NAMM 2015 Notes – Day 3 January 24
To quote myself (from a chat with one of the exhibitors): “It seems that at this year’s show, the things that I’m finding most interesting are things that don’t pass audio.” Sure, there’s some great audio gear here, though little that’s new since the AES show in October. If you haven’t read my AES show report, check it out and think of it as the pro audio appendix to this NAMM report.
Zoom showed the not quite working yet TAC-8, TAC-2R, and TAC2 Thunderbolt (only) eight- and two-channel audio interfaces in familiar configurations. The TAC-8 has 8 mic/line inputs, with channels 1 and 2 doing triple duty as high impedance instrument DI inputs. The rear panel has ¼” jacks, one pair nominally dedicated to monitoring, the other eight for whatever you want. ADAT optical and S/PDIF coax provide10 additional digital inputs and outputs. There’s also 5-pin MIDI in and out and, while there seems to be less and less need for it these days, there’s also word clock input and output. As expected, there’s a software mixer application, though at least at this time it’s Mac-only, supporting the theme that most Windows users don’t have Thunderbolt yet.
The TAC-2R is a small tabletop box with two mic/line/instrument inputs and headphone output on the front panel and a pair of ¼” line output jacks and MIDI in and out. There’s also a switch on the rear panel for direct (hardware) input monitoring, which will make this interface more useful for the iDevice folks working on overdubbed projects. This allows you to hear the input source in the headphones without having to go in and out of the computer. The TAC-2 is similar in function to the TAC-2R but in a different, but familiar form factor. XLR combo jacks and ¼” line outputs are on the rear, instrument DI and headphone jacks are on the front. The top surface has the meters and a big knob that controls line output and headphone volume as well as input gain. The comparable interfaces with USB 2/3 connection that were announced last year are now in the pipeline, and, bless their hearts, will remain available, at least for a while.
While the handheld audio recorder business has slowed to a trickle (TASCAM’s WiFi-controlled recorders introduced at AES are now shipping) Zoom has adapted the interchangeable mic technology from their H5 and H6 recorders to iOS devices with three mic assemblies that plug directly into a Lightning connector. The iQ5 is an M-S stereo mic in a “ball” format that swivels in enough directions so that it can be used for video recording either vertically or horizontally. The iQ6 is an X-Y stereo mic borrowed from the (fixed mic) H4, and the iQ7 is yet a higher quality, larger mid-side mic assembly. The mics all have a hardware gain control since the preamp and A/D converter are built into the unit.
Hot news from this morning (Sunday) is that the Zoom H5 recorder won a TEC award.
While we’re still on recorders, TASCAM has updated their DR-680 8-channel portable field recorder. The MkII got a preamp upgrade and lower jitter clocking for better audio specs. Oh, and new red “bumpers” for the front panel. Their DR-70, a four-channel recorder designed specifically for DSLR cameras has had a similar makeover.
Sensaphonics, one of the earliest entries into the personal in-ear monitor market, has come up with some tweaks targeted to improving the sound of in-ear monitoring for musicians with hearing impairments. Based around their ARRO technology which builds an ambient microphone into each earpiece and blends the ambient stage sound in with the monitor mix, the 3D-ME system employs custom DSP to tune the earphones to match the musician’s hearing loss. One success story involves a musician who was completely deaf in one ear. By “un-balancing” the ambient stereo image from the mics and feeding them both to the ear that works, allowing him to hear the full stage in addition to his own monitor mix. Apparently there’s enough information coming in to trick the brain into providing some stereo perception.
The Manley Labs FORCE is a new four channel 2 rack space mic tube mic preamp. Each channel has a Manley input transformer and a 12AX7 tube. Gain is adjustable to a maximum of either 40 or 60 dB, selectable from the front panel. Each channel has its own little control panel with switches for a 120 Hz low cut filter, polarity reverse, and 48v phantom power plus a 7-step LED level meter. With a maximum output level of +35 dBu, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever find this preamp to be the headroom limitation in your system.
Something struck a familiar note when I saw the exhibit of Bee microphones in the Gibson showroom. They were really whacky-looking, but in an artistic way, and looked meticulously crafted. Big capsules on a stalk above a stylish body. Yup, Blue Mic founders Skipper Wise and Martins Saulespurens just couldn’t stay retired after Skipper sold the company a couple of years back. The Bee line has names like Worker Bee, King Bee, Bumblebee, Beecaster and span the range (as the Blue line did) from high quality studio mics to tabletop podcasting mics. The black and bumblebee yellow stripes make their appearance in one form or other on all of the mics. Nothing to hear yet, but I think we can expect from this line what we’ve come to expect from Blue – definitely not your “just another microphone,” but rather a series of products that have been well thought out and designed to excel in specific applications which are common enough so that it’s worth considering having a go-to mic that you can always count on.
In line with today’s opening statement, sort of, is an airtight panel-mount XLR connector from Cliff, Inc. Why? For powered speakers. While there’s not usually enough air leaking from a standard XLR to play havoc with the cabinet design, people who don’t listen too loud have noticed the air whistling out the back of the cabinet. The Cliff connector is fully sealed, so a closed box is again a closed box. Well, OK, it DOES pass audio, or rather, electricity, but it’s value is in what it doesn’t pass.
On that note, I’ll close, too. Check back later in the week for the consolidate report with more details, links, and pictures.