products that may or may not be back another year. Many of the new products are Kickstarter (or another one like it) projects that are still in the prototype/idea phase. Some are pretty neat, some are pretty wacky.

Ponz Guitars showed a line of sort-of modular guitars. The neck, body, bridge, pickups and controls are all in one unit. There are two headstock styles, Gibson and Fender,. This drops into a slot in your choice of bodies in an assortment of styles and colors, or you can customize one yourself. You can play a different color guitar for every song in your set and never have to change your sound.

Half One is a loudspeaker cut in half through the cone and frame, but with the voice coil left intact. At first I thought it was a loudspeaker manufacturer showing the insides, but no, it’s supposed to play like that. It comes out of an Onkyo engineering study with the goal in mind to make a loudspeaker that has a radiation pattern like that of a musical instrument (but they don’t say what instrument, Their 3D polar plot shows several lobes an nulls. They sounded horrid, and are priced at $3,000 each, $5,000 for a pair. You gotta see this, and you will, in the final report.

Sonicsmith showed two analog synthesizers that take their input from an audio source rather than a keyboard or sequencer. Play a guitar into it and get all sorts of weird sounds out. It’s not an effect pedal. It doesn’t modify the sound of the instrument, it extracts the pitch, makes a new waveform of that frequency, then applies filters and modulation to it, just like an analog synth.

Moon Amplification showed a rotary speaker system (think “Leslie”) with no moving parts except for the voice coils of the four loudspeakers inside the box that face outward from each edge. The action of the rotating speaker inside a real Leslie is simulated by shifting the phase relationships among the speakers. It’s a pretty cool idea, and as far as I could tell in the noisy hall, it works.

Mod Duo is a software-based build-it-yourself pedal board in a compact box with two foot pedal type buttons, two knobs with integrated pushbuttons, and two small LCDs. You connect it to a computer via USB, pick the processing modules you want to use, hook them up in any order, series or parallel or both, and control the devices in the chain from the box.

Mobile Catch is a guitar capo with a holder for a smart phone or tablet attached. Clever, but, I think, clumsy.

Sensel Morph is a set of interchangeable pads that lay on a base about the size of a mouse pad. The pads are laid out for different functions – there was a drum pad, a sample player, a piano keyboard, a mixer, a blank drawing tablet, and a QWERTY keyboard. A strip on the back of each pad identifies its function and sets up the USB output appropriately.

The Zylia microphone is a ball a bit larger than a softball that contains 19 microphone elements. Their thing is that you can have your band members sit in a circle around the mic, their software will sort out each player by position, and record each as an individual track. I listened to their demo on line a while back and I wasn’t terribly impressed. It did a pretty good job of separating the parts, which is good trick in itself, but most of them didn’t sound very good. Then maybe they didn’t sound very good originally. It’s an idea that needs a better reason for being, I think.

In the department of Woe and Intrigue, Roland introduced a new stage piano that can be a plain old MIDI controller, but when connected to a computer, provides more resolution of performance parameters including multiple polyphonic expression. In order to make use of this feature, you need sounds that understand it, so they took to The Cloud. You can play something with conventional sounds, then send your high resolution track out and get it back rendered as an audio file in all its glory. The Intrigue part is that a few years ago, a few of the MIDI manufacturers, including Roland, wanted to explore this possibility. The MIDI Manufacturers Association encouraged them to develop a standard to adopt and publish, but Roland didn’t want to do it – then they went out and did it on their own. Maybe they’ll get it as a standard, maybe not. MMA was expecting to have something published later this year.

Day 2 is starting out with a 2/3 mile walk to the convention center in the rain. Time to crank up my umbrella and pick up a garbage bang as an emergency poncho in case it gets serious.

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