Winter NAMM 2013 – Day 1 Random Wanderings and Musings

I hope I have a report to put together after the show. This year, hardly anyone has literature to hand out at their booth. It’s what reminds me at the end of the day of what I saw. This year when I ask for something with at least the product and manufacturer’s name, most of the time I’ll be handed a card with a URL.
Gathering the info from web sites is an extra step and it’s nearly impossible from a hotel room where there are a couple of hundred high tech people from the same show competing for air time on a family-sized router.

Enough editorializing, here’s some of what I saw in my random first day wanderings, in the order they come off the meager stack. My first day was mostly spent in Hall E where most of the new exhibitors, some with pretty wacky ideas, dwell.

I received a flurry of press releases from Goltar for their Robotune system, claiming to be the first of such a product. Well, the idea and implementation in one way or another for a dozen years or so – sense the pitch of the strings and turn the tuning pegs with a motor. Gibson has built such a system into a guitar, but with the Robotune, you bring the guitar to the tuner. With the guitar on a table, you clamp the sensor around the neck, fit the tuner assembly on to the tuning pegs (they were displaying a Fender style with all pegs on one side), power it up, and strum. It then does its thing, tuning all the strings. They didn’t have the guitar connected to an amplifier so I couldn’t hear how well it worked, but the implementation made me wonder who would want to tune a guitar this way. Surely it’s not something you’d use on stage. Maybe it would be a good tool for a backstage guitar tech preparing the next guitar he has to run out to the star.

Speaking of guitar tuners, Korg (first in the all electronic tuner biz as far as I can remember) was showing a few new tuners including a nice looking desktop sized polyphonic tuner with a large display that’s easy to read by old folks like me.

I’ve been ranting and raving lately about why Androids don’t have good audio apps and trying to find out why. I think I finally found someone who knows, knows what needs to be done to make it better, and has hardware and software products ready to go when the rest of the planets align; Freescale Semiconductor has an extensive set of development tools which includes a hardware backplane and development circuit boards for dedicated functions along with support software. You can develop and test your app and accessory hardware using their kit, and when it’s all working, they can integrate your hardware into a final product. So far all their work has been with iOS but they’re aware that somebody has to be there for Android and they’re working toward it. He acknowledged the lack of documentation and knowledge about the Android I/O, but he said that with the current version of the Android OS (4.0 and now 4.1) there’s a way to get USB in and out, and that’s a big step for recording apps.

On the same theme, Sonoma Wire Works announced a new low latency audio solution for Android that uses the analog (headset) I/O jack. Typical latency is around 200 ms and they’re claiming to be able to cut that 20 ms – nothing to write home about, but that would get into the range where guitar processor apps could be workable. The bad news is that, at least in the near term, it’s not universal software bolt-on, but actually an attachment to the Android OS and will have to be built into the OS by the device’s manufacturer. It sounds to me like, in effect, it’s a driver that has to be compiled into the OS rather than accessed as a separate program. This means that whatever Android you have now won’t be helped by this development, but the next one you buy might incorporate it.

And while I’m on the apps kick, I finally go to see Aura, the 48 track DAW app for iOS in the flesh and in action. It’s really well thought out and easy to get into. I’m not ready to buy an iPad yet but I have a better appreciation for the not-a-toy status for apps that appear to be developed by people who have actually worked with the hardware that they emulate. Multi-channel I/O is still, of course, up to the user. There are plenty of good choices if you don’t need a lot of inputs, but for live work, either you’ll need to expand something like the PreSonus 1818VSL or Focusrite 18i6 with outboard ADAT optical connected A/D converters, which starts getting into a more haywire system. Their best large scale I/O solution is the Behringer X32 console.

Xonami is a combination of a server system and metadata management system to make collaboration on large audio projects more efficient. Rather than send a whole project’s set of files back and forth, or alternatively, send just a track and leave the user on the receiving end to import it properly, this system looks at the project on the sending end, decides what has been changed since the last update, and only sends that audio, along with the metadata that puts it in the right place on the receiving end. I had to chuckle at the last line of their tiny info card: “Join our beta test team.”

A little more down to earth, literally, last year ,IsoAcoustics introduced their series of isolating and damping stands for control room monitors. This year they showed a few new sizes, some prototype instrument amplifier stands, and they’ve teamed up with Argosy Consoles (the studio furniture maker), integrating the base section of the IsoAcoustics support with a couple of models of speaker stands. Argosy makes really solid stuff, and building a speaker isolation system into the stand seems like a good idea.

I’m always skeptical about cables that claim to be better than the rest, but I was happy to have a chat with someone who really seemed to understand what makes a better cable. Solid Cables doesn’t claim any whiz-band technology, just smart application of the right kind of cable for the job. Their primary interest actually is in reliability, and when that’s achieved, make the cable the best fit electrically. By combining characteristics of inductance, capacitance, and even conductivity, they make cables for specific applications. In a guitar system, the cable capacitance and pickup inductance (as well as stray capacitance) form a resonant circuit and one of the tricks that makes instrument cables sound different is where the resonant frequency lies. The same cable will have a different resonant peak with a Stratocaster than with a Les Paul, so these guys are treating the cable as a system component and tuning what they can to optimize the interface at both ends. It’s good to talk to someone who isn’t selling snake oil, but understands the science and recognizes that there’s no “best” way to make a cable for every application.

3D printers have been in the news a lot lately, and 3D Systems had one of their home models on display. No, they weren’t making guitars, just little nick-knacks that could be completed in a couple of hours, but it was neat to finally see one work. No, I’m not going to buy one.

Anyone remember the Stylophone, a hand-sized analog synth from the early 1970s? Well, the company re-launched the product in 2007, and now they have a new, larger, and more powerful model, the S2. It has a touch-sensitive keyboard, ten knobs for adjusting the synth parameters (waveform, filters, modulators, and arpeggiator) and it has the sound and feel of an analog synth.

That’s about all that’s on the stack and in the memory cells for today. Stay tuned.

 

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About mikeriversaudio

Helping people getting their studios together has been a passion of mine for more than 30 years. Get yours together.
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