2012 Winter NAMM Show Day 2 Wanderings
This was another pretty scattered day, though I think I’ve now covered all of Hall E. This is where they used to put all of the new companies, many of which had some pretty off-the-wall products, and many of which never saw the light of day again. Maybe there just isn’t as many new exhibitors as there were ten years or more ago, because Hall E isn’t as full of new innovators as it used to be, and there are many “ordinary” exhibitors there, some by request because they wanted a quieter space than on the main floor.
American Recorder had a couple of new and useful products. One is a reflection baffle for a microphone that’s quite small, about 6 x 7 inches, big enough to give a little help keeping reflections from a wall from getting into the rear of the mic, but not really big enough to give a sense of isolation. They were also showing a video recording rig designed for an iPhone consisting of a bracket to hold the phone in place, an LED illuminator (that’s a fancy name for “light,” and a bracket that they both can hang on which serves as a table stand or it can be conveniently hand held. Also new is a carbon fiber mic stand. It’s really light, but I think that if you wanted to put a boom or even a pretty heavy mic on it, you’d want to put a weight on the base for safety.
Personal multi-channel monitor mixers abounded. A new company with a nice design is Mamba MIX. They have two versions of the input module, one with 16 mic/line inputs, the other with 16 line inputs only. 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 talk WiFi right from the box. You can feed the line-only input module from a mixer’s direct outputs. You can also feed it from channel insert jacks, and it provides 8 inserts so you don’t lose them all. This can work fine if you don’t need more than 8 inserts and you patch it in so that you have inserts on the channels that need them. The input box with the mic preamps, should you need that one, is a little different. In order to get the preamp outputs back to the house mixer, you’ll need an expansion box that connects to the preamp box via an Ethernet cable. It’s pretty much of a real mixer, with each channel having a 3 band EQ with 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. Behringer has a similar gadget and if I can get anyone at the booth to pay attention to me tomorrow, I’ll look it over and try to make a comparison.
Line 6, long known for their guitar amplifier modeling systems, has taken a leap into live sound, 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 L3t speaker actually has a built-in mixer with two 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. It’s orientation sensitive – with it vertical, the speakers have a fairly broad horizontal radiation pattern with a fairly narrow vertical pattern. Lay the speaker on its angled side (it detects this automatically) and it re-orients the pattern to serve as a monitor. Connect a second speaker through the proprietary linking system and the mono mix becomes partially stereo. The mic/instrument inputs and auxiliary input stay in the center, but the effects and RCA inputs split out to stereo.
When you need more inputs, the M20d mixer comes into play. 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 a channel for it pops up on the touch screen. You can name the channel and assign an icon to it to show it on screen as an instrument or vocal mic. A set of knobs below the screen control the levels, and touching any input icon brings up a full screen display of all its settings including EQ, aux (monitor) send levels, and effects. 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. The mixer networks to the speakers, and mixes can be remotely controlled from an iPad.
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.
It seems that more and more companies are entering the field of easily installable acoustic treatment. Two new ones this year with designs a bit different from the typical foam wedges and glass fiber absorbers are from 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.
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.
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. There’s also a new hand held video recorder (this one was still under plastic, hands-off) which 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. They’ve been busy in the “i” world too, with the iM-2 stereo mic that plugs into the docking connector of an iPhone, and the iU2, which is essentially a TASCAM US-144 built into a smaller and lighter case and equipped with an i-docking connector (as well as a standard USB port). The mic/line input jacks are ¼”, but the kit includes short XLR adapter cables, and it can supply 48v phantom power. There’s also S/PDIF coax and MIDI in and out.
Colin Broad designed a number of classic audio products 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 MA-104 provides up to 69 dB of gain with a maximum output power of +26 dBm. Remote 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. This is Colin’s first product as an independent and he’s planning a line of A/D and D/A converters and monitor controllers.
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 in-house 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.
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.
What would a NAMM show be without effect pedals. But pedals as art?