Sunday is usually a slow day, and this year was typical. NAMM tried to boost the Sunday attendance by offering exhibitors some extra Sunday only visitor badges and I saw quite a few of those around the floor. Keep that in mind for next year if you’re able to attend and don’t have a “ticket.” Ask around.
Last year I saw a really clever gadget, the Kelly SHU kick drum microphone shock mounting system. It’s a horseshoe shaped aluminum or composite bracket suspended inside a kick drum by elastic cords attached to the inside of the screws that hold the drum’s lug brackets. There’s a threaded stud for a standard mic stand adapter and the whole thing holds a mic inside the drum, vibration-isolated, and positioned as you want it. This year he came up with a variation designed for mounting a boundary (PZM) mic using the same elastic suspension scheme. While there isn’t much of a boundary for the mic to work against with the mic hanging in mid air (typically a PZM is placed on the floor) I suppose it’s similar to a common kick drum miking techniques of the ‘80s, using a PZM on a blanket inside the drum. When I mentioned that wished there was a way to make use of his mounts without having to take the drum apart, like for use on stage at a festival, he pointed me to a drum on which the suspension cords were attached to the lugs and the mic pokes through a hole in the head. Pretty clever.
It’s nice to see a new mic manufacturer from the US, and even nicer when they survive to show up at NAMM for a second year with new products. Miktek out of Nashville (they use Chinese capsules but most of the other parts including the transformers are US sourced, as is assembly and test) was back with two new live performance mics to supplement their line of studio mics. The PM9 is their first dynamic mic, while the PM5 is a super-cardioid condenser which uses the capsule, electronics, and output transformer of their C5 small diaphragm studio mic. Both are in flat black handheld cases with a multi-layer windscreen to suppress plosives. The dynamic mic is optimized for good rear rejection to allow for higher gain before feedback. The condenser mic is designed to bring studio quality to the stage.
Miktek also showed a new 2-channel preamp, the MPA-201. It features separate input gain and output level controls, a VU meter that can be switched between input and output level, a variable low-cut filter, variable input impedance and an instrument DI input which doubles as a line input for “that preamp sound” after the fact. A “2X” switch re-routes the output of the DI transformer into the mic transformer for a different tone color. A “Smooth” button selects between a “racked” and “in-console” sound, whatever that means. But with class A discrete design, it’s unlikely to sound wrong, just different, when that switch is engaged.
The Smartax (try saying that correctly after a few drinks) from Empirical Labs is an equalizer, compressor, and saturation effect designed specifically for acoustic instruments, packed into a 500-series module. In addition, it can process line level signals. Circuitry is all analog, but controls are digital. The EQ section consists of a 70 or 100 Hz 18 dB/octave high pass filter followed by three bands of parametric (though not continuously variable) EQ with frequencies selected to be particularly useful for acoustic instruments. The compressor and saturation circuit follow the EQ. The degree of gain reduction and percentage of saturation distortion is determined by the Input gain control (that’s input to the compressor). A Mix control adjusts the amount of compressed/saturated signal is added to the clean signal. The compressor can be turned off to allow the saturation circuit to work independently. An internal jumper can engage a 150 Hz high pass filter in the compressor detector signal path (this is the factory setting) to prevent excessive compression from the boomy low end of a guitar. Two units can be ganged together to equally compress a stereo source, though this requires installing a jumper between pin 6 of the card slots containing the Smartaxes. When those pins are connected together (this involves soldering in most if not all 500-series racks) a front panel switch can engage or disengage stereo linking.
To continue with the personal monitoring theme, I took the opportunity to check out some digital snake systems that are prime candidates for this application. ProCo’s basic snake system consists of up to four 8-channel analog input and output modules connected to an Ethernet switch, with the switches connected by a single Ethernet cable, or, for redundancy, with two cables by using spanning tree protocol. Monitor mixing is implemented by adding the mo8me 32-1n by 8-out mix engine. Alternately, a stand-alone monitor system can be built by connecting a mo8me mixer to as many 8-channel input modules as are required. The mix is remotely controlled remotely by an iPad/Phone application (99 cents). The iPad can control the level, pan, and 3-band EQ for each channel. This is pretty pricey stuff, probably better suited for a good sized tour or fixed venue than the local bar band, but I suspect that it’s the beginning of a trend that’s only going to get more affordable as demand increases.
I’m not much for plug-ins, but the new Fraunhofer (the company that invented MP3 data reduction encoding) real time encoder from Sonnox is just so cool. It allows you to monitor the encoded/decoded stream in real time so you can mix and master with an ear to what it will sound like when the data-reduced file is played back through the listener’s system. It supports MP3 and AAC formats, and allows you to audition through each of the encoding systems that it supports. You can select two for audition and switch between them with an A/B switch for comparison. You can also listen to the difference (output minus input) to hear what’s getting lost in the data compression process.. There’s a gain adjustment to prevent clipping during the encoding process (there are meters and clip indicators to guide you), and when you’ve chosen your compression method and mixed the project, it will perform the encoding.
Finally, AirTurn is a box with two foot pedal inputs and Bluetooth output. It’s designed to remotely control page turning of a musical score or lyric sheet displayed on an iPad by transmitting the PageUp and PageDown keyboard commands to the display application when the pedal inputs sense a momentary switch closure. I’m thinking that with the proper code translation it could also be used as a remote control for a DAW, perhaps to toggle playback and punching into record.
That’s it for this year. I’ll be consolidating these daily reports, adding additional information and insightful or snide comments, pictures and web links within the next week. In the meantime, I just want to rest my feet, ears, and brain.