I predicted that analog synthesizers would be alive and well, and by golly, I was right. So well, in fact, that most of the “analog village” was moved out of Hall E and on to the main show floor. The centerpiece was Moog’s large “Tropical Island” booth with a dizzying (both visually and aurally) array of modular and integrated synths, both purely analog and hybrid, as well as effect pedals and their delay and ladder filter 500-series studio processing modules.
Keeping with the retro theme, the Gizmo is back. In the 1980s, Paul Godley and Lol Crème of the band 10 cc (and later Godley & Crème) came up with the “gizmo,” a contraption that attached to an electric guitar near the bridge. Levers pressed motor-driven wheels against the strings, playing the guitar much like the strings were played with a violin bow. There was a short lived commercial version called the Gizmotron, and now 30 years later, a new and less haywire version is being manufactured. The Gizmotron 2.0 has a speed control for varying the attack and tone, and it’s powered through a USB cable (though there’s no data, just power) which can come from a computer if you have one on stage, or from an included wall wart. Construction appears to be quite robust though it’s not very heavy. It’s a nice design and an interesting effect – if you don’t overuse it.
The most retro of retros comes from Stratos Technology, a Japanese company, where they’re really into old computer games. Stratos Technology makes a line of circuit boards that adapt a Compact Flash or SD card to function as the storage device (mostly SCSI) used in obsolete computers and sound modules from years gone by. Need some fresh storage for your Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler or something with a Zip drive? This is the place to go.
Miking a harp, particularly for concert sound, is often difficult. As I was walking past the Dusty Strings booth, I was impressed by the harp sound coming from a small amplifier, so I stopped to see what sort of pickup arrangement they had for it. Indeed they sell a pickup kit which can either be pre-installed when you buy one of their harps or added to any harp that provides enough space to get inside. They have three different models for various sized instruments, employing three or four small piezoelectric pickup elements. It’s not something that you can slap on a harp when someone appears at your folk festival stage with one (I’ve used a C-Ducer for that in the past), but if you’re a harpist, or play in a band with one, you might give it a look. At $250-$400, they’re not cheap, but it’ll give you better sound with less trouble than having a typical stage mic pointed at the instrument. Another darn clever tool from Dusty Strings is a tuning wrench for a harp (they also have a version for a hammer dulcimer) with a digital tuner attached.
Tone Dexter from Audio Sprockets is a new preamp and processor for piezo pickups. This would get a yawn from me except that the design and operating principle is really interesting, and it really works – at least with the guitar they had in the booth. In addition to a jack for the pickup, there’s an XLR connector with phantom power available. This is for a microphone. The way you use it is to connect a mic that’s capable of getting the sound you’re looking for out of the instrument, position it correctly, put the unit in a learning mode, and play for a minute or so. After capturing the sound of the mic and the pickup, an algorithm looks for differences between the two sounds and derives a correction for the pickup that makes it sound like the mic. You can store the result as a preset (there are several slots available for different guitars and/or different miked sounds) so if you play several instruments on stage, selecting the proper correction is simple. There’s a three band equalizer for fine adjustments, and a “focus” control that reduces some of the ambient sound picked up by the mic that goes into the correction algorithm if you want a more close-up sound. That it can do this suggests that the process isn’t simply one of deriving an EQ curve to take the quack out of the pickup, but that it involves processing in the time domain as well. But of course the detailed workings are under cover.
Our friends at Neat Microphones (a Gibson brand) are continuing in their quest to make some of the most visually distinctive but practical you’ll find today, Last year they introduced the “Bee” series of condenser mics with cases striped yellow and black like the body of a bumblebee. New this year are a couple of tabletop mics characterized by their somewhat unconventional shapes and built-in stands (or, should I say, stands with built-in mics. The Widget series presently consists of three models sharing the same stand assembly with one being optimized for voice (podcasting or Skype, for example), one for general purpose work (this is a ball-styled case), and one more musician-oriented with a case that looks like a table lamp. Ya gotta see ‘em.
Switcheroo from Idea Bench is a foot controller for effect pedal routing and switching. It does the typical routing thing of interconnecting groups of pedals in preset series configurations. What it does different from most is that the connectors for the pedals is in a separate chassis from the foot pedal controller unit. The idea here is to clean up the floor – you can place the “stage box” near the pedals, connect their outputs and inputs with short cables, and have just a single control cable going to the controller.
Manley Labs introduced two new lower cost signal processors. The names and functions will be familiar to anyone who knows Manley gear, as will be the sound, but modern components and construction techniques make them less expensive to build, as well as giving the company a shot at making subtle changes in how they sound to be more fitting for contemporary music production. The ELOP+ is an updated stereo electro-optical limiter/compressor with an all-tube audio path. While the original ELOP was a limiter, the + adds a fixed 3:1 ratio compressor, a popular technique for what’s become termed “bus compression.” Classic knobs, nice new VU meters. The NU MU is an update to the classic Manley Variable Mu compressor. It still uses transformers on the input and output and 6BA6 tubes. A new addition is the HIP control that apparently changes the shape of the gain versus level curve that brings in compression at a lower level but retains more high level dynamics. The effect (though I really couldn’t hear it on headphones there on the show floor) is to bring up lower level program material without squashing the high level dynamics in the process. The panel is substantially redesigned with very cool meters with their pivot points to the left and right rather than at the bottom, making it easy to see how the two channels are tracking.
Stay tuned Day 3 is coming up.